The plan was to head out to Grand Isle bright and early last Thursday morning for a story with Tommy Vidrine on how he was already using artificial lures to catch some nice speckled trout at the Caminada Pass jetties.
I had rolled out of bed and left New Iberia at exactly 4 a.m. to meet Vidrine at Bridge Side Marina for 6:30 that morning. Several of my rods were already rigged up with Tsunami Swim Minnows and Vudu shrimp under a popping cork, and I was looking forward to a fun day on the water.
My progress was slowed by some heavy fog on Highway 90 that morning, and my cellphone rang shortly before 6. It was Vidrine asking my location.
I was just a few minutes from the La. 1 Expressway toll booth when he told me plans had changed.
“Buggy has live shrimp for the first time in weeks,” Vidrine said, referring to Bridge Side Marina’s owner Buggy Vegas. “I think we’re going to spank ‘em. I’m waiting for you.”
The 53-year-old independent contractor for Aflac had texted me at lunch the day before, letting me know he thought conditions would be ideal for a Thursday morning trip.
And now we had live bait — “Bridge Side Dynamite” is how Vidrine refers to the marina’s big shrimp — so I did my best to follow the posted speed limits entering Grand Isle as thoughts of a 5-pound speck filled my head.
That story on artificial lures would just have to wait until next spring.
Surprisingly, the anticipation of the trip was matched by what actually resulted — an almost three-hour speckled trout slam that saw numerous 3- and 4-pounders come aboard — as well as the catch-and-release of a couple of hammer specks approaching 5 pounds. Watch a video of us releasing a 23 ½-inch trout here.
Free-lining live shrimp, we also put some nice redfish and drum in the box — but had to work our way through a pesky school of sheepshead for a while.
Last May, I fished with Vidrine in the exact same spot and we caught a limit of big specks with live croakers. I asked him why that spot consistently produces such nice trout — even though it’s not a secret by any means on Grand Isle.
“That tide is pulling all that food right over the rocks where the trout can hide,” Vidrine said, noting that some of the boulders below the water line are big — in the 4- to 5-foot range. “They don’t want to work hard for their food. Those nice fish like that because it’s blocking the current. They get behind those rocks and they’re just sitting there watching.
“It’s free food and they don’t have to work for it. That’s the trick.”
But not everyone can duplicate Vidrine’s success there. Admittedly, sometimes the fishing can get a little tough: it’s not really a spot where you can throw out a popping cork and just wait for a bite.
We were casting into the wind all morning, and several times we each got stuck in the rocks and had to retie. Plus, we had to pick through that consistent sheepshead bite for a while.
And when he’s free-lining live shrimp, Vidrine is loath to use any type of weight, even a small split-shot. He keeps it simple — line, hook and shrimp — and he says that natural presentation is key to fooling some of those big specks lurking down in the rocks. That also makes it a difficult proposition for lots of anglers.
“Watch your line,” Vidrine advised. “If you free-line the shrimp, when the trout gets it he’s swimming — he’s not just going to sit there. He strikes it and swims, so the line will tighten up.
“When he hits it just reel down and give a little hook set. If you give them too big a hook set and you’re in the rocks, it’ll cut right off with the barnacles down there. If you can just ease them up and let the trout come up through the rocks, then you can reel them in.”
Casting ability is key to free-lining — sometimes directly into the wind — so Vidrine favors a 7-foot rod.
“You can cast a little further and a little more accurate. I get the lightest I can buy,” he said. “Medium action because it needs to be a little stiff if you’re working a cork or plastics.
“And I like the long handle behind the reel. If I have a redfish on, I put it on my stomach to get leverage. The longer the better behind the reel.”
With live shrimp, Vidrine said he doesn’t notice much difference between hooking them in the crown or the tail.
“If they hit me and steal it, I’ll switch up,” he said. “I use a No. 2 Kahle hook. If I’m deep in the rocks and there’s not a lot of current, I use a 1/0 J-hook with a little semi-circle in it. It’s not a full circle.”
His line is 17-pound Trilene, which he inspects regularly because of barnacles on the rocks and brushes with speck fangs.
“Every time I take a fish off, I pass my finger about a foot on the line,” he said. “If I feel any bump, I cut it off and retie it.”
At the jetties, Vidrine prefers a slow incoming tide and a southwest wind.
So if conditions are perfect and you actually hook up with that monster trout you’ve been dreaming of, he has some sage advice for you.
“If I got a big one on in a rodeo, the first thing I’m going to do when he starts running is loosen my drag a little bit and I’m not going to try to rush him in,” he said. “They’re so heavy and so strong that if your hook isn’t in the right part of their mouth — and you try to get them in quick and put pressure on them — it will just tear their mouth.
“If you have them hooked deep, it doesn’t matter — but who knows that until the fish hits the boat? If it’s a rodeo, I’m netting it quick.”
Live shrimp are available now at Bridge Side Marina, and live croakers will be as well in the coming weeks. So Vidrine said the time is now if you’re looking to catch a big trout at Grand Isle.
“They might not be as thick as they will be in a month or so, but the bigger fish are right now,” he said. “Once people come here and catch 1- or 2,000 of them around the island in the first month or two, then you have to have new fish replace them. So pressure creates smaller fish.
“There’s no pressure right now, so we’re killing these big fish.”
But Vidrine has been releasing big fish in the 4-pound range this spring to spawn — in hopes of catching them later on this summer.
“If she’s over 23, 24, 25 inches, I won’t keep it,” he said. “You might make it in a rodeo with that fish. On a tough summer day in July, I’ve won a rodeo with a 4 ½-pound fish.
“When it’s hot and they’re harder to catch — who knows, that fish might put me in first place in a local rodeo.”