EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated and now includes a video link of the big trout being landed.
Tommy Vidrine is well known around Grand Isle for catching some hammer trout along the Caminada Pass rock jetty, so when he tells you he caught his biggest speck ever there Saturday — that’s definitely saying something.
Vidrine put himself in line for yet another CCA STAR Tournament boat in the Southeast Division with a giant 7.22 pounder that stretched the tape to 28 inches — and live pogies he snared with his cast net in the marshy area behind Fifi Island were the key to the big bite.
“I was planning on going west to the Fourchon barges, or maybe to the beach, and they had a guy on the jetties but he wasn’t quite where I go,” Vidrine said, explaining his decision to make his first stop there Saturday morning.
The group on his 24-foot NauticStar, which included his wife J Lynn, and John and Jenny Dodge, were free-lining the pogies in the light current — and the specks couldn’t get enough of them.
“We got there and they were biting right away,” he said. “We were catching a bunch of 20s, 21s and 22s (inch-long trout). To be successful with pogies, it has to be a light, light tide. They don’t sink, and when you have a strong tide, those big fish are going to be deeper. But if you put too much weight on them, you’re going to get stuck in the rocks, so you can’t Carolina-rig at the jetties with a strong current.”
With the specks in a full-on feeding frenzy, Vidrine used his experience at the spot to place a couple of casts where he thought some bigger fish might be lurking.
“I was imagining where that underwater rock pile was. I’ve swam down there before for an anchor a couple of years ago, so I know where there’s an extra rock pile away from the rest of the rocks ….” he said. “So they were throwing more toward the pass catching 3- and 3 ½-pound fish and I threw it toward the tip of the end of the underwater rocks, and I caught a 4-pounder. So I threw it there again.
“I bet you it was only 20 or 30 feet from me when she hit it. I felt that thump and lifted up, and the water was so green I saw the fish. She came to the top, and I told John, ‘This is the STAR winner. This fish is over 7 pounds.'"
To see video footage of Vidrine landing the fish, click here.
“My wife went nuts. I said it was 7, she thought it might be an 8,” Vidrine said. “When I measured it, she was longer than my sticker from Bridge Side. It goes up to 27 inches, so I knew she was longer than that. I figured she had to be at least 7 because she had a stomach — she still had eggs.
“It was a monster, the biggest one I’ve ever put my hands on or seen in person. Especially during the STAR this late in the season, that’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen — and I’ve been fishing here for 10 years. It was a big thing at the marina. It was exciting.”
Just last year, J Lynn claimed first place and won a 21-foot NauticStar in the STAR’s Southeast Division with a big 6.8-pound speck she caught north of the island. And in 2014, Vidrine won a boat for catching a tagged redfish, so the duo has been a lethal combination in the tournament the last several years.
“It’s crazy over here at Grand Isle,” Vidrine said with a chuckle, noting he released nine fish over the course of Saturday and Sunday that measured between 24 and 25 inches. “It’s unbelievable. Grand Isle is no longer a ‘small-trout destination.’”
The key right now is being able to locate — and then catch — pogies, which can be a challenge. Keeping them alive is tough, too, so you can’t buy them at a bait store.
“I’m looking for about 4- to 5-inch pogies, and the light north wind we had Saturday morning was perfect because I was able to move into the shallows and catch them without running the trolling motor,” he explained. “You have to be real quiet when the water is clear like it is now. They see the white of the boat, so I have to cast net 20 or 30 feet in front of the boat and be moving slightly, or you’re not going to catch them.”
Having pogies in your livewell is big right now. Vidrine said anglers throwing croakers right next to him at the jetties were striking out, while his crew was consistently hoisting 3- and 4-pounders over the gunnels.
“Pogies make a difference. I think the trout like croakers when they’re spawning heavy in May and June, but when it gets this time of year when a lot of them have lost their eggs, I don’t believe they love the flavor of the croakers — they eat them because they’re messing with their eggs,” he said. “But I believe trout can’t regularly catch pogies — they’re too fast. They’re even almost too fast on the hook — you have to slow them down and jerk them for the trout to hit them. So we’re throwing stuff they love to eat but can’t on a normal basis.”
Keeping an eye out for pelicans diving is a good way to focus your cast-netting efforts to catch pogies, he said.
“It’s not easy. Just being able to throw a cast net isn’t enough right now. One day last week it took me 20 casts to get me 75 that I liked. That’s like an hour-and-a-half sweating and being soaking wet,” said Vidrine, who's going to get a replica mount of the big fish made for his camp at Grand Isle. “It ain’t for everybody, but if you’re going to catch a big fish like that, you have to work for them.”