They know the difference between spring and summer, and autumn and winter. I can imagine a sunny spring breaking forth after a snowy winter, watching the bright sun melt the ice of winter's cold. And I can picture summer's end, as hot days turn into a burst of fall colors and brisk air.
It must be nice to experience the seasons like that. Personally, I've only read about it or watched it on TV, because I've lived in the New Orleans area all my life. Down here, we basically have two seasons: summer and fog. I think we had a winter once a few years back, but it only visited for a few days and hasn't been seen since.
Our summer usually starts up in March and runs until November, although I still usually have to run the air conditioner until December. But I only have to cut the grass once a month from December through February, until summer starts up again in March.
But I can always tell when our winter season actually begins — not from the cold temperatures, but from all the fake snow and tinsel people decorate their houses with this month.
And from the fog. Down here, when the mornings get foggy, it's winter. That's how I can tell the season has arrived.
Years ago, when I was a kid, my dad told me that fog was just a cloud that fell to the ground. That explanation sounded reasonable at the time, and it satisfied my boyhood curiosity. Since then, I've read about advection fog and radiation fog and sea fog and even ice fog, but technically it seems that dad was pretty much right, according to Chief Meteorologist Bob Breck over at WVUE Fox 8 in New Orleans.
Fog, Breck says, is a ground-hugging cloud that forms when warm, moist air from the water passes over the cooler surface of the land or the cooler waters of the lake. In some areas, warmer weather inland sucks the moist air across the land, which creates a thick blanket of fog. Apparently, this kind of fog happens most frequently around the coastlines because the salt from the seawater increases the humidity, and condensation can form at a much lower humidity level around salt.
In our area, Breck says once the water temperatures in the lake and coastal areas cool into the 50s, and warmer air moves in from the south, fog forms. It's this advection fog and sea fog that are the kind that worry boaters and those who have to drive across bridges like the Causeway, he said. At any rate, the fog usually dissipates by mid-morning once the sun heats things up enough to dissolve it.
The point is, our water temperatures don't fall into the 50s until December, and they don't get up out of the 50s until March, so whenever we begin to experience those first real foggy mornings, you know summer is officially over and the winter season is beginning.
And each year, whenever the foggy mornings begin, a memory is awakened in my mind of bygone days, fishing Little Lake and Grand Lake with my father. I remember those foggy morning runs down Bayou Gentilly as distinctly as if it were yesterday.
We'd crouch behind the windshield in the old 16-foot Hollywood lapstrake hull, as an ancient Johnson motor inched us along in the cold, damp fog.
But we always seemed to catch fish on those foggy mornings, especially around Grand Lake. Whether we fished under a cork or drifted sections of the lake bouncing soft plastics off the bottom, we came home with a decent catch more times than not.
So I guess its only natural that, when mornings get cool and foggy, I think about those great days in Grand Lake.
This year, for fog season, I called upon one of my dad's old friends, Capt. George Ricks (985-630-2923), to see if I could relive some old times on a great lake. Ricks was happy to accommodate, and we planned an exploratory excursion into the Grand Lake area.
The ride down Bayou Gentilly reminded me of just how much Katrina changed that interior marsh. Of all the places I've fished since the storm, the marsh in that region seems to have experienced the most change and suffered the most loss. Where before there was solid marsh is now almost open water, and the broken and jumbled sides of the bayou barely resemble a shoreline.
If there's good news, its that new growth is evident all over, and a variety of grasses seem to be flourishing in the once saline marsh now freshened up by the Caernarvon Diversion.
Once we entered Little Lake, Ricks pointed the bow of his 22-foot NauticStar toward Alligator Pass, and we went straight through into Grand Lake.
Ricks likes to fish the points in this area, so he hung fairly close to the left shoreline and killed the outboard when we got to within trolling distance of our first stop for the day, a pronounced point that he said usually holds reds or bass, or both.
Ricks started out tossing a red shad Exude worm with a 1/8-ounce bullet weight that he pegged so it wouldn't slide up the line and separate from the worm.
"When I fish around structure or grass of any kind, I peg the weight with a toothpick so it doesn't separate from the worm, or else sometimes you'll cast out and the weight will fall on one side of the grass and the worm on the other," Ricks said.
Donald Ricks, George's cousin and our fishing partner for the day, stuck a live shrimp through the tail, and fished it under a cork up close to the point.
I'm partial to a gold spoon in this marsh for fishing both reds and bass, and whether the water is clear or stained. The three of us worked the point over pretty thoroughly, patiently making repeated casts into the same area until we were finally convinced nobody was home.
Ricks trolled us down the shoreline, mostly using the trolling motor just to keep us off the bank because the wind was howling at our backs and constantly shoving us toward the shore. We kept moving, and were fishing a broken section of shoreline just before another point when the action started.
Ricks had a hookup up on the bow, while Donald's cork disappeared beneath the surface off the stern. I was fishing in the middle of the boat, and got a good hit as I reeled in my spoon, and managed to land a decent-sized bass.
Ricks lost his fish, a nice red, when it somehow managed to spit the bait, but Donald hung on to land a nice red off the back of the boat.
By the time all the commotion settled down and we netted the redfish and took a couple pictures, we had drifted off quite a ways from where we hooked all the fish. The wind was blowing so hard, it would have been difficult to troll against it to get back to that hotspot, so we'd either have to crank the outboard and putt-putt to it, or we could just start drifting and casting where we were and see what happened.
We chose the latter option and worked the shoreline right along there for 15 minutes or so without as much as a bump.
Then Ricks started the outboard, and we went right back to the same spot where we had the initial hookups, and got into some action again.
"That's how you have to fish this time of year," Ricks said. "Whether you are trolling a shoreline or drifting in a lake, the technique is pretty much the same. You either cast soft plastics under a cork, or tightline plastics on a 1/8- or ¼-ounce jig. Just cast and retrieve, but the key to success in winter is to use a very slow retrieve.
"I like to cast out, let my bait settle to the bottom, and then use a short, slow hop to work it back to the boat. If you work your bait in fast, you are wasting motion, especially on colder days.
"The other option is to fish live baits, like live shrimp or minnows, either on the bottom Carolina-rigged, or under a popping cork. Some people think you can't catch fish under a cork in the winter, but we fish corks all year around, especially on moderate days. You can also fish a cork when it's cold, just let out more line and fish deeper under it.
"Once you catch a fish, stick your Cajun anchor over, and try to stay there until the action plays out. The fish are scattered this time of year, but they tend to hang out in bunches, so if you catch one or two in a spot or section of marsh or canal bottom, chances are there are more fish there. Either put the anchor down and try to stay on them, or go back around and re-drift the area again. You might have to move a few times to find the fish, but patience and persistence will pay off."
Ricks says he also likes to fish the Grand Lake area around Orange Bayou, and if the tide is high enough, Sun Lagoon, especially in the canal into Sun Lagoon. The lagoon itself is very shallow, and on low tides boaters should avoid it unless you definitely know where you're going.
"And Little Lake itself is a good place to drift for trout and reds," Ricks said. "I look for clean water, and then just cast either live bait or plastics under a cork, or you can dribble a soft-plastic bait along the bottom. If you get into some action, stick with it until it plays out, and resume your drift."
I also tapped another of my old friends — Ben Hollingsworth of Trolling Motors, Inc. fame — for some advice on fishing the Grand Lake area. Hollingsworth says the great thing about Grand Lake is that, although it's shallow, you can almost always find some clean water in it somewhere, year-round.
"But if the weather and the water temperatures are really cold, you'll have to concentrate on the deeper canals. Fish the bottom, and focus on the ledges in canals in 6 or 7 feet of water," he suggested.
Hollingsworth says Lost Lake is a good bet on moderate days.
"Park your boat right on the points, and fish out," he said. "The fish stay way off the points in this lake. Toss big worms, Brush Hogs, spinner-baits and even slow-moving topwater baits like a Scum Frog, something that doesn't move too much, and you'll catch reds and bass," he said.
"And then there's Lake Batola. Small but potent. A great place to catch reds, bass and specks. I focus on the points and on cuts and coves, and simply cast and retrieve a beetle-spin,' he said.
Ricks moved us around the area a few more times, picking up a mixed bag of trout, reds and bass until we called it a day. We headed in with almost 40 specks and a limit of bronze beauties. The bigger reds and all the bass we returned to the briny deep to fight another day.
Only once that morning did we have to don our rainsuits as we passed through a slight drizzle, but the gray skies cleared up and the sun came out to give us a sunny ride back to the dock.
But I couldn't help thinking about all those lucky anglers up north who get to enjoy a real winter season. Shoveling out of snow banks, chiseling their cars out of the ice and chopping holes through an iced-over lake to fish through.
Yep, they've sure got it nice. And here we are stuck in the Louisiana marsh catching trout, reds and bass during fog season.