Summertime heat has already settled over South Louisiana, and that means speckled trout fishing close to the launches in Cocodrie is all but done.
"The big fish have already moved out," veteran fishing guide Capt. Tommy Pellegrin said yesterday.
So it wasn't a surprise when he pointed his boat south out of Harbor Light Marina and didn't come off plane until he rounded the rocks surrounding what's left of Wine Island.
"When you hit it right, you can limit out on trout right here and be heading home by 7:30, 8 o'clock," Pellegrin said.
Such quick action wasn't to be on this morning. For whatever reason, the fish just didn't want to play. Mississippi's Bill Darsey caught a few trout dangling a shrimp beneath a cork, and Pellegrin and I sank the hooks on one topwater speck each — and then the hardheads showed up.
"Time to move," the guide said.
We tried to get into position on another set of rocks on West Timbalier Island, but another boat was camped out. So we headed behind the barrier island to fish structure in Timbalier Bay.
And Pellegrin said being flexible is critical to success right now, especially since there are few birds working shrimp .
"We haven't had the birds this year," Pellegrin said. "I don't know why, but we just haven't had them."
So he always has a plan in mind that includes several potential stops.
"It's hard to pick a spot before you leave the dock," Pellegrin said. "Different things happen: Sombody's there, the tide's not right. So you have to have options."
He always has a preferred starting point, but like a chess player he has several moves already mapped out.
"This morning, we started (at Wine Island) and then we wanted to move to West Timbalier, but somebody was already there," he said. "So we had to do something different."
That something different was setting up on the shell reef that once was Caillou Island, and working the tons of oilfield trash on the bottom from past facilities.
Pellegrin said he loves fishing eroded islands because the remains include plenty of shells that will hold fish. Those that once housed oil facilities (or that still do) are bonuses.
He and Darsey immediately began putting fish in the box using live shrimp under sliding corks, while I stubbornly stuck to plastics (I am, after all, a lifelong hater of live bait).
And, honestly, I wasn't doing too badly because I listened to Pellegrin's advice.
"What color are you using?" he asked. "You need something that looks like a shrimp."
We dug around and found a solitary clear/sparkle sand eel-like lure that I quickly threaded onto a 1/4-ounce jighead. I hooked up quickly, just popping it back to the boat.
"You don't want to be on the bottom here," Pellegrin said. "There's a lot of stuff to get hung up in."
I didn't catch as many trout as the live-bait anglers, but I wasn't far behind — until I lost my jighead on a submerged piece of junk.
We couldn't find an exact replacement lure , so I picked a paddletail that for all appearances was the same. I just bit off the paddle so the tail was very, very close to my previous lure.
The number of bites dropped drastically, while live shrimp steadily added to the box.
The importance of a sliding cork can't be overstated when working live shrimp over such areas, in Pellegrin's opinion.
"I fish a lot of junk piles," he explained. "All this structure out here is oilfield junk. So you can't fish on the bottom."
While titanium-wired cork rigs will work, sliding corks are so much easier to cast, especially when fishing deep reefs and junk piles.
"You can't throw a 7-foot-deep bait effectively with a (static) cork," Pellegrin said. "With a slip cork, you just set the stopper at 7 feet, and you've only got to throw your leader length. So now you can cast, and you're fishing right over the bottom."
Now, Pellegrin had all but promised I'd be off the water by 9 a.m., but that didn't happen. But I wasn't complaining.
When the tide went slack we had 51 in the boat. I was satisfied, but Pellegrin said he wanted to "get rid of some of the shrimp on the way back."
Really, the bites were never what one would call crazy, but we pecked at the specks — and steadily filled the box.
Stop No. 3 was a working facility offering shell pads, pilings scattered around and trout-holding trash galore on the bottom. Three boats were already there.
"That boat is in the honey hole," Pellegrin lamented, pointing at a craft anchored up off a couple of pilings.
So he just eased us into the middle of the stickups several casts away from the other vessels.
Darsey was quickly pulling in a trout. Pellegrin followed.
I, the stubborn artificial angler, just reeled in my bait — over and over.
Until I couldn't stand it and switched to a sliding cork.
In 30 minutes, our three-man limit was finished, and we were idling out of the structure for the run back to the dock.
It was noon on the dot.
The keys were easy to pick out: Fish structure, be willing to move around and have a load of live shrimp aboard.