The sun was just throwing amber light over the horizon when my bone-colored Badonk-a-donk disappeared in a toilet flush.
And my grumbling over the 3 a.m. alarm disappeared like fog in a stiff wind.
“When you hit it right, you can limit out on trout right here and be heading home by 7:30, 8 o’clock,” Capt. Tommy Pellegrin said.
That prediction had convinced me to get up at an hour when drunks are still wending their way home from the bars.
And it looked like things would pan out nicely. Pellegrin, owner of Cocodrie’s Custom Charters, had just landed a topwater trout and Mississippi’s Bill Darsey was setting the hook on yet another speck that fell for a live shrimp dangling beneath a slip cork.
We were set up just off the rocks surrounding the pitiful remains of Wine Island, now nothing more than a sandbar on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. It was a location Pellegrin had stomped the fish a few days earlier.
“In July, they’ll actually be more on the beaches,” Pellegrin said. “That’s when the brown shrimp make their final move out, so you want to be on the beaches and in the passes.”
Yeah, I know, we were on the rocks just off a sandbar, but the principle carries over: Trout swarm the rocks of disappearing barrier islands and sandbars, ambushing shrimp moving out of the bays.
As Darsey fought a speck, Pellegrin explained why he always carries live shrimp on his summer trips for one simple reason.
“Transformer trout: You throw out a shrimp, and it turns into a trout,” Pellegrin said with a chuckle.
But it was soon clear the fish — which we all knew were there — weren’t going to play nice this morning.
Pellegrin and I each got a couple more swipes at our topwaters. Darsey picked up a trout here and there, but a downed cork was just as likely to end with a hardhead flopping around boat-side.
Heading to West Timbalier
Fellow guide Capt. Anthony Kyzar slipped into position just down the rocks from us, but he didn’t stay long.
The action was just too slow to keep anyone’s attention for long.
“That’s the way this year has been: You murder them one day, and then you pick at them the next,” Pellegrin said. “You make a box, but ....”
He was soon calling for us to pull in our lines, and he pointed the bow east to West Timbalier Island — only to find another boat anchored exactly where he wanted to fish.
“There’s a pile of rocks right there, and it holds a lot of trout,” Pellegrin said.
He idled around to get the lay of the land, and the anglers in the spot he wanted didn’t set the hook once.
“They’re not catching them, either,” Pellegrin said. “Let’s go to the back of the island.”
One man's trash ...
The new target was a bunch of old pilings just north of West Tim that once had been Caillou Island. Today, it’s just open water.
But what lies beneath the dozen or so feet of water is what keeps Pellegrin returning.
“There’s a ton of trash down there,” he said. “You can’t fish on the bottom, or you’ll lose your bait.”
He said the lost islands of Timbalier Bay are favored stomping grounds.
“What’s left are oyster reefs, which hold a lot of fish,” he said.
Pellegrin and Darsey immediately began chunking out live shrimp under slip corks.
I, on the other hand, refused to listen to reason. As a life-long hater of live bait, I tied on a jighead and prepared to work a plastic cocahoe over the bottom junk.
Pellegrin advised I change the artificial lure.
“What color are you using?” he asked. “You need something that looks like a shrimp.”
We dug around in the boat and found a single clear/sparkle sand eel-like lure, which I threaded on the ¼-ounce jig.
And I was soon reeling in a trout.
Darsey and Pellegrin stuck with live bait, and they definitely caught more fish — but I was holding my own.
Until I lost the lure to some submerged junk.
We never located another sand eel, so I bit off the paddle of a cocahoe that, to me, looked pretty close to the lost lure.
But the trout largely turned their noses up at my offering. I still hooked one here and there, but the live-bait anglers were spanking me.
When the tide went slack, so did the bite. Pellegrin counted the fish, and we had 51 trout in the boat.
It never seemed like we spanked the fish, but picking at them had resulted in a growing pile of fish to be cleaned.
But the captain wasn’t about to waste time waiting on the tide to turn. Instead, he said he wanted to make one more stop to use up the last of the shrimp.
Fifteen minutes later, he pulled off plane at a large facility featuring pilings radiating out from the platform.
Three boats already were in position, with one being over what Pellegrin characterized as “the honey hole.”
But he simply adjusted and slid into position several casts away from the other vessels.
And, again, the captain warned of copious amounts of junk littering the bottom.
Two live shrimp were soon dangling over the trashy bottom, and Darsey was the first to strike gold.
I stubbornly stuck with plastics again — until the other two anglers had put several fish in the boat. As soon as I threw out a live shrimp and popped the cork, a trout swallowed the bait and I was wrestling it to the boat.
Hey, I’m a knucklehead, but I’m not completely stupid.
It only took 30 minutes for us to round out our three-man limit, and we were motoring back for the marina.
Pellegrin’s watch showed it was noon on the dot.