It's like a scratch in one of those old 45 records. Back in the days of record players, a scratch on the record would cause it to continually replay the same thing over and over. You'd have to physically nudge the arm of the player to make the tune advance.
Well, that's how my brain works with Delacroix in the fall. I automatically return there, season after season, for both redfish and speckled trout, and I've never been disappointed.
I was certain I wouldn't be disappointed this year either when I scheduled a trip to fish the inside marshes with Capt. Billy Bucano (601-795-0760). Bucano suggested I bring a buddy along, but the night before the trip my old fishing partner had to cancel. So with little or no time to start calling others, I kind of half-jokingly asked my wife to come along. And in the blink of an eye, she said yes!
Now, you might shrug your shoulders at something like that, but for me, this was monumental. You see, we're married 40 years this month, over which time I've owned numerous boats, and all of which time I've been an avid fisherman. And in those 40 years, I could count the number of times my wife stepped aboard the boat on one hand. And never, ever, has she accompanied me on a trip like this with a charter guide. So I knew we'd have an interesting day on the water.
Bucano was waiting for us at the dock of his Delacroix slip. We loaded our gear into his 23-foot bay boat, and got under way before the sun broke over the eastern sky.
Bucano has been a guide for more than a decade, but he's fished the Delacroix waters for more than 40 years. He said for about 10 years or so, he fished all over Southeast Louisiana. But one day his grandfather told him he should do all of his fishing in just one area, and whatever area he chose, to learn it well. Bucano took the old man's words to heart, and for the last 30 years has confined himself to fishing Delacroix exclusively.
Me, I like to move around a bit and fish the waters all over our coastline. But I do have a built-in advantage - I get to fish with people who know those waters well! Nevertheless, with the advent of modern GPS technology, you can almost be an expert anywhere immediately.
Standard Mapping is now offering charts with a GPS card that lays out the routes for you to traverse to all the good spots in that particular map area.
And our own Capt. Paul Titus can fix you up with thousands of waypoints for your GPS in any area of the Louisiana coast. But as good as all of that is, there is still some wisdom in Bucano's grandfather's words. "Concentrate on one area, and learn it well."
Our game plan was to hunt for redfish, my favorite target in the fall. And my wife, Diane, had never caught one of our hard-pulling, line-stretching bronze bullies, so I was eager to see her get one on the line.
In my thinking, the great thing about fall fishing is the weather. The air is brisk and clean, and the heavy, oppressive summer heat and humidity have finally retreated for the year. Being outside is actually delightful instead of dreadful.
Also, the fish are now prowling the inside waters, so the long and expensive trips to the far regions is no longer necessary. Instead, you can focus on the interior lakes, lagoons and bays, and as the temperatures go down, the deeper inside holes, bayous and passes.
Bucano took us to the western end of Oak River in search of some schooled-up redfish that have been known to patrol along the banks this month. In fact, he'd been working over a school of them for the previous several days, so he was pretty sure they'd still be there.
"You want to look for signs of bait in the water or movement that might reveal the presence of a prowling redfish, or just some good moving water around points and cuts and drains," Bucano said as we studied the shoreline and motored slowly down the river.
Unfortunately, we didn't see much sign of bait or moving water, and we were fishing on one of the lowest tidal-range days of the month. The big school of prowling redfish had evidently moved elsewhere.
Undeterred, Bucano anchored the boat near a cut and close enough to the bank so that we could reach it with a long cast.
"We'll give this spot a few minutes to settle down and produce something," he said as we cast our baits toward the shoreline.
I baited up Diane with a fresh shrimp about 2 feet under a popping cork, and she tossed it up near the bank. Bucano was trying plastic tight-lined, and I tried the dead bait also, knowing it gave us the best chance of success.
Within minutes, a 3- to 4-foot alligator showed up, and swam steadily toward Diane's bait. But the gator wasn't as much enticed by the shrimp as by her cork! It swam right up and chomped it down! She had Power-Pro spooled on the reel, so I took the rig and started reeling the gator in. But before he got alongside the boat, he spit the cork and submerged.
Diane re-baited her hook, and tossed the bait and the cork, a bit chewed but still workable, back to the shoreline. And the pesky gator surfaced for a second swipe at the cork.
After a few more minutes of trying to dodge the aggravating alligator, Bucano decided to move the boat down to the next point, get away from the gator, and hopefully find some redfish.
No sooner did the boat settle into place after anchoring, Diane tossed her bait out and got immediately inhaled by a hungry redfish. I sprung into motion, acting perhaps too much like an instructive father, trying to explain how to reel steadily without reeling frantically, letting the fish run while you keep tension on the line - you know, all the pain-in-the-butt advice that she didn't ask for or desire, especially in the pandemonium of fighting the redfish. She fought the fish to the boat. I scooped it into the landing net, and she held up her first redfish for the camera.
We all tossed right back to the same area hoping for round two, when that goofy gator showed up again looking to inhale another cork.
Bucano had a flash of inspiration, and took out an old weighted cork and tossed it as far down the river as he could. Like a reptilian retriever, the young gator swam after the cork and when he got alongside it, gobbled it right down. We watched the goofy gator off and on all morning as it played with that cork - chomping it, spitting it out, chasing it, etc. I guess every kid needs a toy.
Meanwhile, Diane had another redfish on the line, and so did Bucano. We landed those and fished that point until it stopped producing.
Bucano pulled up the anchor, and we then trolled along the shoreline for awhile, simply tossing and retrieving our baits. In the process, we managed to catch a few more redfish and some nice speckled trout in the mix.
"November is just a great time of the year to fish this whole Delacroix area," he said. "It's a huge area, and I'll personally focus on just a small part of it.
"I usually concentrate on the areas west of the Twin Pipelines - Oak River, False River, Little Lake, the Gareek, Lake Batola, Pointe Fienne, Bay Jack and Bakers Bay. I usually don't go any farther than that."
Bucano likes to fish Oak River itself when the tides are lower, and the ponds and no-name lagoons on both sides of Oak River when they're up.
"Normally during the winter, we'd fish the deeper water as it got colder, and during the warmer spells we'd fish shallow water, either flats or shallow bays under a cork," he said. "But last year, in spite of the cold winter, the fish never did go deep and stack up like they used to. We wound up having to fish them in shallow water under a cork all winter long.
"That was the only way you could catch them. We couldn't catch a trout tight-lined - the bait had to be under a cork. The weird thing was, if you fished in 3 feet of water, you'd have to set your cork at 3 feet so that the bait dragged along the bottom.
"We'd use a curl-tail bait, and we didn't pop the cork. Just toss it out upcurrent, and let the current move it back toward you with the bait dragging along the bottom. The trout ate that up."
Bucano says his game plan for this month is to fish the shallow lakes and deeper lagoons and ponds by simply drifting across them and casting on both sides of the boat. He also likes to drift or troll within casting distance of the shoreline and work both sides of the boat - the outside for specks, the shoreline for reds.
"Live bait is an option in the fall, but I find it unnecessary," he said. "Dead bait is all you need for reds and drum, and plastic will produce just as good."
Bucano likes to fish soft plastics in almost any color - white, glow, pearl, chartreuse, purple, opening night or whatever strikes your fancy.
"November is also a good month to look for trout under the birds," he said. "You'll often see a flock of gulls working over bait in the inside waters this month, and you shouldn't pass that action up. We often catch some nice trout that way in November.
"But once we get a few cold spells blowing through, the white shrimp will disappear and that'll be the end of fishing under the birds."
As for conditions, Bucano likes a northeast wind best, and he likes to fish the windy side of a shoreline.
"You can fish down here no matter what direction the wind is blowing from, as long as it's not 25 m.p.h. or more," he said. "For trout, you want it to be 5 to 10 knots - not dead calm or you'll get eaten alive by gnats and mosquitoes. Ten to 15 knot winds is doable, both for specks and reds, and if you're just targeting reds on the inside, you can fish in 18 to 20 m.p.h. winds. I know because I do it all the time. The winds just won't bother the redfish action inside.
"You also have to keep in mind that with fishing, you have go with what nature gives you. You have to conform your tactics to what the fish want. For instance, if you were stuck in the old pattern of strictly fishing deep in the holes last winter, well, you just didn't catch many fish. The fish stayed shallow all winter, and you had to fish them under a cork to get the bite.
"The usual MirrOlure bite didn't turn on last fall either. Usually you can drift the shallow lakes and lagoons and throw shallow-swimming hard baits, and catch some good trout this time of year. But it just didn't happen last fall. They wanted everything under a popping cork.
"Now this year may be different. Maybe they'll go deep again and stack up in the holes like they used to. Maybe the hard-bait bite will turn on this month like crazy. Or you might have to keep that cork on your line all winter long."
But at least by then, that goofy alligator should be hibernating.
By the way, my wife caught more redfish and trout, a big stingray and several other junk fish before we called it a day, and she loved every minute of it. I can see it in her eyes now whenever I mention going fishing - she's hooked! U
Capt. Billy Bucano can be reached at (601) 795-0760.