This was winter at its worst: low water, dirty water, cold winds and gloomy skies. But down here in the Deep South, those miserable grey conditions don't last for long. The sunshine always returns in a day or two, and the southerlies begin to blow and the conditions change from gloomy to promising almost overnight.
I had already postponed one trip with Capt. Gene Dugas (985-640-0569) due to the inclement weather, but the next morning's forecast called for sunny skies, rising water and higher temperatures — a perfect day to get on the water, explore Delacroix and do some damage to the fish population.
I met Dugas and his friend and fellow captain, Warren Dudenhefer, at Gene's boat slip along the Hopedale Canal just after sunup, and we tossed our gear aboard his 25-foot Team Avenger Bay Boat. The big boat is powered by a Mercury 225 Optimax, and in short order we ran across the marsh onto the Delacroix side and headed to Lake Amedee.
"I have a basic route that I follow this time of year," Dugas said. "I often start here and make a few drifts, and if I find fish, I stick the Cajun anchor over and try to stay with the action for as long as it lasts.
"Sometimes you find them all stacked up, and you can limit out in one stop. Other times you catch a few on a drift and then go back and repeat that drift again. If one spot doesn't produce, move on.
"But Amedee is one of my favorite lakes in the winter, especially on those moderate temperature days."
Dugas says Lake Amedee has a tendency to stay clean when windy conditions muddy up other areas. And it acts as a huge drain for all the surrounding marsh, so when north winds push the water out of the marshes, the fish often stack up in the big lake to ambush the bait flushing into it.
"I usually start my drift on the north side of the lake," he said. "The lake probably averages only about 4 feet deep, but there is a slightly deeper channel between the middle and the north end where the crab traps are. Drift along those crab traps, casting soft plastics either tightlined or under a popping cork."
Dugas says he prefers casting Bayou Chubs in glow/chartreuse or avocado/red or H&H sparkle beetles in chartreuse, glow, motor oil or purple, all on ¼- or 3/8-ounce jigs, depending on the current.
His other favorite weapon is a MirrOlure Catch 2000, which he believes attracts bigger fish, and the redfish will nail it also.
"You can drift the middle of the lake or the south side as well, and catch fish on moderate days," he said. "On colder days, fish the mouths of the bayous — Bayou Robin, Bayou Batola and the pass into Petain Lagoon. It doesn't really matter whether the tide is rising or falling, as long as its moving. The water is deeper there, and the fish stack up in the deep holes. Anchor your boat, bounce your bait real slow off the bottom, and if they're there, you'll catch them."
We made a couple drifts along the north shoreline and put a few specks in the boat.
"You can also drift just like this down the center of Tanasia Lagoon and catch trout or close to the shoreline and catch reds," he said.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we all had the itch to explore, so Dugas fired up the outboard, and we ran through Petain Lagoon, up Bayou Terre aux Boeufs and down a pipeline toward the Twin Pipelines.
"There are two waterways that you can almost always count on to catch fish throughout the winter," Dugas said. "The Twin Pipelines and Oak River. They are both deep, they run a long way, the surrounding marshes and ponds all drain into them, and there are numerous intersections with other bodies of water. That's where you want to fish, at the intersections."
Our next stop was at the Twins and Lake John. Dugas pulled the boat just off the pipelines and stuck the anchor.
"On colder days or in the early mornings, cast into the pipelines and let your bait go to the bottom," he suggested. "Then just slowly retrieve it, working it up the ledge. Remember, the winter bite is not aggressive. They don't nail it like a summer bite. You might just feel a little resistance as you reel in, like maybe you've snagged the bottom. Whenever you feel that, set the hook. That's probably a trout.
"On warmer days, the fish will move out of the deep water and fan out over the flats. They'll be in 3 feet of water or even less, and you can fish them under a popping cork. On those days, anchor up inside Lake John, just a little ways off the pipelines. They will be shallow, but they won't go far from the deeper water."
Dugas said the pass in the back of Lake John between the lake and the no-name ponds is deep and an excellent spot for trout and reds on colder days.
"Just anchor and fish the bottom," he said.
We made several casts without success, and then yielded to the itch to move on.
A boat was anchored at the junction of Crooked Bayou on the west side of the Twins, and they were landing a trout as we putted by. Dugas stuck the bow on the corner of the east side of the intersection, and we gave that corner a few casts, but again without success.
"The fish are either here or they're not," he said. "Cast into the pipeline, let your bait sink to the bottom and slowly work it up the ledge. Bait is falling out of the bayou into the pipeline, so if the fish are here, you should know it. If you don't get any hits after several casts, move."
We headed south down the Twins and made our next stop at the top of Four Horse Lake.
"This is sometimes a great cold-weather spot, where the fish gang up here at the mouth of the pipelines," he said. "The biggest drawback is that it's such a high-traffic area, especially on weekends. Sometimes just as you begin to get a bite going, a boat passes and shuts it down. It can be frustrating, but it can also be productive. I like to give it a shot and take my chances."
We gave the area 10 minutes, and with no hits to keep us longer, we pulled up the Cajun anchor and moved on.
Dudenhefer pointed to the far end of the lake and said the pass into Pato Cabello at the southeast end of Four Horse is` also a good spot on colder days.
"Anchor and cast into the deeper water," he suggested. "There is good water flow through that pass, and the fish get in there to ambush bait. You will usually see several boats anchored on either side of the pass. They cast to the bottom and slowly bounce their baits back up toward the boat."
While Dugas says any of the cross channels intersecting with the Twin Pipelines can be productive, there are a few that are his favorites.
"At the cuts to Round Lake, Sister Bayou and False River," he said. "Those are all excellent cold-weather spots. Anchor just off the Twins into the corner at one of the channels, and cast your bait either into the cross channel and let it fall down to the bottom and then into the pipeline, or cast directly into the pipeline.
"Usually the fish are in the pipeline canal feeding on the baitfish flushing into it. Sand Hill Bayou, between False River and Round Lake, is another good deep-water winter spot. Fish it the same way, on the bottom, with a very slow retrieve."
We detoured off the Twin Pipelines and ran through False River, made a few twists and turns and wound up in another of Dugas' winter hotspots, Bay Jack Nevette.
The cuts into Oak River and Bay Ponton are excellent winter spots, and several boats had already staked their claim to the area. We moved into Pointe Fienne, and began a drift in the area between Pointe Fienne and Bay Jack.
"The current really flows through here, and it dug out a deeper channel, making this a great winter-time spot," he said.
Within minutes, we had fish on, and these were some nice trout. Dudenhefer was fishing live shrimp under a cork, and the trout showed a definite preference for his offerings.
But once they turned on, they hit my Berkley Gulps under a Cajun Thunder cork like they were the real thing. Dugas was also having success with a Catch 2000, so we put quite a few fish in the boat before we drifted completely out of the action. Then we ran back to where we started and re-drifted the same area with almost the same results.
That's the key this month, Dugas said. Move until you find them. Either anchor or drift until you get a few bumps, and then anchor.
"Oak River is generally as far as you'll ever have to run in winter," Dugas said. "All of the cross channels are good spots to try, but a few are my favorites. Oak River at the Pencil Canal; at Little Crevasse; at the cuts to Pointe Fienne and Bay Jack, and at the Twin Pipelines. Those are all cold-weather spots that generally pay off.
"But probably the best really cold weather spot is Oak River, between Little Crevasse and the Pencil Canal. Just drift that section of Oak River slowly, bouncing your bait easy off the bottom.
"You need a slow drift, so use a drift sock if you have to, and you have to get your bait flat on the bottom. Either go to a heavier jig or fish tandem jigs, but if you don't feel the bottom you won't find the fish. And when they hit, you'll only feel a slight quibble or tremble in your line, that's all. Then set the hook and reel them in."
For reds, Dugas says fish anywhere in Oak River where there is a drain from the marsh.
"Anchor downcurrent from the drain, fish live minnows or dead shrimp on the bottom or plastics tipped with a piece of shrimp, and you'll catch reds and trout out of the same hole," he said. "Also for reds, try fishing the same bodies of water we've been talking about, only cast your bait up against the shorelines, especially at points, cuts and coves. Cast spoons, plastics, beetle-spins or market bait under a cork, and you'll catch reds. And probably a few trout too."
Capt. Gene Dugas can be reached at 985-640-0569.