Dr. Pontchartrain ó Learn from one of Lake Pontchartrainís legends of fishing
This retired Slidell physician has earned his place as a legend in one of Louisianaís few trophy-trout lakes. Hereís why.
A lot of people like to fish. Dr. Bob Weiss LOVES it.
It would have taken him less than 10 minutes to get there, and Weiss could have caught all the specks he wanted ó with several black drum and maybe even a redfish or flounder to pretty up the box.
But he sat in the same spot he had fished all morning without so much as a sniff from a speckled trout. Weiss had caught and released some mangrove snapper, croakers, sheepshead, catfish and enough black drum to fill a couple of limits.
None of those fish interested him, though. Weiss wanted speckled trout.
So why didnít he run to the L&N Bridge?
Because Weiss, 67, didnít want just ANY speckled trout. Weiss is a true, diehard, trophy-trout fisherman, and almost always that means sitting and waiting.
Anglers read the headlines about big fish that earn prime placement on living-room walls and win new bay boats for their captors. Some of those fish fall to everyday shmucks who, through pure serendipity, end up at the right place at the right time and reel backwards on a spinning reel on top of a rod using line with more memory than a MacBook Pro.
But thatís the rare exception. Most of the fish that earn headlines are targeted for weeks by guys with names like Vandenborre, Sexton and Lieux.
And, of course, Weiss.
A retired general-practice physician, Weiss is afflicted with a serious condition that wasnít discussed once in any of his many years of medical training. Itís caused him to repeat specific actions over and over again like an obsessive-compulsive patient who ran out of money to fill his prescription.
Every morning at 3:30, an internal alarm clock rings in Weissí head, and he springs out of bed to begin his routine for another day of fishing.
Actually, "every morning" is a bit of an exaggeration. Some days, during any year, are impossible to fish because of severe thunderstorms or tropical events. Weiss is smart enough to take those days off, but only reluctantly.
His good friend, Chas Champagne, owner of Dockside Bait & Tackle in Slidell, said thereís not a more consistent fisherman in his neck of the woods.
"He fishes over 300 days a year," Champagne said.
Weiss admitted what he has may be a disease, but he also knows heíll be afflicted with it his whole life.
"Itís incurable, but it is treatable," he said with a laugh. "The way you treat it is to go fishing every day."
A psychologist studying Weiss as a young boy growing up in New Orleans could have probably predicted the level of fanaticism heíd have today. Weiss carried a fishing pole with him wherever he went.
"Any bayou or ditch or lake or puddle ó it didnít mater what it was ó I was fishing it," he said.
Weissís mother worried about his deep attraction to fishing, and it frequently got him in trouble with his dad.
"My father would tell me I needed to be home by 5 or 6 oíclock, and when that time came, Iíd just turn my watch back and keep fishing," Weiss recounted. "Before I knew it, it would be dark, and Iíd see the headlights coming."
His father would chastise him, but Weiss would blame it on his slow watch.
As a 12-year-old, in 1957, Weiss earned city-wide acclaim and a picture in the Times-Picayune by catching a Jax Golden Gill bass in City Park. The brewery every year would place a golden tag in the gill plate of a handful of local bass, and release them.
A caught fish earned its captor $50.
Weiss said when he brought in the fish the company gave him a crisp, new $50 bill, as well as a $1 bill. The Washington was their payment to him for allowing them to use his picture in advertisements.
Weissís piscatorial love affair didnít wane in his early adulthood. He was an avid tournament bass angler and helped found one of the original Pearl River clubs, and eventually progressed into a hard-core redfish sight-caster.
He has also made numerous forays to South America to target peacock bass, and was on the 1993 trip to Venezuela that resulted in the kidnapping of his friend, Jim Lamarque.
But in the last two decades or so, Weiss has turned his attention to speckled trout, and the fish in Lake Pontchartrain have paid the price ó particularly the trophies.
"(Weissís) boat has landed 20 plus fish over 6 pounds this year, with two over 7 (pounds) and one over 8," Champagne said. "Thatís truly amazing."
Whatís even more amazing is that Weiss hasnít lost his zeal one bit.
"I feel like every day is my birthday," he said. "I go home from one trip, and Iím already thinking about the next dayís trip"
Champagne, who has fished numerous times with Weiss, has seen it firsthand.
"Heís like most 11-year-olds when they catch their first fish everyday he goes," he said. "He never loses the excitement.
"He is truly a top-five fisherman in the state. Heís pretty awesome."
That fanatical love of the sport has never been more evident than this summer, when Weiss boated a 7.13-pound speckled trout on July 18 to take the lead of the East Division of the STAR tournament.
"It probably wonít stay up long (as the STAR leader)," Weiss said at the time. "Iíll be shocked if it holds up."
He was exactly right.
Less than two weeks later, on July 26, Weiss was bumped from first place by St. Amant angler Fritz Englade, who boated a 7.43-pounder that not only captured the STAR lead but also the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo title.
Englade caught the fish at one of the Main Pass rigs to the east of Venice.
Weiss was disappointed, but he didnít fish any more or less than he did before Engladeís catch.
As it would turn out, Weiss wasnít out of the STAR lead for three days. On July 29, he went to his favorite spot ó the rock pile at the point of Treasure Isle ó and threw out a live croaker. He placed the rod in a holder, and cast out a live shrimp on another rod.
Weiss felt a tap on the live shrimp, but that didnít capture his attention nearly as much as what happened on the other rod.
"The rod bent in half, and I had the drag real light," he said.
Weiss had caught a big catfish on a previous cast, but he knew the moment he picked up the rod that this was no catfish.
"She came out of the water," he said. "When big trout shake their heads, it makes a totally different sound than a little trout shaking its head.
"I was fishing by myself, and when the fish came up, I thought it was a lemonfish. Honestly, that was the first thought that popped into my head."
The 7.13-pounder of two weeks earlier was the hardest-fighting fish Weiss had ever battled, but that wasnít true of this fish.
"This sucker just dogged it," he said. "I kept waiting for it to take off, and it never did."
Within seconds, Weiss had it at boatside, and he deftly led it into the net. The catch was perhaps a little anticlimactic, but Weiss wasnít complaining.
The fish bit at 6:30, and his trip had just begun at 6 a.m.
Weiss took the giant to Dockside, where it weighed 8.02 pounds. The 29 3/4-inch fish had a massive frame that easily could have supported another pound or even two. Its belly was completely empty, and was even a little sunken.
It was truly a trophy trout. Weiss will forever remember the fish when he looks at the Nautic Star boat it won for him in the STAR.
Although there wonít likely be any 8-pounders caught in the lake this month, Weiss looks forward to this time of year because the fish get so easy to catch.
"We have a really good run in the fall," he said, "and thatís usually on the Trestles and the bridges. Also, in recent years, the Causeway has gotten incredibly good in the fall, and a lot more people are fishing the Causeway, and I think that area in general has as much potential as anywhere in the lake.
"It helps to diffuse some of the fishing concentration and pressure because more and more people are fishing at that end of the lake."
A Slidell resident, Weiss focuses more on eastern Lake Pontchartrain, but heíll happily run to the central or even western section of the lake if thatís where the best action is.
In fact, he said his best day of fishing this year was the day after Mardi Gras on the Causeway.
Well, that is, of course, if you donít count the day he caught the 8-pounder.
Weiss will fish live bait this time of year until itís no longer available. He likes nice-sized shrimp, but not necessarily the grilling-sized monsters that some anglers insist on.
"The fish usually like those giant shrimp, but they donít seem to want them this year," he said.
Instead, Weiss has had more success with 20- to 40-count shrimp. In fact, thatís the size bait his 7.13-pound trout hit.
Weiss said that by the time area marinas are unable to get live shrimp the fish are already comfortable hitting plastics anyway. At that time, Weiss begins throwing mostly Matrix Shads and Deadly Dudleys.
In the fall, Weiss fishes the bridges the way most anglers do ó getting downcurrent, casting to the bridge stanchions and hopping the lure along the bottom back to the boat.
Limits are easy this time of year on decent-weather days, but the clock is ticking on the action.
"The fall fishing lasts until the water temperature in the lake gets below 50 degrees, and then itís very difficult to catch a trout," Weiss said. "According to friends of mine who are commercial fishermen, the trout are still there, but theyíre in deep water; theyíre buried in the mud; theyíre more or less inactive."
But there are plenty of fish to be caught before then, and Weiss will definitely catch his share.
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