It doesn't take much effort to see what the primary occupation of the locals is when driving toward Hopedale. Signs advertising saltwater fishing charters hang out from waterside boat docks and piers like Spanish moss dripping from the Evangeline Oak.

Since Hopedale is only about a two-hour drive from my house, I have been on the hunt for some solid secrets that might help my son and me hook a few trout in the future.

Having made that ride to Hopedale recently, I thought I better write down some of the telephone numbers that were almost hitting me in the face so I could get some great fishing information in the future.

My timing was somewhat spectacular as I found several of the guides busily cleaning fish for their customers. A few didn't mind at all that I invaded their dock with rapid-fire questions.

If I came across a dock that was barren because the fish had already been cleaned, I made a mental note to make a quick call within a few days. I didn't want any stone left unturned, and I didn't want any secret that could help me score some fish go undiscovered.

One thing I learned about most of the guides from Shell Beach to Hopedale is that they love to talk. They didn't just talk about fishing. Some whom I knew already made sure to ask about how my momma was doing. Others provided lagniappe advice about wearing pants in this part of the world when they saw my bare legs and sandals.

One guide told me a story about how a fellow trying to get to Delacroix got turned around and wound up at the Breton Sound Marina.

"Is this the End of the World?" he asked.

"Nope," the guide retorted. "It's the beginning."

A few guides tried hard to hold on to their secrets. I wasn't deterred by their bullish ways, though. I might not have been a covert counter-terrorism operative when I was in the military, but I had ways of making them talk.

Actually, the Shell Beach and Hopedale area can be considered a beginning, or a launch pad, if you will, to what Specks author Todd Masson called, "some of the best speckled trout fishing in the entire world."

What Masson didn't mention in his book because it wasn't titled Redfish was that is also offers some of the best redfish action in the entire world, too. With the opportunity to catch loads of trout and bull reds on any given day, it's no wonder so many anglers are looking for any little tip they can get to help them do just that.

As Masson mentioned in Specks, anglers in this region of Southeast Louisiana have had to deal with a constant state of change beginning with the construction of the MRGO and followed by the completion of the diversion canal at Caernarvon.

It takes an angler who is constantly on the water to learn how to deal with the cyclic nature of the fishing in eastern St. Bernard Parish. They have put in the work to learn the secrets. I have put in the work to get them to talk. Now, you have to put in the work to turn their secrets into ice chests full of specks and reds.

Capt. Ben Leto

Capt. Ben Leto operates Louisiana Fishing Expeditions in Hopedale (985-630-2066). Leto, like all guides along the Hopedale Highway, has been through more than most men could handle since Hurricane Katrina. His perseverance and persistence to rebuild his operation has turned into a 16x8 trailer that comfortably sleeps eight anglers, which is a short walk across the street to Leto's waiting boat.

"One of the best things I could pass along to somebody wanting to come out and have a fun day out of Hopedale would be to work on the reds," Leto said. "There's a ton of broken marsh out there where the water runs through when the tide is moving. Redfish have been stacking up in those new cuts, and you can catch them all day long."

Leto pointed out areas like Calebasse, Coquille and Lake of Second Trees as areas that have some of these new redfish holes. Either set up anchor or troll on the downcurrent side of the cut and cast your lures into the flow.

"You can't go wrong with that Norton Brass Rattling Spoon," Leto advised. "Chunk it up there into the broken marsh, and let it go to the bottom. I do best when I let it go to the bottom and work it real slow. They'll pick it up off the bottom most of the time. As long as the tide is moving, you can work on them all day long."

Capt. Tim Ursin

Capt. Tim Ursin operates Escape Fishing Charters out of Shell Beach (985-847-0672). Since he has a shorter trip to the east side of the MRGO, that's where he spends a lot of his time. That's also where his secret spreads its roots.

"There's a reef over on the east shoreline of Lake Borgne where a fellow caught a 10-pond trout right before Katrina," Ursin said. "The place is called Jancke's Ditch, and it's absolutely an awesome place to fish topwaters either first thing in the morning or late in the evening."

Ursin prefers fishing Jancke's Ditch during the late evening starting about 6 p.m. on a high tide. The wind has normally lain down by then, the temperature is cooling and 3- to 4-pound trout start looking toward the surface for something to eat.

"I go in there and look for mullet over the reefs," Ursin explained. "Top Dogs and Zara Spooks work really well. I like either black/chartreuse or all chartreuse. It seems like those work better than bone in the low light."

Ursin was quick to point out that this couldn't be considered a meat haul. Rather, it's an opportunity to catch around 10 really nice trout with an outside chance at a real mule.

Capt. Warren Dudenhefer

Capt. Dude, as he is more often called, operates Dudenhefer's Fishing Charters out of Hopedale (504-676-3724). Dudenhefer has a deep secret that just boiled to the surface when pressed on the issue. In fact, his deep secret is to fish deep with live bait.

"Not just any live bait, though," he cautioned. "If you want to catch bigger trout, get out on the rigs in Black Bay or Breton Sound and Carolina rig a live croaker on the bottom. That's the way to consistently catch 4- to 6-pound trout."

The way Dudenhefer hooks the croakers on his Carolina rig is where the secret really begins. He uses big croakers, and he hooks them through the tail.

"Hooking them in the tail makes the croaker swim around in a crippled manner," Dudenhefer said. "It actually looks like its rooting around in the rocks for some trout eggs in a weird, nose-down fashion. And don't set the hook when you first feel a bite because a trout will hit a croaker first to kill it, then turn around and swallow it head first."

Dudenhefer added that since trout swallow croaker head first to compress their fins, thus making them easier to swallow, a croaker hooked through the tail is much more likely to hook a trout in the roof or side of the mouth.

"I also rig my Carolina rigs with 50-pound Spiderwire Stealth, and I don't use a swivel," he continued. "I thread the line through one of those red or clear Carolina Keepers, and tie the braid right to the hook. This helps in getting unhung and in quickly changing leader lengths."

Capt. Tony Barousse

Capt. Tony Barousse operates Big Easy Fishing Charters (504-348-4830), and his secret has more to do with safety than it does catching fish. Barousse was adamant that anglers who don't know the area can wind up in a bad spot, especially at low tide.

"You can easily get stuck on a mud flat or an oyster reef," he said. "The best way to learn is to do some map work and to hire a guide the first couple of times you go out. They'll help you mark the maps and show you some spots you can run. Then get a good GPS for your boat."

These guides have learned from experience and seeing dangerous stuff when they have low water. Let their experience work for you. It's a lot cheaper to hire a guide a couple of times for an on-the-water education than it is to replace your boat hull or motor.

Capt. Charlie Thomason

Capt. Charlie Thomason operates Bayou Charters out of Hopedale (985-809-6391), and he has just completed construction on two housing units he dubbed the Silver Side Lodge. Thomason is now able to sleep up to 24 anglers — 12 in each unit — and both are just a short walk across the street from his fleet of boats.

Thomason's secret may not seem mysterious or spectacular, but it speaks volumes about what goes on in Hopedale. Thomason says the biggest secret about Hopedale is Hopedale itself.

"It's gotten more popular after Katrina," Thomason surmised. "But it's a place that many people don't really know about. And the best thing about it, in my opinion, is that you can catch fish here all year long no matter what the weather is doing."

Thomason was referring to the fact that the Hopedale area has a great estuary with deep bayous right next to shallow water. Trout like deep water close to where they live and feed, and that's exactly what they have here.

"Take the winter for instance," Thomason said. "It's not uncommon to catch 3- and 4-pound trout with us in the winter. That's very odd and pretty hard to do anywhere else. We always have a lot of bait because it doesn't have to move too far to find the deep water, and the trout naturally follow it wherever it goes."

Moving on down the road, anglers will eventually reach the Breton Sound Marina, which guide Glenn Sanchez told me earlier was the "beginning of the road." Breton Sound Marina has finished construction on a lodge called The Big Fish Lodge, which sleeps up to 24 anglers.

Capt. Barry Brechtel

Capt. Barry Brechtel operates Big Fish Charters (504-610-6914) out of Breton Sound Marina with Capt. C.T. Williams, and the last thing he wanted to do was spill any secrets that didn't include buying a bunch of shrimp before you hit the water. As a marina operator, he wants you to buy shrimp, and he would never tell you that to consistently catch trout out of Hopedale you can do it with a handful of plastic lures.

"Some of the most beautiful boxes of fish we see come into Breton Sound Marina are from anglers fishing plastics out of 16-foot flat boats," Brechtel said. "One of the reasons they catch fish is that they know what they're doing, but another reason is that they carry baits like the Berkley Gulp Shrimp in glow, the Berkley Jerkbait in new penny and curl-tail Saltwater Assassins in opening night."

While Brechtel admits he loves to slam the throttle on his Hydra Sports boat to hit the outside stuff like Black Bay, Breton Sound and Eloi Bay, he also readily admits that anglers don't have to do that just to catch fish.

"We've got so many good inside areas like Bernard, Lake of Two Trees, Half Moon Bay and Lakes Robin, Eloi and Coquille that you can always catch fish in close," he said. "And as much as we think shrimp are best for catching fish in those areas, a lot of fish are caught on some of the better artificials."

Capt. Kerry Audibert

Capt. Kerry Audibert operates Ought To Be Fishing Charters (504-259-5304) from Breton Sound Marina, and his secret stems from where he's been fishing lately, which is a lot of islands. He sees anglers sometimes making the mistake of getting in too close to shore and only fishing the shore side of the boat.

"I'd recommend getting about a cast and a half away from the shore of an island and fishing both sides of the boat," said Audibert. "A lot of times, the fish are way off the island, and you'll never know it unless you throw out the other side of the boat."

Audibert mentioned that one of the factors in determining if the fish are close to the shore or off it is how the tide is moving. The outside of the islands throw currents and eddies off the points. The key is to know where the fish are based on the strength of the tide.

"If it's ripping, the trout aren't going to be very close to the point where the tide is real focused," said Audibert. "In that case, they'll back off to where the tide is more dispersed so they don't have to use all their energy. If it's not that strong, though, they'll get in there close to the point where the tide is the strongest because that's where the bait will be circulating through."

Capt. Danny Diecidue

Capt. Danny Diecidue operates Honey Hole Charters (504-458-8029) out of the Breton Sound Marina. How he fishes isn't a big, fat secret. He regularly tosses soft plastics under a popping cork. What he fishes under them might not be a secret in other parts of the state, but he thinks it is at Hopedale.

"I like to throw an avocado H&H Bull Minnow," he revealed. "I like to throw it because it's shorter and fatter than most of the other cocahoe baits. It's only about 2 ½ inches long, and it has a pot belly."

Diecidue runs his Bull Minnows about 2 feet under an Old Bayside Paradise Popper cork, and he primarily fishes them over the oyster reefs.

Capts. Jonathan and Glenn Sanchez

This father-and-son team operates Reel Excitement Charters (504-232-6227) out of Breton Sound Marina. Jonathan didn't know if his revelation qualified as a secret, but he did consider it to be a pretty solid tip.

"Fish deep under a popping cork," he said. "I mean 4 feet or more. If you can handle it, go even deeper than that. And make sure you're popping the cork and letting it sit so the bait can work for you. Don't drag it through the water. That's what I most often do to put a good box of fish together."

Jonathan left us with one more tip for the rigs — go light. He frequently rigs live bait with just a hook and a very light split-shot weight. This allows the bait to float down naturally, albeit very slowly.

"Don't worry, though," he said. "It will get down there with the trout eventually. It works best if you cast it upcurrent and let it drift back to you."