Songs like Surfer Girl, Surfin' Safari and Surfin' USA topped the charts, and had folks all over the world singing about California beaches — famous for big ocean waves and their strange attraction to surfers, a unique breed of people who paddle out on surfboards and ride the waves back to the beach.
Down here in South Louisiana, we don't surf the waves, we fish them. In the heat of the summertime, we prowl our beaches, either from a boat or on foot, looking for birds or baitfish or any other signs that fish lie beneath the surf, in the crashing breakers, right in the midst of the froth and foam.
Summertime is still surfin' time, when the waves crash up on the sandbars from Grand Isle to Four Bayous, and in those breakers roam numerous species of very desirable fish.
I told my friend Buggie Vegas, over at the Bridgeside Marina in Grand Isle (985-787-2419), that I wanted to fish the surf this summer, and I wanted him to hook me up with somebody who could put me on the fish. He promised to call me as soon as he worked it out.
A short time later, I got a call from one of Grand Isle's surf-masters — Mr. Official himself, Terry St. Cyr.
St. Cyr is a retiree who lives on the island from March until August each year, and then at the beginning of football season he returns to his home in Lafayette, where for eight years he officiated college football games and now officiates high school games.
We met at the Bridgeside dock a good while before daylight, loaded my gear into his 25-foot Sea Cat, and twin 200 Yamahas got us quickly under way.
But we weren't going far. Ten minutes from the dock, St. Cyr told his buddy, Errol Matherne, to ease the anchor over the bow. He had idled the boat up close to the shoreline of Elmer's Island slowly and carefully in case he ran aground, and the heavy anchor grabbed quickly in the shallow water.
St. Cyr insists on making a quiet approach to the spots he fishes because the big trout, the fish he especially targets, spook very easily in the shallow surf.
"They don't live to get that big otherwise," he said.
And St. Cyr knows a little something about catching big trout. He enjoys competitive fishing, and holds the record for the biggest trout ever caught in the Golden Meadow Rodeo (8.7 pounds), and has taken first-place honors in the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo several times.
"Last year we won second and third place," he said.
He also fishes the STAR tournament, and just won a boat in the Eastern Division for an 8.4-pound beauty — the third boat he's won.
The point is, his tactics are not mere theory, but those of a proven winner.
St. Cyr's Three Keys
1. "The first thing is to make a quiet approach to the beach," he said. "To do that, I have 200 feet of anchor line, so I can anchor far out and slowly drift in. If you roar up and plop the anchor over and make noise, you won't spook all the fish, but you will spook the big ones."
2. "Boat positioning is essential. If you don't get in close enough, you won't be able to cast to the breakers. But if you're not careful, or you don't get a good grab with your anchor, the waves can push you aground up on the beach.
"You've got to have an anchor you can count on. And you want to be positioned so you can cast right into a good breaker, where the wave hits the sandbar.
"I like a good white top on the breaker. My motto is, white is right. The bait washes up, gets knocked around and disoriented, and the trout nail them," he said.
3. St. Cyr likes to fish with live croakers, the friskier the better.
"Usually I get my bait at Bridgeside, but there are several other places on the island that sell live croakers: Carmadelle's, Cheramie's Landing, Gulf Stream Marina and Sand Dollar on the east end.
"If I have to, I'll get up real early, 2:30 or 3 a.m., and pull my small trawl to catch my own croakers or pogies, which are also excellent bait. But pogies have been harder to catch lately," he said. "And I like to be heading to my fishing spots by 3 or 4 a.m., depending on how far I have to run."
And distance does not discourage St. Cyr, who is known to run from Grand Isle to Four Bayous, Fourchon, Empire, Venice or even Breton Island in pursuit of big trout.
The big boat settled into position within casting distance of a good set of breakers. Everyone armed themselves with a Carolina-rigged spinning reel, and we baited up with healthy croakers.
For surf fishing, St. Cyr spools up with 15-pound mono, usually Trilene's Big Game series, with a 30-pound monofilament leader. He uses a ½- to ¾-ounce egg sinker for additional casting distance, and then tosses the bait right into the middle of the froth and foam.
Daylight was peeping over the horizon when we got the first bite. A big thump on the end of the line and a little-too-eager attempt to set the hook allowed the fish to get away clean.
"You have to give the trout time to take the bait when you fish with croakers," St. Cyr said. "Usually I follow the three-bump rule.
"On the first bump, the trout strikes the croaker but doesn't swallow it. He kills it or stuns it. Don't set the hook yet. Wait a few seconds and he'll come back and pick up the bait. Then, you'll feel a tug or bump as he begins to move away with the bait. Wait until you feel the third tug as he swallows the bait, then you set the hook," he advised.
We followed his advice, and soon had several nice-sized specks in the boat. But they weren't the quality fish he was looking for, so we pulled up the anchor and made a short move, getting in even closer to the Elmer's Island beach.
"The larger fish tend to be in the trough closest to the beach," he said. "Smaller and more-numerous trout hang between the second sandbar on out, but I don't fish for small trout. I want the big, bad boys, the old wolves that hunt up and down the trough looking for baitfish washing up.
"That's why I don't fish with shrimp. You might catch more trout with shrimp, but you catch what you fish with. Shrimp bait equals small fish. I use croakers, and I might catch fewer fish, but I guarantee I'll catch bigger fish, and that's what I want to do."
Through the years, St. Cyr has caught several fish in the 8-pound category in the surf, using this technique, and more 6- and 7-pound fish than he can remember.
Our move paid off, and we began feeling the thumps of trout striking the croakers on the ends of our lines. Following St. Cyr's three-bump rule, we began steadily putting some quality fish in the boat.
I noticed a few shrimp swimming around in the baitwell that somehow slipped in with the croakers, and I decided to put one on the hook. I got a hit almost immediately, and reeled in a trout, quite a bit smaller than the rest we'd caught.
"Shrimp fish," St. Cyr commented with a wink.
I rooted through the baitwell and used up the rest of the shrimp, and put a few more "shrimp trout" in the boat, none measuring up to the size of the fish we caught on the croakers. It was obvious that St. Cyr's technique for landing bigger fish worked.
According to St. Cyr, the optimum situation would be to fish the early mornings, with a southeast wind blowing 8 to 12 m.p.h. and an incoming tide with a range of 1.3 or less.
"Anything over 1.3 is too much," he said. "Too much tidal action makes the water all dirty right up against the beach, and that's where you want to fish.
"A south wind is also good, as long as it's not blowing too hard, and a west wind is the absolute worst because it brings in the muddy Atchafalaya Basin water," St. Cyr said.
From the Beach
Buggie also got me in touch with Mark Page, an avid beach fisherman who has caught trout up to 7 pounds from the bank.
His technique is leave before daylight and patrol the beach to the west of Bridgeside Marina looking for breakers in the surf with a good white top. He fishes mostly with MirrOlure topwater baits in the glow color, tossed right into the breaking waves.
Page says he also has been known to cast live croakers Carolina-rigged when topwater action is slow. He says he has no preference on incoming or outgoing tides, as long as the water's moving.
And while he prefers fishing the early mornings, some of the best fishing he's had has been in the middle of the day.
"The problem is, most people who wade-fish wander too far out into the water," Page said. "If you wade out waist-deep or chest-deep, you're too far out. The fish are behind you. I usually only wade out to my ankles, or to the knee at the deepest.
"These fish are shallow, right inside the froth and foam. You only need to cast far enough to reach the first sandbar, and then as you let your bait fall off the sandbar that's when the trout will hit it."
Before he casts a bait, there are certain things Page watches for.
"I look for signs of baitfish in the water — you know, bait jumping up in the surf, which indicates predators among them, or birds diving in the surf. They have incredible eyesight and can find shrimp or baitfish in the middle of all that wave action. When I find that, I fish there," he said.
Page keeps his equipment simple.
"I don't carry a tackle box," he said. "I stick a few topwater baits in my hook-bonnet, and I only carry one rod, which I build myself.
"Usually I use a Daiwa 2500 or 4000 series spinning reel spooled with 8-pound-test and no leader. I tie the bait directly on the line. I might occasionally lose a fish, but hey, this is sportfishing, and I'm not into the 'meat-haul' mentality; I'm in it for the action, the fun and the challenge.
"I've experimented with several different reels, some expensive, some cheaper, and I find that when you fish the surf like I do, your reel will get wet. And that saltwater and sand will destroy your bearings. So, for the surf, I don't use the more expensive reels."
As for action in the summertime, the surf is definitely the place to fish.
"Sometimes schools of huge redfish move into the surf, and hundreds of big fish are suddenly everywhere, all around your feet. I got caught once in knee-deep water in the middle of a huge school of redfish that must have averaged between 20 to 40 pounds each. Big fish were bumping my legs, knocking me around, it was amazing," he said.
"Trout, reds, shark — you can catch anything out here."
From a boat or from the beach, the surf's up in South Louisiana. It's enough to cause a Cajun to sing along with the Beach Boys.