That meant I had to leave my Kenner home no later than 4 a.m. to make it on time. And that meant I had to be up even earlier to dress, load up the truck, etc.
But by now, I have my preparations down pat. I have all my gear — tackle bag, rods, camera bag, etc. — ready to load at the front door. I have some stuff, like ice chests and rain gear, already in the truck, and lunch is in the fridge. I bring two or three rod combos, all rigged and ready to cast, so I can be loaded up and ready to roll in mere minutes.
I stepped outside just before 4 a.m. to be greeted by a brisk wind. I use my neighbor's tall palm trees as a wind gauge because those big fronds are like flags. If the fronds are still, that means there's no wind. If they're fluttering, it means a little wind. If they're swaying and waving, it is definitely breezy.
I estimated the winds at a solid 15 m.p.h., which made the whole trip questionable. I debated calling Scardino to see if he wanted to reschedule, but we'd already rescheduled once, and the wind forecast for the rest of the week called for even worse winds.
As I pondered my dilemma, I remembered a verse from the Bible: "He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap." (Ecclesiastes 11:4)
The message is that the farmer who worries too much about the winds and clouds never gets any work done. He looks at the wind and decides not to farm, and at harvest time he has nothing to reap.
The same is true for anglers. Of course, you have to consider the weather conditions, but unless the conditions are virtually impossible, you might as well go for it. Like one old salt says, "If you want to know, you gotta go."
My cousin, Brian Graves, arrived, and in minutes we loaded the truck and made the two-hour drive to Grand Isle. Our timing was perfect. At 6 a.m., I walked the dock of the Sand Dollar to find Scardino waiting and ready, with a well full of frisky live shrimp.
I'd never fished with Scardino before, so I was somewhat surprised to find him waiting in a 23-foot Neptune walk-around. I've owned several cuddy-cabin boats before, and always found them comfortable and practical choices, especially for fishing along the coast and near-shore rigs.
But in my 15 years of writing for Louisiana Sportsman, I don't remember ever fishing with a guide out of one. The vast majority choose to fish out of the enormously popular center-console bay models, which, for all their shallow-draft practicality, do have drawbacks. They all tend to be wet in any kind of seas, they have few places to sit, and no place to get out of the sun.
Our walk-arounds, especially when equipped with side curtains, kept us dry in any conditions (even in a downpour), provided many places to sit and fish in the shade, and even had an enclosed head.
Scardino's Neptune had all of that, and was pushed by a 225 Evinrude that had us under way in short order.
Our first stop was the Shell Pile on the east side of Barataria Bay.
My second surprise that morning was just how calm the winds and seas were. The winds were a perfect gentle breeze, and the seas were almost flat calm.
Scardino anchored the boat, and we began casting live shrimp either under popping corks or under a sliding sinker. We had our first trout within minutes, which was quickly followed by quite a few others. All were between 13 and 15 inches, and seemed to be poured out of the same mold.
We boated a dozen or so before Scardino pulled up the anchor to search for some bigger fish. The weather was so perfect and the conditions so right that Scardino wanted to cover some ground and let us catch fish in a variety of the places Grand Isle has to offer.
The next stop was a huge rig in Barataria Bay the locals call either the "Noisy Rig" or "Hotel Sid." Three large tanks make it distinct from the other structures around.
We anchored off and began casting our live shrimp under Carolina rigs. Scardino says as the summer progresses and the heat turns up, a sliding sinker rig will produce the biggest fish.
"The water around this rig is only about 5 feet deep, and the July sun heats it up pretty fast," he said. "I find that you can catch plenty trout out here under a popping cork, but they'll be 12 to 14 inches on average. The bigger trout will stay near the bottom in the summer heat, and live shrimp or croakers under a Carolina rig is the best way to put them on ice."
Scardino uses a ½-ounce bass "bullet" style weight on his Carolina rigs instead of the traditional barrel weights.
"The bullet weight tends to skim over all the oysters on the bottom, and it doesn't snag bottom as frequently as the barrels," he said.
Hotel Sid gave up a few decent trout, but not the size or quantity Scardino was looking for, so we moved to what appeared to be only an expanse of open water just north of Grand Terre.
"This is Independence Island, or rather where the island used to be," he said. "Now it is an underwater reef with a thick oyster bottom, but it still holds fish."
The only thing that marked it was a piling, almost like a tombstone to mark what used to be.
We offered the trout live shrimp under a cork, and had plenty takers. We switched to plastic shrimp-imitation lures, and had equal success. We probably could have sat there and limited out on 13- to 14-inch trout, but Scardino wanted to cover some water, show us more good areas, and see if he could find some bigger fish.
Our next stop was the Saturday Island rig, northwest of Middle Bank, where we nailed more trout, most averaging the same size as the previous catches.
"As you can see, there are plenty of trout out here," Scardino said. "Everywhere we've stopped we've caught fish. Not huge trout, but the perfect size for eating."
And I agreed. I'd rather eat 13- to 14-inch trout than 20-inch fish any day. But the big ones are fun to catch!
From there we moved to the old Oyster Camp near Saturday Island. It's marked only by a series of ancient pilings, but under the surface, Scardino says there is a heavy layer of oysters and a long line of huge rocks once placed there by the Corps. Everything is underwater now, but the rocks extend out almost 100 yards from the pilings and lie in wait to sabotage the lower unit of unwary boaters. On those days with very low tides, you can still see the tops of the rocks, Scardino said.
We anchored about 50 yards off the pilings, and began casting live and plastic shrimp under popping corks. The winds were beginning to produce a slight ripple on the surface, and I started casting a Top Dog Jr. in the chartreuse/white color.
Scardino and Graves were catching fish with the shrimp, and my topwater plug was getting plenty of attention from the ravenous trout. Every cast I made provoked continual blow-ups, until one would eventually hook itself, and I'd just slightly lean back on my rod and reel it in. I learned long ago not to whip back my rod and try to vigorously "set" the hook while using topwater baits. Inevitably, that would propel the plug toward you at rocket speed, and you don't want to get nailed by a flying topwater bait. The fish might escape all those treble hooks, but if it hits you, it's got you.
The trout were literally tearing up my Top Dog, so both Scardino and Graves switched baits to get in on the action. Few things are as exciting as catching trout and reds on topwaters.
Scardino tied on a full-sized Top Dog in the red/white color, and the trout ate it up. The walk-the-dog action was so irresistible, they'd sometimes hit it three or four times and pop it completely out of the water before one would eventually bury a hook in its mouth. And most of these were larger trout. Still not the 3-pounders we hoped to find, but many were in the solid 2-pound class.
Every now and then, the action would die off on the topwater plugs and we'd switch back to live shrimp to keep the smell in the water and prevent the fish from wandering off. Once they started up again, we went back to the topwater baits and repeated the same action all over again.
Scardino says the action in July and August should continue to be spectacular.
"Trout will be everywhere," he said. "In Barataria Bay, you can fish St. Mary's Point, the northeast corner and south side of Queen Bess, Hotel Sid, Independence Island, Saturday Island at the rigs and pilings, Middle Bank — and they'll all produce fish.
"I like to fish the beaches in front of Belle Terre and Elmer's Island all the way to the pilings and the washout. A live shrimp or croaker will put some heavy hitters on your line on those beaches.
"We're also catching some nice fish at the wellheads just offshore; live bait under a Carolina rig is the ticket out there. I've been on a good bite at the new rocks by the bridge on the north side and at the reefs behind Cigar's Marina.
"Topwater baits will work along the rocks and at the reefs and islands, especially in the early and late hours, when the conditions are right. Too much wind will put a damper on topwater action.
"The East-West Canal and the Southwest Canal are also producing some fish, especially on the points and at the shell dams," he said. "Hackberry Bay is also productive during the summer months, and Bassa Bassa over in West Champagne Bay should be red hot over the oyster reefs.
"Live shrimp or croakers fished either under a popping cork or Carolina rigged is the bait of choice, and DOAs and Berkley Gulp Shrimp in the white or new penny colors will do almost as good. I've also done pretty good with the Tsunami shad baits."
Other summer hotspots include Manila Village and Government Reef.
"And by July the bull reds will set up shop in the passes," Scardino added. "I love to play catch and release with those bull reds. Four Bayou Pass, Coup Abel, Barataria and Caminada Pass are all good places to anchor and drop a wad of bait to the bottom. Cracked crab, shrimp and cut bait are all guaranteed to produce some rod-bending action."
Scardino says the best winds for fishing Grand Isle are from the south, southwest or north.
"Any east wind is poison in Grand Isle," he said. "It blows right alongside the island and muddies up the water so bad that it's impossible for the fish to find your bait."
He says he prefers fishing a rising tide, but a falling tide is also productive.
"Just so long as it isn't dead calm or ripping through so hard you can't fish," he said. "Too much tidal range is just as bad as too little. The best is a range anywhere between 5 inches and a foot. Anything under 5 inches is questionable, and anything over a foot is too much."
We were near our limits when the winds started acting like the weatherman predicted they would. It was a bumpy but dry ride back to the totally remodeled Sand Dollar Marina.
When conditions are right, there's no place grander than Grand Isle.
Capt. Mark Scardino's "Hard Times" Charter Service can be reached at (985) 787-3529.