Harry Hildebrand is known for modifying his artificial lures with yellow and red paint to simulate blood and trigger instinctual bites from predatory trout.
In this excerpt from Trout Masters: How Louisiana Anglers Catch the Lunkers, legendary Lake Pontchartrain fisherman Harry Hildebrand discusses how he trolls for big speckled trout along the bridges.
“Harry Hildebrand is a special breed,” said noted lure maker and trophy trout fisherman Dudley Vandenborre, Jr. “He’s the last of a kind. At one time, a dozen great trollers fished the Trestles over Lake Pontchartrain. He’s the last of them.
“Harry is one of those characters that is really special; I don’t know if only Louisiana can produce them. He has lived his life the way he wanted. I hope I can get as many days on the water as he has.”
Harry Hildebrand was born at Baptist Hospital in New Orleans on August 30, 1929. From then to now, his life has been a wild roller-coaster ride. But the thread through much of it has been his love of catching really big speckled trout.
So it was on a blustery March day. For what seemed the 10th time in an hour, Hildebrand peeked through the window blinds of his waterfront cottage, perched like a fire tower on 18-foot pilings in North Shore Beach, near Slidell. What he was looking at were the squally white-capped waves whipping the Trestles, the long railroad bridge crossing the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain. What he muttered was telling of the man.
“There is nothing like those silvery things,” he said. “They do something to people more than dope or alcohol or anything. Nothing gets in your blood like speckled trout. It’s unbelievable what those silver things do.”
Whether he was talking to me or his beloved mixed-breed dog Shelby was hard to tell.
Hildebrand’s knowledge of fishing the three bridges on the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain is encyclopedic. He uses both lead-core and monofilament lines for trolling. He prefers monofilament, the lighter the better, feeling that baits work better on lighter line.
“You can catch a 30-pound redfish on 12-pound line,” he boomed, “so why the hell use anything bigger.”
But, he allows that lead-core line has to be used most of the time in the mid-lake areas of the bridges and on strong tides elsewhere. His objective is to always have his lures fishing within 6 to 12 inches of the bottom.
Bridge by bridge, he explains the line to use. On the Trestles, between the north draw and the north shore and between the south draw and the south shore, he will strictly use monofilament. Mono is also acceptable mid-lake, between the draws, if the tide range is .3-foot or less.
The Highway 11 bridge demands more use of lead-core line. In fact, Hildebrand uses lead-core line almost 100 percent of the time when trolling the bridge on anything but a very weak tide. All of his fishing on this bridge is done between the north draw and the south shore of the lake. The stretch between the north draw and the north shore attracts too many fishermen to troll effectively, and the active boat traffic of the area disturbs the fish.
Some of the best trolling in the lake is along the south shore between the Trestles and the Highway 11 Bridge during the month of April and then again in November. Waters near the shore are very shallow, so Hildebrand fishes away from the shore, following the 7- to 8-foot depth contour.
A few “rules” hold for all the bridges. Currents are always stronger on falling tides than on rising tides of comparable range. All the bridges can be fished their length with monofilament if the tide range is very small. On very strong tides, the mid-lake stretches of all three bridges cannot be trolled at all, even with lead-core line.
Hildebrand notes from long experience that catches of specks from the Trestles will be three to four times higher than catches on the Highway 11 bridge. But the Highway 11 bridge has bigger fish. All of his speckled trout over 7 pounds, what he calls “wall trout,” were caught along the Highway 11 bridge. All were caught on cloudy days and while using lead core line.
“What does that tell you?” he asked. “Big, smart trout can see lead-core line on sunny days.”
Harry Hildebrand’s tips
1) If you are going to troll, use the appropriate line length.
2) Apply pressure to a hooked fish, but at the same time don’t rush a big fish. Adjust your drag during the fight, especially if you are using hard baits.
3) If you are going to troll, get the right boat! Don’t drag five-gallon buckets off a big boat and think you are trolling. You are just making a commotion.
4) When passing other trollers head-on, pass with your port side to their port side.
5) Fish a lot. You can call other people you trust for advice. It is sickeningly ridiculous to rely on newspapers or guides’ postings on the internet for information. Most guides embellish and exaggerate.
6) Be courteous on the water. Idiots can ruin fishing for everyone.
7) Try new things with baits. Some work and some don’t. If your experiment doesn’t work, can it. If the fish are biting and they stop, there has to be a reason. Experiment.
8) Stick with it. Show fortitude. Keep trying.
9) Be patient with tides at the bridges. When the tide finally starts moving after waiting for it, don’t give up if the trout don’t bite right away. It may take 45 minutes to an hour, but if it is the time of year that trout are at the bridges, they will bite sometime during the tide.
Learn more about how the best guides and anglers across the Louisiana coast catch trout day in, day out by purchasing the Trout Masters Tool Kit, which includes a special package price for Trout Masters: How Louisiana’s Best Anglers Catch the Lunkers and Trout Masters Too: How the Pros do it.