Ulysse “Bootsie” Toups Jr. is known as a tournament buster, raking in numerous speckled trout awards since he started fishing rodeos in 1978.
In this excerpt from Trout Masters: How Louisiana Anglers Catch the Lunkers, Toups shares his tips on catching trophy trout at Grand Isle.
Although he will fish the Caminada Pass Bridge, especially in May and especially on incoming tides, Toups loves to fish the surf zone.
“Beach fishing is a lot more thrilling than other kinds of fishing,” he said. “It’s where the big fish are. Early in the morning, when a big hooked fish comes to the top and throws his head with his mouth open or makes a big swirl, it is just something. When I see that swirl, I know I have a big one on, over 7 pounds.
“I fish at Venice sometimes looking for big fish, but it really doesn’t turn me on. Neither does fishing at oil rigs. Rig fishing is like jerk-fishing, fishing straight down. When you’re fishing in shallow water, it has a different feel than fishing in deep water.”
But fishing the beach surf from a boat can be challenging. Except near passes and cuts, the beach is paralleled by at least two and often three sand bars with “gullies” in between them. Toups likes to be able to position his boat to fish as near to the beach as possible. Getting in that position is easy when the weather is calm, but when it’s rough, safe maneuvering and anchoring demand skill. The crowns of the sandbars will be white with the suds of breaking waves.
But Toups is convinced that big speckled trout like it rough. As long as the water is clear enough to fish, he likes to fish the suds. Fishing farther out, he is convinced, produces small fish.
“Ten big fish are better for me than 50 small trout,” he said.
Once positioned, he likes to cast into the gulley between the beach and the first sandbar. But Toups isn’t just a typical “croaker soaker.” Once he gets his Carolina-rigged bait into the water, he slowly works it back to him, like a bass fisherman works a plastic worm.
“Sometimes the fish are in the gulley, and sometimes the fish are on top of the bar,” he said.
Besides fishing the structure of the sandbars, Toups can also be found fishing at other places, all involving structure.
“Sometimes I fish the barges at Fourchon, but you lose a lot of tackle there,” he said. “You also need to watch the currents and your anchor, or your boat will end up on the rocks.”
The barges were originally rock-filled steel barges deliberately sunk parallel to the shore off the Fourchon headlands as breakwaters. Over time, the barges rusted out, and many of the large rocks have spilled out.
Toups will also fish near the rock jetty on the eastern side of Caminada Pass and at “Gorillaville,” the heavily-shoaled waters on the west side of the pass. Toups doesn’t fish “inside,” in Barataria and Caminada bays, unless it’s absolutely too rough anywhere else. Then he “might” fish over an oyster reef with his dad.
First stop was immediately downcurrent from the Caminada Pass Bridge. As he eased into position and carefully dropped his anchor, only one other boat was nearby. This would rapidly change as other boats joined the line-up. Toups carefully factored in the strength of the tide in picking his spot. A very little farther toward the middle of the pass had currents that were too strong, he explained. Nearer the shoreline of the pass, there wasn’t enough current to please him.
Toups rigged his Carolina rig with two ¾-ounce egg sinkers above a swivel, to which his 18-inch, 30-pound test shock leader was tied. Between the two sinkers and between the bottom sinker and the swivel he threaded cross-sectioned pieces of tiny rubber vacuum hose. He explained that he does this to prevent damage to the holes in the egg sinkers, which might impede line movement through them.
His leaders were made of 30-pound-test Trilene or fluorocarbon line. The business end of the leaders were rigged with No. 1 treble hooks. He said that he often fishes 4/0 or 5/0 kahle hooks, as well as treble hooks.
“Kahle hooks don’t make the boat as bloody from fish swallowing them, and they don’t hang up as much on beach stubble as treble hooks do,” he said.
He fished around in his homemade circular livewell for a “nice” croaker, which he carefully hooked with one hook of the treble through both of the croaker’s jaws from beneath.
“The bigger the bait, the bigger the trout,” he said quietly as he hooked the croaker.
The rod, like his other rods, was a 7-foot Ugly Stick, under which was slung a Diawa BG-20 spinning reel.
“I’m always sure to get the Ugly Sticks with the big eyes (line guides) because you can make longer casts with them,” he said. “Long casts let you get close to the beach on rough days.”
His favorite line is 60-pound-test PowerPro.
“I like it,” he said, “because it only has the diameter of 17-pound-test mono line. It’s real strong, and it’s sensitive. You can feel the bait wiggling on the hook.”
When he uses monofilament, his choice is 20-pound-test Trilene Big Game line.
“With those lines, I can land anything on the beach,” he said. “That’s important if you’re fishing in a tournament.”
But he didn’t get a bite on his croaker. After several casts, he fished out a fresh croaker, and put it on the hook. Then he netted a spot from the livewell, and hooked it on another hook of the treble.
“That’s a twosome,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “one for sight and one for sounds.”
The spot, or sand digger, as he usually calls them, has a wide shiny body that is easy for trout to see. The vocal croaker, which lives up to its name by endlessly croaking, is for sound.
The cast immediately yielded a vicious strike. Toups glanced at me, and nodded knowingly. He declared the speck as “nice, but not what we really want.” As he steadily caught one trout after another, he out-caught, by size and numbers, all the boats around him combined.
Perched on the stern of his boat, looking for all the world like one of the white egrets fishing intensely off the pilings of the dilapidated old bridge, he discussed his favorite fishing conditions.
“I’m an incoming-tide person,” he said. “The water is cleaner then, and it seems that I catch bigger fish on an incoming tide. But I fish all tides; incoming is just my favorite.”
Toups added that his favorite tide range is between .7 and 1 foot.
“A lot of the places I like to fish are near passes and cuts, and trout seem to hold in these areas with tides that have a range of under a foot,” he said.
Early morning fishing is critical to Toups, who seldom fishes past early afternoon, except when fishing in a tournament or rodeo.
“Ninety percent of my biggest fish are caught before 8 a.m., although I have caught a few big ones later, even at noon,” he said. “I also like fishing during periods of dark moon. I don’t think they feed as heavily at night then.”
Bootsie Toups’ tips
1. Have a lot of patience. Big fish are loners.
2. Move if you are catching small trout of about the same size. That’s all you’ll continue to catch there.
3. Work your bait. Don’t just throw live bait out there and let it sit in one spot. Work a lot of area to find where the fish are.
4. The more time that you spend on the water, the better the odds are of finding a big fish. You also get better at fishing with more time on the water.
5. If you fish on beaches, learn to read the water. Look for changes in ripples or color shades. Look for calm spots in rough water or rough spots in calm water. The currents on beaches don’t just run one way. Always look for something different than the surrounding water.
6. Look for baitfish activity on calm days. Mullet are best. Glass minnows (silversides) usually attract small trout rather than large fish.
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.