Gusty southeast winds blowing steady 15 to 20, water the color of a café au lait, steady rollers and a ripping incoming tide — ideal conditions to hammer speckled trout with plastics at the Trestles, right?
In fact, definitely not.
But they didn’t stop Capt. Kris Robert from filling the box with fish on a late afternoon Lake Pontchartrain trip earlier this week.
When other folks are at home impatiently waiting for improved conditions, he sees it as an opportunity to take out his 22-foot Ranger Bay and focus on the fish without having to fight the crowds.
“The worse the weather is, the better it is for us, anyway, if we’re just fishing with friends,” said Robert, who operates One Last Cast Charters. “Basically, you just have to deal with the wind and the weather, and tuck in when you can behind the bridge to fight the wind.
“But you have better opportunity to move.”
There were a grand total of three other boats fishing the southwestern western side of the Trestles that afternoon over about a three-hour period, which gives you an idea of how tough the conditions actually were.
Feeling the bite was definitely a challenge, but the trout were there. It’s a testament to the Trestles’ power to hold fish in May — even with lower salinity levels and dirty water.
“As bad as the conditions are with the Pearl River dumping in there, and high winds in the 15 to 20 mph range, we still caught fish,” Robert said. “The fish want to be there. They don’t care.
“If you don’t want to spend the money on shrimp right now and you’re pretty good using that plastic, you’re going to catch fish on the bridge.”
To combat the dirty water, Robert threw brightly-colored Matrix Shad on either a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce Goldeneye jighead, namely lemon head and pink champagne.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, the water clarity is probably a 1 right now. We probably have about 6 to 8 inches of visibility, where in previous years you probably had 2 to 3 feet of visibility,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to make two or three casts on each pole, because with limited visibility you have to put it right in front of their face.
“They want to eat it. They’re trying to feed up, the spawn is here. If you put it right in front of their face, they’re going to try to pull it out of your hands.”
But even if the yellow mouths are ripping the little paddle tails right off your Matrix Shad and you can’t feel it, you’re just wasting your time — and gusty winds, dirty water and a rocking boat don’t make it easy.
Everyone knows you have to get your bait to the bottom. So what’s the key after that?
According to Robert, watching your line where it enters the water and consistently taking up slack are vital.
“What you’ll see is when you make that cast and it gets to the bottom, before you go to pop it, you’ll want to put a little bit of tension on the line. What will happen is once you go to pick that lure off the bottom, that fish will try to suck it up,” he said. “And if you have too much slack in your line, you’re not going to feel the bite or you’re going to miss it.”
But you can’t reel up too much slack - that creates another issue.
“Too much tension, and you’ll drag the bait out of the strike zone. So you’ve got to find that medium where it’s just enough tension and just enough slack to keep it in the strike zone,” he said. “But once you feel that that little thump or that little bit of weight, you can hurry up and set the hook.
“There’s just a split second when the fish is trying to figure out if it’s something he wants to eat. You’ve got to be able to pull the trigger. So as I pop it, I’m actually reeling it, but not fast — maybe one crank. Because now I’m taking a little tension on the line and reeling at the same time, so if that bite occurs I’ve got tension and can set the hook immediately and go straight to reeling.”
Figuring out the fish and each day’s pattern is also critical to his success.
“Once you find a pattern, they’ll all usually stick to that pattern. If they’re tight to the pilings, you know you can get right up to the bridge and peel them off there,” he said. “Sometimes they’re off the bridge. You have to make that first pass and make mental notes.
“Then you can shorten your drift and before you know it, you’re making a 15- or 20-pile drift and consistently picking up fish.”
Robert said another key for the Trestles is to get there early, or just choosing to make a late-afternoon trip, instead.
“You see a lot of guys showing up at 7:30 or 8 in the morning, and some people can’t help it with things to do. But by then, it’s already packed and you’re running around trying to find a spot to fish,” he said. “Those fish have already had a lot of pressure, so they might have already gone negative.”
Robert is a big fan of 17-pound Stren Original mono on the Trestles because it’s tough enough to withstand the pilings and rocks there, and he can see it against the water of Lake Pontchartrain. He keeps the index finger of his left hand tucked around his reel in constant contact with the line while he fishes.
“When you set the hook, you can muscle that fish without having to worry about him breaking off,” he said. “And you can catch 15 or 20 fish and not have to retie or worry about it snapping off like lighter line.”
Despite the persistent poor water quality now, Robert said it won’t stay that way forever, and even brighter days are ahead for anglers impatiently waiting to get in on the annual May run. And even with tough conditions this week, he’s made trips and picked up 50, 25 and 75 trout while the winds howled from the southeast.
“When that wind dies, it will give the lake a chance to clean up, and it won’t take long. Because even though river water is coming in, it’s blowing salty water in there, too,” he said. “So what will happen once the wind dies with a 48-hour turnaround, you’ll actually see a transformation and the lake will start to turn green again.
“And then everything will go back to normal. There’s probably going to be some awesome fishing in the next four to five weeks… May is the month you definitely want to be fishing Lake Pontchartrain.”