The residue dockside chatter amongst a group of old and new friends had become labored as the under way breeze went from whispered idle to a 40 m.p.h. blow. Most of the boat's guests had since busied themselves with various duties in preparation for a day of speckled trout fishing that would begin amongst the far-off oilfield structure shared by anglers from Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes.
With the familiar din of twin outboards and a comfortable rhythm to the swells, I roughly calculated the time to our destination and — having seen plenty of open water — decided to judge this vessel's ability to "sleep" me against my father's old Grady White. It wasn't close (never is), but good enough to take back some time stolen by the drive from New Orleans to Boudreaux's Marina in Dulac.
In fishing, few frontiers remain on the planet, much less the coastal and inshore speckled trout grounds of Louisiana. Navigation equipment that is increasingly standard gear for many anglers and technological advancements in outboard engines make reaching far-off destinations more possible than ever.
GPS, auto pilot and fuel-efficient engines make it easier, but the quest for the state's most popular game fish and a place to cast a line away from the maddening summer crowds is the main reason for enterprising anglers to stretch the limit of their fuel management needed for safe travel.
The Blue Point area (Ship Shoal Block 33) is one of those places. It's a destination not at all convenient to anyone, including those brave enough to maintain camps west of Taylor Bayou and Point au Fer. Other shallow-water platforms exist to the west, but that's getting into Cypremort Point territory.
Dan Hebert, a charter captain at Coco Marina in Cocodrie says that the Blue Point rigs are one of the top producers for anglers seeking big speckled trout and don't mind a good ride. Coco Marina's fleet of charter boats make the area a regular stop when fishing closer to their home port becomes tough or when customers insist on the area's best chance at a catch that becomes the envy of the dock.
"Later in the year when the weather gets really hot, we'll make the run out there," said Hebert. "It's generally into July before the fishing turns on consistently at Blue Point."
A regeneration of the conversation begun 45 minutes earlier as the boat's occupants finished their busy-work foiled my attempts for a quick trip into R.E.M. sleep, but the power nap had done wonders, and I chatted up Boudreaux as we made our way closer to our destination.
"I like to go ahead and go all the way to Blue Point first thing in the morning and then head back toward home if nothing is happening out there," said Boudreaux, who in February replaced his Ranger with a 30-foot Gravois with twin 225 Honda outboards. "But many times the fishing is so good that our ride back is just as long as the ride out."
The veteran charter captain theorizes that the Atchafalaya River has a lot to do with the timing of the bite at the region's near-last frontier. River flow from the late-spring rise can bring a fresh surface layer and seemingly thriving water hyacinths to the platforms miles off the coast. Also, a stubborn southwesterly flow can render the long trip a waste of time with the influx of sweet water.
There are no rules for the schedule for when the fishing gets good at Blue Point, at least none that the fish keep. Boudreaux keeps his options open when dealing with the area.
"The last few years have been dry, so I started early," he said. "I was catching fish out there last May and had good catches from the beginning. Most years, I'll make a trip out there every now and then to check it out."
Splitting his time between fishing offshore for most everything that swims (including more of an emphasis on tuna at Green Canyon with his new boat and a slow '03 snapper season) and coastal trout fishing for many years, Boudreaux says that generally when the river is down and the weather is stable with a flow from the southeast, the conditions are right for good, clean water to be in the Blue Point area.
A satellite well on the field's north side was our vessel's first target, and a crew member readied a rope to tie up to the platform in 18 feet of water. A few burnt lilies were in the area, but other than that the water was a perfect trout-green with gentle west to east current — a near-perfect set-up as we prepared to cast the first lines of the morning.
"The wells that hold fish seem to vary from season to season," said Boudreaux, though he admitted that it was hard to tell being that he found productive wells early in the season and subsequently never found reason to probe further. "I'll begin by tying up and then go from there as far as anchoring is concerned if we don't have any success."
Of the dozen or so satellite wells in the field, Boudreaux says that typically six or so will be the ones he targets in a given season.
At times, the trout are a bit finicky as to what presentation they prefer. Casting upcurrent of the boat, allowing the baits to sink to the correct level and feeling the strike requires touch not easily learned by many charter customers.
"It's a little more difficult at times when it's slow and you have to anchor upcurrent and then cast upcurrent," said Boudreaux. "It's not really something you can explain and until they feel it for themselves, it's hard."
But it wasn't hard this day. Most anglers' initial throws downcurrent were met with sharp strikes as the tandem rigs were dropping. Fired-up fish, all in the 18- to 21-inch class, either thrashed their thick heads on top of the gentle swells or dug deep when a trailing fish grabbed the accompanying plastic lure. Four lines that went out resulted in five fish in the bucket, which thrashed noisily on the floor.
"The deeper water tends to make these fish a little more tolerant of things like that," said Boudreaux. "There are times when I've counted a dozen boats on the big rig, all catching fish. And you know they all didn't come in and set up right."
The absence of a discernable "sweet spot" at the main platform also makes Blue Point an attractive location for those unfamiliar with the area.
If Blue Point comes up dry, the Mardi Gras rigs and the Picketts to the east, as well as SS blocks 58 and 84 and the old lighthouse to the south, offer productive alternatives. A better chance at cobia exists at the southern blocks, so it pays to keep a heavier rod rigged and ready. Spanish mackerel often invade the area, so extra jigheads and/or double rigs are a must.
Along with many accomplished fishermen working the lower Terrebonne region, Boudreaux is a big believer in tandem rigs for fish inhabiting the oil platforms in the late spring and summer.
"There's no question that double rigs get more bites," said Boudreaux. "I think it gets them into a frenzy. It's also the action of the baits as opposed to a 1/2-ounce jighead used to get the bait down. That'll get the lure to where the fish are, but the 1/4-ounce baits look more natural."
That frenzy needs to be fed, and we were happy to pour gas on it as fish came to the boat at a rapid pace. Boudreaux netted fish two or three at a time with a swing and instincts sharpened by many years on the water.
"One thing you need to do if at all possible is keep a few baits in the water at all times," said Boudreaux. "Sometimes when a rod breaks or something else comes up and there aren't baits in the water, the fish can move on."
The initial frenzy subsided a bit, and baits that were allowed to sink 8 or so feet down were met with a strike from one or two fat trout. Suspended fish are the norm in the relatively deep water, but they do move around a bit as our captain demonstrated when the action fizzled.
"Sometimes they'll be right on the bottom," said Boudreaux as he leaned into a ground-hugging fish. "You just probe the water column until you find them."
Plastics did just fine on this day, but there are definitely times when nothing can beat a lively croaker. Boudreaux doesn't usually like to venture this far out without the assurances of the near fail-safe bait, but says that when other boats are not around with the live stuff, soft plastics typically produce fine.
Along with the changes in marine technology, a far-simpler advancement has taken hold over the years that has many anglers who make their port of call in St. Mary Parish upset at the boats coming from the east. The introduction of live bait into the area has changed, even perhaps spoiled, the speckled trout population of Ship Shoal Block 33. Rob Radtke doesn't go that far, but he says there's no doubt that a wiggling croaker or cocaho minnow greatly affects the bite on a regular basis.
"We just don't have the live bait over here that they do in Cocodrie," said Radtke. "We just recently got a source for cocaho minnows, but they're no match for croakers when those boats bring them out there."
Radtke can remember the days back in the 1980s when the battle for the fish was the cocaho (a.k.a. larsh) versus the double-rigged plastics. Baby croakers upped the ante significantly at Blue Point as the baitfish many call the great equalizer often take over a bite when boats are side by side at a platform.
"I've seen it many times where a boat will be catching fish on plastic and another boat will come along with live croakers, and it's almost instantaneous," said Capt. Bill Lake of Bayou Guide Service. "Every fish in that school will go to that other boat with the croakers, and the boat without them won't get another bite."
Radtke echoed similar anecdotes and added that putting minnows against croakers is just as bad.
"It's everybody's water out there, but it's kind of depressing when you see a boat coming from the east," said Radtke, who fishes the area out of his 21-foot Bay Stealth. "We make a lot of night trips now. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference what you use then, though I really like the Bayou Chub minnows in black/chartreuse, LSU (purple/chartreuse) or Electric Chicken."
For night trips, boat positioning near the platform's lights is always the way to go with glow-colored Bayou Chubs on ¼-ounce jigheads tandem-rigged. Especially on weekends, it pays to get there before sundown to get a good spot.
Radtke has also changed his ways in where he splashes his boat, choosing to eschew the short ride to the Berwick landing and making the run down the Atchafalaya River.
"There's still plenty of guys who do it, but I've decided that I'm going to make the drive to DuLarge to launch my boat," said Radtke. "It's just too dangerous to run the river."
It requires a boat ride of about one hour and 15 minutes to reach Ship Shoal 28, the first set of platforms, and another 10 to 15 minutes to reach Blue Point from the launch at Berwick and at least that long — for the most part over open water — for an average boater out of Dulac, Cocodrie or DuLarge.
But if the conditions are right at Blue Point, it's worth every minute.