Most of us like consistency, and if you've found a coastal rig, reef or island that has consistently been productive this summer, you naturally want to head right back there this month and rack up again. Disappointment sets in when the spot that has faithfully produced all summer proves faithless, and the fish are nowhere to be found.
Many anglers dislike September for precisely that reason. It can be frustrating to have a banner summer season, ringing up one great trip after another, only to be skunked in September.
To make it more annoying, the transition is a little different every year. It always happens, but not on a tight schedule. You see, the transition is affected by everything from sea temperature and water current to the tropics and air currents and temperatures, and perhaps most of all, by the movement of the shrimp and baitfish.
And all of that varies from year to year, so even the places that were productive last September may not be productive at the same time this year.
On the positive side, September can be a great month on the water. The blistering August heat is waning, and signs of fall begin to show up. Even slightly cooler temperatures make a big difference on the water, and fishing can be more comfortable and enjoyable.
And the fish are out there, and they are hungry. You just might have to hunt and move around a bit more to get on them.
I set up a trip with Capt. Shawn Lanier (225-205-5353) to fish along the Venice coastline, and try to get in on some September trout action, and he was ready and willing to accommodate.
A good friend, Clif Rodrigue, and I met Lanier before daybreak at the dock of Venice Marina, and he was already in the water and ready to go. We quickly stowed our gear aboard, and he pointed the bow of the 23-foot SeaPro toward the main river, and the 225 Yamaha four-stroke pushed us toward our destination for the morning: Customhouse Bay.
Lanier said he'd been on some good action out there the prior two weeks, and we were eager to cast topwater plugs into the shallows to see what we might provoke. We ran the river to Octave Pass, then through Flatboat and Raphael Pass to Customhouse Bay.
Some of the shoreline was completely erased by Katrina, and what's left is so badly eroded that the bay is now almost indistinguishable from Pass a Loutre. The popularity of the big bay was evident by the number of boats already anchored around a nearby point, and Lanier motored us almost to within casting distance of the bank and killed the big engine. A push of a button activated the Power Pole, and we stabbed bottom and held our position.
"The water doesn't look too bad," Lanier commented. "It's not what I'd call pretty, but it definitely looks doable."
"The fish are definitely here," I answered, as I watched a neighboring boat land a sizeable speck.
In fact, as I looked over the five or six boats anchored in the area, I saw several anglers grabbing landing nets to scoop up both trout and redfish.
"Oh yeah," I mumbled; they were definitely here.
Lanier and I began to work the area around the point with our topwater baits, fanning our casts to cover a wider area, while Rodrigue fished a glow DOA under a Cajun Thunder cork off the stern. We made a few casts without any results, and I was beginning to wonder if maybe we were anchored too close to the shore. I noticed that all the other boats were much farther from the bank than we were, and they all seemed to be landing fish.
My thoughts were interrupted by a violent jerk on my rod as a hefty fish struck my topwater bait hard enough to almost yank the rod right out of my hand. Yet somehow, the fish didn't get stuck! How they can attack a lure dangling all those treble hooks and not get hooked is one of those unexplainable mysteries of fishing.
But Lanier hooked one on the She Dog he was throwing, and then Rodrigue caught an even nicer trout on the DOA under the cork.
"Out here, all of our action is determined by the rise and fall of the river," Lanier commented. "Normally, the river is at the lowest stages in September and October. The low river allows clean salt water from the Gulf to move all the way into this area, and then it starts creeping upriver.
"Naturally, as the salt water moves upriver, everything that swims in the salt water follows, including baitfish, and all the fish that eat the baitfish. Speckled trout, redfish and flounder move right on up the river, and soon you won't have to make this long run to get into the thick of the action."
Meanwhile, I didn't get as much as another blowup on my topwater bait, while Rodrigue was getting lots of action on his cork rig. I decided to go with what was producing, and switched rods to my cork rig as well.
Personally, for tossing topwater baits and tightlining plastics, I prefer to fish with baitcasting reels. I've been using a Team Daiwa-X 103 HSD that has proved to be almost bullet proof and rarely backlashes, and the new ABU Garcia Revo SX, which is proving itself to be a worthy weapon as well. I even prefer baitcasters when Carolina-rigging live shrimp or croakers.
But I always take along a spinning reel rig just for fishing under a cork. Bitter experience with backlashes and bird nests have taught me better than to try to fish under a cork with a baitcaster, especially when you have to cast against the wind. They just weren't made for that kind of fishing. But a spinning rig excels when you want to fish with a cork.
I started with a Bass Assassin Slurp shrimp under an Old Bayside X-treme Popper cork, and had an almost immediate hookup. And these were some nice fish! A few minutes later, Lanier switched over to a cork rig as well, and as soon as he did, he started catching consistently.
"You just have to go with what works," he said, as he reeled in a hefty trout.
Another great thing about fishing in the fall months is that you don't have to have live bait to catch fish. In some areas during the summer, if you don't have live bait, you could almost stay home. It's just that essential. In other areas, plastics will still produce, but just not as well. But in the transition months, plastics begin to produce again, and by fall, live bait is no longer a necessity.
We sat on that point, and put trout after trout in the boat. When the action slowed, Lanier dropped the trolling motor and moved us just 100 feet or so, and we got right back in the action again.
One of the highlights of the day was a young boy, who must have been 8 or 9 years old, in a neighboring boat. Every time someone on his boat caught a trout, he turned and shouted out to all the surrounding boats, "We have 16 fish! Sixteen." A few minutes later, he shouted, "We have 17 fish! Seventeen!"
He was so excited that he had to let everyone else know about it. And every time he counted out a number, I chuckled. I got so much pleasure out of that youngster's joy and enthusiasm that it just made my day. He was yelling out number 28 when we decided to move on and try a few other points. You hate to leave a spot where the fish are biting, but we wanted to cover some ground and see what else was out there. I still wonder what number he was shouting at the end of the day.
We moved to a couple other points in Customhouse Bay, and managed to pick up some big reds and a few more trout. Most of the reds were too big to keep, but we did manage a few that were just right for the grill. From there, we moved across Pass a Loutre to Blind Bay, and made a few casts there as well.
All the while, we were keeping a wary eye on the darkening skies, and we carefully monitored the direction a large and ominous waterspout was taking.
Lanier wisely decided to head back to the dock before the approaching rains, and we ended the day with a box full of hefty trout, several nice reds and a flounder.
On the ride in, Lanier talked about the best spots for some good action in September:
1. Customhouse Bay.
"This will be a good spot in September," he said. "Of course, everything depends on the river level. If the river falls, as it usually does this time of year, expect some great fishing. All the points in Customhouse will produce specks, reds and flounder. You can fish early with topwater baits, but under a cork will produce best, and live bait won't be necessary."
Lanier says to drift the area if possible, and drop anchor once you get into some action.
2. Blind Bay.
"Fish this area the same way, along the bank, at points and cuts. Use the same techniques, and if the river and the winds cooperate, you should find some nice fish. The enemy this month is any hard east or north wind, which muddies up the water real fast, especially over by Lonesome Bayou. A south or west wind is fishable, as long as it's not too hard," he said.
3. Cubit's Gap.
"This is a great place to tightline some plastics for reds, trout and flounder as the Gulf water makes its way upriver. As you approach the shoreline, use your depth finder to locate the troughs on the bottom. I like to anchor so that I sit right over the troughs, and I cast upcurrent. The water is 6 to 15 feet deep in these areas and the current moves hard, so you need a heavy jig, at least ½ ounce, to get to the bottom. Bounce the bait back toward you, and the fish usually hit it just as it gets back to your boat. If you don't get any strikes, retrieve your bait once you get it back to the boat and recast. Concentrate on those ledges and drops on the bottom," he said.
4. The Jump.
"This is a very popular fall spot, and you'll probably see several boats along the bank. The Jump is basically that area where Grand Pass joins with the Marina Canal, and they connect to the main river. Fish the opposite side from the docks. You'll see where the boats are. The water is deeper here, and you'll want to anchor in anywhere from 15 to 25 feet of water. Toss your bait upcurrent and let it work its way back to you. You'll need at least a ½-ounce jig to get to the bottom in the current. This is a great place to cast tandem rigs, and you could use ½-ounce jigs on both of them. There are a lot of snags here, so be prepared to lose some tackle," he said.
5. Baptiste Collette Bayou.
"I like to fish Baptiste Collette in the stretch between the main river to where it connects to Emeline Pass. There are some great sand beaches in that area, and if you anchor and fish the drop-offs with plastics tightlined, you'll catch some nice fish — reds, specks and flounder," he said.
Lanier says a lot of anglers simply fish along the main river itself in September and October. Once the river drops and the seawater moves up, you can just drift anywhere along any of the rocks and toss Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits, market or live bait under a cork or soft plastics tightlined.
"You'll find fish, guaranteed," he said. "And don't forget the spillways."
Capt. Shawn Lanier can be reached at (225)205-5353.