"Everybody's scared to go fishing just because of a little rain," he said in frustration.
Actually, more than just a little rain was forecast over the next 24 hours — there was a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms, and already there was a spectacular lightning show outside. Still, Nissen, a former environmental specialist for Louisiana's DEQ and a life-long South Louisiana angler, had an itch to go fishing at his favorite area, Delacroix Island.
Growing tired of watching the gloom-and-doom predictions of heavy thunderstorms on the Weather Channel, he turned to the local weather prophets. Nissen watched a moment and smiled. His itch turned into a hunch as he turned off the TV, rushed to check his tackle box and get his rod and reel ready for a possible rainy, late-summer/early-fall fishing trip.
This is the time of year when lots of Louisiana sportsmen are thinking about dove and teal hunting, but not Nissen. He shakes off the summertime blues, and insists the transitional months, like September, are fantastic times to catch big trout and redfish, not to mention a few flounder, sheepshead and black drum. One reason for this is the wind changes.
The stationary fronts that frequently occur in late summer and early fall, where a cold front meet the warm waters in the Gulf, often create different and sometimes more turbulent wind and water conditions than the earlier summer months.
However, by paying close attention to the wind direction and speed, Nissen determined that this particular day might be a perfect opportunity to go out and beat the odds, even if there were thunderstorms in the forecast.
And what exactly did he hear about those wind conditions on TV that got him so excited to rush out, despite the stormy forecast?
"When I hear light, easterly winds in the forecast, I know there's a better than average chance I'll have a good fishing day," he says.
Nissen will be the first to agree that fishing is no exact science — far from it. And wind conditions are just one of many factors Nissen considers from his 30-plus years of fishing experience. But experience and a little common sense, along with a keen observation of wind speed and direction, tides and water levels, will separate those who catch fish consistently from those who just get lucky occasionally.
Nissen insists you have to be able to adapt with the conditions. By adapting, he means determining whether to go farther out or stay in close to the marshes depending on those conditions.
Successful fishing in one location during east winds doesn't guarantee success at that same spot when west winds are blowing, because you have to change your tactics and adjust to the conditions.
"Since most bayous and rivers in this area typically run southeast and northwest, east or northeast winds tend to make for the best conditions because they push saltier, cleaner, greener water into the adjacent marshes," he says.
And green, clean, salty, high water is a guaranteed soup kitchen in September for big trout and reds hungry for shrimp. A mostly live-bait fisherman in the summer and transitional months, Nissen stopped to buy some large, live, white shrimp from Delacroix fishing veteran Lionel Serigne, owner and operator of Serigne's Boat Launch.
Serigne calls Delacroix the best fishing spot in the world all year round.
"The fish are stacked up all over the place out there," he says.
Nissen nodded in agreement and hoped to prove him right, despite the surrounding dark blue and gray clouds, which seemed to be touching and dragging the water at times. Amazingly, there was little wind and no lightning or rain as Nissen idled along Bayou Terre aux Boeufs and sped out toward Black Bay. Satisfied with the clear, greenish color of the water, as opposed to the brownish, root beer-colored water you get later in the fall, he cut his 250-horsepower engine, and drifted his 24-foot Bay Stealth toward a wellhead to tie off in upper Black Bay.
Noticing the light easterly winds and grinning ear-to-ear, Nissen put a large white shrimp on his 8-foot baitcasting rod with 6-pound-test braided line and weighted popping cork over a 40-pound leader. He cast downcurrent into the clean, green, salty water being pulled out by a high, falling tide in upper Black Bay. Right away, he got a strike, and reeled in a 1-pound speckled beauty. Subsequent casts yielded only nibbles, but no catches.
As the wind changed from nearly dead calm to a gentle, easterly breeze, Nissen adjusted his position by motoring to the upcurrent side of the platform to the fish so he wouldn't disturb them. Using a 2-foot leader, No. 6 treble hook under a weighted popping cork with 1/8-ounce crimped-on split-shot about a foot above the hook, Nissen cast out again.
BAM! He got a hit, and this time with better results as he reeled in a 14-inch speck.
"Once they get turned on, you don't wanna let up on 'em," Nissen said, as he quickly unhooked his trout, stuck on another shrimp and cast his line toward the same spot.
So much for stopping for pictures, but on a day like this, the sooner you get your limit and head back in, the less chance of getting wet. Dark, heavy clouds traveled across the water farther ahead, dumping rain as they went. Fortunately, there were none directly overhead, and the winds remained light from the east. Nissen kept casting.
After reeling in a few more hungry, 1- to 2-pound trout, the action suddenly slowed, and then stopped completely. Knowing the fish were still there and possibly feeding a little deeper, Nissen switched out his 2-foot leader to a 5-foot one and let fly another cast. Bingo! He got another bite. This time it was a whopper at 22 inches. The frenzy continued as Nissen seemed to catch a fish on every cast, with most in the 14- to 17-inch range.
"We're in the strike zone now; just keep casting in the same spot 'til we limit out," Nissen instructed.
Despite those ominous-looking thunderstorm clouds and a waterspout looming in the distance, the wind returned to nearly dead calm and the water became glassy.
Less than an hour later, Nissen had a limit of trout ranging from 12 to 22 inches long.
To explain his change in tactics that resulted in more catches, Nissen said trout often like to stratify around 5 feet from the surface around the rigs, so he switched to the longer leader. Also, he noticed there was an oyster boat dredging upcurrent, which could have sent shrimp and other trout food into the water column. He explained that dredging can sometimes be a negative factor by driving baitfish and trout the opposite way, but this time it worked in his favor with his position to the oyster boat relative to the direction of the current.
OK, so maybe Nissen is a bit of a rarity as typical fishermen go.
"He's one of those guys who can sniff the air, glance at the water and right away know where to go," one of his longtime fishing friends said.
Nissen scoffs at the suggestion that he's a better fisherman than most, despite his long experience. But he does advise anglers to have a game plan prepared before going out.
"Get to know the tides and wind conditions. Bad weather doesn't necessarily mean bad fishing," he said. "Water levels change with west and east winds. You typically get lower water levels in the marshes during west winds and higher levels in east winds. Experience will tell you when to decide what part of an area to fish as the water levels adjust with the change in direction of wind."
Hoping to catch some big reds while the rain clouds were still at a safe distance, Nissen untied his boat and raced for a grassy shoreline along a protruding oyster bed near Point Fortune, near Mozambique Point.
Using almost the same tackle as before, but switching to an 18-inch leader, Nissen cast in the grassy points, where he says reds wait to ambush baitfish as they wash down the shoreline. It didn't take long for him to get results. On nearly every cast, he reeled in a redfish in the 20- to 30-inch range, with the exception of one 16-inch flounder.
The reds were lying on the bottom about 2 feet off the shoreline along the grassy points, and chasing baitfish brought in by the currents. When a red was hooked, others would follow as Nissen reeled it in toward the boat.
"Redfish aren't as transitionally sensitive as specks," Nissen said. "Reds are pure eating machines. They graze and forage along sandy, shell bottoms and just off grassy shorelines, unlike trout, which like to hunt in packs like hungry wolves."
Nissen says you can always catch fish inside the marshes during the transition months, but if you want bigger numbers and larger fish, move more toward the outside.
Another secret to Nissen's fishing success is following what he refers to as the band theory.
"Typically in the transition months of early fall and later spring, the fish stay in the middle to upper areas of Upper Black Bay, Lake Campo, Bay Lafourche and Lake Fortuna," he said. "Then as fall ushers in and the water temperature cools, fish move inside to just outside of the marsh.
"And in the winter when the water temps lower even more, the fish generally move closer in the marsh around Grand Lake and Point Fienne. But during the hot summer months, the fish tend to go farther outside in areas like the open waters of Black Bay and Breton Sound."
Wayne Desselle, a Louisiana environmental biologist and life-long compulsive saltwater fisherman, agrees with Nissen's band theory. But he adds another reason for the abundance of big specks in areas like Black Bay.
"Trout spawn from early May to September in the sandier bottoms and saltier waters around the outer islands where their eggs float better," he said. "And reds go everywhere, but mostly along the shell-bottomed shorelines."
In addition to his speckled trout and redfish prowess, Desselle is the current holder of the world-record for sheepshead — a 21-pound, 6-ounce fish.
Nissen also suggests paying close attention to what the fish are feeding on each season. Trout feed on brown shrimp in the spring and white shrimp in September and the rest of the fall months.
In July, brown shrimp migrate from inside the marsh back out. Then brown shrimp season closes for a few weeks in late summer, and the currents pull white shrimp from the outside back in, where they have time to grow large before the fall shrimp season begins.
These currents continually bring in larvae of a variety of fish from outside the marshes, which makes Louisiana's coastal estuaries a nursery ground for fish. This is one reason why the Pelican State is a sportsman's paradise.
In the spring and fall transitional months, high rising tides, also called storm tides, bring the larvae inside the marsh. Then falling tides, or blow-out tides, as Nissen calls them, send the larvae back out in the winter to repeat the cycle all over again.
The result of this complex mix of tides and winds is an abundance of fish throughout the year, including September, when summertime temperatures tend to be a little less intense. But if you venture out, watch the winds, make a plan accordingly and bring plenty of live shrimp and a big ice chest.