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Overlooked Opportunity
It's not easy to get to the rigs south of March Island, but this time of year, it's worth the ride.

BY DON SHOOPMAN

Anglers in Southeast and Southwest Louisiana are used to catching trout in marsh ponds and protected bays, but south-central Louisiana anglers this time of year run to the ubiquitous rigs south of Marsh Island.
Anglers in Southeast and Southwest Louisiana are used to catching trout in marsh ponds and protected bays, but south-central Louisiana anglers this time of year run to the ubiquitous rigs south of Marsh Island.

As far as the eye can see to the north, south, east and west, there is water.

Sometimes it’s flat, no breeze in your face. Sometimes there’s a chop and the wind ripples your clothes. And sometimes you don’t want to be out there at all in those near-offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Out there, oil-field structures of varying sizes dot the landscape, proof that man has gained a foothold on that part of the world. The oil-field structures do something besides deliver crude oil to mankind.

They harbor tons of fish, many of them speckled trout that thrive in the 15- to 25-foot depths so many miles from the outermost reaches of Louisiana’s central coast below Cypremort Point.

The rigs act like magnets for the speckled trout and, invariably, the fishermen who chase them.

The rigs are the Holy Grail among speckled trout anglers in and around Acadiana. They are spoken about with reverence. There are times when speckled trout fishing at the close-in rigs has no equal anywhere else.

“It’s the best. Whenever they’re biting, there’s nothing better,” Shannon Pecot of New Iberia said recently.

And the speckled fishing there is just about ready to take off, if it hasn’t already.

Three- to 5-pound fish are common at many of the rigs, while others give up limits of keepers.

Fishermen like Pecot, Richard Legnon of Cypremort Point and Jimmy Bulliard of St. Martinville can’t get enough of the action at those rigs in the northern parts of the Gulf.

Acadiana’s diehard saltwater anglers don’t think twice about jumping in their boats and traveling as much as 23 miles south to Eugene Island 51, 74, 89 and 95, and South Marsh Island 214, 231, 233, 235, 249, 252, 259 and 289, which is the farthest south speckled trout area to which Pecot is willing to run.

To the west, Vermilion 27 and 31 are some other likely hotspots. Pecot, 34, said he’ll check them if the fishing slows while he’s in the nearby South Marsh Island field.

“If South Marsh Island is not producing, it’s worth the run,” he said, adding that the Vermilion 31 field is a large one with a number of fishable rigs that produce fish consistently.

Vermilion 27’s action hasn’t been the same the last year or two, however, he said.

And then there is Tiger Shoals, which is only eight miles below Southwest Pass. Small oil-field structures in the southwest section of this area pay big dividends.

Each of the oil-field structures in those blocks are the Cypremort Point area’s answer to Morgan City’s awesome speckled trout fishing at the rigs due south in the Ship Shoal blocks, the neighbor just to the east of Eugene Island.

The Vermilion, South Marsh Island and Eugene Island blocks offer quality and quantity for speckled trout fishermen.

Pecot, among others, has been chomping at the bit to get to those fish. He’s a veteran charter boat captain who has been fishing those near-offshore rigs since he was 8 or 9, thanks to his father, Dr. J.B. Pecot, a pathologist, fly fisherman and overall outdoorsman who lives and practices in New Iberia.

“We’re starting to check out the boat. I figure in two weeks we’ll be rolling,” the younger Pecot said the last week of March.

For Richard Legnon, a charter boat captain along with his son, Devin, the cutoff date is May 10.

“We used to be able to go to (Vermilion) 71 (which is no longer in existence) and catch fish early (February). Now it starts about May ... April if we get good luck,” said Legnon, who has owned Cypremort Point Supply House since 1972.

“Good luck” means an acceptable level of the Atchafalaya River, which flows into Atchafalaya Bay.

“Our magic number is if we can have it down by the 10th of May, we’re going to have a good year. If we can have it down to 10 feet (at Butte La Rose), we’ll start getting salinity to where we can start fishing,” Legnon explained. “I’m anxious for the weather to get right and the fish to show.”

Legnon, 64, fishes out of his 48-foot Stewart Craft, The Warrior, while his son goes in the 21-foot aluminum hull Third Strike.

One of the Legnons’ keys to success is to fish with heavy leadheads. That way the bait sinks fast and gets below any marauding bluefish, the elder Legnon said.

The Atchafalaya River will dictate the level of success anglers have at the rigs this time of year.
The Atchafalaya River will dictate the level of success anglers have at the rigs this time of year.

Jimmy Bulliard of St. Martinville wouldn’t have minded giving it a run and a look-see during the final days of March.

“If we can get out, I’m sure the fish are there,” Bulliard said from Cajun Chef Products, where he is president of the hot sauce/pickle/jalapeno manufacturing plant in the city along Bayou Teche. “We’ve been out snapper fishing this time of year and come in and caught speckled trout. Everybody says the water’s got to be 70 degrees.”

He, too, knows the importance of the Atchafalaya River stage at Butte La Rose.

“Yeah, it can put a lot of fresh water out there when you get at a crest. What’s it going to be? Seventeen-, 18-feet at Butte La Rose? Depending on the wind, it will mess it up out there. You get southeast winds, it’s going out there.”

Bulliard, 66, fishes out of a 26-foot aluminum boat powered by twin 200-horsepower outboard.

The avid outdoorsman, who also loves to fish for sac-a-lait and always has a shotgun in his hands for the dove and waterfowl hunting seasons, goes after speckled trout for fun with fishing buddies and family from around the area. They often fill up ice chests with speckled trout and whatever choice edible fish are hanging around the rigs.

Bulliard’s advice to help put more fish in the boat is to avoid the main platforms that other anglers pound day in and day out.

The lifelong St. Martinville resident said he goes to the Eugene Island field but avoids fishing Eugene Island 51, 51-B and 74.

“We’re finding now the little stickups — satellite rigs — is where we’re catching fish. We like to check the wind or current, stop 50, 60 yards away and drift by slowly. We’ll catch nice fish. They don’t seem to hold a bunch of fish,” he said. “Those very small rigs are where we’re catching most of our fish, nice fish.”

Pecot fishes for speckled trout in the near-offshore waters in The Morning Son, a 26-foot Regulator and one of his three boats used for chartering (the others are Fortunate Son, a 41-foot Breaux’s Bay Craft, and Time Machine, a 24-foot Pathfinder). He has been a charter boat captain for seven years, and owns and manages a charter boat service called Top Priority.

After Pecot leaves his camp at Cypremort Point, it usually takes about 45 minutes, he said, to get to his best speckled trout fishing holes in the Gulf.

Naturally, these aren’t all can’t-miss trips. Pecot said he has never done real well on rough days.

Two- to 3-foot seas are the maximum, he said from experience, while 1- to 2-foot seas are the best.

Wind is critical in other ways, he said.

“For us, a southwest wind over a few days is best. It blows in good water and keeps river water at bay,” Pecot said.

He concentrates on 20-foot depths or less, and makes it his policy to avoid anything 25 feet or deeper. Fifteen-feet, he said, is ideal for many of the close-in rigs.

Pecot approaches the rig he’s targeting quietly and maneuvers the boat to fish from the upcurrent side. Speckled trout are finicky and spook easily, he added.

Another trick of the trade he has learned over the years is to keep moving, something Pecot learned from Dr. Darryl Elias of New Iberia. He doesn’t wait for the fish to start biting at a certain rig during the day, but, he pointed out, that same rig may produce after the sun goes down.

“Never sit in one spot. Be mobile. Be willing to try any rig and every rig,” Pecot said.

Most anglers start their trips to the rigs using live bait, and then they’ll switch over to plastics. Productive artificials include Deadly Dudleys, cocahoes and plastic beetles.
Most anglers start their trips to the rigs using live bait, and then they’ll switch over to plastics. Productive artificials include Deadly Dudleys, cocahoes and plastic beetles.

When the fish are biting, the key to keep them biting is to have baits in the water. “Keep ’em going, keep ’em going” is the happy chorus usually heard at the back of the boat when the fish are in a feeding frenzy and coming in over the side of the boat like water over a waterfall.

“Absolutely, yes indeed,” Pecot said about keeping the speckled trout biting. “They’ll get turned on. The streak will go 15 minutes or an hour, but when they shut off, they shut off.

“When you get them going on live bait, generally you can throw out artificials and catch more,” he said.

However, when the action tails off on the artificials, he added, use more natural bait.

Live bait is more productive during the day around the rigs, probably because of the heavy fishing pressure, according to Pecot. The fish “can afford to be a little more finicky,” he said.

“In the (South Marsh Island) 230s you can catch on artificials, but I wouldn’t go out without live bait unless you have all day and fish hard,” Pecot said. “The guy on the side of you will have live bait, and you’re going to be in trouble if you don’t have it.”

Pecot likes to fish with croakers that are 4 to 6 inches long that he catches around the dams inside Marsh Island. He fishes them on a Carolina rig set up on the lightest line possible.

“I firmly believe the lighter the line the better, but a lot of people have a tough time fighting fish on light line,” he said.

Pecot prefers 12-pound-test line most of the time and no heavier than 20-pound-test line. He tries to keep the leader at 15-, 20-pound-test line, but if Spanish mackerel are around, he suggests anglers try 25-pound-test line.

The weight he puts on a Carolina-rigged live bait is no heavier than a 1/2-ounce, but usually he uses 1/4-ounce.

He uses a 3- to 5-foot leader and a 4/0 kahle hook unless the speckled trout are running big.

Then he changes to a 6/0.

“I find a 4/0 does fine … along the lines of keeping everything smaller and lighter,” he said.

His favorite artificials last year were watermelon and shrimp-colored Deadly Dudleys, purple/white, purple/chartreuse, white/red and watermelon/red H&H cockahoes, and watermelon sparkle beetles. He won’t leave the dock without the “LSU bait” — purple/chartreuse H&H cockahoes.

He puts the soft plastics on 3/8- or 5/8-ounce leadheads, preferring the former unless the current is too strong.

Pecot fishes with Shimano spinning and baitcasting reels mounted on G-Loomis (8-15 or 10-20) 6-foot, 6-inch and 7-foot rods. The 6-foot-6 rods work just fine in the boat, he said.

Legnon’s favorite colors for artificials are white/firetail, his staple, as well as motor oil and chartreuse, depending on the clarity of the water and the time of day.

“White/firetail’s never really too bad. If they don’t hit that, they don’t hit anything,” he said.

Bulliard, meanwhile, is partial to chartreuse soft plastics.

“We stay with chartreuse pretty much. If they’re biting, that’ll be the bait,” he said.

Pecot shared a few inside notes on some of the rigs and what they produce.

For example, South Marsh Island 259 is in 23 feet of water and is “kind of out by itself.”

“Not too many people target it,” he said. “It’s 15, 17 miles south of the pass (Southwest Pass) on the South Marsh Island/Vermilion border. I recommend it, that and (SMI) 252.”

And there always seem to be bigger speckled trout at South Marsh Island 289, which is due west of Eugene Island 95.

“There are big trout there. It doesn’t seem to have the numbers as those in 15, 18 feet of water,” Pecot said.

Eugene Island 95 is one of his favorites. It’s about 23 miles from South Point.

“It’s getting pretty deep; really the maximum is about 25 feet of water. But when the trout are there, they are there. You don’t have trouble catching them. Big trout. The size is much better,” Pecot said.

There are a few rules of thumb that he follows. If the river’s high, he usually doesn’t go to Eugene Island, instead targeting areas to the west in South Marsh Island and Vermilion.

And on weekdays, Pecot’ll fish South Marsh Island, but gives it the cold shoulder “as much as possible” on weekends.

Bulliard, who has been fishing the close-in rigs for 25 years, said he focuses on 18- to 22-foot depths.

If the water is too clear, he doesn’t have much confidence in the area because bluefish, sharks and Spanish mackerel combine to make it tough to get baits to the bottom, he said.

Pecot, Bulliard, the Legnons and many other Acadiana anglers don’t confine their fishing trips for speckled trout to daylight hours.

Eugene Island 51 and 74, as well as South Marsh Island 235 and 249, are prime fishing holes for nighttime angling, Pecot said.

“It’s phenomenal when the fish are biting, second to none. At night it’s all artificials; as soon as the bait touches the water, it’s on. Cast and reel, cast and reel,” he said. “There have been times when I’ve made a run during the day and go back at night.”

Pecot enjoys it so much that he brings a generator and two big lights to set up on one side of the boat, he said.

“Mark and Bryan Lipari (both of New Iberia) turned me on to that,” he said.

Perhaps many more saltwater fishermen will get turned on to day- and night-fishing at the near-offshore rigs below and just east and west of Marsh Island.

Speckled trout are plentiful there, wind and water conditions permitting.