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Low tide, High Cotton
When Arctic fronts blow marsh water to Cuba, you can't go wrong fishing these five spots.

BY JOHN McQUEEN

The Buras Canal loads up with fish under low-tide conditions. When temperatures warm and tides rise, the fish move onto the flats in Yellow Cotton Bay.
The Buras Canal loads up with fish under low-tide conditions. When temperatures warm and tides rise, the fish move onto the flats in Yellow Cotton Bay.

Speckled trout anglers are a curious bunch when it comes to the whims of seasonal fishing conditions.

Most everybody loves the early topwater action, but spring breezes make one long for calm, predictable summer patterns, which beget the fall inshore action and so on and so forth.

But almost nobody looks forward to the year’s shortest month and its propensity for welcoming strong cold fronts to our coast, which push massive amounts of water out of the marsh — and all at a time when winter is showing signs of loosening its grip.

When these fronts and the accompanying northerlies coincide with weak tidal movements, it can prove frustrating to anglers who just can’t see fit to put down their poles or who yearn to wet a line again after months with gun in hand. The rapid water loss can muddy waterways and make anglers wonder why they even bothered to make the trip.

But, there are some sure things out there when conditions conspire against the big bags of fillets Louisiana’s liberal limits allow — places where the water’s flow and depth make them almost untouchable by murk and whose close proximity to launches make dangerous marsh runs in low-water conditions avoidable.

Bayou La Loutre

Capt. Dee Geoghegan regularly braves the Biloxi Marsh when February’s chill makes things especially challenging. The stretch of Bayou La Loutre in between Isaac’s Ditch and Baker’s Canal is his ace in the hole.

“It’s the last place that gets dirty,”said Geoghegan, noting that the area is not especially deep compared to other places around the region. “If you look at it on a map, it’s situated right, dead center in the marsh. It’s all about clean water and the tide actually flushing the water on a regular basis, even on a weak-tide day.”

Sparkle beetles, or other baits with minimal action, produce best in deep holes in the wintertime because sluggish trout aren’t expecting a lot of action from baitfish.
Sparkle beetles, or other baits with minimal action, produce best in deep holes in the wintertime because sluggish trout aren’t expecting a lot of action from baitfish.

Constant water flow from the surrounding area provides two tides a day, every day, crucial in what Geoghegan calls the three most important things needed for an area to hold speckled trout — bait, clean water and moving water. But, these aren’t the only things in threes when talking about successful trout catching.

“You need those three things, and you also need to cover the area thoroughly,” said Geoghegan. “You should position your boat in the center of the bayou and cover the flats on the north side, the dropoff on the south side and the channel in the middle.”

Slowly working baits such as Deadly Dudleys in this stretch of productive water is key to success. Trout tend to be sluggish in the cold water and often wait for a big, lazy-looking meal, which the Deadly Dudley imitates. Also, Geoghegan stressed working the bait with the current and working the boat with the tide.

“What you don’t want to do is work against the tide,” he said. “The bait just works a lot more natural (with the tide).”

This stretch of bayou is no secret, and the captain stressed not getting in a fuss when someone else muscles in on your action.

“There’s plenty of fish in that stretch of the bayou. And there’s always another bunch of fish down the way,” he assured.

Montegut Locks

Terrebonne Parish provides more than its share of winter speckled trout fishing. Along Highway 56 south of Houma in the communities of Chauvin and Cocodrie, one can find a number of charter operations and thousands of acres of fishable water.

But veteran charter skipper Mike Ledet of Sportsman’s Paradise didn’t hesitate when posed the question, concerning best bets for hard February speckled trout angling.

“The Montegut Locks is just phenomenal that time of year,” said Ledet, “It’s got plenty of trout in the hole and lots of drum and redfish along the banks.”

The Hump in the LNG Canal can deliver some very large trout when the tides are too low to fish anywhere else.
The Hump in the LNG Canal can deliver some very large trout when the tides are too low to fish anywhere else.

Located north of Cocodrie on the edge of Point au Chien WMA, the Montegut Locks is a water control structure on Bayou Terrebonne alongside Highway 55. It has a hole on the south side, which drops the bayou’s normal 8 feet to 12 feet in front of the structure and extending south several hundred yards. Additionally, Baker’s Canal feeds the bayou from the east, making for lots of water exchange and plenty of baitfish passing through the area.

“There’s no special place around the Locks. Just find a spot around all of the boats, cast upcurrent and make sure your bait gets to the bottom,” said Ledet. “Many times, the trout will have scratches on their bellies from hanging on the oyster bottom.”

Ledet uses his old faithful, double-rigged, motor oil-colored cocahoes in the junior size with 1/8-ounce jigheads. The doubles help greatly in getting his customers to the bottom, and the light jighead presents the bait more naturally.

Though a bit of a run from the docks of Sportsman’s Paradise, the best thing about the Montegut Locks is the distance from Montegut Marina, about a half mile ride south and providing live cocahoes, by far the most popular bait among locals. One tip to those who choose to fish the live stuff: Use a weight heavy enough to get to the bottom and leave it there. If you bounce it around, you have a far greater chance of hanging bottom instead of fish. Let fish find the bait.

Bayou Lafourche

In keeping with the low-maintenance theme, the fish-filled waters around Leeville rival those of its neighbor to the east. Boudreaux’s Marina sits less than two miles from two of the best deep water spots in the area.

The Leeville Bridge will always be remembered for serving as a background for a 10-pound speckled trout, caught by Steve Shook several years back on a local fishing show. Plenty of big fish have come from that area in Bayou Lafourche along Highway 1, and local TV host Bob Gourges has filled many reels of tape at the bridge and at a point about a mile to the south of the bridge across from the Texaco docks.

“Both places are fantastic for cold-weather fishing. I’ve been filming for many years and have never experienced the action at what I call Redfish Point such as last year,” said Gourges. “I’m talking about one after another for 26 minutes, and then plenty more after that.”

The point is directly across from the Texaco docks on the east side of the bayou and sits at the entrance of the canal leading to the tank batteries on the west side.

Gourges explained the point’s aspects, and it echoes a common theme: moving water, bait and clean water. The spot has all three, and serves as almost guaranteed success when the conditions turn nasty.

“The current has sheared off the point on the north side and has created an immediate dropoff to 8 feet right off the bank,” said Gourges, “It drops off to around 30 feet about 4 feet off the bank. It’s got a good bit of current and pushes a lot of bait through the area.”

Winter trout, like this one caught by David Gross of New Orleans, aren’t always big, but they’re plentiful.
Winter trout, like this one caught by David Gross of New Orleans, aren’t always big, but they’re plentiful.

All fine and good, but getting back to that 10-pound trout and the bridge. On the north side of the bridge sits a hole, which drops down to 45 feet. Take care to bring lots of anchor rope, as this spot is close to the main current of Bayou Lafourche.

Typical winter tactics will take these fish, though the depth and flow dictate terminal tackle quite a bit heavier than normal. Regular artificial baits will catch fish, and again, 3/8- and ½-ounce jigheads tend to be the rule rather than the exception. And, bring plenty of them. The bridge has tons of old junk littering the bottom.

Positioning your boat just north of the bridge will do the trick, as will setting up directly underneath the structure. As with all of the areas mentioned here, space will often dictate where you may position yourself, and common sense and courtesy will cut off unpleasantness before it can begin.

Buras Canal

Lower Plaquemines Parish takes a backseat to no one when it comes to offering winter fishing opportunities to hardy anglers. Those wishing to brave cold and crowds should go to the Buras Canal from the big curve about ¾ of a mile before the entrance of Yellow Cotton Bay to the mouth of the bay itself, if you don’t mind crowds by fishing the north bank of this stretch of waterway, according to Capt. John L. Taylor.

“That bank is nice and protected from the north wind and has a nice dropoff from 6 to around 30 feet,” said Taylor, “There’s plenty of reds along the ledge in 3 to 6 feet of water, and lots of trout in the water deeper than that.”

Taylor suggests putting in one’s time in finding the dropoff and acclimating to the current in locating the bottom. Presentation is the key to reaping the big payoff when the “bite window” is reached.

“What we do is just pitch our baits up current, let them reach the bottom and just hop them lightly back to the boat,” he said, adding that patience is critical in learning to feel that 3/8-ounce jighead on the bottom and to work it so that it stays in the strike zone.

“You want that bait to just roll along with the current along the bottom and then gradually drop back to the bottom,” explained Taylor. “It generally doesn’t take but five or six little, 6-inch hops to bring the bait back to the boat. Any bigger movement than that, and the bait will get up in the main current and you’ll be out of the game.”

There’s not much room for discussion when it comes to the baits Taylor employs among him and his group of guides.

The Bayou Chub by Reaction Lures in black/chartreuse and purple/chartreuse have brought thousands of trout to the boat for their clients, and they are an especially effective bait in the winter months.

Taylor rigs the baits in singles, but will go to doubles when beginners are onboard. Assured of two ¼-ounce jigheads going to the bottom, Taylor figures at least one of the two baits will make it in front of a trout’s nose enough to provide good action.

As for technique in the current, that can be a tricky thing, especially when tidal range is forecast well above 1 foot and customers are not well-schooled.

Bayou Lafourche south of the Leeville Bridge gets crowded this time of year with anglers and fish, like this 2-pound trout caught by Marty Springer.
Bayou Lafourche south of the Leeville Bridge gets crowded this time of year with anglers and fish, like this 2-pound trout caught by Marty Springer.

Taylor prefers to get out on the water early, even when his instincts and calculations tell him that the fish will not bite in earnest for some time. Getting a feel for the conditions can pay off in spades when the fish begin their feed.

“Patience is critical. You need to be out there early and plan to stay late, because the ‘bite window’ is going to be much shorter in the winter months, usually around the tidal peaks and also just when the tide begins to go slack,” he said. “When the tide begins to taper a bit, I’ll go and get in my best spot, get everybody feeling the bottom and wait for the big trout to come on.”

LNG Canal

Southwest Louisiana trout anglers are plenty spoiled when it comes to their style of speckled trout fishing most of the year, with Big Lake and Sabine Lake enjoying superb topwater angling for outsized fish during the spring, summer and fall. Winter’s chill can send the fish deep and the water low on the normally productive flats in the lakes.

Veteran Big Lake guide Daryl McGuffee of Jeff and Mary Poe’s Big Lake Guide Service says the very best place among many anglers to hunker down in the elements is the LNG Canal just north of his home waters. Reaching depths of up to 50 feet, the old turnaround canal just off the Intracoastal Waterway is ideal in providing the proper insulation from the cold air above.

The big-fish reputation the area enjoys is equally present in this location, with fish up to 6 pounds regularly taken there, especially in a spot known as “The Hump.”

“It’s an old hill on the north shore that comes up to about 12 or 14 feet and then drops right back off to about 30 feet,” said McGuffee.

McGuffee quite drastically changes tactics when targeting these fish, bumping the bottom of this freshwater reservoir-type structure. Topwaters and the popular Slimy Slugs and Sand Eels are replaced by simple sting ray grubs and plain cocahoes in glow or white.

“I like to get right up against the bank when the wind is blowing from the north and cast back past the structure, work it up the rise and back down to the boat,” he said.

McGuffee says that should crowds or wind force anglers to have to anchor on the south side of The Hump, they should bring at least 80 feet of anchor rope to successfully hold their boat in position.

Deep water fishing will never generate the excitement of roaming the flats, but it can certainly scratch an itch when trout anglers feel repressed in the year’s toughest month. Find the bottom and, as importantly, find the crowds in these popular spots for your February fix.