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Peltos Promise
Hit this coastal lake in June, and odds are you won't be disappointed.

BY JOHN McQUEEN

When fishing the beach, be on the constant lookout for subtle anomalies, like places where the waves don’t break.
When fishing the beach, be on the constant lookout for subtle anomalies, like places where the waves don’t break.

The small town of Cocodrie in lower Terrebonne Parish stands out as one of the more versatile jumping off spots on the Louisiana coast. Anglers can choose to head east for the famed Timbalier islands for their out-sized speckled trout, south for the far, relatively untapped offshore grounds of Ship Shoal or west to the oyster reefs in the shallow lakes and bays north of Coon Point.

One of the best options is the closest for fishermen wanting to tackle massive schools of speckled trout and hard-pulling bull redfish. Lake Pelto and its adjacent barrier islands give anglers a chance to put a lot of meat in the boat without taking on a fuel bill stretching into the triple digits.

We’ll concentrate our guide of the Lake Pelto area within the following boundaries: east of Caillou Boca, north of Last Island, Wine Island Pass to the southeast, the Sulfur Mine to the east and the beaches just west of Whiskey Pass to the southwest.

Oil and gas structures are a good place to start when looking for fish in Lake Pelto. Though the area is liberally sprinkled with structures of different size and configuration, it is what lies beneath the water that makes it productive.

Shell beds laid in preparation for the structures’ construction trigger the food chain. Placed to aid in setting the wooden pilings when the structures are being assembled, these beds attract the smallest of aquatic animals to the innumerable crevices in the shells.

Fishing structures containing these shell beds can be the difference between tossing lures in water populated by a school of speckled trout and those patrolled by the occasional sheepshead drawn to the barnacle-encrusted pilings.

One of the best rigs to try stands just south of Bay St. Elaine, one of the bodies of water bordering the inland marsh with Lake Pelto, says Andre Boudreaux, owner of Boudreaux’s Marina in nearby Dulac.

“It’s the first orange rig west of the ship channel,” he said.

Also, some of the newer platforms on the north side of Lake Pelto were set with a lot of shell around two years ago.

“They ought to be just about ready to be productive,” said the charter captain, who splits his time with inshore species and the rich offshore grounds for snapper, amberjack and lemonfish.

When breezes allow, the beach bordering Whiskey Pass and New Cut (carved by the winds and storm surge of a recent hurricane) can be the sight of some of the fastest trout action anywhere. Currents push vast schools of baitfish along, and trout, pushed by the need to nourish themselves for the spawn, feed heavily on a huge variety of baitfish amongst the breaking waves.

Capt. Darrin Haydel of Haydel Charters is a big believer in the beach. There are few better places in his mind when his charter customers are looking for the big numbers for which the area is known. There aren’t many secrets in the Lake Pelto area, and the surf can provide some space for anglers not wanting to have boats constantly jockeying for position on popular spots.

“Ask most any charter fisherman what their bread and butter is for this area and they’ll say the beach,” said Haydel. “The stretch of the island between Wine Island Pass and Whiskey Pass is just full of trout.”

When fishing along the beach, it’s important to have as many lines in the water as possible to keep the fish in a frenzy.
When fishing along the beach, it’s important to have as many lines in the water as possible to keep the fish in a frenzy.

Charter boats like the ones Haydel and Boudreaux run typically attract a lot of attention, and both stress that there is no need to crowd anybody on the water, even when they are hauling in fish after fish.

“There are so many fish along the beach,” said Haydel. “We can get them going with the amount of lines in the water, and it may look like every fish around is off of our boats. But there are big schools of fish all up and down the beach.”

Though his 34-foot Venture is about as big of a boat as you’ll see working the inland bays and surf, Haydel doesn’t hesitate to snuggle up to the sand.

“A lot of times, the fish are holding in the gut in between the first sandbar and the beach itself,” said Haydel. “There are times when I’ll set the anchor to where my engines are rubbing up against the sand where it starts rising up on the sandbar.”

While most anglers prefer days when breezes lay, giving the Gulf a glassy sheen, Haydel likes at least a little wind for fishing the surf. A south or southeast breeze under 15 knots brings in clean water from the deep Gulf, and provides good water movement even when there is little tide.

“I like to fish the areas along the beach where there are waves breaking, anyway,” explains Haydel. “The bait gets knocked around more when there’s a good bit of wave action and the trout bite really well.”

Boudreaux concurs, adding that one of the most important aspects of finding fish on the beach is being able to read the water. A slight chop added with swells from offshore gives good clues where the fish highways are positioned on that particular day.

The island’s constantly changing underwater landscape prevents most fishermen, even guides fishing several days a week, from locking down many particular hotspots along the miles of the Isles Dernieres chain, so, aside from looking for the obvious clues like birds, bait and slicks on the surface, Boudreaux does it by trying to imagine what the bottom looks like.

“Look for the places along the beach that are out of the ordinary, like where the waves don’t break,” said Boudreaux. “That will tell you that there’s a little break in the sandbar. It’s a natural place for the fish to hang out.”

It pays to hustle in this environment when the fish begin coming in the boat. Many of the schools are cruising up and down the length of the beach looking for food. When a few members of the school get excited, such as when they’re hooked by an angler, the competitive juices begin flowing. A school can be worked for a while if something is there to keep their interest. Keeping baits in the water is important to keeping fish around the boat.

“When it gets going out there, it’s not as if I’m rushing to get the limit,” explains Boudreaux with a laugh. “I’m trying to keep the school around. If you let them get away, the next boat down might keep them around their boat.”

Bodwin Point is among the oldest locations for summertime speckled trout fishing. Oldtimers remember it as an extensive island, and it was such a well-known landmark that it’s still shown as an island in the current edition of Louisiana Atlas and Gazeteer, the national publication featuring topographical maps of every inch of the state.

Eroded to just a shell reef, it now provides outstanding action for Cocodrie anglers. Located on the northern side of the lake, it is one of the most popular spots for anglers.

“I like to motor upwind of the reef and just drift across it,” says Haydel. “It’s such a big area that there’s really no telling where the fish are going to be holding at any particular time.”

The old Sulphur Mine island used to serve as one of the area’s most recognizable landmarks. It sported a bright pink building that could be seen for many miles on a clear day. The island supported a large trout population back then, and continues to provide consistent action today with plenty of old pipes and rocks littering the bottom.

Though both skippers say that good numbers of fish can be taken by fishing the rocks lining the perimeter of the island, Boudreaux says those boats with trolling motors and a little sense of adventure can enjoy solid action inside the bulkhead by slipping through a cut on the northeast side.

“You’ll lose some fish and you’ve got to be real careful, but there’s some real good fishing on the inside,” he said.

Topwaters and other shallow-running baits work well here, if for no other reason than they stay out of the area’s innumerable snags.

The Horseshoe Reef, named for the shape it takes, is located on the north side of Last Island. It is another storied spot for anglers fishing the Lake Pelto area, and provides the aspect of a measure of protection to strong south winds. An active oyster reef, Horseshoe stands in relatively shallow water, and is emergent on a low tide.

“I’ll push my boat far inside the horseshoe itself if I’ve got a day when there aren’t too many boats,” said Boudreaux.

Boudreaux says fishing live pogies all around the inside gap gives up some of his largest trout of the year.

Lake Pelto is susceptible to strong winds, but during good conditions the trout action there is great in June.
Lake Pelto is susceptible to strong winds, but during good conditions the trout action there is great in June.

The reef sits with its two “feet” pointing to the east. Fish seldom keep a pattern on their daily location, and it’s advisable to work all areas of the reef if you have a trolling motor. Many times, it’s a matter of finding a place to set up on the popular spot.

Lake Pelto’s shallow water and mud bottom can be unforgiving relative to water clarity when a sudden breeze rears its ugly head. Fine-looking water can go from silty to muddy in short order, especially when a strong tide is pushing water. Fortunately, bad water for trout fishing can signal outstanding fishing for bull redfish.

The tremendous flow of water moving through these passes pushes tons of food through the area, much of it at the mercy of the heavy current. Crabs are a particular target of the redfish between 10 and 40 pounds, and these bruisers hang out in the heavy surf, cuts and channels in and around these areas.

A cracked crab rigged on a heavy Carolina rig can be just the ticket for attracting these strong fish. A spread of at least three rods is preferable for this type of fishing, as the smell of multiple baits is a major attractant. Some like to use half a crab, but Haydel says doing this can attract unwanted fish such as hardhead catfish to the bait.

“With a full crab, I know that it’s a good fish biting on it,” he said. “Breaking off the points of the crab will get the smell out there.”

To take full advantage of the redfish’s superb olfactory sense, Haydel likes to spread his rods all over the boat rather than putting them all out of the stern.

“You really want to get the smell of that crab over a large area,” he said.

To maximize the action, Haydel takes advantage of the redfish’s competitive nature by keeping a rod rigged and ready to go when the full spread is out. When a rod goes down, he’s quick to throw the bait toward the fighting fish.

“It’s a good way to get the fish going,” says Haydel, adding that using heavy enough tackle keeps thing under control in such close quarters.

Though fishing for bull reds can be great fun on light tackle, conscientious anglers should choose heavier gear if catch and release is the game plan. Twelve- to 15-pound gear common to trout fishing is not a good tool for winching in big fish against the heavy current in enough time to give them a good chance for survival.

A good place to try for these powerful fish is in Caillou Boca itself. Anchoring on the north side of the pass halfway in between the two points of the first island will put anglers in prime position for taking bull reds.

In the passes, it is usually a matter of the rougher the water, the better. Reds are attracted to the white water by the same principles as trout in the breakers. Bait is roughed up by the chop and becomes easy pickings for the fish. Placing baits right where the wave breaks is a good bet to result in jarring strikes.