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Carter's Country
Capt. Brandon Carter has figured out how to pull scale-busting trout from the bays newar the mouth of the Mississippi River.

By TODD MASSON

After the big trout leave the shorelines around mid-June, Carter finds them at the rigs and sandbars surrounding the Mississippi River delta.
After the big trout leave the shorelines around mid-June, Carter finds them at the rigs and sandbars surrounding the Mississippi River delta.

Niche n. A situation or activity specially suited to a person’s abilities or character.

Capt. Brandon Carter has found his niche at the ripe old age of 24.

The “activity specially suited to a person’s abilities” in Carter’s case is catching speckled trout longer than a child’s leg and heavier than the average newborn.

Carter began carving out his niche seven years ago when he abandoned his childhood stomping grounds — Barataria Bay and its endless reefs of innumerable school trout — and pointed his bow toward the roseau-cane points and sandy coves in the “downriver” area of Venice.

He hasn’t looked back.

“The fishing’s so good down here, it’s just unbelievable,” he said. “We have miles and miles of good fishing spots that nobody’s even discovered yet. We have so many fish here that have never even seen a lure.”

Carter was speaking just after dawn on the morning of a late-April swing through the area. The moon was two days waning from full, the winds were as still as a Buckingham Palace guard and a stubborn fog hung over the river like something out of a horror movie.

Undaunted, Carter eased down the east side of the river with his squinting eyes constantly shifting from the line of rocks to his left and the 30 yards of visible water in front of him.

“I wish I had known it was going to be this thick; we could have stayed at the marina and had breakfast,” he said while crossing Main Pass. “But there’s no way I’m turning around now. What’s behind us is probably worse than what’s ahead of us.”

Indeed it was. The fog thinned at Pass a Loutre, thickened again at the mouth of Dennis, and then finally broke for good at the mouth of Cadro. The ponds and lakes bordering the pass were sheets of glass mirroring the towering blue sky, their smoothness broken only occasionally by a startled crane or pair of mottled ducks.

Carter’s destination was a cove bordering Garden Island Bay, where he had further honed his niche the day before with a big catch of trout, 17 of which were over 5 pounds.

He pulled out his bait of choice for the day — a DOA shrimp below a rattling cork, believe it or not.

“The guys I had yesterday said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ when they saw this. They said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to catch big trout under a cork.’ But by the end of the day, they were believers,” Carter said. “This time of year, the big trout are mixed in with the school trout. They’re all doing the same thing — they’re trying to eat enough to be ready for the spawn.

Paying attention to details is what helps trophy-trout anglers like Carter excel. As an example, Carter prefers to fish with bait colors that look as natural as possible to the fish, eschewing bold or flashy colors.
Paying attention to details is what helps trophy-trout anglers like Carter excel. As an example, Carter prefers to fish with bait colors that look as natural as possible to the fish, eschewing bold or flashy colors.

“I’m using the cork not as a strike indicator, but more to hold the bait in the strike zone.”

The large cove had several smaller coves within it, and Carter’s first pass through one of the coves yielded nothing more than a bite from a large redfish.

“This is where we caught them yesterday, but the water over there looks a little cleaner,” he said while pointing to one of the other small coves. “Let’s make a pass there.”

He idoled his 21-foot Champion to the cove, moved to the bow, and cast his cork rig to the edge of the roseau. A couple of pops of the cork drew a takedown, and Carter snapped his wrists.

“This isn’t what we came for, but it’s nice to break the ice,” he said while cranking on his baitcaster reel.

Indeed, it wasn’t a “niche” fish, but the 3-pounder likely would have been the jewel of the box for an angler fishing in another area.

“We just don’t catch a lot of small fish in Venice,” Carter said. “Even our school trout are big. This year, I’ve only had three throwbacks brought to my boat.”

Carter, his father, Ronnie, and another guest would go on to catch 19 other trout that day, and innumerable redfish, which Carter considers to be just a step above trash fish. Three of the trout were over 4 pounds, and one of those was over 5 pounds.

That’s a haul that most anglers would take a roll of pictures of and call a dozen friends about, but Carter was disappointed with the results.

“I really thought we’d catch a 7-pounder,” he said.

Carter’s affinity for catching big trout is well-documented. He and his father tied with 7-pound, 6-ounce fish during the STAR contest in July 2000. Since Carter politely allowed his father to weigh in first, Ronnie won the boat. STAR rules say that in case of a tie, the first angler to weigh in that month is the winner.

Also that year, Carter and his father were part of a team that placed sixth in the inaugural Louisiana Sportsman Speckled Trout Classic with a five-fish stringer weighing 20.21 pounds.

“We were catching 35-pound five-fish stringers all week,” Ronnie Carter said. “But that day, there was a 2-foot tidal range, and we just couldn’t get the big fish to bite. We were in a spot where we were catching 3-pounders on every single cast, but we had to leave it after 20 minutes to go try to find bigger fish.”

Then last year, Carter caught an 8.9-pounder during the STAR media day that raised a lot of eyebrows and began to solidify his niche.

A month later, Ted Cason of Independence boated a 7-pound, 10-ounce trout while fishing with Carter that proved to be the May/June winner of the STAR tournament.

And then in July of last summer, Carter and his crew caught 27.30 pounds to win the guide’s cup in the Louisiana Sportsman Speckled Trout Classic.

No small measure in Carter’s success recipe, he admits, is the general area that he fishes.

“The fish in Venice just grow bigger,” he said. “The area’s so fertile that there’s just so much bait in the water. Some of the 7-pound trout we catch are only 25 inches (in length).”

Carter says that people think he catches so many big trout because he has secret trout holes. Actually, he says, his success with big fish has more to with his techniques and persistence than knowing secret locations.
Carter says that people think he catches so many big trout because he has secret trout holes. Actually, he says, his success with big fish has more to with his techniques and persistence than knowing secret locations.

Short, fat fish are the sign of a healthy fishery, whereas long, skinny fish with big heads indicate a fishery that is lacking in bait resources.

But clearly, Carter is maximizing the potential of the area he’s fishing.

“Most of the year, you have to think differently if you’re targeting big trout. You have to really think of school trout and big trout as two different fish. It’s only at this time of year (mid April through mid June) that school trout and trophy trout are in the same areas. The rest of the time, they don’t associate with each other,” he said.

Most anglers, when they attempt to fish for trophies, will work an area for a while, and if they don’t catch anything after a few minutes, they’ll leave to find some action.

As a charter captain, Carter sees it all the time.

“I’ll have guys who charter me who say, ‘I don’t care about school trout; I just want to catch a big fish,’ and then after we haven’t caught anything for an hour, they say, ‘Alright, Brandon, let’s go catch some fish,’” he said. “There are days when I’ll get into a school of trophy trout where we might catch 50 over 5 pounds, but those are rare.”

More typically, Carter will methodically work an area he thinks should be productive, hoping to run across the path of a couple of bruisers.

“This is a lot like bass fishing,” he said. “I’m really looking for five bites.”

As he stated, this is the only time of year that’s the exception to the rule. Right now, the trophies are all mixed up with the school trout on the cane-lined edges of Garden Island Bay, Redfish Bay, Blind Bay and Bull Bay.

Carter throws his cork-suspended DOA exclusively until the first week or two of May, and after that point, he’ll add Top Dogs into the mix.

“When the water warms up, the trout’ll start hitting your cork,” he said. “That’s when you know it’s time to start throwing that Top Dog.”

Around the middle of June, most of the trophy trout abandon the shorelines and move out to the rigs and sandbars. Which of the two types of structure is more productive depends on the season.

“Two years ago, you could go to any rig out here from Main Pass all the way around the delta to Sandy Point and catch all the big trout you wanted,” he said. “Last year, you had to be at the right rig and then you had to be on the right spot on that rig for that particular day.”

The sandbar bite last year, however, was less temperamental, and Carter had much of his success at these underwater trout magnets.

Any sandbar has the potential to be productive, but Carter especially likes those that are close to other fish-producing structure.

“If you see a sandbar that’s real close to a rig, you definitely want to fish it. There are a bunch near Sandy Point like that,” he said.

Carter also likes sandbars that are adjacent to pass mouths.

“The best bars will be just underwater; you’ll see the waves breaking over them. I’ve caught 90 percent of my sandbar fish in the white foam,” he said.

Carter says that people think he catches so many big trout because he has secret trout holes. Actually, he says, his success with big fish has more to with his techniques and persistence than knowing secret locations.
Carter says that people think he catches so many big trout because he has secret trout holes. Actually, he says, his success with big fish has more to with his techniques and persistence than knowing secret locations.

Carter explained that most sandbars taper toward shore on one side and away from shore on the other. He always begins his efforts on the ends of the bar, and particularly likes the end that is away from shore (see diagram 1).

“If the bar is close to a pass and the tide is falling, all that bait is going to get pulled out of the pass and along the bar. The trout will be on the end waiting for it,” he said.

Carter’s bait of choice on the bars is a mullet or bone-colored Top Dog.

“I like the natural colors,” he said. “I probably give the fish too much credit, but I want to throw something to them that looks as natural as possible.”

Carter also is a big believer in fishing underwater structure like wrecks and rocks. This type of structure abounds around Venice.

“Some of this stuff, we’ve taken time to find, and there’s no way I’m giving that information out, but there’s no guarantee any of it’s going to hold fish. We’re just as likely to fish things that are obvious to everybody like the Mud Lumps or the Southwest Pass jetties,” he said.

That last spot is one that too many trout anglers overlook, Carter said.

“Everybody says, ‘Let’s go to Southwest Pass and catch some bull reds,’ but they don’t realize how good the trout fishing is there. There are 8- and 9-pound trout all over those jetties,” he said.

Again, Carter said, the key to success there for an angler is to work the rocks methodically whether or not he is getting strikes.

Much of the underwater-structure fishing requires a great deal of finesse, Carter said. He’ll carefully work Deadly Dudleys (blue moon, purple haze, fearless Frank) and Saltwater Assassins (opening night) in the rocks and/or structure, trying to “feel” the structure with his bait. Even with the greatest of care, though, snags and subsequent break-offs are frequent. But Carter feels it’s worth the trouble — not to mention the expense — for the chance to catch an 8- or 9-pounder that has held to a particular piece of structure for hours or even days.

“A big trout wants one big meal. He’s not going to chase 55 cocahoes. He wants a 10-inch pogie or mullet. He’s just going to sit there until something big comes along,” Carter said.

The only exception to that, he said, is at the sandbars, where fish often gorge themselves on the bait flushing out of the passes.

“The fish on the sandbars are much more aggressive. You can really use that to your advantage,” he said.

“There are so many big-fish spots out here. People always ask me, ‘Hey man, where’s your big-fish spot?’ I don’t have a big-fish spot. If I have one today, it’ll change by tomorrow. It’s just a matter of fishing the spots you fish the right way. There’s so much productive water down here that if a guy gets into an area that has all the ingredients, and he takes his time and works it slowly, he’ll probably catch a big fish.”

The right ingredients, Carter said, include moving water, the presence of baitfish, and water that’s green but slightly stained.

“Sometimes that water gets gin-clear. It’s beautiful and you think you’ve really found something, but you can’t catch a fish in it. The water’s got to have a slight amount of dinginess to it, but it can’t be dirty. You want to be able to see your trolling motor (propeller)” he said.

Another important ingredient is lack of fishing pressure.

“We like to fish on Thursdays,” said Ronnie Carter. “There’s not a lot of people who fish on Thursdays, and the fish have had all week to settle down from the previous weekend. On Friday, the boats will be running everywhere, and all that pressure has a big impact on trophy trout.”

But the younger Carter will be out there most any day of the week, using not a chisel but a rod and reel to carve out his niche.

Capt. Brandon Carter can be reached at (985) 542-0620.