No one who has been fishing south Louisiana for more than 5 minutes would argue that speckled trout fishing is as good today as it was a decade ago. There are fewer fish, they’re tougher to find and they don’t seem to be as big as they were before an emotional Mother Nature decided to use the eastern part of the continent as a catch basin for her tears.
Our state is her gift to anglers because it’s positioned at the terminus of North America’s greatest river, but that also means our fishing fortunes rise and fall with the level of that river. River water brings sediment, and that can be a long-term benefit to the coast if that silt is allowed to distribute throughout the ecosystem, but it also makes speckled trout tougher to find in significant numbers and outlandish sizes.
However, there are some brutes still around, and I had the good fortune of running across one on a recent trip with Capt. Ty Hibbs.
I’ve covered Hibbs for years, since the days when he was a precocious teenager boating far bigger hauls than most adults who had decades more experience. We’ve remained in contact over the years and decided last month to make a sight-fishing trip for redfish in the marshes of northern Plaquemines Parish.
The morning of the trip, however, Hibbs suggested we make a quick stop in a nearby pond to throw topwater baits for speckled trout. Since it’s my favorite fishing technique, I readily agreed.
We weren’t expecting to load the boat, but a cool front had pushed through a couple days earlier, lowering water temperatures and, we hoped, inspiring any fish in the area to look up for their meals.
On my first cast, it looked like the redfish would have to wait a while. I got three blowups, one of which sent my Matrix Mullet 2 feet up in the air.
My next cast was even more productive, as one of the fish that hit actually got the hooks and became the first to fly over the gunwale.
A cast or two later, Hibbs also connected.
And that was it. The incredible flurry of action that started the morning was suddenly choked out by a cold, wet blanket.
For the next 45 minutes, we cast, we retrieved, we twitched, we walked the dog, and our baits seemed less attractive to the fish than Joy Behar does to the average adolescent male.
Then, out of the blue, when we had almost given up hope, the water exploded around my lure like a helicopter pilot had dropped a cinder block. Hibbs and I both let out an involuntary gasp, but quickly came to the conclusion that a bull redfish had decided to snack on what it thought was a garishly colored mullet.
After all, what were the chances a speckled trout big enough to make such an explosion could have taken up residence in a hydrilla-choked, nearly freshwater pond dozens of miles from the spawning grounds?
Shake him up
During the fight, it was obvious that whatever it was, the fish was big and powerful, but as the battle continued, I told Hibbs it really felt more like a trout than a red.
Sure enough, the fish came to the surface to shake its head within 10 feet of the boat, revealing its silver speckled sides, and my knees turned to jelly.
I thumbed my spool release, and applied metered pressure, allowing the fish to have all the line it wanted on each run. Every time it tired, I re-engaged and cranked it toward the boat as I walked across gunwales and hopped over tackle boxes.
Finally, it was boatside, and Hibbs deftly slid a net under what truly was an eye-popping speckled trout. We held it up for a few pictures, measured it, high-fived and sent the big fish on its way.
Although Hibbs had a Boga Grip on his boat, I just didn’t have the heart to dangle the fish from it and risk injuring or killing it. I had the good fortune to boat an 8-pound, 8-ounce speckled trout on Calcasieu Lake in 2002, and I knew this fish wasn’t bigger than that, so there was no reason to put it through the stress.
At 26 inches, the fish likely weighed 6 pounds — slightly more or slightly less. It ranks as the largest I’ve caught in more than a decade of hard-core speckled trout fishing and was really a sight for sore eyes.
Once the continent’s weather settles down, big fish like this will be much more common than they are now. I personally can’t wait.