Variables are coming together to make May the perfect month for trophy trout at Calcasieu Lake
That’s the same feeling ducks begin to get late in the summer when the sun’s daily arc creeps closer and closer to the horizon.It’s the same longing the swallows have when their tiny bird brains dream of Capistrano.
It’s the same ache a trophy buck gets after the season’s first cold front, when the same old doe he’s seen all year suddenly looks like Jessica Alba.
You’re an angler, and it’s late spring. You’re being drawn to the sea.
Don’t fight the urge; give in!
We’ve got everything you need to make this summer saltwater season one you’ll talk about for the rest of your life.
By Todd Masson
Predicting tides is an exact science that isn’t exactly exact.
If you’re an angler who likes to spend your off days shrouded by green wire grass, with a rod in your hand and your foot on a the trolling-motor control, you’ve probably cursed us a time or two.
Go ahead and admit it: You’ve muttered under your breath about the good-for-nothing so-and-soes at Louisiana Sportsman and their worthless tide charts.
It’s O.K.; we forgive you. At least you were kind enough to keep your comments to yourself rather than calling us and giving us an earful — like many of your fellow anglers have done.
Actually, we don’t mind. We know how you feel. We’ve cursed the tide charts ourselves a time or two.
We’ve had days in which we knew we could catch a limit of trout over a particular oyster reef as long as the tide was rising. We checked the trusty tide charts to discover when the tide would be rising, and scheduled our trip accordingly, only to find upon arrival that the tide was still falling when it was supposed to be rising.
Hours later, it was still falling.
So what gives? Why would Louisiana Sportsman publish tide charts that are so frequently incorrect?
Well, the answer’s simple: Because they’re not incorrect. They are absolutely correct 100 percent of the time.
So why is there a variance?
Because the tide times we run in the Sportsman are based on the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun, and the effects those heavenly bodies have on the world’s oceans and seas.
Scientists can pinpoint to the exact minute the times when the tides will peak and valley at any point on the entire globe based upon lunar and solar influence.
But what they cannot do to any similar level of precision is predict what impact atmospheric conditions will have on the tides at a given location.
To illustrate the point, let’s consider an example.
Say a mutual friend of ours knows he can catch fish at Manila Village on a rising tide, so he checks the tide chart and discovers that the water should bottom out at 8:06 a.m. on Friday.
That’s perfect; it’ll be rising most of the day. So he calls three buddies, and tells them to meet him in Lafitte in the pre-dawn hours on Friday for some sure-fire speckled trout action.
On Thursday night, however, a late-spring cool front moves through, bringing strong north winds with it. Undaunted, he meets his buddies at the launch early Friday morning, and then motors to Manila Village to find the tide low and falling.
At noon, it’s still falling, and his ice chest is still empty. Finally at 2 p.m., he gets disgusted and throws in the towel.
The tide didn’t come anywhere close to doing what the Sportsman tide chart said it was going to do, and our good friend is tempted on his way home to make a stop at the magazine’s office in Boutte and wring a certain editor’s neck.
O.K., well that’s an easy one. Most any angler who’s been fishing the Louisiana coast for more than a day knows that a strong north or northwest wind will blow the water to Cuba.
But what about the days when you’re out there and winds are calm. Shouldn’t the tide then do exactly what the tide chart says?
Well, not necessarily.
What many anglers don’t consider is what the atmospheric conditions were like on the days leading up to their trip.
Let’s continue with the above scenario. Say our friend gets home from his ill-fated trip, and now he’s got a serious yearning to catch some fish. So he decides to forget about the trout and chase some redfish. He knows he can catch some reds on a falling tide in a favorite pond just north of Manila Village.
So he checks the tide charts for that Sunday. Low tide is at 10:18 a.m. That’s not ideal, but at least he’ll have four hours between sunrise and the bottoming out of the tide. That’s plenty enough time to catch a limit of reds.
But our buddy has wised up. This time he checks the forecast as well, and Bob Breck assures him that winds will be light and variable on Sunday. Perfect! He can’t lose.
He pulls his cell phone out of his pocket, and calls his three buddies again. This time he promises them action. They somewhat reluctantly agree to meet him at the Lafitte launch on Sunday morning before the chickens are even stirring.
That morning, winds are non-existent. There’s even a wisp or two of fog hovering over the surface of the water. Our buddy’s got ants in his pants. He can’t wait to be sitting at his favorite trenasse mouth throwing live cocahoes to schools of marauding redfish.
But lo and behold, he pulls into his favorite pond to find the water is rising.
Six hours later, he returns to the launch with a sunburned neck, a lone sheepshead in the cooler and a catfish sting on his ring finger. He spends the car ride home carefully choosing the words he’s going to use in his post on louisianasportsman.com telling anyone who’ll read it how worthless the Sportsman’s tide charts are. His friends spend the car ride home carefully choosing the words they’ll use the next time our buddy calls to invite them fishing.
But actually the tide charts weren’t wrong at all. The moon and sun were doing their best to pull the water from our buddy’s pond all the way until 10:18 — or at least a couple of minutes thereafter (more on that in a moment) — but the atmospheric conditions wouldn’t allow it.
But how can that be? Weren’t the winds negligible?
Indeed they were, but they were anything but on the two days leading up to our buddy’s trip. The strong north winds had blown a significant amount of the water out of the Barataria Basin. The tide didn’t rise for two days.
Then when the winds relented, the water level began to equalize. All that water that had been blown into the Gulf slowly returned to the “vacuum” that existed in the basin. Although the tide was supposed to fall at Manila Village until 10:18 a.m., it actually bottomed out much earlier, and it didn’t stop rising for 36 hours.
Why our snake-bitten buddy didn’t abandon the reds and go try the Manila Village trout on the rising tide, we don’t know. Some people are just that way. They couldn’t catch fish with a dip net in a pet-store aquarium.
So it’s obvious that winds have a profound impact on our tides, but they’re not the only atmospheric conditions that affect when our waters fall and rise. High- and low-pressure systems also serve to push and pull tides, depending upon where they’re located.
A high-pressure system over the Gulf, for instance, will put pressure on the water’s surface there, which will cause tides to rise — or, at least, not fall as substantially — along the Louisiana coast.
A low-pressure system will have the opposite effect. As Katrina and Rita demonstrated on an extreme scale, a low-pressure system raises the water level under it. If the low-pressure system is located over our marsh, then the tides will be higher than they would have been without it. If, on the other hand, it’s located out in the Gulf, our tides will be lower because the water will be “sucked” into the low.
All of these atmospheric conditions are at play every day to some degree, and their impacts on our tides range from negligible to profound. And they obviously can’t be predicted by any chart.
Complicating matters further is the fact that Louisiana’s coast is among the most intricate in the world. Every bay is connected to a lake that’s connected to a bayou that’s connected to a pond that’s connected to a canal that’s connected to a trenasse, and all of those choke points constrict water movement, which makes the tides exponentially more vulnerable to the impacts of the atmosphere.
That means the tide charts are much less reliable at an inland area like the Paris Road Bridge than they are at a point much nearer the Gulf, like Bayou Rigaud.
The water has to pass so many choke points on its way in and out of the marsh that anything can happen, and any change in the atmosphere will alter that tidal flow in some way.
So are the tide charts worthless? Certainly not. We at the Sportsman check them before scheduling any fishing trip. But we use them as a general guide, and we try to guess how recent atmospheric conditions — winds especially — have impacted the tides, and how that might alter what we find when we’re out on the water.
Sometimes our calculations are right; other times we go home scratching our heads wondering where we erred in our “educated” guesses.
We’ll never be right 100 percent of the time, but isn’t that what makes fishing fun? If an angler had everything figured out, and all of his plans always worked, he’d find a new hobby.
And if you ever think you get this whole tide thing mastered, spend a few days on Lake Pontchartrain with a watch and a tide chart.
Humbling, ain’t it?
By Marty Cannon
With so many marinas and bait shops wiped out by last year’s hurricanes, most anglers will have to catch their own live offerings this season.
Just about all that Hurricane Rita left me in Pecan Island, besides a lot of trash to clean up, was a cast net that I had used for shrimp the day before the storm passed.
Standing there, surrounded by destruction, an odd wave of optimism hit me as I realized that net became a little more important to my future fishing exploits.
The state’s local bait businesses took a major hit during the storms. If live bait is what you want to fish with these days, you’re probably going to have to go out and get it yourself. For some, that reality may cause beads of sweat to form because they have to finally unravel that cast net and rekindle the memory of those horrid taco-shaped casts that draw howls of laughter.
Fortunately, there are those who don’t mind sharing what they know about catching live bait with a cast net, trap or trawl, and then keeping it all so that it works when the fish get hungry.
Capt. Mike Parks of Slidell spends his fair share of days on the water. When he needs fresh bait, the cast net is the only way to get the best.
“The cast net is my only tool,” said Parks. “Get the heaviest one that you can. I like a 7- to 9-foot net thrown Frisbee-style by grasping the mesh from underneath and placing one weight in my mouth.
“Never throw by the lead, and don’t assume that a 7-foot net is harder than a 3-foot net. Anything smaller than 6 feet is more difficult, won’t catch much and will reduce the distance you are able to throw.”
Read the manufacturer’s instructions, and then just get out and throw, throw, throw until you get it down. Sore back and abdominal muscles are well worth it.
When Parks is fishing, he uses the cast net to draw in all sorts of bait for inshore and offshore game alike. His strategy for catching bait will cause some to scratch their heads and others to laugh — until they start loading up on bait.
“People around here sometimes catch 30 pounds of shrimp a night with a cast net and Tops dog food. Tops is the key because it sinks like a rock. Throw about four Mardi Gras cupfuls in each place you can cast a net, and give it an hour.”
Parks says the fast-sinking dog food brings in shrimp, pogies, mullet, pinfish, flounder, white trout and much more.
Capt. Keith “Herk” Bergeron (985-860-7855), of Pair-A-Dice Charters, takes his shrimp catching in Grand Isle a step further with crushed crab.
“I first find an area where the water is either funneled into another body of water like a culvert or a cut in the marsh, and I’ll make several casts there and catch what I can,” he said. “The big secret is crushed crab. I drop that in the water out of the current line off to the side. Shrimp love the jelly meat of crab, and the scent draws them instantly.”
Bergeron says current is the key to keeping shrimp alive after you catch them. In fact, current is the key to catching and keeping bait. He stresses it over and over.
“First of all, you have to be set up with the right live well for shrimp,” he said. “Shrimp will not live long at all in a live well if it is not a round tank. That’s very important. You have to have air or water pumping in the tank because shrimp have to be swimming in a current. And it does no good to catch live bait if you’re not set up to keep it alive.”
Another bait that Bergeron likes to use is live cocahoes.
“Cocaho minnows are easy to keep alive,” he said. “I use very inexpensive traps that you can buy at most sport shops. The best bait for them is cut pogies.”
Tide plays a key role in where Bergeron will trap them.
“Look for a tide that leaves an area real shallow at low tide — not empty just very low,” he suggested. “Cocahoes are eaten by everything, so they look for cover, and when the tide rises they go into the marshes. When the tide drops, they harbor in shallow waters near the marshes so you want to put your traps at the cuts near shallow marshes.”
For croakers, Bergeron moves to deeper, moving water, and uses the cast net or a trawl.
“Croakers,” he continued, “Now you’re dealing with very sensitive bait. They’re easy to kill.”
Bergeron reemphasized the need for a good livewell system with moving, aerated water for croakers.
“I find an area that has current in about 5 to 7 feet of water, and I throw cut-up rib cages from the fish I cleaned the day before in the area,” he said. “Then I start cast netting again, or I use a 14-foot trawl. The key to catching them with a trawl is you can’t drag long. Five to 10 minutes and that’s it, and you have to hurry and get them out of the net especially if there are jelly fish in the catch. The jelly will get in their gills and kill them quick.”
Want pogies? Bergeron and Parks both have their stories to tell about catching these.
Parks will load up the freezer with pogies when they stack into nearby waterways. Later he uses them on big game outings.
“Pogies stink,” he said, “but they’re easy to obtain if you have some time and can cast a big net. Over here, the Eden Isle canals, Tchefuncte and West End get stacked with them. All pogies make ‘nervous’ water, and small ones tend to flip on the surface.
“You can see them when they’re big and can catch them by the hundreds, big or small.
“With a chest freezer handy, you can take them straight from your net into 5-gallon buckets — take my advice and get lids — and freeze them.
“In their own slime, they will last much longer than the cardboard flats you get commercially. I try to fill everyone’s freezer available when pogies come around.”
If live pogies are what you need, find moving water and keep that bait tank clean.
“I cast net for them in current lines off of points where the current is ripping around a bend,” Bergeron said. “Pogies regurgitate when they are caught just like any fish that gets a hook in its mouth — they throw up to try and spit the hook. Well, the bile they throw up will kill everything you just caught if your live well is not in continuous circulation.
“If you’re putting them in a portable live well, you’ll have to let them purge. To do that, you have to put them in a 5-gallon bucket of water first for about three to five minutes, and then transfer them into the good water in the portable tank.”
In addition to pogies, there’s another easily attainable bait that Bergeron loves.
“Live mullets are an excellent bait,” he said. “Amberjack love them, and cobia think they’re Tic Tacs. When they’re cut up, they stay on the hook very well for snapper and white trout.
“I cast net for them around almost any fishing pier. Mullets are like cows at night — they can’t see very well so they harbor around structure for protection from predator fish. Again, it’s very important that they be kept in a round tank with circulating water.”
“You can almost always find mullets,” added Parks. “Live ones are great, but they are pretty damn good dead, and it is much less an ordeal than keeping them alive. Six to 10-inch mullet are perfect, but any size will do. Cut mullet is good for a lot of things, but whole ‘split-tail’ mullet may save you one day.
“With a real sharp knife, you can gut a mullet, remove the backbone and, just like making fillets, split him in half from the dorsal fin back. When you reach the tail on a flat surface, just keep going. Try to keep the knife in the middle, and you will wind up with two thin tail fins.
“The end result is a head connected to two fillets that look like two flags moving in the water. Rig up 80-pound Berkley Big Game and a 7/0 Mustad 39950BL through the nose, bump troll it way back, and it may get that busting tuna to bite, and the same mullet on heavy mono, deep dropped, could bring up a pot luck.”
Current, optimal live wells and fast-sinking dog food — these are just a few keys to catching and keeping live bait.
The days of a quick bait pick-up at your favorite coastal bait shop are over, at least for a while. There’s a good chance that many of those places are gone and the livelihood of those souls that caught them prior to the great storms of 2005 may also be in flux. So you may have to get old school and catch your bait yourself.
By Rusty Tardo
Some marinas were flattened by Katrina and Rita; others remain intact.
Coastal Louisiana marinas and launches took a brutal beating in 2005. Many are still closed. Some are open but only partially operational, and may not have everything you need.
Ice, fuel, groceries, hoists, accessories and bait may not be available even at the open businesses.
Back-down ramps are accessible at many of the closed marinas, and are used at one’s own risk. For many of the marinas below, the phone numbers listed are the last known, but not all are functioning at present.
Unless you know the condition of the site you launch at, it is best to go with everything you need, and always watch for debris in the water.
Status: Partially reopened
Location: 620 Big Lake St., Lake Charles, LA 70607
Calcasieu Point Landing
Status: Partially Reopened
Location: 3955 Henry Pugh Rd., Lake Charles
Spicer Hughes Marina
Location: 211 Johnny Benoit Rd., Hackberry, LA 70645
Location: Holly Beach, Hackberry
Location: Under the Ellender Bridge
No contact number
Location: 1245 Giovanni St., Lake Charles, LA 70601
Location: 800 Mike Hooks Rd., Westlake, LA 70669
Location: 808 Mike Hooks Rd., Westlake, LA 70669
LaFleur Park Public Launch
Location: I-210 Loop, Lake Charles
Prien Lake Park Public Launch
Location: Prien Lake Rd., Lake Charles
Pecan Island/Grand Chenier
Location: Highway 82 at Rollover Bayou, Pecan Island
Joseph Harbor Public Launch
Location: Rockefeller Refuge
Mermentau Park Public Launch
Location: Grand Chenier at the Mermantau River
Chauvin/Point Aux Chene/Cocodrie
Pointe Aux Chene Marina
Location: 4266 Highway 665, Montegut, LA 70377
Location: 6343 Hwy. 56, Chauvin, LA 70344
Location: 106 Pier 56, Chauvin, LA 70344-2010
Location: 6830 Hwy. 56, Chauvin, LA 70344
Location: Off Hwy 56, 6.5 miles south of the Robinson Canal, Cocodrie.
Location: Boudreaux Canal and Petit Caillou Bayou
Location: Louisiana 56 at the Robinson Canal
Big Bayou Blue Marina
Location: 1352 Hwy. 24 Lot 1, Larose, LA 70373
Bayou Black Marina
Location: 251 Marina Dr., Gibson, LA 70356
Location: 9499 A Grand Caillou Rd., Dulac, LA 70353
Location: 1171 Four Point Rd., Dulac, LA 70353
Falgout Canal Landing
Location: 1868 Dr. Beatrous Rd., Theriot
Belle Pass Marina
Location: 142 Charlie Hardison Lane, Golden Meadow, LA 70397
Bobby Lynn’s Marina
Location: 24015 Hwy. 1, Golden Meadow, LA 70357
Location: Hwy. 1, Leeville, LA 70357
Melancon Boat Launch
Location: Hwy. 1, Leeville, LA 70357
Location: Golden Meadow, behind the Chevron Station
Status: Partially reopened
Location: 113 West 202 St., Galliano, LA 70354
Location: 27900 Hwy. 1, Golden Meadow, LA 70357
Irvin P. Melancon Rec. Boat Launch
Location: End of Hwy. 3090, Port Fourchon, LA 70354
Point Fourchon Marina
Location: 282 Floatation Canal Rd., Fourchon, LA 70357
Location: 2012 Hwy. 1, Grand Isle, LA 70358
Location: Highway 1 in Chenier about four blocks north of the bridge
Location: North of the island on Louisiana 1, just before the bridge
Gulf Stream Marina
Status: Partially reopened
Location: Hwy. 1, Grand Isle, LA 70358
Pirate’s Cove Marina
Location: 413 Admiral Craig, Grand Isle, LA 70358
Sand Dollar Marina
Location: 158 Sand Dollar Court, Grand Isle, LA 70358
A Bon Fouca Marina/GBK
Location: 33370 Rivet Rd., Slip 207, Slidell, LA 70459
Contact: 985-781-0709; 985-502-2260
Bayou Liberty Marina
Location: 58047 Hwy. 433, Bayou Liberty Road, Slidell LA 70460
No contact number
Chef Harbor Marina
Status: Closed; plans to reopen in May
Location: Rt. 6, Box 276, New Orleans, LA 70129
Bizzy B Marina
Location: 20846 Chef Menteur Hwy., New Orleans
Venetian Isles Marina
Location: Highway 90, New Orleans
Hidden Harbor Marina
Location: 205 Rene St., Madisonville, LA 70447
Heron’s Way Marina
Location: Soult Street at Bayou Castine, Mandeville, LA 70448
Location: Soult Street at Bayou Castine, Mandeville, LA 70448
Colbert Cove Marina
Location: 1099 Villere St., Mandeville, LA 70448
Marina Beau Chene
Location: 900 Marina Drive., Madisonville, LA 70471
Marina Del Ray
Location: 100 Marina Del Ray Madisonville, LA 70447
Mariner’s Village Marina
Location: 225 Antibes West Mandeville, LA 70448
Lake Catherine Marina
Location: Rt. 6, Box 184C, New Orleans, LA 70129
Oak Harbor Marina
Location: 1640 Harbor Drive, Slidell, LA 70458
Location: 601 Louvois St., Mandeville, LA 70448
Location: 52250 Hwy. 90, Slidell, LA 70461
Fort Pike Public Launch
Location: Highway 90 at Chef Pass
Riverview Marine Services
Location: 129 Hwy. 22 E, Madisonville, LA 70477
Location: P.O. Box 71, Madisonville, LA 70447
Location: 118 Harbor View, Slidell, LA 70458
Location: Highway 11, Slidell
Location: end of Lake Road (La. 434-South) off U.S. 190 in Lacombe
Irish Bayou Public Ramp
Location: Highway 11 just off the 5-Mile Bridge, directly across I-10 from Irish Bayou
No contact number
Location: north side of U.S. 90, 1 1/2 miles east of Powers Junction
New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor
Location: 401 Roadway, New Orleans, LA 70124
Location: 221 Lake Marina Ave., New Orleans, LA 70124
South Shore Harbor Marina
Location: 6701 Stars and Stripes Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70126
Bonnabel Public Launch
Williams Boulevard Public Launch
Seabrook Public Launch
Location: Under the Seabrook Bridge, New Orleans
Breakwater Drive Public Launch
Location: Breakwater Drive at West End
Peavine Road Launch
Location: End of Peavine Road, off Highway 51 in Laplace
Bayou Bienvenue Marina
Location: 2001 Paris Rd., New Orleans, LA 70129
Gulf Outlet Marina
Location: 255 Marina Rd., Chalmette, LA 70043
Location: At the foot of the MRGO Bridge, on Paris Road, New Orleans
Location: St. Bernard Highway, Violet
Location: 1300 Yscloskey Hwy., St. Bernard, LA 70085
Pip’s Place Marina
Location: 6404 Hopedale Hwy., St Bernard, LA 70085
Location: 4618 Hopedale Hwy., St. Bernard, LA 70085
Breton Sound Marina
Location: End of Hopedale Highway (Hwy. 624), Hopedale, LA 70192
Delacroix/Reggio/Pointe a la Hache
Location: Delacroix Highway, Reggio
Location: 5934 Delacroix Hwy., Delacroix Island
End of the World Marina
Status: Closed; tentative plans to reopen
Location: End of Delacroix Highway, Delacroix Island
Status: Partially reopened
Location: End of Highway 46, Pointe a la Hache
Location: north bank of Bayou Segnette at Lapalco Boulevard, Marrero
Location: Louisiana 45, about 200 yards south of the bridge
No contact number
Location: 4477 Jean Lafitte Blvd. Lafitte, LA 70067
Location: 5057 Kenal Rd., Lafitte, LA 70067
Lafitte Harbor Marina
Location: end of Louisiana 45 at C&M Fuel Dock
Lake Hermitage Marina
Location: Highway 23
Myrtle Grove/Port Sulphur
Myrtle Grove Marina
Location: Highway 23
Happy Jack Marina
Location: Just off Highway 23, Port Sulphur
Location: Highway 23, Port Sulphur
Status: Closed; rebuild in progress
Location: 317 Rose Marie Dr., Empire, LA 70050
Status: Partially reopened
Location: 126 Blaize Dr., Buras, LA 70041
Yellow Cotton Bay Marina
Location: Just off Highway 23, across from the Ostrica Locks
Cypress Cove Marina
Status: Partially reopened
Location: 226 Cypress Cove Rd., Venice, LA 70091
Status: Partially reopened
Location: 237 Sports Marina Rd., Venice, LA 70091
Deep bayous get hot again
By Todd Masson
Although springtime is when most anglers forget all about the inside bayous and target super-charged specks in the open bays, many fish remain in interior waters to feed on baby croakers.
These fish will be found in many of the same holes they inhabited during the heart of the winter.
The only difference is that they feed much more aggressively when tomatoes are ripening than they did when they were hanging tinsel on their Christmas trees. Rather than the dead weight wintertime anglers feel on the ends of their lines, springtime deep-water specks tattoo soft plastics; their strikes are unmistakable.
To find productive areas, look for deep water in bayous or at the intersections of canals. The fish will most often be oriented to a steep shelf, which anglers will typically find at the inside turns of bayous.
At canal intersections, the fish will likely be at one of the two upcurrent points.
The most productive technique is to position the boat slightly downcurrent of the bend, and cast upcurrent across the point. Use double-rigged grubs on ¼-ounce jigheads (3/8-ounce in very swift currents), and be certain the baits reach the bottom.
Baits that match croakers in color are most effective.
This pattern is productive until about the middle of May, when the croakers get big enough to abandon the relative safety of the deep holes, and head out to the bays.
Stron tides make inland trout easy to pinpoint
By Todd Masson
Islands in open bays draw speckled trout in the late spring and throughout the summer like a neighborhood snow-ball stand draws sweaty kids.
Many anglers believe the islands serve as meeting places for amorous specks looking to spawn, but actually, that’s a fallacy.
Because trout are batch spawners, they need to “hook up” in areas with high current velocities, and that’s just not true of islands. Specks go there not because they provide good current but, quite to the contrary, because they provide good current breaks.
Although specks handle currents pretty well, the smaller fish that they feed upon — especially finger mullet — don’t, and they must seek shelter from the swift water.
In moderate to strong tides, mullet will often be seen to line up behind tide breaks such as points on islands. For hungry speckled trout, this is like having a free night at the Ryan’s all-you-can-eat buffet. Specks feast upon the hapless mullet, but the baitfish have no choice but to stay in the lee of the point. All each mullet can do is hope that the specks find its friends more attractive.
For anglers, hard-plastic plugs are particularly productive under such a scenario. Mullet-colored topwater baits will draw heart-stopping strikes, especially throughout the late spring.
As the waters get hotter in July and August, anglers will find suspending baits like Catch 5s and Bomber Long A’s to be more productive, especially in the early morning hours. In mid-day hours during the smoking-hot summer, live croakers or mullet are about the only baits these fish will bite.
In weak tides, the mullet flee from the current breaks and spread out in the bays, making the trout schools more difficult to find.
Relief provides hotspots on oyster reefs
By Todd Masson
If it weren’t for oyster reefs, anglers would spend a lot of boring days in the summer doing menial home-improvement projects like painting the shed, mowing the lawn or weeding the garden.
But thank heavens oyster reefs exist, and because they do, fishing them is as much a staple for summertime speck anglers as eating rice is for a Chinaman.
And there’s good reason: Oyster reefs in salty bays are alive with organisms at every level of the marine food chain, and with specks being at or near the trophic position in most bays, they are particularly drawn to these vibrant communities.
Oyster reefs attract baitfish because they provide relief.
Imagine you’re a young croaker swimming around on the bottom of the sea floor. There’s nothing but flat, sandy bottom for acres around. You’d feel pretty exposed, wouldn’t you?
Now imagine you come across a 20-yard-diameter oyster reef with dimples, bumps, slits, coves, and a big hump right in the middle. There are plenty of places for a young croaker to hide, aren’t there?
Apparently so, because you instantly see so many of your brothers and sisters.
Well, here’s the dirty little secret that you’re probably not aware of: The trout also know oyster reefs are great places for bait to hang out, so the very structure that provided you safety also seals your doom.
Each trout knows that if he waits long enough, he’ll pick off croakers one by one as they leave the safety of their hidey holes and mill about for food.
But specks also know there are hotspots on any reef, places where the bait congregates for one reason or another.
These are often found on the edges of humps.
Much like points on islands, humps on oyster reefs provide current breaks for weary baitfish to hide behind. Specks crowd these areas to feast on the resting baitfish, as well as pick off new ones being swept against and around the hump by the tides.
This is why there might be five boats fishing a particular reef, but one is outcatching all the other boats three to one. That boat is likely located in casting distance of some type of current break on the reef.
Fun at the beach begins with sightseeing
By Todd Masson
Beaches are among the most productive of summertime destinations for speckled trout anglers, but they can also be the most intimidating. After all, there are more than 200 miles of beachfront along the Louisiana coast, and the vast majority of that stretch is about as productive for speckled trout as Toledo Bend.
So how does an angler find the relatively few areas on a beach that hold fish? It’s easier than it sounds.
If every wave hit the Louisiana coast at exactly the same second, and our coast were perfectly linear with no inlets or passes, our beaches would feature straight troughs that rose to straight bars that fell to straight troughs and so on.
But nothing could be further from reality. Our coast couldn’t be more crooked if it had been drawn by a 3-year-old.
And that’s what causes hotspots on the beaches.
Anomalies along the shore provide current breaks, which allow sand to settle in certain areas. These sand ridges force current to race around them at speeds that are greater than the relative velocities of surrounding waters. This causes deep troughs to form, and sets the stage for one of nature’s most thrilling shows — at least to trout anglers.
Trout use troughs as passageways to meals, and each anomaly on a beach is like a restaurant with a big neon sign that reads, “Eat at Joe’s.”
Baitfish move along in troughs mostly unmolested because they’re not grouped up enough to draw attention, but when they encounter a block in the path — an anomaly — they’re forced to go around it, either by choice or by the force of the current.
Specks know it’s much more efficient to lie in wait at the trough adjacent to a current break than it is to merely cruise the indistinct troughs looking for a baitfish here and a baitfish there. So that’s where they group up.
Anglers who ride around looking through polarized glasses for underwater points that break the flow of relatively straight troughs will have infinitely more success on beaches than those who simply pick a spot because they threw a dart at a map or liked the color of the birds that were nesting at that particular area.
These underwater points are especially easy to find on low tides, and wise anglers will mark potential hotspots with a GPS and return another day during high tide.
Competition drives action at the rigs
By Todd Masson
The engineers who designed all of the well heads, tank batteries and oil rigs that dot the state’s near-shore waters probably never thought once about all the fish that would be drawn to their structures.
But these towers of tangled steel are more attractive to trout than a 9-pound sow dressed in high heels and a leather mini-skirt.
That’s because the intricate and complex design of the structures gives baitfish plenty of shadowy crevices in which to hide as well as escape from fierce currents.
Anglers most often begin their search for trout at a rig by fishing the downcurrent side, but when tides are particularly swift, trout will typically congregate on the upcurrent sides of rigs.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure why trout — and many other fish species — do this, but it probably has to do with competition, according to LSU AgCenter fisheries biologist Jerald Horst.
“The upcurrent side of the rig is the first place to intercept creatures that are drawn to the structure,” he said. “A trout doesn’t exactly have a high IQ, but he’s competitive enough to want to stay ahead of the pack.”
Horst pointed out that this sometimes leads trout to position themselves 100 feet or more upcurrent of the structure.
During times of swift current, Horst explained, there will be an eddying effect even on the upcurrent side of the rig because the rushing water encounters water that has been blocked by the actual structure. This tends to disorient bait, which is advantageous for trout.
Get Your Fix in 2006
By Marty Cannon
Here’s an inside look at the hot new speckled trout lures that will help fill ice chests this year.
Everybody wants an edge. Speckled trout fishermen are no different.
In fact, they may be worse than the average person seeking an advantage in life because catching trout in Louisiana is so addictive.
Lure companies know this all too well. They are all too happy to feed us trout chasers something new and better each and every year, and it seems that 2006 will be no different.
These “lure pushers” have some nifty secrets up their sleeves, and Louisiana Sportsman magazine has the inside track on the hot new additions that you just have to go out and try.
For PRADCO’s Jeff Samsel, the Booyah! Samurai Blade is an obvious winner for Louisiana anglers in 2006.
“It’s a saltwater-style spinnerbait that is ideal for fishing the marshes for specks and redfish,” said Samsel. “It’s built with a heavy-duty frame, a single gold Colorado blade and a YUM Samurai Shad body. When that tail gets kicking, it starts displacing a lot of water.”
The ¼-ounce spinnerbait comes in four distinct colors. Each 4-inch soft plastic is juiced with YUM’s signature Live Prey Technology scent, and it’s finished with a strong Mustad Ultrapoint saltwater hook. Specks will love them, but they are also a great crossover bait for redfish and bass as well.
“It’s made to work in freshwater environments too, but really it’s designed for the marsh,” Samsel said. “I’d say that the most popular approach is to cast it out and use a slow, steady retrieve. That big Colorado blade will keep it over structure.”
Vibration is one deadly key to Stanley’s new Wedgetail Minnow. Matched with the Wedgehead VLock Hook System, Stanley may have created the best jig head and soft plastic that a speck fisherman will ever use.
“What sets this apart is the vibration,” said Chaumont. “It’s the only soft plastic in the industry that you can feel when you’re ripping it through the water. The vibration pattern of the tail is so unique.
“I think the Wedgehead VLock Hook System is the best in the world. Imagine a skid plate on a Jeep, but shaped like an arrowhead with a screw lock to put the Wedgetail on. Because of that skid plate-type design, it wants to go up when you reel it. Regular jig heads want to go down or straight, but not this design.”
Fishing over oyster beds for speckled trout may not get any easier.
“It’s as close to a swimming jig head as we can make, and now we’re making them in two colors: red and gold. The guys fishing the Redfish Tour asked us to make it in gold, so we did.”
“Definitely the most popular new item for 2006 is the MirrOMinnow Suspending Twitchbait,” said Eric Bachnick with MirrOLure.
The downsized holographic suspending bait is designed to look just like a glass minnow, but is built rock solid like its cousins in the MirrOLure line.
“This is a great lure to start with when those trout move in to the warmer shallows,” Bachnick said. “It has a slow sink rate, so you can work those flats without worrying much about hanging up. Later, when they move out to the beaches, this lure is just as effective.
“It’s a lipless suspending bait, so you don’t have to work it fast. You want to use a twitching retrieve to make it work the best.”
Guy Stansel at Hackberry Rod & Gun has been busy rebuilding their famous lodge and fighting trout in Big Lake. He keeps a MirrOminnow tied on in case the trout aren’t biting well.
“I’ve caught some fish on it when we’ve had a chance to get out there. It’s really going to be a great bait, especially when the trout get finicky. It’s downsized, has great action and it mimics a glass minnow perfectly,” said Stansel. “I think it’s a great lure, and will be a hit on the water. It’s easy for anybody to fish.”
Robin Shiver, owner of Saltwater Assassin, is ready to unleash a flavorful-sounding soft-plastic lure to go along with his already successful line of saltwater baits.
The “Shrimp Cocktail” will hit the market in early May of 2006. It’s so new that at press time, he didn’t even have an image ready yet because the mold for the bodies had just come in.
According to Shiver, he can’t make the first run of models look any more lifelike.
“It’s a new shrimp design that you rig through the tail with one of our own special jig heads,” said Shiver. “It has a slit in the belly like the 5-inch shad, but it’s designed to fall completely horizontal in the water. When you work it back to you, the shrimp tail actually curls under like a real shrimp.
“The whole thing looks like a real shrimp. If you put a real shrimp right next to this bait, you couldn’t tell the difference.”
Look for the Shrimp Cocktail at your favorite tackle dealers in early May.
“How about a system?” asked Ted Takasaki with Old Bayside.
Old Bayside produces, in agreement with Capt. Redbone Martin, the Speculizer system. It has won the hearts of many speck anglers in Louisiana. Old Bayside toyed with the system, and now offers the tools for those who want to customize the highly effective rig.
“You take the Speculizer concept and make it a little more refined by rigging the new Paradise Popper over a Heavy Hook and the new Old Bayside Shrimp, which now come in a bunch of new colors,” Takasaki said.
The cork design is great, but the great new perk is the Paradise Popper’s titanium wire that runs through it.
“The titanium wire is truly unique,” he said. “Speckled trout anglers know that once their old stainless wire bends, that popping cork is done. We’ve put a titanium wire through this cork, and it will last fish after fish. The cork itself has a great sound that will bring the fish in.”
Sportsman contributor and world record-holding angler Susan Gros agrees.
“I have used the Paradise Popper X-Treme, and in fact, it is the only cork that I use now,” she said. “The titanium wire is extra tough and when casting, the rig is virtually tangle free.
“I personally prefer the Pro Pop model with the cupped front, which is available in fluorescent orange or yellow. It moves a ton of water, and reds destroy it and specks can’t resist the realistic popping sound.
“By the way, if I break off a bull red and he takes off with my Paradise Popper X-Treme, I’ll hunt him down to get it back! It’s definitely one of the best new products to hit the market in years.”
Bob Norton is banking on a new injection process to make his Sand Eels, shrimp and mullet look more realistic.
“This year we’re going to introduce the Core Shot Series,” said Norton, owner of Norton Lures. “We have created a new process where we will inject a color core into the soft plastic. For example we can now shoot a red interior core into a clear/glitter exterior so it looks like a transparent bait with a blood line running through it.
“It’s a new concept in soft-plastic design — it’s not easy, and not everybody can do this.”
Norton’s design will mix their signature soft-plastic series the usual way, but during the cooling process, a special injection technique will inject a selected color down the center of the lure. Currently, Norton has about 70 different colors to choose from, and this new injection process will only enhance that.
“One of the main things about the Sand Eel, I guess a mystery you could say, is that fish just eat them up,” he said. “We hit the perfect combination of appeal and action. Besides that, the No. 1 compliment we get from Louisiana fishermen is that they hold up better than the rest. The Core Shot Series will give us a whole new look, and opens up a whole new list of possibilities.”