Always Faithful

Even battered and bruised, Bayou Bienvenue still delivers the goods.

St. Bernard’s Bayou Bienvenue has long provided access to a vast fishing area favored by many local anglers. There are three marinas on Paris Road that give boaters almost instant access to a wide variety of fishing possibilities — Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, the MRGO, the Intracoastal Waterway, Chef Pass, the Rigolets, Bayou Bienvenue itself and all the marsh sandwiched between the various waters.

The gateway to it all is the I-510/Paris Road corridor, but it is a battered and scarred gate. Before last season’s storms, the highway was lined with commercial businesses and industries, almost all catering to the marine industry, and the whole corridor buzzed with activity.

Today, despite being shredded and broken by Katrina and Rita, many of the business are beginning to reopen, and St. Bernard itself seems to be awakening, like a land in early spring emerging from a long, bleak winter.

Unfortunately, all three Paris Road marinas were badly battered. Though technically closed and their futures uncertain, at least the backdown ramps are accessible, and quite a few anglers are making use of them again.

The fog was still thick when I met Capt. Kerry Audibert (504-259-5304) at the site of Jimmy Dixon’s old place, Bait Inc., located just on the New Orleans side of Bayou Bienvenue.

Audibert’s 22-foot Bay Pro was already in the water when I arrived, so it was a simple matter of quick introductions and throwing my gear aboard to get under way. This was my first trip out of Bayou Bienvenue since the storms, and the sight of tossed, crushed and scattered boats and debris made it seem like they just hit yesterday.

The heavy blanket of fog and the devastation along the shorelines painted everything with an eerie, unearthly feeling, and I buttoned my jacket against the cold and dampness for the morning run.

On the ride out, Audibert mentioned that his family owns a camp in Pointe a la Hache, and he grew up with a rod and reel in his hand fishing those waters extensively.

But the storms made some of that area briefly inaccessible, and he began fishing out of Bayou Bienvenue, and the action has been so good he’s still at it.

“This area is so easily accessible, and it’s surprising where you can get to from here if you make a short run. Alligator Point, Proctors Point, the rigs and wells in Lake Borgne, even the Biloxi Marsh is just a short distance away from here,” he said.

We motored around the half-submerged hulk of a hull in the middle of the bayou, and made our way toward the floodgates. Audibert detoured at the Dike Canal, and headed toward Violet because the locks at Bayou Bienvenue have been blocked for weeks by work barges. We could see several crews in orange vests manning a variety of dozers, cranes and miscellaneous earth-moving equipment working feverishly on the levees, trying to restore some kind of barrier to keep the marauding MRGO out of Chalmette’s homes and businesses. It will not be an easy task for loosely packed mud to keep the wide and deep MRGO, 25 miles longer than the Panama Canal, in its trench.

On the ride to Violet, Audibert slowed enough to show me a line of tree stumps along the southern edge of the Dike Canal. The scattered stumps stretched along the bank for almost a mile.

“We’ll fish these stumps for redfish on the way back,” he said. “You can cast plastics under a cork, spoons, spinners or dead bait under a cork around these stumps, and almost always come away with reds. These stumps have salvaged many a trip for me, especially on those difficult, windy days.”

As we approached the little camp community in Violet, the tattered remains of the former camps reflected the intensity of Katrina’s wrath. Sadly, none of them remain intact. The few camps still standing are all heavily damaged, and I couldn’t help thinking that all of them are destined to become just another set of pilings that give mute testimony to the fact that nothing stands forever on the Louisiana coastline. We had to motor slowly past floating debris and half-submerged hulks, and that’s when Audibert noticed something else in the water.

There were millions of small, 1-inch-long worms swimming at the surface of the canal. I’ve never seen them before. They reminded me of the leeches that cling to the bottom of redfish, only slightly longer. Audibert suggested they might be oyster worms.

“We might have trouble getting the fish to bite with all of this bait in the water,” Audibert said. “When these worms show up like this, trout gorge themselves on them. And bull reds start showing up in the bayous to inhale them.”

I shuddered at the thought of what might happen if someone fell overboard in the middle of those millions of worms. Maybe nothing would happen, except you’d get wet, but the thought was still scary.

Audibert turned the bay boat through the Violet locks and pointed east up the Ship Channel. Our destination: the marsh canals, flats and ponds sandwiched between Lake Borgne and the MRGO, the area just below Proctor’s Point.

“I’ve been fishing this area for most of the winter, and have been having a good bit of success,” he said. “The water temperatures never did fall low enough to drive the trout out, and even when the cold fronts came through it warmed up quickly and within a day or two the bite was on again.

“The action has been so consistent that I really haven’t had to go looking elsewhere to find fish. Usually, I’d be running to Hopedale or Delacroix and Pointe a la Hache to get on fish this time of year. But this year is really different.”

Different is a good word for it. Unusual, bizarre, weird, surprising, unbelievable, upside-down, topsy-turvy — all that and more still fails to describe what this year is. But one thing cannot be denied. The fishing action has been excellent almost everywhere along the Southeast Louisiana coast ever since the hurricanes. In fact, if anything, the action has been better than before.

I reason in my mind that that could be because there are fewer anglers and thus less pressure on the fish, or it could be that the storms actually blew fish in with the high tides and they’ve simply remained, foraging on the bait that blew in with them, or it could be a combination of the above.

We ran through Bayou Grande, and slowed to a stop at the mouth of a big, shallow no-name pond. Audibert dropped the trolling motor over the bow and made a sweeping point toward the open water.

“Cast anywhere out here in front of the boat, pop your cork, and let’s see if the trout are still in here,” he said.

Thankfully, we saw no sign of the worms in this part of the marsh. Audibert said they tend to vanish once the sun gets up anyway.

The tide was low, and the water was clear but shallow in the pond, and Audibert said on his last trip the fish were hitting soft plastics under popping corks. He prefers minnow-imitation plastics in root beer, glow, chartreuse and avocado colors, fished between 18 to 24 inches under a Cajun Thunder or Old Bayside rattling cork.

We made our casts and popped our corks, reeling to keep the slack out, and waited. We made only a few casts before the action started. At first, the fish seemed reluctant to bite. Our corks would bobble just briefly as though the trout nibbled at our baits without attempting to swallow them. But hunger must have overcome their inhibitions because they soon began nailing us in spring-like fashion.

We put a dozen trout on ice before the action slowed, and Audibert picked up the trolling motor to move us elsewhere.

The wind had picked up significantly, dissipating the fog, and giving us some welcome relief from the gnats.

We drifted and trolled more ponds, but the bite became elusive. We’d get a hit here or there, but the wind had us drifting so fast we’d be out of the bite zone before the action could really get started.

Audibert pulled out the drift sock to slow us down, and we re-drifted the areas where we had some hits, and we managed to put another eight fish in the boat before we moved again.

“There are so many places to fish from here,” he said. “Sometimes the hardest thing is to decide where to go. You can fish the locks at Bayou Bienvenue with live bait or dead bait under a sliding cork, and catch trout, drum, sheepshead and reds. But this year live bait will be hard to come by unless you catch your own.

“Or you can fish Proctors Point, trolling and casting at drains and along the bank. Or you can head to the wells off Alligator Point, where we put a lot of trout on ice using live bait under a Carolina rig. And the rigs off Bayou Biloxi are a fairly short run.”

Another old friend, Capt. Mike Gallo (504-259-3474), echoes Audibert’s comments about the versatility of the Bayou Bienvenue area. Gallo has fished the area for years, often making the run across Lake Borgne from his camp on Lake Catherine, and says he’s always rewarded for his efforts.

“For one thing, I can always find clean water around Bayou Bienvenue,” he said. “Blustery spring winds will often muddy up the lakes and shut down the trout, but you can always hunt around the MRGO or the Intracoastal or Bayou Bienvenue, and find some clean water.”

One of Gallo’s favorite tactics for fishing under windy conditions is to turn up the Intracoastal where it intersects with the MRGO and head east past Michoud Slip, and continue just past the barges that are always tied up on the left shoreline.

“Drift and troll right there, and fish that big shallow flat all the way to the Shell Bank with soft plastics under a cork,” he said. “I find that an incoming tide produces the best results, and don’t be surprised if you really get into some mules. I’ve caught trout up to 5 pounds right there over that flat, under a popping cork.”

Another Gallo tactic is to pass Boh Brothers in the MRGO, just where the Ship Channel widens out just a bit.

“Fish the rocks along the MRGO right there,” he said. “I fish three ways to try to find them and establish the pattern they’re in. I’ll try tightlining soft plastics right up against the rocks, and I’ll try soft plastics fished deep under a cork, just a little off the rocks along the ledges.

“I also like to toss suspending baits, like the Rapala Husky Jerk, out near the crab traps, and then crank it for a few seconds, letting it dive down a foot or two, and then let it sit and just suspend for a few seconds. Usually the trout will hit it right then. If they don’t, repeat the process, drifting around the crab traps, until you find them.”

Gallo says Catch 2000s and Catch 5s can work also, but he likes the lip that gets the Husky Jerk down deeper and suspends it there.

On days with a south wind, Gallo says fishing along the Lake Borgne shoreline between Martello’s Castle and Bayou Bienvenue can produce both trout and redfish.

“Just toss soft plastics under a cork, and drift and troll until you get into some action. Keep moving until you get hits, and then re-drift productive areas,” he said.

Another productive spot is the “Community Hole” — the rocks in Lake Borgne just east of Bayou Thomas about halfway to Chef Pass. Gallo says a lot of people fish those rocks, but they always seem to produce something, so don’t ignore them.

On high-tide days, Gallo also likes to fish the marsh between the Intracoastal and the MRGO.

“I catch trout and reds in those ponds,” he said.

“For reds, toss spinnerbaits, spoons and soft plastics under a popping cork.

“Trout will hit the plastics fished in the open ponds, and reds will hit baits worked along the shorelines.”

We returned to the dock with an ice chest full of nice trout, and one huge redfish for “blackening.”

Several days after my trip, I made a quick stop at the site of the Gulf Outlet Marina. I watched several boats drifting and trolling through “the Pen” — the open area directly behind Tony Cuccia’s old bait shop just behind the marina. Trout often gather right there, and will fall prey to soft plastics either tightlined or fished under popping corks.

I watched for awhile as the anglers worked their baits and popped their corks, but seemed to find no takers on that particular morning.

But no matter. If the trout didn’t show up today, they will tomorrow.

Capt. Kerry Audibert can be reached at (504) 259-5304.

About Rusty Tardo 370 Articles
Rusty Tardo grew up in St. Bernard fishing the waters of Delacroix, Hopedale and Shell Beach. He and his wife, Diane, have been married over 40 years and live in Kenner.