Many anglers think the month of February is the worst of the year for speckled trout fishing. That may be true in some areas, but not in Delacroix.
For many Louisiana sportsmen, February is the most dreaded month of the year. Duck and deer seasons are over, and the Mrs. is looking to cash in on those long-promised honey-dos. The cold, dreary days and low expectations keep most fishermen off the water, and make the honey-do excuses harder to come by.
What’s a sportsman to do?
Seasoned speckled trout fishermen like Capt. Stan Cuquet know what to do. Cuquet recommends heading to Delacroix for some great wintertime trout action.
“Contrary to popular belief, February is a ‘hot’ month for speckled trout fishing,” said Cuquet. “The fish are very predictable, and what many consider a slow month can really produce some fantastic trout action.”
Cuquet is owner of Castaway Charters based in Delacroix Island in lower St. Bernard Parish. “The Island,” as it is known by locals, is easily fished throughout the winter under almost any weather conditions. Delacroix offers miles and miles of prime winter trout-fishing habitat. A mix of shallow lakes, bays and ponds are interconnected with deep natural bayous, man-made pipelines and dead-end canals. The easy access to varying water depths and food sources will keep the trout biting throughout the winter.
Like most areas of Southeast Louisiana, winter cold fronts driven by strong northwest winds will send the water racing out of the Delacroix marsh. Fortunately, the area’s vast array of deep bayous and pipelines allow for great fishing even when many areas are bone dry.
“When the ponds and shallower bays are inaccessible, the Twin Pipelines and Oak River will still provide plenty of fishing area,” Cuquet said.
Besides the generally uncomfortably cold fishing conditions and low water, winter trout fishermen may also have to deal with howling winds and water the color of café au lait. Frequent cold fronts interspersed with days of sunshine and warming temperatures can have the fish moving back and forth between deep and shallow areas.
“A slight two- to four-degree change in water temperature can move the fish and turn on their feeding activities,” said Cuquet. “The mistake most fishermen make is leaving an area that is seemingly void of fish. They may be not catching anything in the middle of a canal, so they move. However, the fish may have simply moved up closer to the bank.”
Knowing where the trout will be and how they will act under specific weather conditions is the key to successful winter trips. Cuquet definitely has them figured out. He knows Delacroix so well that on any given day, he can likely tell you where the fish are and what they’re doing before he even leaves the dock.
“Delacroix is a vast area that provides fishing opportunities under almost any set of conditions,” Cuquet said.
Cuquet studies conditions while on land and en route to his favorite areas.
“The best area in the world will only produce under the right conditions. You need to interpret and adapt to the conditions presented on any given day,” he added.
One thing about winter’s familiar low water is that it will help you to visually locate areas of shell bottom. On days when the water is nearly gone, oyster shells can be seen along the shorelines spreading out to the deeper bottoms.
“Oyster-shell bottoms are one of the keys to wintertime fishing,” Cuquet said. “The shells not only radiate heat, the oysters also filter the water, and those areas will clear much faster.”
The hallmark of winter Delacroix trout fishing is Oak River. Just about any day, anglers can be found drifting this curvy, natural waterway or anchored up in one of its many deep holes or cuts. On fishing maps, Oak River is easily located by its proper name, “River Aux Chenes.” Oak River cuts a swath directly through the productive Delacroix and Pointe-a-la-Hache marshlands.
While Oak River is certainly popular and has been a winter fishing destination for generations, Cuquet notes that there are vast surrounding areas that also produce consistent wintertime trout action.
“False River, Thorn Tree Bayou, First, Second and Third bays along with Little Crevasse and Big Four are all very good winter trout spots,” he said. “There are many other productive areas, and another key is fishing the locations that contain both deep and shallow water.”
Little Crevasse is just one example of many such areas in Delacroix.
“Little Crevasse is surrounded by shallow water, but quickly drops down to 12-15 feet,” Cuquet said. “You can catch them drifting the bayou, and when it warms up you can switch to a cork.”
One highly noticeable factor when fishing with Cuquet is that he rarely quits looking at his depth finder while traveling between spots.
“Water temperature and depth are also important keys to patterning these trout,” Cuquet said. “Deep water is a relative term.”
If a bay averages 3 to 5 feet, an area of that bay that drops to 8 feet will be considered deep.
“Winter fish will always stage where they have immediate access to both deep and shallow water,” he said. “They will move back and forth with changes in the tide and water temperature.”
When the water temperature is between 50-55 degrees, Cuquet finds most trout will be staged on the ledge of a drop-off. When it drops below 50 degrees, they will be a little deeper toward the bottom.
Cuquet regularly uses the term “edge of the ledge.” This is where the fish will stage so they can easily move deeper if the temperature plummets, or they can head for the surface if it warms up.
“Whenever I fish a ledge area, I will fish all sides before giving up,” he said. “Depending on the tide, wind and water temperature, the fish may be holding in one particular area.”
Cuquet also notes that many anglers mistakenly confine their winter fishing efforts to only the deepest of areas. While the trout will certainly stack up in deep holes, he points out that the larger fish will usually be the first to move shallower, onto the flats, when the water temperature warms a bit.
“I’ll often be fishing only a hundred yards or so from a boat that is measuring each fish and throwing back one undersized trout after another,” he said. “While they are in the middle of the bayou, I’ll be up on the flat catching fish twice the size.”
Indeed that was the case on a recent trip. We caught several nice trout under a popping cork in a deeper area near Ponton Bay. The early morning bite was steady until a group of “sight fishermen” spotted our action. In their attempt to move in closer, they proceeded to plow through a flat creating enough noise and mud to completely shut down the bite. To add insult to injury, they tossed their anchor with the skill of an Olympic shot-putter.
Cuquet reasoned that it was best to simply cede the area to them instead of waiting to see if the fish would recover and turn back on.
While heading to the next area of choice near Thorn Tree Bayou, we idled past a couple boats that were anchored smack in the middle of the canal. We could easily see the fish they were catching and releasing. The trout were consistently just under the 12- inch mark with only about one in three making its way into the box.
Since the day had warmed some, Cuquet followed his instinct that the larger fish had already worked their way onto the nearby flat. Cuquet chose an area that had shells on the shoreline and a slight incoming tide.
With the use of a Power Pole, we were able to set up without disturbing the fish or the other fishermen. It was quickly evident that Cuquet’s choice of locations was right on.
While the other fishermen continued to sort through undersized trout, much larger fish readily engulfed our popping-cork offerings. We put together the remainder of our 50-fish limit with only two or three that didn’t make the cut. While the fish were not gigantic, most were 13-18 inches and didn’t require measuring.
“Many fishermen equate winter trout fishing to partial limits of small fish,” Cuquet said. “However, if you know what to look for, you can really find some big ones stacked up and easy to catch.”
While most fishermen wouldn’t even dream of throwing topwater baits until at least early spring, Cuquet notes that some really great topwater catches are put together in February.
“When the weather stabilizes for a few days and the water warms, those big trout will slam topwater baits,” he said.
Besides contending with the normal winter fishing factors and keys to finding fish, anglers fishing the Delacroix area must also take into consideration the effects of the Caernarvon freshwater diversion.
“The four factors that determine where I’m going to fish are the (diversion), river stage, tide and wind,” Cuquet said.
When the river is high, the Caernarvon structure is capable of diverting as much as 8,000 cubic feet per second of fresh, Mississippi River water into the Delacroix area.
“Dumping all of that cold, muddy river water can quickly mess up an area,” Cuquet said.
One tool Cuquet religiously uses is the U.S. Geological Survey website for real-time water monitoring.
“The USGS has a monitoring station at Crooked Bayou, near Four Horse Lake and another in Bay Gardene,” Cuquet said. “By going to the web site, I can see the salinity, gauge height and water temperature. Low salinity will really shut the fish down. By checking this site, I can tell what effects the (diversion) is having and where I will need to fish.”
When the diversion is putting large amounts of river water through the area, Cuquet will head for areas toward the Twin Pipelines, where the water has been somewhat filtered through the surrounding ponds.
“Although the (diversion) will have an initial shock, after a few days of an east wind to blow in some salt water, the salinity will rise and the fish will turn on,” Cuquet said.
The only live bait available in winter is cocaho minnows, and they certainly can be productive on hungry trout. However, Cuquet relies mainly on artificials. One of his favorite winter colors is avocado/red flake.
Cuquet recommends fishing the plastic bait on a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jig head, depending on the current and how much weight is needed to get to the bottom.
“Fish the bait slowly on the bottom and crawl it up or down the ledge, depending on where the fish are holding,” he recommended.
Another of his favorite winter colors is the purple/yellow-tail combination.
“I find that chartreuse or other brightly colored tails can really help early when the light is low,” he said.
When fishing clear water, a Deadly Dudley in pink champagne color has been consistently producing good trout for Cuquet.
If the fish are settled into the deeper water, a plastic-tailed jighead tight-lined on the bottom or drifting with the wind will easily attract winter trout. If the fish are staged a bit shallower or have moved onto the flats, that same bait dangled under a popping cork will provide the hook-ups.
Cuquet stresses the old axiom of winter fishing — slow your bait down and then slow it down some more.
“Most fishermen don’t realize how far the bait will move when you raise your rod,” he said. “You will literally pull the bait away from the fish. You can’t work the bait the same as you do in the summer. The cold water slows the fish, and you need to do the same with your bait.”
Having to deal with customers that are sometimes inexperienced fishermen, Cuquet likes to make things as easy as possible. He modifies his Cajun Thunder popping corks to allow for easy casting in strong winter winds.
“I use a rubber-core sinker,” he said. “Just remove the rubber and crimp the sinker on to the cork’s wire. It makes casting very easy.”
Since the winter bite is often subtle, Cuquet also loads his Okuma spinning rods with Power Pro braided line.
“The increased sensitivity of the braid helps to feel those soft ticks, and results in more hook-ups,” he said. “Many times, the actual bite may feel no more than as if you have run the bait into an oyster shell. Whenever you feel the slightest change or resistance in your line is the time to set the hook.”
Cuquet also likes to add a bit of humor to his tackle. Each of his popping corks sport a different hand-written message.
“It adds a little fun, and my customers can easily remember which rod they were using,” he said.
Some of the sayings on his corks are “Eat This” with an arrow pointing down toward the bait, or “Bite Me,” and “Tastes Great, Less Filling.”
When fishing with more-experienced customers, Cuquet will also have them throw suspending baits such as a MirrO-Lure Catch 2000s.
“The Catches take a little more finesse to work, but they will produce some really nice trout this time of year,” he said.
Cuquet also uses a modified DOA shrimp to fool wintertime trout.
“I remove the hook and weight that comes with the DOA and insert a weighted flutter hook,” he said. “The DOA will suspend and twitch and the shrimp and won’t come off the hook each time a fish is caught. This bait is dynamite when the trout move up into the shallower water.”
One good thing about winter fishing is that there is generally no need to head out at the crack of dawn as is necessary to beat the summertime heat. Generally, Cuquet will not even leave his dock until 7:30-8:00 a.m.
“I tell my customers that it’s better to wait awhile and give the water a chance to warm a bit,” he said.
Louisiana fishermen are blessed in that unlike some other states, there are no closed fishing seasons. Therefore, there is no reason to write off any month of the year, especially February.
Head on down to Delacroix, and with a little change in tactics, you’ll find some great winter trout fishing and some good reasons to move those honey-dos a little further down the list.
Capt. Stan Cuquet can be reached at 504-272-0550, 504-451-7600 or www.castawaycharters.com.