Beaches of Buras

This month, Buras’s trophy trout make a move for fun in the sun and sand.

According to Rule No. 4.2 of the Standardized World Rules for Pocket Billiards, all shots must be called. The rule is designed to keep a journeyman player from defeating a skilled champion by lucking out and having balls fall in pockets he never intended.

Capt. Ryan Lambert has been known to play a game or two of billiards at his green-roofed, cypress-studded Buras lodge, but he’ll never be mistaken for a male Jeanette Lee.

Lambert’s skills lie more in pulling things out of pockets — like speckled trout, redfish in flounder out of pockets of marsh — than knocking balls in them.

But like a pro pool player, Lambert called his shot on a recent trip to the wide-open bays a couple hundred yards from his lodge.

“The big fish are going to bite right at the tail end of this tide,” he said as he negotiated his 22-foot Skeeter bay boat through the forest of PVC pipes and skinny tree limbs emanating from submerged oyster reefs.

The blaze-hot summer sun had selected its arc for the day, and was an hour along in the journey. Its indomitable rays bounced off the surface of the mirror-slick water, and reflected back upward in moisture-laden heat currents.

This was a classic summer set-up.

Lambert peered down at one of the PVC pipes as his boat motored by, and saw the silty green water making a V around it.

“The tide’s still rolling right now,” he said, “but it doesn’t have too much longer to rise.”

The ultimate destination for the first stop of the day was the Empire Jetty, one of Lambert’s favorite spots for big fish, but when we got there, the seasoned guide saw what he had expected: The current was ripping through the breaks in the rocks, and it brought in water that looked more like the Mississippi River than the Gulf of Mexico.

Several casts netted nary a bump, so Lambert suggested a change of pace.

“Let’s go fish some reefs in the bay and wait for the tide to slow down,” he said. “There are reefs back there that hold big fish even when the tide’s strong.”

Those reefs produce, Lambert said, because they either break the current or are out of the current entirely.

“I like to fish reefs that are just out of the current,” he said. “I look for reefs that are next to areas of strong current, but aren’t in the current themselves.”

The first stop at just such a reef looked very promising. Schools of mullet erupted through the surface at irregular intervals, whenever a hungry game fish shot in from below, and individual brown shrimp also looked to the air for respite in hopes of escaping the maw of hungry predators below.

But whatever fish held to the reefs had trouble seeing our topwater plugs and sub-surface soft-plastics in the silty water.

“On a day as pretty as today, you’d really see some stuff if this river water wasn’t in here,” Lambert said.

The river that day was cresting at 13 feet above sea level at New Orleans’ Carrollton gauge. Lambert prefers to see it no more than half that height.

“When the river’s under 7 feet, the water’s clear in Buras — it’s beautiful,” Lambert said. “If the wind blows and then stops, the water will clean up in one tide cycle (with the river below 7 feet).”

The veteran guide, who’s been fishing Buras exclusively for more than a decade, said the river is almost always below 7 feet in August.

“Usually by the end of June it starts falling pretty quickly,” he said. “As soon as those cold fronts stop dipping down and the tornadoes stop in the Plains and Midwest, that’s when the river starts to drop.

“People think the high river is from the snow melt, but this time of year it’s from the thunderstorms.”

Lambert said he’s seen it as low as 3 feet by the end of July, and when that happens, the fishing during the rest of the summer and fall is remarkable.

“You have incredible fishing for months and months,” he said.

Still, he’s grateful whenever he sees it fall below 7 feet.

Anything close to that would have been welcome on our recent trip, but Lambert certainly wasn’t giving up on his beloved speckled trout.

“They’re going to make us earn them today, but the water should get prettier as this tide continues to rise,” he said.

At my request, Lambert was avoiding the school trout in hopes of catching a few bruisers. Most of the captains who work for him had run their clients through the Ostrica lock and to the east side of the river, where they had been catching school trout on every cast off of California Point.

But Lambert, whose lodge walls are decorated with 7-pound-plus trout, knows that catching trophies intermingled with schoolies is rare.

“If you want to catch big fish, you have to fish for big fish,” he said.

That means using big baits and fishing so-called “big-fish spots,” even when you’re not being rewarded with even occasional strikes.

But fortunately, occasional strikes kept our attention piqued at the next reef on the lower end of Scofield Bay. It was a very nondescript place in the middle of nothing — like so much in the Buras area, where erosion has taken a greater toll, arguably, than in any other in a state that has the worst erosion problem in the entire world.

This reef, like many of Lambert’s favorites, is a veritable needle in a haystack. There is little evidence of their presence above the surface. Lambert stumbles on many of them by happenstance during his frequent outings.

“You have to come out here and find new stuff every season,” he said. “It changes that quickly. Every season it’s like fishing a new area.”

The oblong reef, which stretched for perhaps half an acre, surrendered five trout, with the largest being a 3-pounder that inhaled Lambert’s red shad Slimy Slug.

It was a nice fish, certainly, but we were after bigger ones, so we left that reef and hit another.

That one held a redfish and a couple of 2-pound trout that couldn’t resist my Saltwater Assassin Eel, and a beautiful 4-pound trout that hit Lambert’s Slimy Slug.

Lambert’s technique for fishing the shallow reefs is not rocket science, but it takes a little practice to become adept at it.

He casts his soft-plastic bait past the reef and immediately engages the reel. He holds his rod high, and twitches the lure every second or two as he reels.

“You want the bait to come in close contact with the oysters but not get stuck in them,” he said. “You’ve got to hold your rod high.”

For anglers used to fishing reefs in 3 feet of water or more, the practice can be infuriating. These shallow reefs — many of which are in no more than a foot of water at high tide — seem to suck jigheads into themselves. Reel too slowly, and you’ll be retying all day, but reel too quickly, and you’ll get very few hits. The happy medium with the twitches is essential.

“You could have a hundred caribou with two lions chasing them. The lions aren’t going to strike until they see one of the caribou limp; then that’s the one they’re going to go for,” he said. “It’s the same thing with trout — they’re going to hit the baitfish that limps. You want to make your bait be the one that limps.”

Still not satisfied with the water clarity, Lambert made a short run to the beach hoping to find better water and score on a few trout and reds while we waited for the tide to lessen.

But here, too, the Mississippi had made its presence known, and the action was slow at best. On the way back in, however, Lambert noticed that the tide was beginning to wane.

“Let’s go hit the jetty,” he said.

After a short run, he pulled up to the same rocks we had fished that morning, and made a cast to within 5 feet of the collection of boulders. He let his bait fall, and then began a slow, steady retrieve interrupted by occasional twitches.

On one of the twitches, Lambert pulled the rod behind his head indicating his trademark hookset. He hoped it was a big fish, but the initial pull lessened, and soon a 2-pounder was flopping in the boat.

I followed suit on a similar fish on my first cast, and Lambert followed his with another.

After a few fruitless casts, we trolled to another break in the rocks, and on my first cast I felt a hard tap just as my bait cleared a large submerged rock. I set the hook, and cranked my reel handle steadily but casually, certain I was battling another 2-pounder.

The fish came to the surface 20 feet from the boat without great fanfare — at least without great fanfare on its part.

As soon as Lambert and I saw it, we both switched into big-fish mode.

I moved purposefully from the bow to the stern to change the angle of the fight, and Lambert lunged for the net.

This was clearly the fish for which we had worked all day. It swam casually along the surface, allowing me to pull it like it was comfortable with its inevitable fate.

As soon as it saw Lambert with the net, however, something clicked on in the trout’s brain, and the fish charged for the bottom, taking many yards of my line with it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to catch many 5-pound-plus trout over the years, but the bruisers still turn my knees to jelly, and this one was no different.

I pleaded with the fish to settle down as I felt it shake its head repeatedly below the surface. Like a groggy giant awakened from sleep, the fish was furious, and it had energy to burn. It was determined to get free.

Lambert waited dutifully with the net, ready to swipe at the first sight of silver he saw anywhere near the boat.

I continued to talk nicely to the fish, trying to lull it back into its slumber, but that only helped, perhaps, to soothe my nerves. This fish wasn’t giving up without a fight.

Being a recent braided-line convert, I had spooled Spiderwire Stealth onto that reel, so I was confident my line wasn’t going to pop, but, as Terry Shaughnessy once told me, an 8-pound trout has just as soft a mouth as a 1-pound trout, but it’s got a whole lot more power to rip that hook free.

Fortunately, this one didn’t, and Lambert netted it. I dropped my rod on the ground, and impulsively high-fived the grinning guide.

At 7 pounds, it was a full 1 1/2 pounds lighter than my heaviest trout to date, but it was a fish we had worked hard to earn, and that made it sweeter.

Such fish are still available for Buras anglers to catch this month, but the location changes somewhat.

“They transition in August to the beaches and the Sandy Point rigs,” Lambert said.

The Sandy Point rigs are productive, but they almost always require anglers to throw live bait to be successful, and since Lambert’s an artificial-bait diehard, he stays away from the rigs.

“You really fight with a lot of trash fish there anyway,” he said.

So instead, Lambert devotes his full attention to the beaches.

“I love this section of beach,” he said in reference to the shoreline from the Empire Jetty to Chaland Pass.

Not only does he love it, but he’s also very successful at fishing it.

Lambert is a student of the beaches, and he examines the water’s surface like a scientist, searching for clues of what lies beneath.

“I’m always looking for bars and underwater points,” he said. “That’ll tell you where you need to fish.”

Many sandbars are obvious, but Lambert likes the ones that are less obvious. They cause rollers and waves to bunch up and get taller, but the undulations seldom break on these subtle bars.

When he finds such a bar close to the beach, Lambert knows he’s located a spot that should hold trout on a high tide.

“The last couple of hours of an incoming tide and the first hour of a falling tide are best for fishing the beach,” he said.

In that time frame, Lambert will look for trout to be holding in guts on the beach side of sandbars that are within 20 feet of the beach. He’ll use his trolling motor to move his boat parallel to the sandbar and cast across the gut.

“I like to fish very shallow on a rising tide,” he said. “The baitfish are being pushed up to the beach, so that’s where the trout are going to be.”

Speckled trout use the guts adjacent to sandbars to provide protection from currents and give them points of ambush from which they can attack the bait as it’s washed over the bar.

Lambert will continue trolling and casting until he gets a hit, and once he does he makes multiple casts to the same area.

“Every big spot has a bunch of little sweet spots that hold most of the fish,” he said.

Such sweet spots are most typically the ends of guts, where currents wash through, or underwater points that emerge from the beaches.

“You have to approach it just like a bass fisherman fishing an impoundment,” Lambert explained. “Those points stick out a good ways under water, and they break the current.

“People think they need to find big points, but they don’t. Just a little subtle point will hold fish. It doesn’t take much; just something to give the (trout) an advantage.”

The points are especially productive after the rising tide quits and the water begins to fall, Lambert said.

“Right after the tide changes, they move to the points,” he said. “After it’s been falling for a while, they’ll move to (the gut adjacent to) the second sandbar.”

Live bait can be very effective for beach fisherman, but Lambert feels he’s able to cover more water with artificials. He throws Zara Spooks and Super Spook Jrs. first thing in the morning, and switches over to soft-plastics once the sun gets high in the sky.

If he’s fishing for school trout, Lambert will team a 1/4-ounce High Tide jighead with an Old Bayside shrimp or black/chartreuse Bayou Chub.

If, on the other hand, he only wants lunkers, Lambert will throw a Mister Twister Slimy Slug in Arkansas shad, Louisiana shad or firetiger colors. He said trout up to 7 pounds are a real possibility on the beach in August.

Though he’s on the water more than most fishermen, Lambert said guides have only a slight advantage over weekend anglers when fishing the beaches because the relentless currents of the Gulf cause the topography of the surf to be quite dynamic.

“You really need to read the water every time you’re out here,” he said. “Sandbars can shift on a daily basis.

“If I’m running the beach and I see a gut or a point that’s holding bait, I’m going to fish it, even if I’ve never fished it before.”

Then, once you read the water, calling your shot is easy.

Seven-pounder, side pocket.

Capt. Ryan Lambert can be reached at (985) 785-9833 or (504) 559-5111.

About Todd Masson 741 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.