I called on Capt. Chris Pike of Cast & Blast Charters (504-427-4973) to see if I could persuade him to take me to Black Bay islands for some speckled trout hunting, and he was ready and willing to accommodate.
Pike is young, and at 17 was the youngest person to become a licensed charter captain in the region. He’s been a full-time guide for almost 8 years, and fishes now out of Sweetwater Marina in Delacroix Island. We met there recently, and my fishing buddy, Perry Matulich, and I jumped aboard Pike’s 24-foot Skeeter Bay boat for the ride to the outside waters.
We took a meandering journey through stretches of marsh that I haven’t seen in years, and I was again reminded of how quickly our marsh is disappearing. The old areas I fished as a kid were unrecognizable, and where there was once an intricate system of marsh canals and bayous, there is now only open water. I got to thinking that of all the areas I fish in the southeastern part of the state, Delacroix probably still has the most marsh. But it is disappearing as fast as cheap gas.
Our route took us through Four Horse Lake, Pato Caballo, Lake Campo, Lake Campo Pass into Oak River Bay and then out into Black Bay toward Stone Island. The wind was blowing when we left the dock, and predicted to build over the course of the day, but by the time we hit Black Bay, the southeast winds were howling. We were greeted by 3-foot seas and muddy water, and had to pause to consider our options.
“We can either turn around and try fishing the interior,” Pike said, “but you saw how dirty the water was in the inside.”
The high river was spilling over into the east side, and much of what we passed through was obviously river water, so hunting for clean water inside was one option.
“Or we can take a pounding and head outside and try to hide behind some islands. The better fish are definitely outside,” Pike said.
Generally, I like to leave it up to the captains to use their own judgment in such matters, and this time was no different.
“You’re the captain,” I said. “We’ll fish wherever you take us!”
And with that, Pike pointed the bow directly into the seas, and we headed into the big bay.
There are numerous islands on the edges of Black Bay, and all of them are good places to fish for specks and reds. Pike says that May offers anglers several great options for putting fish in the boat.
• Option No. 1 — Look for birds
“Naturally, the fish will be smaller under the birds, but you can find plenty of keeper trout in the 12- to 14-inch range,” he said. “People have mixed feelings about fishing the birds.
“Some totally ignore them and will pass up flocks of swirling, diving gulls and head farther out to try to find bigger fish. To each his own. But the birds offer plenty of fast action, great excitement and quick limits.”
Pike says the key to catching fish under the birds is to approach the diving flock from upwind.
“That way you can troll slowly toward them, and once you’re within casting range, stick your Cajun anchor or set the Power Pole,” he said. “You don’t want to drift into the birds. That will spook the fish, scatter the birds and shrimp and end your opportunity. Generally they’ll reassemble over the shrimp in 10 or 15 minutes or so, and you can try again.”
Pike says anglers make several mistakes that doom their efforts.
“They try to approach the flock from downwind, which is just not effective,” he said. “You have to troll against the flow, which is a lot noisier, and you have to cast against the wind, which is more difficult.
“Plus, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that when the birds move, they usually always move downwind. They’re just following the shrimp, and shrimp move with the wind and current. If you come at them from upwind, you can try to keep within casting distance of the moving school and just keep picking away at them until you have your limit. Otherwise, you’ll troll into the middle of them and scatter them.
“I’ve also noticed that whenever you find a school of trout feeding under the birds, there are often some bigger trout along the fringes of the action. If you toss right into the center of the activity, you’ll generally catch the smaller, frenzied trout. Try casting just off the center of the action, and see if you don’t catch bigger fish.”
Pike likes to toss a Marsh Works killasquilla shrimp-imitation lure in opening night or shrimp colors about 18 inches under a popping cork when he fishes under the birds.
“And having your boat equipped with a Power Pole is a huge bonus when fishing the birds,” he said. “You can control your drift, stop within casting distance without spooking the fish — it just gives you a lot more control.
“Just because the birds are not actively feeding and diving doesn’t mean the fish are gone. For some reason, sometimes the action just pauses, but the shrimp and the fish are still there.
“Usually the fish are upwind of the sitting birds. The birds tend to drift off of them a bit. You can sometimes ‘prime the pump’ by trolling toward the sitting birds, but start casting two or three casts’ distance upwind of the sitting gulls. That’s where the fish usually are.
“The mistake most anglers make is they approach the sitting birds and start casting where they were sitting, and they ran right over where the fish were and scattered them.”
• Option No. 2 — Fish the Points
“There are dozens of islands all along the fringes of Black Bay, Bay Lafourche and Bay Gardene,” Pike said. “All of them have the potential to hold trout.
“I like to look for places with a shell or oyster bottom, good current lines, clean water and hopefully I’ll see some signs of bait in the water — shrimp jumping, mullet moving or baitfish. That’s where I want to fish.”
Pike says the best baits for fishing around the islands will be live shrimp dangled about 18 inches under a cork. Otherwise, try a topwater bait in the early mornings or late evenings, or the aforementioned Marsh Works shrimp imitation. He says a Carolina-rigged live shrimp will work in deeper water, and once the summer wears on, you might want to also bring some live croakers.
“I find that the live shrimp produce best in May, but as the summer comes on, live croakers are a good bet, too,” he said.
Pike likes to approach the islands and points from upwind, and he prefers to fish the rough, or windy, side.
“I like to have the wind at my back so I can cast with the wind and not against it,” he said. “You work a lot harder casting into the wind, you can’t avoid getting huge bellies in your line and that makes it much more difficult to set the hook and catch the fish.
“It’s far better to keep the wind at your back and throw toward the points. And you want to stay off the points anywhere from 50 to 100 yards out for the trout, or fish right on them for reds.”
• Option No. 3 — Rigs and wells
Pike says from May through the end of the summer, the rigs and wells in Black Bay will pay off with speckled dividends. He prefers to fish the bigger rigs because they have the potential to hold more fish, but the smaller rigs and wells will also produce.
He says the secret to success fishing the rigs is two-fold:
1) Find the shell pad. “Use your depth sounder and find where the rise is, which indicates a shell pad of clam or oyster shells,” he said. “The fish will be around the shells.”
2) Note the tide direction. “The fish will usually hang on the downcurrent side of the shell pad,” he said.
Pike advises use of a rig hook rather than an anchor whenever possible.
“There’s lots of debris on the bottom to snag your anchor on, but also, the anchor will drag on the oyster bottom and cloud up the water while digging in,” he added. “It’ll take at least 10 or 15 minutes for the bottom to clean up after you drop the anchor. I know sometimes it can’t be helped, but whenever possible, I use a rig hook because it doesn’t disturb the bottom or spook the fish.”
“Live shrimp or live croakers on a Carolina rig is the way to go at the rigs and wells.”
Winds and tides
Pike likes a tide range of .6 or better, and he likes to fish on a southeast or east wind (under 12 mph) because it brings in good, clean Gulf water. He prefers to fish a rising tide, but a falling tide is not a problem. No tidal movement at all, however, is a problem.
“The least favorable winds for this area are northwest or northeast winds,” he said. “Northwest winds are the worst for water clarity, and southeast winds over 14-15 mph make things difficult also.
“It just gets too rough to fish the rigs and wells in winds that strong. You have to stay behind the islands and try to get out of the winds if you’re going to venture out in those conditions.”
And that’s exactly what we had to do on our excursion. We jumped from island to island and point to point, hiding from the rough seas and hunting for clean water. We were forced to avoid the rigs and wells altogether, and we had to work at finding some cooperating fish under the rough conditions. Our persistence paid off, and we headed in with some nice fish in the box.
Back at Sweetwater Marina, Capt. Jack Payne said the fish are plentiful and eager to eat up whatever baits you throw at them all over the outside waters. I’m just waiting for a break in the winds to get back at them!
Capt. Chris Pike can be reached at (504) 427-4973.
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