Many anglers overlook this annual springtime hotspot. They do so at their peril.
Gasoline is well over $3 a gallon and the peak of the fishing season has not even arrived. What if you could still have a great fishing trip and spend a lot less on fuel for both the truck and the boat? Lake Borgne may be exactly what you’re searching for.Long overlooked as the redheaded stepchild of Southeast Louisiana inshore fishing, the lake doesn’t exactly deserve the reputation. As fuel prices continue to rise, many anglers will be faced with the prospects of making fewer trips. However, fishing a little closer to home may allow them to fish more often.
Without the annual press received by the more popular Lake Pontchartrain and the vast Breton Sound, Lake Borgne has been largely overlooked by many anglers who fish all around it. However, Capts. Johnny Nunez and Hil Wegener can regularly be found there with their clients — and for good reason.
“Lake Borgne offers many areas to fish for a wide variety of saltwater species, and can be easily accessed from many areas around the lake,” said Nunez.
Generations of the Nunez family grew up fishing Lake Borgne and the surrounding areas. He is continuing that tradition, and has several of his sons and his brother working with him at his Fishing Magician charter service based out of Shell Beach.
Wegener runs Capt. Hil’s Charter Service, and has decades of experience fishing the lake.
“What Lake Borgne may lack in options, it makes up for in variety and convenience,” said Wegener. “Fishing the lake offers a shorter car ride and shorter boat ride. There’s a decent amount of fish, and it’s perfect when you only have a short time to fish.”
Lake Borgne is a shallow lake, and will kick up and get dirty quickly if the wind picks up. According to Wegener, winds from any direction under 10-12 m.p.h. will allow the whole lake to be fished.
“The wind will dictate where you fish,” he said. “On almost any wind, you will be able to find areas with clean water.”
In higher winds, he recommends fishing the lee shoreline or heading into the protected bayous and marsh surrounding the lake.
Wegener says most fishermen don’t realize how accessible or small Lake Borgne really is.
“From west to east, the lake is only about 12 miles across,” he said. “You can see and actually follow the rigs from one side to the other without the need for a GPS.”
Wegener’s charter service was based out of Shell Beach for many years until he moved to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Out of simple habit, he continued to trailer his boat to Shell Beach when fishing Lake Borgne.
On days when he had to run around a bit, he would find himself back near the Chef. Now, launching at the Chef and simply boating across the lake offers a much better option.
“It’s actually much faster by boat, and I save on the car ride by launching at the Chef,” said Wegener.
When asked to describe prime fishing locations in Lake Borgne, both captains named almost the identical locations, and said there really are no secret spots in the lake.
Since he is based out of Shell Beach, it was no surprise that Nunez’s first listing was the area around old Fort Beauregard and the remnants of the Navy base at the mouth of Bayou Ysclosky.
“If you launch at Campo’s in Shell Beach, you can be fishing these areas without even using the fuel out of your line,” said Nunez. “There is a lot of current running through the bayou, and the old pilings and debris from the Navy base are prime spots to catch trout, reds and sheepshead.”
Also, a rock dike surrounds the old fort, and provides excellent structure to target hungry fish.
Speaking of rocks, several projects to offer bank stabilization/erosion protection have begun in Lake Borgne. To the east of the old Navy base is Doulluts Canal. This is also a prime Lake Borgne fishing spot that has a lot of current with old pilings and bulkheads for structure. The east shoreline of the lake has been lined with a rock dike all the way from Doulluts to near Jahncke’s Ditch.
“That east shoreline has a lot of shell bottoms, and has always been productive,” Nunez said. “The new rocks will only add to that structure and attract more fish.”
The next phase of the project will be to line the south shoreline from Doulluts back to the old Navy base and then cross over Bayou Ysclosky to tie in and extend the rocks along the fort. Caution should be exercised while fishing in this area until the projects are complete.
In order to float in the heavy rock-laden barges, a dredge channel is dug and the spoil is deposited in the water near the shoreline. Large pilings and warning signs are in place to alert boaters of the danger posed by the submerged spoil.
Wegener and Nunez recommend fishing near the rock dikes with live shrimp under popping corks.
“Live shrimp is absolutely the best bait, and the cork will keep you from getting hung up in the rocks,” Nunez said.
Moving farther to the east/northeast, the captains tick off a litany of prime spots to catch fish in Lake Borgne.
“The pilings and shoreline by the old Priests’ club has always been a good spot,” Nunez said.
A lot of anglers also like to throw topwater baits at the big reef by Jahncke’s Ditch for trout, he added.
“All along that east shoreline, there are shell piles and many bayous that feed into the lake,” Nunez said. “The current drains those bayous and ponds in the Biloxi Marsh, and attracts fish there to feed.”
Heading north from Jahncke’s, the captains recommend fishing bayous St. Malo, Magnolia, Hasouse (Bayou Sue), Grande, Biloxi, Magill, False Mouth and Cop Cop.
In addition to the shorelines and cuts, several gas platforms and wellheads provide excellent rig-fishing opportunities similar to what many are accustomed to in areas like Black Bay and Bay Eloi.
“May is a great time to fish the rigs,” said Nunez. “Live shrimp or croakers fished either free-lined or Carolina-rigged will produce fish around the rigs.”
There are several rigs and wellheads that cross the lake all the way to the western shoreline near the Chef and Rigolets.
“The fish seem to show up in the eastern part of the lake first and then work their way over,” Wegener said. “By the end of May, beginning of June, they will be steady at the rigs throughout the lake.”
Each rig is different in size, shape and construction.
“They are like individual artificial reefs, and each one is unique,” Wegener said. “Learning the best way to fish each rig under specific conditions will help ensure regular success.”
Most of the rigs have shell pads and pilings, and some are made of concrete platforms. Some are large enough to land helicopters, and others are just small pipe wellheads. Each one will hold fish on certain days and times.
“The mistake most people make is simply tying onto a rig and fishing next to it,” Wegener said. “You need to learn each rig. Sometimes the fish will be holding 50 yards off the rig. Some rigs, it’s better to hook on and fish out, and others it’s better to anchor off and fish toward the rig.”
Wegener also notes that the relatively small number of rigs in Lake Borgne cannot handle too many boats at one time.
“To fish these rigs correctly, only a few boats will be able to get in the proper location at one time,” he said.
When setting up to fish a rig, Wegener suggests trolling around until you locate the fish or setting up where you caught them last time.
Both captains agree that live shrimp is the best bait for fishing Lake Borgne. However, before the shrimp move into the lake, most common soft-plastic baits will do the trick.
Live shrimp under a sliding cork is a deadly combination.
“The fish at the rigs are usually on or near the bottom,” Wegener said. “A sliding cork will get the bait down to the fish and eliminate a lot of bottom hang-ups that are always a problem near rigs. Live croakers are also a good bet for speckled trout.”
Heading west from Bayou Yscloskey, an area called “The Stumps” is a perennial fish magnet.
“This is an old row of large stumps just off the shoreline and a prime area for topwater fishing in the early morning,” Nunez said. “Also, a lot of people don’t know that there is a sandbar in the lake just off of Flagpole Bayou that is a great spot to catch reds.”
Good Lake Borgne fishing can be found at all the cuts and shorelines around Proctor’s Point all the way down and around to Martello’s Castle at Bayou Dupre. The Castle is an old artillery battery that was constructed in the early 1800s. Storms and neglect have reduced the Castle to rubble, but it remains a popular and productive location.
“The Castle has always been a good area, and you can fish there all the way over to the Chef,” said Nunez.
A similar shoreline protection project like the ones mentioned above is under way near the Castle. Rock dikes will be added to the lake shoreline on both sides of Bayou Dupre.
Good shoreline structure and fishing continues from Bayou Dupre all the way out to The Rigolets. Numerous large and small bayous open into the lake and provide prime feeding areas for a variety of species.
“The lake shoreline from Bayou Bienvenue to Chef Pass, Alligator Point to Unknown Pass and then up to The Rigolets and Polecat Bend offers great fishing for trout and reds,” said Wegener.
When fishing the shoreline, Wegener recommends concentrating on structure such as shells, pilings and oyster reefs.
“Just remember that the fish may not always be right on the shoreline,” he said. “Sometimes they are 50, even 100 yards off the bank, so make sure you throw both in and out.”
Lake Borgne can be easily accessed from many launch points around the lake.
• Rigolets Bait and Seafood, Slidell — a 15-minute run through The Rigolets.
• Chef Harbor, New Orleans — a 10-minute run through Chef Pass.
• Gulf Outlet Marina, Chalmette — a 20-minute run through Bayou Bienvenue.
• Campo’s Marina, Shell Beach — a short five-minute run through Bayou Yscloskey.
• Breton Sound Marina, Hopedale — a 30-minute interior marsh run through Bayou LaLoutre to St. Malo or a 20-minute run up the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) to Bayou Ysclosky.
Another unique aspect of Lake Borgne is that it can be accessed through protected waters in almost all areas except where it opens to the waters of Mississippi Sound.
In the event that the lake gets too rough, the MRGO and the Intracoastal Waterway along with numerous bayous offer anglers alternative routes to travel around the perimeter of the lake and back to their launch points without venturing into rough open water.
Certainly, the main targets of most inshore fishermen are trout and redfish. Both of these fish are readily available in Lake Borgne.
However, all of the others are there too. Regular catches of flounder, sheepshead, drum and sail cats are also made.
“You’ll be fishing one of these rigs, and a school of large drum will move in,” Wegener said. “On many occasions, I’ve had customers catch 20- to 30-pound drum.”
Large jack crevalle are also common in the lake.
As the water warms, sharks will frequent the rigs and deeper channels funneling into the lake. These sharks are aggressive, and will readily take a live shrimp. If while fishing for trout and reds you hook something unknown that pulls like a truck and then sends only your cut-off line back to you, it probably was a shark.
Shark season is closed in Louisiana from April 1 through June 30. However, once the season opens, a growing number of anglers will target sharks by rigging up with heavy equipment and steel leaders. Dead pogies or cut mullet drifted in a chum-line will attract all the sharks you could possibly want. Just remember that sharks are highly restricted and limited to one per boat with a 54-inch minimum fork length for most species.
Another bonus fish that has begun showing up in Lake Borgne the last few years is tripletail. This is generally thought of as an offshore species, but many anglers have begun targeting these tasty fish by sight casting to them at crab-trap floats.
“Tripletail will hang around these floats and lines to feed, and can be caught by tossing a live shrimp about 18 inches under a cork,” said Wegener.
From mid-summer until the weather begins to cool, tripletail should be present in Lake Borgne. The best conditions for spotting tripletail are calm winds and clear water. Using good polarized glasses will help with spotting the fish and making precise casts so they can see your bait.
There is currently no size or creel limit on tripletail in Louisiana.
When you want to make a great fishing trip but don’t want to take out a loan to finance the fuel cost, give Lake Borgne a try. The short runs, easy access and variety of fish will provide you with a whole new appreciation for this often-overlooked hotspot.
For more information, contact Capt. Johnny Nunez at 504-239-3159 or Capt. Hil Wegener at 504-421-1652.
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