Highway 82 hugs the Southwest Louisiana coast and provides plenty of options for anglers looking for a quick fix.
Highway 82 in Vermilion Parish is a paved corridor through some of the finest natural areas in the state. During the fall, the wings of autumn buzz highway travelers on 82 while alongside the scenic highway, camo-clad hunters start getting their camps and leases ready for the coming duck and goose season.
This is where the flyway ends, and the first fronts of the fall signal hunters to the coming gun season.
To many, though, one season remains ever in play: Fishing takes no back seat, as the angling action remains hot when the chill winds start to blow.
Highway 82 has numerous access points to great fishing spots. Vermilion Bay, rigs and reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, brackish marshes along the coast and lakes and bayous in between hold an immense wealth of fish and game for Louisiana sportsmen.
Here are some tips on how take advantage of this fishing highway:
New kid on the block
Palmetto Island State Park is the new kid on the block in the Louisiana State Park System. The park is just south of Abbeville off Highway 82, and contains 2,000 acres of swamp and dense forest.
Satellite imagery shows the property looking like forested peg plugged in to the landscape along the banks of the Vermilion River. Opened in October 2010, the park features cabins, RV camp sites, a water park and interpretive station. The park also has three stocked ponds and a boat launch on the Vermilion River.
Marcelle Guidry is the park ranger at Palmetto Island State Park and oversees the day-to-day operations and plans future projects at the park for guests to enjoy.
“There’s a lot going on out here,” Guidry said. “We are a very popular park, but a lot of people still don’t know about us. They think of a park and they think of a place with just a swing set. When we tell them it takes 40 minutes to drive through the park, they are really surprised.”
The idea for a Vermilion Parish state park was first devised by John T. Landry, an Abbeville resident, during the first term of Gov. Edwin Edwards. Five administrations later, the vision became reality, and today Vermilion Parish has its own scenic park on the banks of the Vermilion River near its mouth at Vermilion Bay.
“It was a long time coming,” said Guidry, “and we’ve had great community support since we’ve opened and visitation has been great.
“We have 96 camp sites, six cabins, nature trails and we’ve got a lot of wildlife. We’ve seen black bear, bobcats, beaver, otter and all kinds of birds in the park.”
The fishing ponds have been sparking interest in folks who like to wet a line when they visit the park.
“We rent canoes or people can bring their own canoes and kayaks in,” Guidry said. :You can catch catfish, bass, sac-a-lait, bream, choupique or alligator gar in those ponds.”
Motorized boats are not allowed in the ponds, so anglers can go light and hike to the ponds, or launch a kayak or canoe and hit all three.
The boat launch puts anglers right on the Vermilion River and just a short hop to Four Mile Cut that connects to Vermilion Bay.
There they can target speckled trout and redfish, and then run back to the park to enjoy the peaceful tranquility found there.
Paul Hebert’s two-pronged seasonal attack
Paul Hebert is a school administrator in Vermilion Parish, and he takes advantage of fishing opportunities afforded him from the openings in the annual school calendar.
During the summer and autumn months, he targets the reefs off the coast of Vermilion Parish and south of Marsh Island. Depending on the weather and fish migration, he transitions to Vermilion Bay in late fall into the winter months.
Hebert’s summer and fall pattern focuses mostly on Tee Butte and Diamond Reef — two trout hotspots that can be accessed from multiple locations along Highway 82.
“I like reef fishing,” Hebert said. “I like the shallower water and I like topwater fishing, which can be really good over the reefs. The best days out there are the windless, hottest days when weat and the sunscreen get in your eyes. And the middle of the day seems to be when I do the best on speckled trout, especially with topwater lures.”
And this month is when things really kick off, Hebert said.
“Usually there is a drop-off in the bite on the reefs in August,” he said. “But it picks back up again in October, especially if October is a warm month and if the rains hold off and the Atchafalaya River level remains low.
“Usually the river is low during that time, so fishing is generally consistent. That’s barring any hurricanes or 100-year floods, of course.”
Reef fishing off the coast of Vermilion Parish can be adversely effected by the Atchafalaya River because tidal movements will push fresh, muddy water west into Vermilion Bay and across the reefs south of Marsh Island. So Hebert watches the water levels at Butte La Rose to get an idea of what the fishing might be like on his favorite reefs.
“Success on Diamond and Tee Butte reefs are all dependent upon the level of the Atchafalaya River,” Hebert said. “Once it gets below 10 feet, you start getting some good days out there. Below 5 feet and it gets pretty consistent because you’re going to have saltwater on the reefs.
“If it’s full of muddy water with lilies everywhere, it’s not worth fishing.”
Tee Butte, noted as Tete Butte on most maps, sits just west of Southwest Pass. Diamond Reef is east of the pass off the south shore of Marsh Island. These two sites can be reached from Intracoastal City, Palmetto Island State Park or the launch at Freshwater City.
As the summer starts to fade, the pattern usually switches, and Hebert turns to Vermilion Bay.
Vermilion Bay can be fickle, but during the fall something magical happens when the weather, tides and rivers align in just the right way.
Unlike hotspots like Cocodrie, Venice and Big Lake — which have fantastic fishing year round — Vermilion Bay can be hit or miss until the fall.
When conditions get right though, cell phones start buzzing and special invites get issued to get on the bite.
“I don’t know what holds fish in Vermilion Bay, but they can stack up in there,” Hebert said.
He admitted that he didn’t understand the dynamic that causes Vermilion Bay to get hot like it does during the fall, but you won’t find him pondering over it for long. When the bite is on, he goes.
“The Trash Pile is said to be old oilfield trash on the bottom, which is possible because when I was a kid and used to go there you couldn’t make a cast without hanging up on something on the bottom,” Hebert said. “Now that’s rare. I think that has all been silted up by hurricanes.
“The Hammock has some stumps from days gone by that holds fish. I guess it’s the presence of bait fish during the fall that brings trout in to Vermilion Bay.”
Unlike Hebert’s summer days on the reefs, where he might be the only angler out there, Vermilion Bay can get stacked with boats in the fall.
This pushes Hebert to transition his tackle options.
“The bay is different, and there is a lot more boat traffic out there, so the topwater bite isn’t ideal,” he explained. “When it’s on in the Cove, there may be 50 boats around you. So I think the fish get more skittish.
“I go to a swim bait or bounce a cocahoe on the bottom when it gets like that.”
Hebert keeps it simple and doesn’t keep a stockpile of options on his 21-foot Express bay boat.
“The last couple of years I have fished the 3-inch plumtreuse H&H Cocahoe Minnow,” he said. “It’s the ugliest bait ever, and I would have never pulled that off the shelf at Academy but I started hearing reports about it, started throwing it and I’ve been successful with it. You can catch everywhere with that lure.”
However, he freely admitted lure color and style is often a preference.
“I firmly believe that a lot of fishing is about confidence in the baits you have,” Hebert said. “I prefer Bayou Chub lures, so I’ll throw their LSU-colored lures or their glow- and chartreuse colored ones. The only H&H ones I have are the plumtreuse.
“The last few years I’ve thrown more and more swim baits like the ones by Tsunami because they look so realistic; the only thing I add to them is I dip the tails in chartreuse.”
Hebert sticks with artificial lures on the reefs and in the bay.
“I prefer the challenge of using artificial bait, and if I could catch them all with top water lures I’d throw that most of all,” he said. “I used to be more in to the Top Dog Jr.s, but I’ve shifted to She Dogs. They have a different rattle that’s pitched higher, and I’ve had more success with them.”
Hebert is the model of a professional educator, but when the bells ring and vacations begin, you will find him on the water chasing fish off the coast of his home parish.
“When it’s good down here, there is no place better,” he said. “Whether it’s the reefs in the summer and fall, or Vermilion Bay in the fall and early winter, there is no place that you can go and catch bigger fish or more consistently than here.
“You won’t catch a lot of monster fish, but you will catch solid, quality fish here.”
Bienvenu’s Ace: Rollover Bayou
Finding time to fish is not always easy. For most people, fishing trips need to be well planned and then prayed over that the conditions and fish cooperate.
Spencer Bienvenu is an executive with Lafayette’s KLFY10 television station, a CBS affiliate that dominates the market in Southwest Louisiana. Family time and work dominate his schedule, but his passion for fishing requires good planning, an easy place to fish and a little bit of luck.
When time is of the essence and his family craves grilled redfish on the half-shell, Rollover Bayou off of Highway 82 becomes the target.
“It’s an easy trip with big upside,” Bienvenu said. “You can catch redfish, shrimp and crabs out there, and it’s a family friendly area.”
It is also only an hour from Lafayette. So when the bite is on you could be back at home on a Saturday by lunch time.
That adds to the appeal for Bienvenu.
Rollover Bayou is a simple waterway on the easternmost edge of the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge just west of Pecan Island on Highway 82. Anglers fishing there pay a $5 launch fee to the owners of the boat launch, and then they only have to burn a little bit of gas to be right on some great fishing action.
Bienvenu said there are two keys to the area.
“Timing the tides and patience are really important if you are going to be successful at Rollover,” he said.
Bienvenu takes advantage of the state-of-the-art meteorology department at KLFY10 (www.klfy.com) when planning his trips.
“Any time you have access to that kind of high-tech, real-time weather forecasting equipment and knowledgeable people who can show you the historical trends and future projections in tides, wind and water temperatures — let’s say it never hurts,” Bienvenu said with a grin. “And let’s be honest: I need all the help I can get!”
Bienvenu tries to calculate the time difference between the expected tide movement at Southwest Pass and Rollover Bayou to be on-site and ready to fish when there is moving water.
When the water begins to move, Bienvenu targets the water-control structures that dot the two sides of the bayou.
A falling tide is Bienvenu’s favorite because water drains from the fertile marshes on either side of the levees, creating a fish buffet that improves the odds for catching fish.
“I think any time you have areas like this where there is water movement from one marsh area to another will always improve the fishing,” Bienvenu said.
When the conditions are right, keeper-sized redfish and drum usually start feeding near the weirs.
Bienvenu fishes with a ¼-ounce to ½-ounce jigheads with frozen shrimp on the hook.
Shrimp and crabs are often an added prize, so he also keeps crab lines in the boat and a small cast net tucked away for when the perfect storm of seafood is attracted to the push of water through the weirs.
Rollover Bayou is an easy waterway to fish, with the weirs and tide movements helping you focus your effort to make the most of your trip. The beauty is that you can get your fix in one simple bayou.
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