St. Bernard’s Bayou Bienvenue has long provided access to a vast fishing area favored by many local anglers.
There are three marinas on Paris Road that give boaters almost instant access to a wide variety of fishing possibilities — Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, the MRGO, the Intracoastal Waterway, Chef Pass, the Rigolets, Bayou Bienvenue itself and all the marsh sandwiched between the various waters.
The gateway to it all is the I-510/Paris Road corridor, but it is a battered and scarred gate. Before last season’s storms, the highway was lined with commercial businesses and industries, almost all catering to the marine industry, and the whole corridor buzzed with activity.
Today, despite being shredded and broken by Katrina and Rita, many of the business are beginning to reopen, and St. Bernard itself seems to be awakening, like a land in early spring emerging from a long, bleak winter.
Unfortunately, all three Paris Road marinas were badly battered. Though technically closed and their futures uncertain, at least the backdown ramps are accessible, and quite a few anglers are making use of them again.
The fog was still thick when I met Capt. Kerry Audibert (504-259-5304) at the site of Jimmy Dixon’s old place, Bait Inc., located just on the New Orleans side of Bayou Bienvenue.
Audibert’s 22-foot Bay Pro was already in the water when I arrived, so it was a simple matter of quick introductions and throwing my gear aboard to get under way. This was my first trip out of Bayou Bienvenue since the storms, and the sight of tossed, crushed and scattered boats and debris made it seem like they just hit yesterday.
The heavy blanket of fog and the devastation along the shorelines painted everything with an eerie, unearthly feeling, and I buttoned my jacket against the cold and dampness for the morning run.
On the ride out, Audibert mentioned that his family owns a camp in Pointe a la Hache, and he grew up with a rod and reel in his hand fishing those waters extensively.
But the storms made some of that area briefly inaccessible, and he began fishing out of Bayou Bienvenue, and the action has been so good he’s still at it.
“This area is so easily accessible, and it’s surprising where you can get to from here if you make a short run. Alligator Point, Proctors Point, the rigs and wells in Lake Borgne, even the Biloxi Marsh is just a short distance away from here,” he said.
We motored around the half-submerged hulk of a hull in the middle of the bayou, and made our way toward the floodgates. Audibert detoured at the Dike Canal, and headed toward Violet because the locks at Bayou Bienvenue have been blocked for weeks by work barges. We could see several crews in orange vests manning a variety of dozers, cranes and miscellaneous earth-moving equipment working feverishly on the levees, trying to restore some kind of barrier to keep the marauding MRGO out of Chalmette’s homes and businesses. It will not be an easy task for loosely packed mud to keep the wide and deep MRGO, 25 miles longer than the Panama Canal, in its trench.
On the ride to Violet, Audibert slowed enough to show me a line of tree stumps along the southern edge of the Dike Canal. The scattered stumps stretched along the bank for almost a mile.
“We’ll fish these stumps for redfish on the way back,” he said. “You can cast plastics under a cork, spoons, spinners or dead bait under a cork around these stumps, and almost always come away with reds. These stumps have salvaged many a trip for me, especially on those difficult, windy days.”
As we approached the little camp community in Violet, the tattered remains of the former camps reflected the intensity of Katrina’s wrath. Sadly, none of them remain intact. The few camps still standing are all heavily damaged, and I couldn’t help thinking that all of them are destined to become just another set of pilings that give mute testimony to the fact that nothing stands forever on the Louisiana coastline. We had to motor slowly past floating debris and half-submerged hulks, and that’s when Audibert noticed something else in the water.
There were millions of small, 1-inch-long worms swimming at the surface of the canal. I’ve never seen them before. They reminded me of the leeches that cling to the bottom of redfish, only slightly longer. Audibert suggested they might be oyster worms.
“We might have trouble getting the fish to bite with all of this bait in the water,” Audibert said. “When these worms show up like this, trout gorge themselves on them. And bull reds start showing up in the bayous to inhale them.”
I shuddered at the thought of what might happen if someone fell overboard in the middle of those millions of worms. Maybe nothing would happen, except you’d get wet, but the thought was still scary.
Audibert turned the bay boat through the Violet locks and pointed east up the Ship Channel. Our destination: the marsh canals, flats and ponds sandwiched between Lake Borgne and the MRGO, the area just below Proctor’s Point.
“I’ve been fishing this area for most of the winter, and have been having a good bit of success,” he said. “The water temperatures never did fall low enough to drive the trout out, and even when the cold fronts came through it warmed up quickly and within a day or two the bite was on again.
“The action has been so consistent that I really haven’t had to go looking elsewhere to find fish. Usually, I’d be running to Hopedale or Delacroix and Pointe a la Hache to get on fish this time of year. But this year is really different.”
Different is a good word for it. Unusual, bizarre, weird, surprising, unbelievable, upside-down, topsy-turvy — all that and more still fails to describe what this year is. But one thing cannot be denied. The fishing action has been excellent almost everywhere along the Southeast Louisiana coast ever since the hurricanes. In fact, if anything, the action has been better than before.
Go to the Louisiana Sportsman magazine archives to read the rest of this story, which first appeared in the April 2006 issue. Be sure and subscribe to ensure you never miss a single information-packed issue.
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