Back in Black

It’s summer, and that means the fish have flooded into this perennial hotspot.

Spring sprung as suddenly as a wind-up Jack-in-a-box. For me, it sprung in the form of an alarm clock’s irritating buzzer awakening me out of a sound sleep at 3:30 in the morning. If that ungodly hour wasn’t horrendous enough, my difficulty in getting stirring was compounded by the fact that I didn’t get to bed much before midnight the night before. But the thought of Black Bay trout nailing my topwater plug as the sun rose over the horizon helped get me moving.

I was meeting Capt. Rory Rorison (504-439-1680) at 5:30 a.m. in Shell Beach, and the plan was to head straight to the near islands just off the coast in Black Bay.

Rorison likes to get an early enough start so that he can be at the islands casting topwater baits as day breaks.

“This time of year, you have to get there for the early bite because once they stop, it’ll be hours before they crank up again,” he said.

My fishing partner Sal Scurria and I had asked Rorison to captain our 24-foot Skeeter bay boat for the trip. We just had a new 250 Yamaha four-stroke installed, and the rig needed some break-in time, so we met at our fishing condo in Proctor’s Landing, loaded up our gear and headed to Black Bay.

Whichever route you take, it’s about a 35-mile run from Shell Beach to Iron Banks and the many no-name islands in the area, and that’s where we intended to begin the day. Unfortunately, even with our early start, several boats were already fishing Iron Banks by the time we arrived, and to encroach upon them was unthinkable, especially with so many other options all around us.

Whichever route you take, it’s about a 35-mile run from Shell Beach to Iron Banks and the many no-name islands in the area, and that’s where we intended to begin the day. Unfortunately, even with our early start, several boats were already fishing Iron Banks by the time we arrived, and to encroach upon them was unthinkable, especially with so many other options all around us.

Rorison mumbled something about how we would have been here a half-hour ago if someone hadn’t goofed around the dock for so long and delayed our departure (he glanced my way as he said it, so I knew he meant me).

Minutes later, he pulled us up to a no-name island, one of many in the immediate area, and we dropped the trolling motor over the bow. I attempted to align the boat with the trolling motor so we could all cast toward the island, but the trolling motor had no power. This was a brand-new 36-volt motor with three brand-new batteries, which had been charging on a brand-new in-board charger, and the whole system had barely enough juice to turn the prop.

“Uh oh,” I said, and I apologetically explained the problem to Rorison and Scurria.

“That’s a boat for you,” Rorison said. “New or old, you always have to deal with something. No problem, we’ll just drift, and if we get in some action, we’ll stick the Cajun anchor over.”

The other two anglers seemed undeterred by the setback, but I kept having this nagging thought that we were off to a bad start.

We were fishing on a Monday morning, and I was surprised at the amount of boats I saw on the water. All the islands and nearby rigs had boats on them, and anywhere you looked you could see other boats running.

But then again, this was the first day in three weeks that the winds weren’t blowing, the seas were calm, the tides were moving and the conditions were perfect for a banner day on the water. Lots of folks must have called in sick because boats were everywhere!

We were tossing topwater plugs on the slick surface, and we were casting in all directions. I worked a black/chrome Top Dog up close to the bank, and Rorison tossed a bone-colored She Dog parallel with the island. Scurria tied on a chartreuse Super Spook, and was casting behind the boat toward open water. We drifted slowly and worked the baits for 10 or 15 minutes without a single strike.

“How long do you give a spot before you move elsewhere,” I asked Rorison.

Maybe I seemed impatient, but I remembered what he emphasized about getting on that early bite. I was growing concerned that we were burning up the morning in an unproductive spot, and I’ve fished with some guides who make three or four casts in an area, and if they get no strikes, they pull up and move on.

“I like to give a spot 15 to 20 minutes,” Rory replied, “especially when I know it’s a productive area.

“I find that sometimes, it takes that long for an area to calm down after you move in, so I try to be patient and work the area thoroughly before I move.”

I noticed that Rorison fished in a “fan” type motion. That is, you start by casting to a spot and you work your bait back in. Next cast you toss slightly to the right or left of that spot, and work that in. Next cast, slightly to the side of the previous cast, and so on, like a fan.

The point is, with topwater baits or suspending baits, don’t repeatedly cast in the same spot, unless you are getting strikes in that spot. Fan your casts, cover more area, until you locate some fish. If you do get a strike in a spot, cast there again because they may be concentrated there. But otherwise, fan your casts to cover more water and try to locate the fish.

I heard the first slap of the topwater strike before I saw it. Rorison had a good fish on, and it jumped up to the surface and shook its head vigorously in typical speckled-trout fashion. Before I netted the fish, Scurria had one on also. Rorison’s patience was now paying off in speckled dividends.

We continued to drift that island for another 30 minutes or so — an action made harder by our lack of a trolling motor.

When we drifted too far, we simply started the outboard, idled back into casting distance and drifted again, fishing the way the old-timers did before the advent of Minn-Kota and Motor Guide. With a dozen nice trout in the box and after numerous missed blow-ups on our topwater baits, we moved to another island and repeated the same process. In fact, we repeated the process several more times over the course of the morning, including a drift over open water where a no-name island used to be before Katrina.

“Lonesome Island, Telegraph and many other former islands are submerged now, but the underwater structure still holds fish,” Rorison said.

In fact, our drifts over underwater structure were the most profitable of the day as we landed trout after trout on both topwater baits and plastics under popping corks.

Then there were the monster redfish, the smallest of which was well over 10 pounds. The big fish tore up our tackle, wore out our arms, and at one point were so thick and numerous we were afraid to cast for fear of hooking another one.

And once we started catching hardheads and sail cats, I knew the summer season had arrived.

Black Bay is loaded with fish right now, and all you need are a few tips and a good day to get out there and catch them. Rorison here provides all the tips you’ll need for a great trip. Nature will have to provide the weather.

Rorison recommends

1. Fish the Islands.

“Belle Island, Pelican, Stone, Iron Banks and all the unnamed islands in Black Bay are the best places to start your trip,” Rorison said. “Get out there early, and toss topwater baits because once the sun is up and the heat begins, the fish move off the islands, and you’ll have to head to the rigs and wells to find some action,” he said.

Rorison likes the He Dog in bone/orange and chrome/green, and he prefers it because its big.

“My theory is simple: Big baits attract big fish,” he said.

He also insists that cloudy and overcast days are better for fishing topwater baits than bright, sunny days.

2. Fish the reefs.

Use the map feature of your GPS to see where land used to be out there. The “Hidden Treasures Map of Black Bay” can be indispensable for this purpose (available at sporting goods stores or by contacting Tom Dunne at 985-781-7906). Better yet, punch in the GPS coordinates of Telegraph or Lonesome, or any of the other now submerged islands, and drift-fish them the same way you’d fish islands, with either topwater baits or under a cork.

Rorison likes to use Bayou Chub minnows in avocado/chartreuse under popping corks, while I prefer plastics in either chartreuse or glow/chartreuse under oval-shaped Cajun Thunder corks. But by the time you read this, live bait will be available, and Rorison says live shrimp and croakers will be the ticket to success.

3. Fish the rigs and wells.

“The Wreck, Five Wells, Battledore Reef and the Black Tanks are the best known of the standard summer hotspots,” Rorison said. “But Katrina battered the old spots so bad some of them just haven’t produced as many fish as before.

“The Black Tanks is a prime example. The big tank is gone, and the barge didn’t produce much last summer at all.

“Battledore has been pretty good, and it usually reaches its prime in mid-to-late June. They are catching fish there right now, according to some reports, and as long as the river doesn’t get high, that area should be very productive all summer long.”

But Rorison says he actually prefers fishing the smaller structures over the big ones.

“The wellheads and chair wells, the wooden structures with pilings around them — those are my favorites,” he said. “If you do fish the larger rigs, the best technique is to anchor upcurrent of the rig and cast toward it. That way, the current will take your bait toward the rig.

“Fish live shrimp or croakers under a Carolina rig and under a popping cork. If that doesn’t provoke any action, then freeline a shrimp or croaker, with maybe just a small split-shot about 12 inches above the bait. If you still get no action in 15 minutes or so, move elsewhere.

“The thing to look for at any rig or structure is clean water, good tidal movement and signs of bait activity in the water. Wherever you find that, fish there.

“At the smaller structures, like wellheads and chair rigs, I like to hook onto them with a rig hook and let the boat fall back behind them. Then, you cast upcurrent either to the structure or alongside it, and you let your bait work itself back to you.

“Fish three ways — Carolina rigged, under a cork and freelined, and if that doesn’t pay off after 15 minutes or so, move on, and keep moving until you find them.”

According to Rorison, the whole key to Black Bay success is the river and the wind.

“A high river spills so much muddy fresh water into the area that it often makes it unfishable. But if the water is only slightly tinted and not completely chocolate, you can still usually catch some fish because there is cleaner water underneath.

“The wind is the other factor. Stiff winds stir up the seas, which in turn stir up the bottom, turning the whole bay into a muddy mess. On those days, rather than take a pounding you’re better off hunting for clean water along a lee shoreline in the bays where you can get out of the winds,” he said.

4. Fish the birds.

“Never pass up a good flock of feeding birds,” he said. “I just have to stop and make a few casts to find out what’s under them. Sometimes it’s sail cats. Sometimes it’s small trout. But sometimes, it’s very nice trout.

“Don’t waste your live bait fishing under the birds. Use plastics — any color — under a cork. If you don’t have a rod already rigged with plastic, just slide a plastic onto your kahle hook. Don’t worry, if they’re feeding, they’ll hit it.”

Rorison says to approach the feeding flock from upcurrent so you can kill your outboard and drift into and alongside them without spooking the fish. Use your trolling motor to try to stay with a good school of fish, he advised.

On the ride in, we noticed several large flocks of birds diving over open water in Lake Machais, so we had to stop “just to see” what all the fuss was about. We quickly found out: sail cats! Huge sail cats!

But the bird action over trout will break out any day now. In fact, by the time you read this, it’ll be on.

What are you doing just sitting there reading? Go get ’em!

Capt. Rory Rorison can be reached at (504) 439-1680.

About Rusty Tardo 372 Articles
Rusty Tardo grew up in St. Bernard fishing the waters of Delacroix, Hopedale and Shell Beach. He and his wife, Diane, have been married over 40 years and live in Kenner.