Barataria Bay/Grand Isle

Barataria Bay is a vast estuary ranging from near-freshwater Lake Cataouche in the north to near-marine habitats at Grand Isle in the south.

Its boundaries are clearly defined, with the Mississippi River’s levees to the north and east, and Bayou Lafourche on the west.

The Barataria system is known for producing huge numbers of smaller speckled trout and fewer 6-pound-plus fish than some other areas of the state.

One of our trout experts, Theophile Bourgeois of Bourgeois Fishing Charters (504-341-5614), is based out of Lafitte-Barataria in the northern end of the estuary. The other, Jules Belanger of H & M Fishing Charters (985-787-3753) is headquartered in Grand Isle.

The two guides reported different experiences during 2013.

The laconic Bellanger called the season that he and his wife/guiding partner Pat (who has her own boat.) had average.

“It wasn’t great; it wasn’t poor,” Jules Bellanger said. “The specks averaged 13 to 15 inches — average size. The year before was better in numbers and size of trout.”

The fishing experience in his area was pretty much the opposite of what would be expected.“The year started with a bang, but soon slowed down,” Bellanger said. “We found that our places where you could get 15 or 20 fish became hit or miss.

“I believe the fish were there. I can’t explain it. None of the conditions changed. One day they would bite and the next day they wouldn’t.”

The exuberant and articulate Bourgeois was bubbly about his 2013.

“Last year was the first year in several years that we consistently caught limits of speckled trout,” he said. “My feeling is that the tropical depression really produced high salinities, large numbers of baitfish and lots of trout.

“Early in the summer, trout fishing was OK, with the best fishing south of Little Lake. You could catch a lot of little fish under birds and small numbers, maybe 12 or 15 per boat, of bigger fish on topwaters over oyster reefs.

“After the depression we made good catches in Brusle Lake, Little Lake — even the Rigolets and the Pen. All of northern Barataria Bay did well. In late summer it was old-time fishing like it used to be. The bump after the storm had a lot of nice fish — over 14 inches, in it.”

The “old-time fishing” was nice, but Bourgeous said he’s sure it won’t last.

“In the last few years,” he said with a distinct note of resignation, “we in Lafitte have accepted the fact the great trout fishery was a thing of the past, although we have a lot of redfish.”

Coming out of a very cold winter, both men were cautiously optimistic about 2014.

“It’s hard for us to predict the next year based on the numbers of small fish we saw the previous year,” Bellanger said. “We see our smallest fish early in the season — April and May — and our biggest fish in July and August.”

He said the cold weather of the past few months has to have an impact.

“It’s been a really bad winter, the coldest I can remember in a long time,” Bellanger said. “We aren’t used to that. I know that if it keeps getting cold and the cold lasts longer, our shrimp will be small. You don’t catch decent numbers of speckled trout here unless you have shrimp.

“But every year is different. In all my years, we have never had a bad trout year at Grand Isle — except maybe during the BP oil spill. The fish were there; they just wouldn’t let us catch them. I’ve had some below average years, but never a really bad year.”

Bourgeois was a little more willing to make a forecast.

“I’m hoping that the southern half of Barataria Bay will hit a 7 on a 1-to-10 scale,” he said. “Lafitte fishing — Little Lake, Turtle Bay, the Pen, Bayou Perot — it’s really rolling the dice to call for a good speckled trout season.

“Before three years ago, you could catch all you wanted right here. The question is, did we catch them all or is the salinity diversion (primarily the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion project) holding them back.”

He paused a moment and then cautiously ventured a guess.

“I truly believe that diversions have pushed salinities down, and trout need salinity,” Bourgeois said. “But, on the other hand, why aren’t we jam-packed with bass? I am amazed that (Lake) Salvador doesn’t have tons of bass. I can take you in the spring and show you tons of prey fish, but no trout and only a few bass.

“Where did the grass go in (Lake) Cataouache? Where did the bass go in Cataouache? It isn’t like it used to be. You can’t catch them like it used to be.”

He pointed to one possibility.

“I have a serious question if we are overfishing (the area),” Bourgeois said. “There are at least 50 guides working out of Lafitte. Private anglers have better equipment and are more productive.”

As for how to start the season, Bellanger’s recommendations were more succinct than Bourgeois’.

“I mainly use live shrimp for bait,” he said. “The customers that Pat and I have are numbers people; they want to see numbers of fish.

“In April, the beach is good. If it is too rough, I go behind Caminada Island to fish over oyster reefs. Reefs as far in as St. Mary’s Point and Wilkinson Canal can produce fish.”

Then he hops back and forth between the bay and the beaches.

“In May, I am in back of Grand Isle from Middle Bank to Port Sulphur,” Bellanger said. “In June and July, I focus on the beaches. If it is too rough there, I fish the oyster reefs behind Coupe Abel Pass and Four Bayou Pass.”

Bourgeois’ recommendations for April and May fishing are to concentrate in Barataria Bay locations: Cabanash Cove, Government Reef, Manila Village and Hackberry Bay.

Bourgeois, who dislikes live bait as much as Bellanger likes it, recommended keeping three rods rigged three ways.

One rod should be rigged with a 4-inch, glow-colored 4-inch Yum Mud Minnow on a ¼-ounce jighead for tight-line fishing. On the second rod he would have a 3-inch Berkley Gulp! glow-colored Jerk Shad under a Paradise Popper X-Treme cork. The third rod would be rigged with a bone-colored Badonk-A-Donk plug.

By late May and into June when shrimp appear, Bourgeois will stay with the same artificials until he has to shift to live shrimp under corks.

In June, speckled trout fishing often shifts northward to Turtle Bay, Little Lake, Bay Round, the Rigolets and Bayou Perot.

The hot temperatures of July often slow down the trout bite dramatically in the heat of the day. Trout fishing is best all the way to the south on Barataria Bay beaches and passes. Best fishing is from daylight to 9:30 a.m., with the first hour being critical to being in the right spot.

About Jerald Horst 959 Articles
Jerald Horst is a retired Louisiana State University professor of fisheries. He is an active writer, book author and outdoorsman.