Bays, Bayous, Buras

The land’s gone, but the great fishing isn’t in this lower Plaquemines port.

Eddie jerked his head and waved his arms frantically while trying to help with the boat straps.“G**damn gnats!” he sputtered, “ahh-ahh! I’d forgotten about these blasted things!”

He spit out a few and swatted at his eyes as I finally jerked the strap loose and threw it near the transom.

“And everyone around here smells like a poofter, like a flaming maricon!” he raved with a disgusted look.

“Geezum, it’s one thing to be ogled by queens when you get turned around after the third Hurricane and wander too far down Bourbon Street, but now BURAS too?! Is no place SAFE? Is nothing SACRED anymore?!”

Our college chum Eddie had been away from Louisiana for over a decade. After his disbarment and divorce for reasons none of us ever understood (but the wives still gossip about with glowing eyes for hours at a time), Eddie moved to Mexico. Hence his colorful terminology for sodomites.

“They’re not fairies, Eddie,” Pelayo snorted as we got back in the truck. “And nobody’s ogling you, for heaven’s sake. Heck, they probably think the same thing of YOU – with that hat and shirt.”

Not many oilfield jump-suits and white boots where Eddie had lived in a ritzy section of Mexico City. It’s taking him a while to readjust.

“Man you ain’t goin’ to the Cher concert. You goin’ fishing!”

“That’s Skin-So-Soft, you’re smelling, man,” I added. “Geezum, how quickly you forget? Everybody’s got it on. You mean you don’t remember Skin-So-Soft?”

“Kinda,” he said while scratching his eyes. “Seems like I do, now that you mention it.”

“Well, now EVERYBODY uses it for gnats,” Pelayo snapped. “This time of the year on a calm day, they’re murder. Can’t believe you forgot all that.

“I think we’ll luck out though. Wind’s supposed to pick up later in the morning. I think we’ll be OK. If not, we’ll just scoot out through the mouth of Dry Cypress Bayou to the Sandy Point Rigs and load up on sheepshead, drum and Spanish. Then scoot back in when the wind picks up around noon.”

These options, of fishing shallow rigs along with classic coastal marsh, are one of our favorite things about fishing the coastal Buras area — the bays once known as Jacques, Skipjack and Coquette. Nowadays there all pretty much one big open bay. Only a few little islands and remnants of spoil banks mark their old boundaries and the canals that crossed them.

Sometimes nothing marks the bigger channels. You travel over open water and suddenly watch your depth finder hit 20 feet as it marks an old channel, a Bayou Jacques or Coquette for instance. Then it goes back to showing 4 foota-wawda over oyster reefs…then 3 foota- wawda….then 2…then — WRUUUUUUUUUN! WHOOOOOA!!

And everybody’s tumbling around the boat when you run aground. Watch it down here. Stay inside the oyster poles. Better yet, only fish this area during the high tides (usually in the mornings this time of year, fortunately). That’s how we keep prop demolition to a minimum — not that we avoid it completely. Not by any means.

Sure the aerial photo maps are great for fishing this area, but so are the ancient ones. The ones that show this marsh when it looked like the Biloxi Marsh — bayous, potholes, bays etc. Those old ones often mark where an old channel lies, an old reef. These reefs and edges usually mean reds, drum and flounder.

We finally launched, as people snickered at Eddie’s get-up, and started motoring down the oyster poles. Poor Eddie was jerking his head around again.

“Where are we?!” he gasped. “Where on earth…..?”

“We’re on Dry Cypress Bayou, Ed,” I nodded. “Just past the Phillips Canal. And that’s Cyprien Bay…..”

“NO!” he yelled. His face was a mask of horror. “CAN’T BE!!…… There’s…there’s… there’s NOTHING HERE! What the hell…..?”

Poor guy. Who can blame him? Fish it almost every weekend like us and you’re horrified by the land loss. You can almost watch it washing away from week to week. Imagine after 15 years. Heck, after 20 years for Eddie. It was too much for the poor guy. Even worse, it came on top of last night’s tour (for ol’ times sake) of Fat City. Too much trauma for poor Eddie.

Eddie was in tears halfway through the tour. His old disco haunts were gone or converted beyond hope.

“That’s The Spanish Galleon!” he blubbered. “NO! NO!” (Now a nail salon.)

“And what about The Godfather?” I pointed left. “NO! Oh God NO!”

Rod Serling coulda made one heck of a Twilight Zone episode outta this.

“Ah!” his face brightened. “At least The Ski Lodge’s still there. Thank goodness!”

He sighed and we staggered inside for a bit of reminiscing and a brewski. It took four to lift the poor boy from his funk. Then he noticed a massive creature sitting on a bar stool. The stool had its work cut out for it, too. Gargantuan buttocks draped over each edge. Above it a blouse that could double as a boat cover. The stool creaked piteously as the woman blew out a mouthful of smoke and leaned over to order another drink.

“Remember Irene?” Chris said while motioning that we walk over.

“Sure!” Eddie said. “The Dancing Queen. How could I forget! Those skin tight disco dresses. Those hips. Those moves! … And there sure ain’t no forgetting that night after the tequila shots. We went back to her place and …..”

“Irene?” Chris smiled and tapped the behemoth on the shoulder. “Whatcha doin’ here, AGAIN?”

“Chris!” she smiled. “Same thing as y’all, I guess.” She giggled while we buzzed her cheek. “Great to see y’all again!”

“Remember, Eddie?” Pelayo asked while pointing behind him. “Eddie Fleeks, the famous….”

“EDDIE!” and she lunged over for a hug. “Can’t believe it. It’s really you! You haven’t changed a bit!”

“Neither have…have… you,” Eddie replied gallantly. The man was horrified.

“I’d heard you’d left the country?” Irene said after a hearty gulp of her Cuba Libre. “I’d heard that you….never mind. Well, I heard all kinda stuff,” as she took a drag on her cigarette.

“It’s all true,” Chris laughed. “Every bit of it. But we came here to talk about old times. Not semi-old times. OK?”

“OK!” she laughed again. We had a fun evening, as it turned out.

That night, Eddie found his old friends were unrecognizable. Now he saw that his old fishing haunts fared no better. He couldn’t get over it. We spent the whole day pointing out old hotspots, cuts, grassy points, dead-ends — now open water.

But amazingly, the fishing hadn’t changed dramatically. It’s still top-notch down here.

The bottom was always heavy with oysters down here. Two “boxes-a mixed” were a cinch on every trip. Cork fishing with the classic shad-rig or smoky shrimp-tail (remember them?) tipped with shrimp yielded reds, drum, flounder and sheepshead from every grassy point. Trout clobbered the same offerings around the oyster poles in the bays.

It was fantastic. You almost couldn’t miss. If the trout weren’t turned on, the reds would still cooperate. If the reds weren’t immediately hungry, the flounder, puppy drum and sheepshead took up the slack until the bronzebacks turned on. Even on the worst days, every spot produced at least a few fish. By the end of the day you had your basic “box-a-mixed.”

And like I said it’s the same as it ever was.

In the Bay Jacques-Tambour-Chicaras- Coquette area, even in April, even with the river at its highest and those brutal southeast winds pushing dirty river water into this area, even with the wind churning the open water into chocolate milk, even with all this, we still catch fish. And on nothing more than the classic popping cork/ beetle and dead shrimp (maw-ket bait) combo.

Look at a map, and you’ll see why. Bay Jacques and Chicaras are shielded from the worst of these winds by the little sliver of marsh still left in this area. Bayou Grand Liard, an ancient distributary of the Mississippi, still has a little high ground along its banks (but it’s going fast). This forms a shield of sorts from the east winds so prevalent in the spring around here.

East of Grand Liard the water’s fresher with fewer oysters. Old timers still tell you to always fish a hard bottom. I think they’re on to something. Little crabs, minnow, shiners etc. hide in the crevices between the oysters–especially those little stone crabs. Open up the belly of a redfish caught in this area, and that’s all you find. It’s crammed with those little crabs, every time.

Save the spoons for clearer water — the Hopedale-Biloxi marsh, Delacroix-Reggio, Lafitte-Larose type areas, where there’s usually at least a foot of visibility. Down here in this murky stuff, they want dead shrimp.

This time of the year, a high and falling tide is particularly important in this area. The river’s generally at its highest in April, so a rising tide pushes in the filthy river water immediately offshore. Come on a rising tide, and you’ll search the area in vain for even a few pockets of semi-clear water. When it’s falling, it’s coming out of the upper section of marsh, the area around the Buras Canal, and out of those few ponds still left around here. And this is what passes for clear water around here.

You’ll spot the little rips during the falling tide as this clear water comes down from the upper marshes and ponds and clashes with the river water. An offshore rip always means fish. An inshore rip means much the same, in our experience.

For us, this simplifies the fishing. Find the clear water, and you generally find the fish. Down here clear means about 4 or 5 INCHES of visibility. If you can see your prop, it’s beautiful.

Eddie had recovered as we turned left into a rippled (no more gnats) Bay Jacques and a gust ripped off both of our caps and sent them into our wake. Out came the net, and we turned around.

First stop was the mouth of Bayou Coquette, where it meets Bay Jacques. I peeked astern. Yep I could barely make out the top of the prop through the hazy water.

“It’s fishable,” I announced.

Just then a tern smacked the water around the little eddies formed by the outgoing current about 20 yards astern.

“Saw that?” Pelayo said as his cork sailed toward the action. I turned to see another tern smack near shore then….. “We’re on em! Right on schedule! Yessir!”

Pelayo’s pole bowed deeply as the trout hit the surface in a gill-rattling frenzy.

“There he is!” I set the hook on a 15-inch trout. “Get it out there Eddie, my boy! They’re turned on!”

Eddie’s cork plunged on its third pop. It was all coming back to him now. Like he’d never left.

For the next half hour, we caught school trout on about every second cast. Without shrimp, it would take about three or four. And without a cork — nothing. We nailed about two dozen specks then roared north toward some little tufts of marsh grass that are the remnants of a spoil bank of a canal that ran between Bays Jacques and Chicaras. The canal was bisected by a deep bayou, and two rock dams mark the spot.

The depth finder suddenly went down to 15 feet from 3. Here was our spot. I aimed my shrimp-tipped beetle at a wave-lapped section of marsh grass right next to the rocks. Splish….pop-pop. Then it went behind a little wave—WHAM! It never reappeared. Then the reel started its sweet music.

“RED!” I howled just as he erupted in a foaming copper swirl. “A monster!”

My line was sizzling out when he turned. I stood on the bow, pole overhead, looking over for applause. I saw Eddie beaming as he swung in a flounder, and Pelayo admiring the box as he dumped in a puppy drum.

Next stop was an eroded area near the mouth of Bayou Jacques. The light east wind pushed little ripples over the grassy shoreline. The place had redfish written all over it.

Is it just us? We always do better when fishing the wave-lapped shore rather than the lee shore. Eddie’s cork landed about 5 feet from shore. A school of finger mullet erupted on his first pop.

“Saw that!?” he said while turning to us, which meant he didn’t see his cork vanish. But he felt the tug.

“Whoooa!” Eddie roared, and the drag started singing.

“No mistaking it!” I whooped.

The surface erupted, and he aimed for the open water — actually for an oyster pole on the way to the open water. Classic big-red tactic. He was following the script perfectly. Not that there was much mystery. Again he thrashed the surface and flashed us his copper flanks and spotted tail. Gorgeous. How people prefer the feeble speckled trout to these suckers I’ll never understand.

“Gotta go 6 pounds!” Pelayo whistled as he watched the wake. Eddie tightened the drag and turned the fish before it angled the oyster pole. Then I heard Pelayo grunt on my left and saw his pole dip.

Pelayo’s fish kept thrashing on the surface, back and forth, with a few spirited runs mixed in. Classic rat-red action — but he looked like a keeper. Pelayo swung him aboard, and we spread him out on the ruler. Let’s see…YEP! 16 and a half! He stays. Best-eating kind here.

“Ready for the net, Mr. Fleeks?” I roared.

“Yeah!” he huffed. “He’s coming in — look at the size of him!”

Had to go 7 pounds. Maybe 8. What a sight. But then he saw the net — Whoooom! Eddie’s drag started singing again. He grimaced and gripped the rod a little higher. Now he was pumping again. Another spool-sizzling run. More surface-thrashing. Now he was on his side, gasping. The net slid under him, and he came aboard to a chorus of whoops and high-fives.

He measured 26 inches. Fancy fishing guides in the Florida Keys go bonkers if they catch ONE of these a DAY. And now, from the looks of it, Pelayo had another.

Sure, enough we ended up at 1 p.m with a classic box-a-mixed, and had seen all of two boats ALL day. Most people who launch down here head to Hospital/Yellow Cotton Bay area. Fine, be my guest. n

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