Best baits for Cocodrie’s spring specks

Finding healthy numbers of late-spring speckled trout in the eastern Terrebonne estuary is one thing. Tempting them to bite is quite another — something that tends to change seemingly day by day.

Or at least tide by tide, according to guide Olden Rodrigue.

“That time of year there are a lot of shrimp pushing through, especially in the shallow reefs and islands I like,” Rodrigue said. “The issue with that is that they mainly run out of the marsh on a falling tide.

“If you don’t have a falling tide and the birds working and the shrimp are visible, it can be hard to figure out what to look for.”

That said, it doesn’t in any way mean fish can’t be caught on days when gulls give away schools of trout from a distance, and skipping crustaceans and surface strikes pinpoint them down to the cubic yard, the charter captain said.

“I like using swim baits,” said Rodrigue, adding he means soft-plastic minnow imitations with paddle tails rather than the commonly used one-piece molded baits that go by the same name.

Rodrigue prefers tight-lining those offerings instead of fashioning them under popping corks. For cork fishing, pearl or white shrimp imitations ­— Vudu shrimp or Academy’s H2O — work equally for him.

Watching for baitfish flipping on the surface, current lines and generally fishy water is the staple for fishing shallow water surrounding the islands and reefs in most any Louisiana locale. This area is no different.

A good trolling motor is not essential in plying the waters when a nice breeze is present to set up a drift, but that little motor can be a difference-maker in adjusting one’s path when a school of bait or a striking fish is spotted.

Topwater baits, especially in the early morning or on cloudy days, are outstanding producers in the area, although like many charter captains Rodrigue is loathe to lose multiple treble-hook setups aboard his vessel with inexperienced users.

Topwaters are, of course, great fun and tend to separate the sub-legal trout from the solid keepers — but they do also very often require a learning curve for novices.

“When someone gets hooked in the ear with a topwater, that trip is probably going to get cut short,” Rodrigue said.

Options for the premium live bait much of Louisiana is known for become iffy when Terrebonne trout prove finicky. To say Cocodrie, Chauvin and Dulac anglers have been unreceptive to live shrimp is to suggest that there has been a history of the industry at all.

Not until the last 10 or so years has live shrimp or croakers even been available in any consistency. And that largely depends on your definition of consistency.

What has been a central-coast mainstay is minnows. Known colloquially as larch or cocahoes, the Gulf killifish is a marsh dweller that can be an absolutely dynamite producer in late spring/early summer.

Suspended under cork or allowed to wiggle on the bottom attached to Carolina rigs, minnows produce.

And they’re readily available and define low maintenance, especially when compared to shrimp and baby croakers.

“It’s hard to know what kind of mood the fish will be in. So I bring minnows along on almost every charter trip,” said Rodrigue, adding that they offer beginners a very short learning curve.

As much as he’d like to stay away from shrimp and croaker, it doesn’t take long to make him a believer.

“I’m pretty hardheaded, but all it really takes is one trip where a boat next to me is wearing them out on shrimp or croakers to convince me,” Rodrigue said. “If some of the shops on Highway 56 (from Houma to Cocodrie) don’t carry them, that means having to visit the bait boat first thing in the morning.

That takes up a good chunk of quality fishing time, but they can make or break a trip.”

The Tracie Macey live bait vessel has been providing live bait to anglers since live shrimp came in vogue in lower Terrebonne. Unfortunately for eastsiders, it frequently sets up shop in Caillou Boca, a location far to the west toward the end of the westernmost Isles Denieres chain. That makes it unfeasible.

Rodrigue said there’s no reason to panic when this takes place.

“Plenty of fish were caught before there was ever any live shrimp sold down here,” he said. “And it can make you open your eyes to other options.”