The action in western Lake Pontchartrain is beginning to look like that of yesteryear.
What luck. The doggone drawbridge was open on the Causeway. Just what I needed.
I was rushing home after a DISASTROUS two-day offshore trip with Doc Fontaine, and was already running late. Shirley and I were due at a dinner party in 15 minutes. Now I didn’t have a chance. I’d catch hell for sure. On the cell phone, I’d already heard a preview of what awaited me at the domestic hearth….Now it’s ringing again!
Well, let it ring — though now I have a bona-fide excuse.
Traffic was backed up for half a mile. People were out of their cars, milling around, sitting on the railing, some muttered into their cell phones, others snorted disgustedly, rolled their eyes and waved their arms in helplessness and frustration.
Looked like a parade of sailboats was passing under the 8-mile hump. So here’s another reason to loath sailboats, I thought. You can’t even put a fan-tail or pick-box on the damn things. Who ever saw three pirogues stacked atop a sailboat? Of course not! They’re WORTHLESS!
I was in no mood for this delay, but it looked like a nice little wait, so I got out and walked to the railing. I leaned over and scanned north — three boats visible. I scanned south — four boats visible. I walked over to the inside railing and looked up and down — another five boats visible.
Most were troll-motoring along, casting plastics at the pilings and jerking when they hit the bottom, the usual method of fishing around here. One occupant of the closest bay boat seemed to have a bent pole…yep! His partner was reaching for the net. Looked like a nice red.
“Hmmmm?” I thought. I’d been getting a few reports of some nice reds and a few trout in this area. Maybe there was something to them.
Reports from the western lake had also been piling up. Those power lines from LaPlace — actually from the Williams launch in Kenner to Laplace, then north to just west of the mouth of the Tchefuncte — had been yielding some nice reds and trout on nothing more exotic than plastic (Dudleys, Cocahoes, beetles, Assasins) and market shrimp.
The good folks over at the Peavine Snack Shack in Laplace (next to the boat ramp at the end of Peavine Road; this place let’s you launch almost ON TOP of the fishing hot spots) will set you straight on the fishing out that way, as will the good folks at the Beacon Lounge in Manchac, I ga-ron-tee. They tell me it’s been dynamite, and that August’s the peak month for fishing out that way, with good fishing generally from June through October — the peak months for lake salinities.
They even let me in on a little secret. There’s a “hole” in the lake just offshore from the mouth of Bayou la Branche near the eastern levee of the Bonnet Carre Spillway that packs in the trout (mostly white, but some specks), croakers and reds. The hole resulted from the dredging that filled in a section of the La Branche wetlands at the western corner close to the lake a few years ago. The water drops from (the normal) 7-8 feet down to 14-15 feet in this area. The edges, particularly, concentrate the fish.
The hole’s between power lines 75 and 85. You ride along, either going east from the Peavine launch or west from the Williams launch until you see these numbers, then turn toward shore, they said, for about 300 yards, until you see the depth drop to 14 feet.
Then you anchor or troll-motor along, “going downstairs,” as the late, great By Hek used to say, with shrimp- tipped beetles or cocahoes. With live cocahoes, all the better.
They say that south or west winds keep this area’s water clear, and with a low river (hence no dirty water coming through the Spillway) you can mop up in this place. It’s a pretty well-kept secret, too.
They also said the fisherfolk who bring live cocahoes absolutely mop up — or “ride herd” as By Hek used to say. But these are all do-it-yourselfers, catching the minnows in traps. No live-bait purveyors out that way, though they sell maaw-ket shrimp both at the Peavine Snack Shack and at Manchac.
They said action was hottest along the power lines almost equidistant from the mouth of Pass Manchac to where they turn east at LaPlace.
But I had to laugh at a guy two SUVs in front of me. He opened the back of his Expedition and got out a fishing rod, with a chartreuse cocaho on the end. He looked over, smiled and shrugged.
“Why not?” he laughed as he walked toward the railing. “Heck, let’s make the best of it.”
“Yeah you right,” I smiled back. “Good idea!”
Then the passenger door opened, and the elegant black sandals appeared, bright red toenails poked out the front. Then the tanned and perfectly-proportioned legs emerged. These legs looked like something you’d see on the babes jumping on the trampoline on The Man Show, right down to the little flower tattoo above the ankle. Gorgeous.
Now the short-shorts scooted out. Finally she stepped out in all her tight-T-shirted glory. She nodded her blonde hair out of her forehead and grabbed it in the back like for a ponytail, then let go and shook it again while adjusting her sunglasses. Then she tugged at her shorts a little in the back. She’d been sitting awhile.
Her arms came back up and she stretched them overhead, rolling her wrists as her gold bracelets glimmered in the sun. Looked like she was yawning, too, though she faced away from me. Finally she turned around, looked over briefly and acknowledged me with a curt smile. But a mechanical one, like when you spot a distant neighbor or a friend of a friend at a grocery check-out, and you’re in no mood for small talk.
It didn’t look like she recognized me. Thank God! She probably mistook me for a Camp Street wino or a will-work-for-food hobo. I certainly looked the part. I hadn’t shaved in three days. The stubble was right at standard wino trim. My unruly hair stood up like Don King’s. My clothes were wrinkled and still damp. I even walked like a wino, doubled over, limping like a cripple.
We’d gotten hammered by a squall while fishing, but that was the LEAST of the hassles. Forty miles offshore with lightning flashing all around and neck-jerking thunder booming, I started clambering down from the tuna tower on Fontaine’s new Hatteras in abject panic. Then — WHOOAH! — in my haste I stumbled on the ladder. My arm got caught in the railing, and I hung there awkwardly, writhing and screeching in agony, while lightning flashed and Fontaine and the rest of my “friends” roared and cackled with mirth on the deck. They’d been hitting the bloody Marys and pina coladas since daybreak.
It took Gina, Doc’s new girlfriend, to finally come to the rescue.
“You poor ba-beeee!” she pouted while untangling me. My back was wrenched badly, however. I walked around like Igor for the rest of the day.
“Look like ya got lumbago, Humberto!” Doc roared as I finally got on my feet. He’s good with those medical terms. And the rest of my “friends”chimed in.
“Yeah! That kinda rhymes don’t it?” they laughed. “Lumbago and Humberto!”
It was a hideous experience. I never got the joke. I was too far behind on the pina coladas, and never quite caught up. The trip had been a ghastly nightmare. Two snapper to show for it. A terrible pounding on the way in. Glad it was over.
Anyway, this area of the Causeway (8 miles from the Northshore) usually concentrates the boats, and with sound reason. A shell reef, the remnants of an ancient shell island that stretched from inside of Goose Point in the east to a little past the mouth of the Tchefuncte River on the west, bisects the Causeway at this very locale. I saw it on a (very old) geological map.
The current moves better out in this area too. We’d always notice it while snorkeling along the pilings spearfishing for sheepshead and the odd flounder (redfish are too fast!). From about five miles to shore, there’s not much current, hence the water’s clear along the bottom. Out farther toward the middle of the lake, the bottom get’s stirred up by the current.
Which means that the spearfishing’s better closer in, but as we all know, moving water’s better for fishing. It moves the shrimp and baitfish and get’s the predator fish feeding. Hence the fishing’s better farther out, hence the location of these boats.
Suddenly the guy with the pole was yelling. His rod was over the railing doubled over, and he was tussling with a heavy fish. Geezum! His beetle hadn’t been in the water two minutes!
I scrambled over awkwardly, like Igor.
“Looks like a nice one!” I gasped
“Can’t believe it!” he grimaced while cranking away. “I was just bouncing the thing off the bottom!”
He kept cranking away. I looked down, and dammed if a beautiful redfish wasn’t thrashing on the surface right next to the piling!
“Gotta go 6 pounds!” I howled. “Better watch it hauling him up!”
And just then he grabbed the line and started horsing him up, the fish going crazy, the guy’s face contorted, his lips tight, his brow beaded with sweat.
Up it came. Up…up…up…. He was five feet from the railing when — SNAP! — the line broke, and — SPLISH! — the red landed back in the lake.
“AWWW MAN!” we moaned in unison. He slammed his fist on the railing and turned toward the woman who was at his side now. “Saw that, honey! Did ya see the size….?!”
But she was barely paying attention to him. She was distracted. She’d finally recognized me. Yikes! I saw her frown, noticed her dagger eyes and turned away quickly.
“We’re moving!” I said as I hustled Igor-like back to my truck. And sure enough, the bridge had finally closed and traffic was moving.
Letitia was her name. Like so many on the Northshore, she was a transferee with her husband Spence from the East Coast. We’d been friendly neighbors for awhile, until the day she stormed out of my front door. A month later, she moved away. Later, we heard, she separated from the long-suffering Spencer, whom we’d grown to like. I still blame Greta Van Susteren for the ugliness.
Letitia and Spence were over that Friday evening, kind of an impromptu party as often happens among close friends and neighbors. The women were in the den watching TV and sucking down the merlot. We were on the gazebo quaffing beers. Greta was on Fox yakking about the Laci Peterson thing.
Suddenly we heard an outburst of female laughter. I mean some serious cackling and guffaws. We came in and they were all doubled over — except for Letitia, who looked stunned, her lips and chin quivering.
Turned out, Greta, all by herself, had solved the baffling Peterson case. Her Beltway logic was impeccable: “What husband,” Greta had asked indignantly, “would go fishing — and leave a pregnant wife — on Christmas Eve?!”
Our wives erupted.
“Every one of OURS!” they roared. “Heck, they do it EVERY YEAR!”
The wine literally spurted from their mouths in the convulsive merriment.
“Does duck hunting count!” Cindy added.
“How ’bout deer hunting!” Tanya yelped.
But Letitia was aghast. She was from Long Island. This stuff appalled her.
“You mean,” she stammered to the wives, “that you allow your husbands to…?”
“Damn right!” Pelayo bellowed from the back door.
“Dey ain’t got no CHOICE!” Chris whooped as we high-fived.
“We usually make it back in time for midnight mass!” Artie howled.
Spence himself was laughing along — until she grabbed his arms and yanked him out the front door. We took it for a trifle. But apparently, for them, it was more. We saw them only sporadically after that until they moved.
I got in my truck, nodded and slapped my head like on the V-8 commercial as I pictured the lost redfish. “Coulda gone fishing here instead of hauling it down the Belle Chasse Highway!”
And the next day I made up for it, with my chum Dave Everett and his darling daughter Hayley. To say Hayley’s a seriously GUNG-HO fishergal doesn’t do her justice. She’s a better fishing companion than most boys her age. She’s everything her young male counterparts aren’t — patient, positive, serious, meticulous.
“WOOAAWW! That’s him!”
We hadn’t been fishing for 10 minutes about six miles out on the Causeway when Dave saw Hayley’s pole doubled over and chimed in with the verbal support.
The fish had grabbed a whole shrimp threaded from tail to head on a loooong-shanked No. 4 hook with a couple of split shots about a foot above it. She’d cast it out and was reeling in s-l-o-w-ly along the bottom next to the pilings.
This offering must look most like a live shrimp. The biggest complaint against using dead shrimp as bait is hardheads. Well, out here you won’t catch any. It’s amazing and an utter joy! You catch a catfish, and it’s invariably a blue or channel cat.
The little split shots gave Hayley just enough casting weight to get the shrimp next to the pilings. But it sank slowly.
Often they grab it on the way down.
Hayley battled the brute for close to five minutes, and Dave finally netted a gorgeous 7-pound red. She shrieked and clapped with glee as I unhooked it. I mean she was pumped, and in seconds cast out again. On the third crank, the pole doubled over AGAIN! Another spool-screeching battle. More whoops and growls and shrieks as she battled it out with a chunky fish.
This time Dave netted about a 6-pound sheepshead. Next fish was a gaspergou, which we released. Then came a puppy drum, a 17-inch keeper. And so it went for the next two hours.
We never lacked for action, and ended up with a nice mess of four reds, five sheepshead, two puppy drum, two channel cats and a couple of little yellow bass.
You’ll catch fish on plastic too out here, mainly reds. The others won’t hit plastic though, and we see no reason to discriminate against any of these delectable fish. Anyway, not bad for backyard fishing with maaw-ket bait. Sure saved on the gas too.
Look for Humberto Fontova’s new book next month. It’s titled: The Hellpig Hunt: A Hunting-Fishing Adventure in The Wild Wetlands at the Mouth of the Mississippi River by Middle-Aged Lunatics Who Refuse to Grow Up.
On his book tour, Fontova is scheduled to appear on The Man Show and Fox’s Hannity & Colmes. We’ll post the dates on louisianasportsman.com.
Fontova’s other book, The Helldiver’s Rodeo, is now available in paperback.