Close-in at Cocodrie

There’s no need to take a long run to catch all the speckled trout you could ever want.

You don’t see many camps with hot-tubs. Leave it to Doc Fontaine. And it’s not like his camp wasn’t ritzy enough without it.

“Roughing it,” just ain’t in Doc’s vocabulary — not since he got out of medical school, anyway. That sleeping out on the sand atop a beer- and rum-soaked blanket with filthy sneakers for a pillow was fine for Spring Break of ‘79 in Panama City out back of a place called Spinnaker.

But it ain’t gonna cut it nowadays. Besides, he had no choice back then. The chicks we met from Auburn had thrown him out of their room. We’d locked him out of ours. And right around midnight the pot-bellied security guard from the hotel had poked him off the pool chair with his nightstick.

Actually, we all tried to sleep on the beach. It always seemed like a keen idea around midnight, during the third jug of margaritas, with the moon-dappled swells heaving gently before us, with the soft gurgling as they foamed and surged over the sand, with Rod Stewart croaking “Tonight’s the Night” from the boombox, and with the chicks we’d met the night before at Spinnaker or Nightown finally getting pink-cheeked, giggly and snuggly.

Three hours later with the sand rubbing our sunburn, the bugs biting, the boom-box’s battery dead and our heads starting to throb, a chilled hotel room, soft mattress and crisp sheets seemed like just the ticket. So we all staggered off that miserable, wretched beach, and upstairs to bliss.

You’d think that had taught us. But no, we tried a sleep-out again on Timbalier Isle a few years later — without tents! Dante describes some pretty horrible tortures in his Inferno, right?

Well, he’d never camped out on Timbalier Island. The sharks and stingrays weren’t the half of it. The sunburn and jellyfish were relative trifles.

But if there’s a more vicious creature than Louisiana’s salt marsh mosquito, I’ve yet to meet it, or even hear of it. HORRIBLE!!

Hence, Doc’s camp. In sheer luxury, it rivals his condo in Destin. In snazzy decor, it’s right up there with his French Kwa-taw bungalow. In newfangled amenities, it vies with his Aspen Ski condo — except for the hot tub. And now he’d fixed that.

Pelayo and I had just pulled up next to Doc’s car at his Cocodrie camp.

“Wonder why he brought his Beemer this time?” Pelayo said as he jammed his truck in park and reached in the Igloo.

“Yeah, I’d expected to see his Suburban?” I groaned while opening the door, hopping out and stretching. “He said he was getting here last night … and LISTEN?”

I nodded upward with my chin while popping open a cold one.

Doc’s CD player was cranking. He had two big speakers on the back deck.

“Some people claim there’s a wo-man to blame…….”

“But I know,” Pelayo and I looked at each other and chimed in. “It’s my own damn fault.”

“Spring break ’77,” I quipped. “The Margaritaville year.”

“You got it,” Pelayo and I toasted with the brewskies as we reached the foot of the stairs. The song was perfect. Doc had invited us to his camp to “celebrate” his third divorce. Actually we weren’t sure what was in order, condolences or congrats. He kept trying to put a good face on it, though.

Timing was perfect too. I was ready for some fast and furious trout action. And it doesn’t get much faster or more furious than below Cocodrie this time of year.

And I’m talking school trout here. Sure, we used to haul it out to the beaches, Last Island, Whiskey Pass — all those places — and chunk out live bait for big trout. But that got old.

If we want to catch fish that FIGHT, heck, we’ll stalk reds in the marsh, or we’ll head to the shallow rigs for mangroves and Spanish. Now THOSE fish fight!

The thrill of trout, it always seemed to us, was the ACTION factor, the absolute BLAST of getting into a school of them in summer.

WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Casting out! Watching the cork plunge! That brutal strike of theirs. We rare back on the rod, now he erupts. That yellow mouth thrashing. A little tail walking. Chums on either side of you whoopin’ and doing the same. Heave the trout aboard. Shake him loose and cast out again. The cork hits, bounces once — WHAM! The whole thing again. These smaller fish are the best eating too — by far.

Can’t beat it. And when all is said and done, the consensus from me and all my fishing chums is that the area below Cocodrie, above and including Lake Pelto, is about tops for this type of summertime school-trout action. We’ve proven it to ourselves time and again.

Not as much hocus pocus with tides, etc., out here. If you find moderately clear water, some current, a little bait action on the surface — not necessarily birds, now (though that’s unbeatable) — I mean just some pogies, mullet flashing around, or some shrimp hopping along, especially near some current lines 100 yards or so off some point or island — find this, and podnuh, you found some school trout.

“Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville” kept booming as Pelayo and I clambered up the back stairs. We stopped midway up to admire the ingenious PVC piping work it required to hook up the Jacuzzi on the second story deck of Doc’s camp.

“Ain’t no way Doc did all this,” Pelayo snorted while pointing his chin at the maze of piping.

“I heard Artie helped him,” I belched. “He’s the pro at this kinda stuff.”

“Right,” Pelayo said. “I bet Artie did the whole thing. None of this ‘helped with’ stuff. All Doc did, I bet, was hand him the beers.”

“Probably,” I agreed. Then I cocked my head. “Hear that?”

Pelayo was frowning too.

“Hey, I thought this was a STAG weekend? That ain’t just Doc up there.”

Jimmy Buffet’s voice was coming across loud and clear, as was Doc’s singing along. But halfway up the stairs, it was unmistakable — a female voice was chiming in. “A Mexican cutie. How it got here I haven’t a clu-ue!”

“Figures,” Pelayo smirked. “Wish he’d have told us though.”

We finally got to the deck, looked over in the corner and there was Doc’s Jacuzzi, a HUGE thing, swirling and humming away. And there was Doc and an unidentified female companion enveloped in a cloud of steam, hoisting huge Styrofoam cups and singing along.

“But there’s booze in the blender, and soon it will render…”

“That frozen concoction that helps US hang ON!” Pelayo and I yelled the “US” part just as they saw us.

“Pelayo!” Doc roared.

“And Humberto!” the woman followed up as they toasted — whoops! — and spilled half their, yes, margaritas all over themselves.

“Ooh-ooh!” yelled Doc as he leaned over. Then he started licking the “frozen concoction” off the woman’s upper arm, shoulder and finally her earlobe while she squealed in delight.

Nope, I thought. It ain’t condolences we’ll be offering Doc this weekend. But how’d she know my name?

“NICE!” Pelayo whistled as we walked up to the tub.

“Then whatcha waitin’ for?!” yelled the woman. “Come on in, the water’s fine, huh DOK-TOR Fontaine,” and she leaned over and kissed his neck.

“So how y’all been!” she continued. Pelayo and I were still stumped… “Don’t tell me you don’t remember?”

She suddenly stood, put a hand on her ample hip and cocked her head. Her water-logged leopard skin bikini clung precariously, which distracted us at first. Then the contours of her face slowly started clicking with something in my mind.

“Angela!” Pelayo finally whooped, and he leaned over for a smooch on her wet cheek.

“Took ya LONG enough!” she laughed as Pelayo wiped his face and she wrapped her wet arms around my neck for the sloppy, margarita-flavored kiss.

“Heck, it’s only been…what?” I laughed. “Twenty years? But man, you ain’t changed a bit!” I lied. She actually had — but for the BETTER!

“At least!” Doc whooped as he climbed out the tub. “At least 20 years. And the last time y’all saw each other was probably at The Foundry!”

Yes, The Foundry. The memories! Before Tulane med school, Doc attended Nicholls. He’d visit us at LSU and we’d visit him at Nicholls. We alternated depending on football games, rock concerts, available chicks, etc. Angela was often one of those.

“Come on in,” Doc waved to Pelayo and me. “I’ll get y’all some that booze in the blender. Ready Angie?” And he reached for Angela’s cup.

“How in the world? Where in the…..?” Pelayo kept asking.

“Unreal, ain’t it?” Doc laughed as we walked in his camp. “Man I stop at Rouse’s on the way down yesterday to get stuff, ya know. I’m at the wine rack and see a familiar face. She’s kinda peeking over at me too. Finally we look straight at each other.

“Well, it was Angela! After all the ‘how ya beens?’ and all that stuff, we get to talkin’. Come to find out she’s split up recently too. So hey, right there we got something in common. Well, to make a long story short, we went and had a bite to eat, a few drinks. And she said she’d LOVE to see my camp.”

Pelayo and I grabbed our drinks, took our places in the hot tub and the reminiscing commenced. Two margarita refills later, and halfway through The Eagles greatest hits, a foot kept rubbing my leg. I kept inching over thinking it was accidental. After the third move the foot was up past my knee. I looked over.

Angela’s lips were tight, like she was stifling a laugh, but her eyes kept darting my way, mischievously. How could I forget? This is how it started all those years ago on that famous tubing trip. Our innertubes were all tied together.

So, no. The footsie work was no accident. No accident at all, I finally decided.

Early the next morning, we starting drifting through a current line speckled with little splashes about 100 yards from an island in Bay St. Elaine. Angela had four trout before I had my first. That leopard skin bikini did nothing to help me concentrate on fishing.

She didn’t seem to notice, or if she did, didn’t seem to mind. She’d always been into fishing. Her folks had a camp on Grand Isle, and we often partied hardy at it. Yet regardless of the heartiness of the partying, she was always wading in that surf in the morning. Never forget that.

“Yeah!” Doc groaned from behind me, and I turned around to see his pole bow deeply. Yep, same ol’ Bay St. Elaine. We didn’t even make it to Pelto. The school specks started hitting on this, our first stop.

Our favorite fishing area around is the island-specked juncture of northern Lake Pelto and Terrebonne Bay. Like I said, never fails around here, and always on the basics — popping corks 3 feet above white beetles (the small ones seem to work best for us).

These trout clobber these small jigs with more gusto than they hit live minnows. Much faster fishing too. And for whatever reason, week in and week out, from Sandy Point, through Shell island Bay, through Coup Abel to here, overcast or sunny, clean water or murky — white (pearl if you prefer) works best. But remember, we’re talking school trout here.

Me, I still like my tandem shad-rig, the little ones, in yellow and white. They caught trout for me in 1968, and they still catch them today. So there.

I rigged my shad rigs about 3 feet under a popping cork and cast toward a little swirl. The cork never stopped. It hit the water and kept going down. I thought it mighta gotten tangled for a second, as happens a lot with tandem shad-rigs.

Then I felt the jerk.

“YOWZAA!” I rared back, and another lunge almost jerked the rod from my sweaty grip. The drag was loose and singing crazily as I cranked away. Finally, he went airborne. A complete flip, like a dolphin.

“Saw that!’ I howled and looked around. No one had. They were busy fighting fish too. Doc’s was thrashing the surface now, rattling that yellow mouth like castanets, sending up a gorgeous froth of water. We were ON ’EM!

“YEAH, YOU RIGHT!” Pelayo howled from the bow. “Gotta DOUBLE here!” And he looked over with a lunatic grin as BOTH his fish went berserk on the surface, one finally jumping off the hook.

“AW MAN! Pelayo roared. “Saw THAT!”

Angela was in hysterics.

“You’d have thought you guys had never fished before!” she laughed. “My GOODNESS!”

She had a point. A school speck frenzy STILL does that to us. It did it on the Metairie lakeshore in 1969, and it does it in Cocodrie today.

And oh, if you STILL insist on going for the bigger ones along the beach, here’s what one of the area’s ace guides, Tommy Pellegrin, has to say:

“Don’t get hung up on fishing deep water. I’ve found that these trout like to hang in fairly shallow water, closer to shore, usually right where the waves are breaking.

“I especially look for sandbars or shoals that lie perpendicular to the shore. There’s always a few of these. You find them by watching where part of a wave breaks before the rest of it. These are always the hot-spots.

“On an outgoing tide, I look for gaps perpendicular to the shore, connecting the main troughs that run parallel to the shore. Trout swarm in these as the tide’s dropping. These are their thoroughfares for getting back out to the deeper water. Again, you find these by watching the waves. These gaps are located in those sections of the shore where you notice that waves don’t break.”

 

Signed copies of Humberto Fontova’s latest book, The Hellpig Hunt, are now available on www.louisianasportsman.com or by calling (800) 538-4355. Publisher’s Weekly calls it “forceful and compelling, fascinating and fun.”

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