If you think March is too early to catch monster trout on topwaters, you don’t know what you’ve been missing.
Glenn Leingang has nowhere to go but down.That’s what happens when you achieve the pinnacle of a sport so early in your career.
To say Leingang was a fishing novice in March 2001 would be like saying Jennifer Aniston is kinda cute.
To that point, he had owned far more cars in his life than fishing licenses, and he didn’t know a baitcaster from a spinning reel from a cocaho.
But Leingang had friends who knew well the difference, and it was them who brought him along on a topwater trip out of Pointe a la Hache.
Like most days between Valentine’s and April Fools, this one dawned with winds that would frighten a surfer. The forecast was for 20 knots, but clearly the forecasters were more conservative than Pat Buchanan.
Twenty-five- to 30-knot winds battered the bay boat as Leingang and his buddies bounced across shallow bays and navigated twisting bayous toward their destination in Cox Bay.
Only imbeciles would even consider fishing topwater baits on such a day, but on that boat there were three.
Actually, Leingang didn’t know enough to know better. He would have fished with a peanut-butter sandwich if that’s what his friends had told him the fish were biting on.
They arrived at a shallow cove that was protected from the ferocious southeasterly winds. But still, there were arching whitecaps a mere 75 yards out from the shoreline of the cove.
Even for the two more-experienced anglers on the boat, fishing topwaters in those conditions would be a challenge.
But that was the reason they had come, and they were undaunted.
Conventional wisdom says that March is too early to fish topwaters for trout. Conventional wisdom says that the fish don’t even consider hitting topwaters until they’re on the spawning grounds in May. Conventional wisdom says that fishermen who throw topwater baits on windy March days might as well be relieving their bladders in that same wind.
Conventional wisdom is wrong.
Anglers who throw topwater baits in March on clean-water flats that hold mullet catch some of the biggest trout of the year.
That was a lesson Leingang was about to learn.
Leingang was a star high-school quarterback and standout centerfielder at Metairie’s Ridgewood Prep, and even played baseball collegiately before falling in love and abandoning the game to get married.
So he’s got some pretty good athletic ability, but for some reason, that didn’t translate into the fishing arena. Even after much instruction, his “walk-the-dog” technique was painful to behold. If the lure was intended to resemble a mullet, it could only have been a spastic mullet with epilepsy.
But in fairness, the wind made it difficult for even Leingang’s two fishing buddies to work their lures with any cadence.
Still, the fish didn’t seem overly concerned. Leingang’s two buddies looked like a team that had just completed some type of fishing training camp. They watched each other’s baits for signs of strikes, and when that tell-tale “qwa-pow!” would erupt beneath a lure, the other angler would reel in his bait, drop his rod and grab the net. These weren’t little trout they were fishing for, so flipping the fish over the gunnel wasn’t an option.
Leingang watched as his two friends boated five trout between 4 and 6 pounds. His lure had attracted a few slaps but no hookups.
“I had always thought that it was impossible to be a ‘good’ fisherman,” he said. “I thought you just threw your bait out there, and if a fish hit it, you’d catch it, and if one didn’t, you wouldn’t. But obviously there’s a little more to it than that. There’s something y’all are doing that I’m not doing.”
Resisting the urge to show Leingang he was holding his tongue wrong, his two buddies gave another demonstration of the walking-the-dog technique, and the lesson paid off.
Leingang made a high, arching cast, allowing the wind to catch his topwater bait and carry it halfway across the cove. The lure splashed down on a crest, and Leingang dutifully yanked his rod tip back and forth, the way he was instructed.
Nobody saw the strike since the lure was behind a wave, but the plug vanished and Leingang’s rod was nearly jerked from his hand.
His two buddies lunged for the net and began shouting instructions.
Oblivious to nearly all of them, Leingang held the rod high and cranked his reel like he was trying to start a 1908 Ford.
The reel screamed constantly through the loosely set drag, disdaining the rookie that held it.
Remarkably, the treble hooks stayed impaled through several lunges, and the fish finally tired. It was netted at boatside.
A legitimate 5-pounder. Leingang held it high for pictures, and a smile stretched from ear to ear.
But unbeknownst to him at the time, that fish may have ruined him for life. He was like a backup quarterback who comes in to win the Super Bowl or a first-year med student who develops a cure for cancer.
Where do you go from there?
Indeed, catching monster trout on topwater baits is Shangri-La for die-hard speckled trout fishermen. There simply is nothing more exciting.
But those who are counting the days until May to pull out their Top Dogs, Zara Spooks and Spit’N Images are waiting two months too long. The action is starting now.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook the last couple of weeks from people who want to fish for big trout on topwaters during March and April,” Capt. Ricky Hunt, who fishes the Delacroix/Pointe a la Hache area, said in early February. “These are people who have fished with me during that time the last couple of years, or people who know people who have fished with me then.”
They’ve had a taste of the early season topwater action, and they can’t get enough.
It’s no wonder. The month of March has traditionally been thought of as one of the year’s worst for speckled trout fishermen. They can’t catch fish on the bottom of the deep holes, they can’t catch them under a cork, they can’t catch them outside, the winds are strong, the water’s dirty, and so on and so on.
But the discovery that speckled trout — monster speckled trout — will hit topwater baits on shallow flats during the month of March has turned the windiest month of the year into many anglers’ favorite.
It’s certainly Hunt’s favorite time of year, and with good reason. During the early spring of 2002, Hunt boated a 9.2-pounder and an 8.7-pounder, both of which would be considered giants for Delacroix’s outside waters in May and June, but Hunt caught these fish during March and April in inside waters.
Exactly when the topwater bite gets going depends on the weather, Hunt said.
“If you have several warm days back to back, the fish will definitely be hitting topwaters,” he said.
Warm weather, he explained, heats the shallow flats to 60 degrees or above, which is his magic number for throwing topwaters.
“The fish will hit if the water’s a little cooler than 60 degrees, but your strike-to-hook-up ratio goes way down. You may miss eight out of 10 of your strikes,” he said. “If the temperature’s over 60 degrees, you’ll hook a much higher percentage of the fish that hit your bait.”
Hunt’s ideal topwater flat will have 18 inches of water over it, and a big school of mullet on or near the surface.
“Mullet are the key. You can catch school trout (on topwaters) even if there are no mullet around, but the bigger fish are always around mullet,” he said.
The mullet that anglers typically see on the surface look entirely too big to be eaten by even the largest speckled trout, but that’s fine, Hunt said, because the smaller mullet are usually underneath. These are the ones that draw the trophy trout.
A good place to begin a search for mullet is on the downcurrent side of points, Hunt said.
Although summertime topwater anglers like to fish first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening, those same rules don’t apply in March. In fact, some of the best action of the day comes between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., after the sun has warmed up the water in the shallows.
Hunt said his ideal day will dawn foggy due to the warm temperatures throughout the night and early morning hours, and after the fog has burned off, typically between 8 and 10 a.m., he’ll start throwing topwaters on the flats. If temperatures have been warm for several days, he’ll throw topwaters first thing in the morning, despite the fog.
“If it’s been warm for a few days in March, the fish will be on the flats even if the sun isn’t out,” he said.
Like most topwater fishermen, Hunt likes a little bit of a ripple on the surface to make the fish less skittish. A 5- to 10-m.p.h. wind is best, he said.
He greatly prefers MirrOlure She Dogs to Top Dogs and Top Dog Jrs., and his favorite colors are blue/chrome and green-backed mullet.
Leingang’s not sure which he prefers. But he knows enough now not to fish with a peanut butter sandwich.
He’s been to trout Shangri-La, and he likes the view.
Capt. Ricky Hunt can be reached at (866) 796-9825.
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.