The British invaded Bayou Bienvenue in the fall, but the fish invade it in the spring.
It was the fall of 1814. Two men half poled, half paddled a creaky wooden boat along the shoreline of Lake Borgne. To a casual observer, they probably looked like the ordinary Spanish fishermen who plied these waters every day in search of oysters, shrimp and the area’s abundant variety of fish.
But on this misty morning, these two men had other pursuits in mind. If one looked closely, he might’ve noticed the military bearing of the strangers in the rowboat — a dead giveaway to the observant eye and one that even their ragged fishermen’s garb failed to hide.
These men were, in fact, British officers, searching for a waterway that would provide access for the British flotilla of 50 boats and over 10,000 veteran troops awaiting invasion orders and anchored just out of sight in Lake Borgne.
The men soon found what they were looking for — a bayou deep and wide enough for their flotilla, and one that would give them access to the east bank of the Mississippi River only a few miles downstream from New Orleans.
And best of all, it was unguarded. That waterway? Bayou Bienvenue.
The rest of that story is very familiar. New Orleans was successfully defended by a rag-tag army as diverse as the city’s present population. Pirates and soldiers, frontiersmen and freedmen fought side by side, and when the cannon and musket smoke cleared, more than 2,000 British soldiers were dead, including their commanding officer. While the battle was a great victory for the new country, the great tragedy lay in the fact that the war was already over.
Today, the men who fought that great battle are all long gone, but the bayou that gave them access remains. It is the dividing line between Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, and it provides access of a different kind.
From any of Bayou Bienvenue’s three marinas, modern anglers have almost instant access to the Ship Channel, the Intracoastal Waterway and Lakes Borgne, Catherine and Pontchartrain. And the area is only a 15-minute drive from downtown New Orleans.
There’s something for everybody here. Like to fish deep in cold weather? Or fish deep in hot weather? It’s here. The Ship Channel averages over 30 feet deep. The Intracoastal Waterway is deep. And there are holes in the Michoud Canal that plunge down to 40 feet and more.
Like shallow water fishing under a popping cork? It’s here. Troll the edges of Bayou Bienvenue, the shorelines of Lake Borgne, around the Castle, in the marsh ponds and the Ship Channel washouts.
Cast a soft plastic bait in glow or chartreuse under a popping cork, and do battle with redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead and flounder.
Topwater fishing more to your liking? It’s here, too. Cast your Top Dogs, She Dogs, Zara Spooks and Frenzys along the rocks by Boh Brothers or along the rocks of the Michoud Slip. Big specks lurk there. Five-, 6-, and even 7-pound specks are not all that uncommon. And it all really turns on this month.
I asked a few friends who fish the area regularly to point out their favorite holes, hotspots and techniques. What follows ought to help you catch more fish the next time you invade Bayou Bienvenue.
Jimmy Dixon, owner, Bait Inc.
“I have a lot of favorite spots,” Dixon said. “But if I was to narrow it down to just a few of my very favorites, I’d have to say, first of all, the rocks by Boh Brothers.
“They stretch out for a couple of miles, and line the Ship Channel on the west side of the Paris Road Bridge.
“This month, mule trout will begin hanging along the ledges just off from those rocks, in 12 to 15 feet of water. I anchor so that I can cast along the drop-off, and let my bait dangle along the ledge. The big trout patrol along the rocks and can’t resist that bait.
“The secret though, is to use a sliding cork. I set it to fish at about 10 to 12 feet, and I use either a chartreuse soft plastic bait or, when you can get them, live shiners, finger mullet, croakers and shrimp.”
Dixon said last year was the best year ever for this spot.
“We had outstanding action on mule trout from April all the way through the summer, into September. Boats lined up along the rocks, and practically every one of them caught big, fat trout, and lots of them. I sure hope we have a repeat of last spring’s action,” he said.
Where was I, I thought to myself, when all of that was going on? Why didn’t somebody let me in on it? I sure wouldn’t have burned up 65 gallons of fuel per trip fishing out of Bayou Bienvenue, like I do when I fish elsewhere in the spring. My deep contemplation was interrupted by Dixon.
“I’d have to say that my second favorite spot, is the marsh between the Intracoastal Canal and Bayou Bienvenue,” he said. “I like to fish around the Pipeline Canal and, once the water gets up, all the ponds you can get your flatboat into,” he said.
I remember fishing that marsh area with Dixon some years ago. And I remember going back out there, time and again, in my own flatboat and catching trout on almost every trip. Maybe not a lot of trout, and they weren’t the big mules that you sometimes catch in the Ship Channel, but they were keepers.
“The important thing is to know the area before you go roaring through it,” Dixon said. “There’s a lot of very shallow water in there and I’d hate to see anybody get stuck. If you’re not familiar with a pond, use the trolling motor and pull in slow. If you start digging up mud, get out; it’s that simple.”
Dixon says the marsh area is best fished on an incoming tide with topwater baits, soft plastics under a Cajun Thunder cork or with live minnows.
“Fish the minnows freelined, or with a single split-shot about 6 inches above the hook, or in the deeper canals, under a sliding sinker,” he said.
“I’d have to say my third favorite area is around the Castle, but unless we have an unusually warm spring, that won’t turn on until later this month. But it’s not too early to go test the waters,” he said with a chuckle. “The key to catching fish there is to drift. If necessary, you can slow down your drift with a drift sock, or by tossing out a 5-gallon bucket tied to a rope.
“Fish about 2 to 3 feet under a popping cork with soft plastics in the chartreuse or glow colors, and take your time, fish all around the structure. Again, these aren’t huge trout, but there’s usually plenty of them, and they’re the perfect frying size.
“Can I mention one more favorite spot?” Dixon asked.
“Of course, mention all you want,” I replied.
“The Locks. You know, the flood gates. I’d definitely have to include that in my list of favorite spots,” he said. “You can catch a lot of fish there when you hit it right.”
“That’s what I hear, but quite frankly, I’ve never had a really good outing at the Locks,” I answered.
“Well, you have to hit it right. And that’s as much a matter of luck as it is skill,” he said. “But we catch everything there — redfish, sometimes huge bull reds, trout, and we’ve caught some mules there, sheepshead, big croaker, white trout, drum, catfish, gar fish… everything.
“And it’s really simple. On an incoming tide, fish inside the Locks. Outgoing tide, fish outside the Locks. My technique is to fish under a sliding cork. Set it to a 10- to 12-foot depth, and use either soft plastics in chartreuse or glow, or live baits. Be patient, because there’s a lot of traffic moving through the Locks, but if you keep at it, you’re going to eventually hit it right and come home with a boatload of fish.”
Capt. Dee Geoghegan, Fishing Guide Services
I called Capt. Dee Geoghegan because I knew he frequently fished Lake Borgne out of his home in the Rigolets. Not only was he willing to tell Sportsman readers where they could go out of Bayou Bienvenue to jump on some fish, he’d take me there himself to show me where they were.
Geoghegan ran his 24-foot Reno Skiff down the Intracoastal Waterway to Third Island Bayou, and from there into Lake Borgne. The wind was blowing from the southeast, so we were going to be fishing the rough side of the lake.
“This is just the way I like it,” he said. “The seas are pushing the bait up against the shoreline, so that’s where you want to fish.
He dropped the trolling motor over and began a slow, steady troll toward the south.
“This time of year you can fish this several ways. You can tightline Deadly Dudleys, just using a cast-and-retrieve method, or you can fish them about 2 ½ feet under a popping cork.
“In the summer, you’ll want to switch to live shrimp. I also like to fish topwater baits against this shoreline. I generally start my drift here at Third Island Bayou, and I use the trolling motor just enough to keep my boat positioned so that I can reach the shoreline when I cast.
“If the fish are here, you’ll soon know it. Sometimes, you’ll catch them by casting out into the lake instead of toward the shoreline, so fish all around the boat until you find out where they are. When you get into them, either stick it with your Cajun anchor and see if you can stay on them, or go back and make the drift again.”
Trout were sucking our chartreuse plastics under, causing our corks to do a disappearing act. I noticed that most of the action came near drains into the lake, or in the coves against the shoreline. I mentally marked a couple of particularly productive spots and promised myself a return visit, soon!
“Another of my all-time favorite spots is Proctor’s Point,” Geoghegan said. “I troll around the whole shoreline, from the drains by Mosquito Bayou all the way around the point to Flagpole Bayou. I’ll cast Deadly Dudleys about 2 ½ feet under a popping cork or live shrimp in the summer. But right now is the time to cast topwater baits right up against the bank. There are some monster redfish along that shoreline, and plenty trout, too.”
“Any other favorite spots I can give our readers,” I asked?
“Sure. How about this. Enter the lake from Bayou Thomas and take a left toward Chef Pass. Actually, you can also fish Bayou Thomas at the mouth of the lake. Last year we saw some huge trout come from there, and I mean huge. Six-, 7-, 8-, and a couple 9-pounders, and that’s no exaggeration,” he said.
“I like to troll the area called the Rocks, with my Deadly Dudleys under a cork or topwater baits, and then move over to the Stump Hole, just before you get to Chef Pass. You can’t get in too close to the bank because of all the stumps, and you’ll probably lose some tackle hanging up on the bottom, but there are some big trout and some monster reds in there.”
I get to fish out of Bayou Bienvenue occasionally, being that it’s only a 10-minute ride from my house, and I have a few honey spots of my own.
For instance, I like to fish Top Dogs and She Dogs along the rocks of the Michoud Slip, as well as along the rocks in the Ship Channel. You’d be surprised at how many 5-pound trout I’ve caught and released there.
Another favorite is to use the trolling technique I learned last year, pulling MirrOlures on steel line or lead line for whopper trout (and this is the month to do it!).
Then there’s the washouts along the Ship Channel, and the Bayou Bienvenue shoreline by the power lines, the Hot Water Canal, the Dike Canal, Seabrook….
Well, it’s like I said. Bayou Bienvenue is the doorway to all this diversity. There’s access to Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, the Ship Channel, the Intracoastal Canal, the marsh, etc. There are a good number of anglers who fish it, and some who fish it exclusively. Still, I can’t help thinking that it may be one of most underutilized resources around.
I’m planning to do some invasion of my own this month. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Capt. Dee Geoghegan can be reached at (504)888-SPECK 36.
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