This is the month to drift the flats for outstanding trout and redfish action.
In medical parlance, flat-lining carries some very negative associations.
It’s slang for a heart that’s not beating; and in the hospital emergency room it means death, doom and despair.
In the month of March, there’s usually quite a bit of despair among Southeast Louisiana anglers — and among speckled trout anglers in particular.Many believe it’s the hardest month of the year to catch fish. It’s that dreaded “transition” month, when the weather can fluctuate wildly, barometers and thermometers speed from one end of the spectrum to the opposite, winds howl, water muddies, and even the fish seem confused.Other anglers, like Capt. Charlie Thomason (504-278-FISH), actually look forward to the month and concentrate on “flat-lining,” that is, catching big trout over the shallow flats.
“March is that ‘in-between’ month; it isn’t really winter, but it isn’t spring either,” Thomason said. “Fish can be scattered and hard to find. Many anglers are still fishing in winter patterns, trying to find trout in the deeper holes and bayous.
“And it’s true you can catch some decent trout using winter techniques this month. But you’ll have a hard time finding fish with any consistency, and what you do find will generally be smaller fish.
“I choose the opposite tactic, and go after bigger fish this month. This is the time to break out the big topwater baits and the sub-surface plugs, and pursue big trout over the flats.
“In bass fishing, we say we chase the pre-spawn fish that feed heavily to fatten up for the spawn. That’s exactly what we’re doing this month, chasing the big, sow, pre-spawn trout that are going to be feeding heavily over the flats, fattening themselves up for spawning.”
Thomason invited me and Glen Weber, a good friend of mine, out to see if we could get in on some of that “flat-lining” action. We met at his Hopedale dock, loaded our gear into Thomason’s 24-foot Triton, and the big 225-horse Honda soon had us speeding down the bayou toward Lake Amedee, which would be our first stop for the trout.
Thomason actually had another destination a bit farther in distance in mind, but the weather was already dark and drizzly, and some very ugly storm clouds seemed to be heading our way. He decided to play it safe and stay close to the dock just in case we had to make a run for it. It turned out to be a wise decision.
Thomason killed the big outboard about 50 yards from the western shoreline, and dropped the trolling motor over.
“We’ll troll just enough to maintain our direction and the position of the boat, but when you fish in this shallow water you want to drift as much as possible to eliminate noise. Fish spook easy in shallow water,” he said.
Thomason had some of the new MirrOlure Catch 5 subsurface baits that run a little deeper than the Catch 2000s, and he passed some around for each of us to use.
“Try varying your retrieve until we find out the way they want it,” Thomason said
We began our drift, Thomason at the bow, Glen and me each manning a side of the boat, and we began casting in both directions on either side of the boat as the wind and tide moved us along.
I noticed several other boats up ahead of us, spread out along the shoreline and drifting just as we were.
“It’s been pretty crowded in here lately,” Thomason said. “The word got out that they were catching fish in here, and it’s been so congested on weekends that you can’t really drift it. Boats are anchored all over the place …”
A sharp yank on the end of the line interrupted the captain in mid-sentence, and a nice-sized trout broke the surface and shook fiercely in protest as it was reeled into the boat.
“Nice fish,” Weber said, as the 2-pounder was dropped onto a bed of ice.
“More to come,” Thomason responded confidently, “and hopefully even bigger than this. I want to find those 3- and 4-pounders, and I know there’s some in here,” he said as he made another cast.
Thomason was using a “reel-and-pause” retrieve — reeling steadily but not really fast for a few seconds, and then pausing for a second or two allowing the bait to sink, and then twitching the rod a time or two and pausing again for another second or so before repeating the routine.
“The fish hit it right after the twitch,” he said, so Glen and I started fishing our baits the same way.
“We’re fishing in Lake Amedee, a mid-range lake right now, and we’re finding some fish,” Thomason said. “It’s not really an outside lake, or a deep interior lake; like I said, it’s mid-range, in-between. But by March and on into April, the big fish are moving toward the outer lakes and bays, the ones nearest to the edges of the sound and Black Bay.
“So in March, you want to concentrate on those big bodies of water — Lake Campo, Lake Robin, Oak River Bay, Bay Lafourche, Bay Crabbe, Island Bay; that’s where the bigger fish will be. Fish those areas just like we’re fishing here, with subsurface baits and even topwater baits, casting as far as you can, and varying your retrieve until you find the way they want it.”
This time Glen interrupted with a nice trout, and we added it to the ice box.
“Still not the 3- and 4-pounders we’re looking for,” Thomason commented.
“But he’ll sure fry up nice,” Glen replied. “I’ll take 25 just like that any day.”
We continued our drift for the better part of an hour, each of us adding some nice trout up to 2 ½ pounds to the box. All the while we kept an eye on the very ominous weather, finally having to pull out and head for the dock just as the skies opened and the rain poured down.
We decided to sit under the shelter of Thomason’s boat shed, wait out the rain and then resume our fishing. For a solid hour, the rain swept down, and Thomason talked about targeting the big pre-spawn trout.
“There are several things to look for when you fish in March,” he said. “You want to head to the big, outer, fringe bays and find some clean, moving water. It doesn’t really matter if the tide is rising or falling, as long as it has some movement.
“You want to fish in an area that has a good flow of water through it, where there is a bayou or canal of some kind on each end of the lake. That keeps water flowing through it, which causes bait to flow through, which attracts fish.
“Also, you want to find areas that have an oyster bottom. It doesn’t have to be solid shells, but at least some clusters scattered along the bottom. For whatever reason, I always find more fish and bigger fish where there are shells clustered along the bottom, especially those black clusters of oysters. Maybe their dark color holds the heat better or something, but one thing I know, if I find those dark oyster clusters on a shallow bottom in, say, 1 ½ to 4 feet of water, I zero in on those clusters, because I always find fish there.
“But the single biggest key to finding fish in March and April is to look for schools of mullet. That’s what the big sows will be fattening up on this month. They’ll hang around the edges of those schools and gorge themselves on small mullet, preparing for the spawn.
“That’s where you want to cast your subsurface baits, and if the conditions are right, top-water baits — right along the fringes of the mullet. If you find the mullet, half the battle is won.
“You can also cast soft plastics, just tight-lining them at varying speeds, until you find what they’ll hit. And the rule of thumb for soft plastics is the bigger the better.”
Thomason prefers the 5-inch Salt Water Assassin shads in the Arkansas shiner color, with a light jig head, preferably a 1/8- or ¼-ounce, and he says he gets equally excellent results with the big soft plastics when fished around the mullet schools.
Finally, the skies began to clear on the horizon, and we could see the sun trying to peek through off in the distance. We donned our rain gear and headed out in a light drizzle, but this time Thomason wanted to chase redfish.
The first stop: Lake Ameda, mere minutes from the dock. We found the water muddy and the tide rather low, and after only 10 minutes, Thomason picked up the trolling motor, and we moved on to find clearer water.
After a 25-minute boat ride, we pulled up near the shoreline of a large bay, and Thomason dropped the trolling motor over the bow. Here, the water was much clearer, though still quite shallow.
“Again, I want to emphasize how vital it is to be as quiet as possible,” Thomason said, “because sound really carries in this shallow water, and it doesn’t take much to spook the fish.
“The great thing about March and April fishing is you can fish the very same bodies of water for both specks and redfish.
“We’re going to fish exactly the same way we were fishing before, with the same baits, in the same lakes, just a little closer to the shoreline.”
We trolled to within a long cast of the shoreline, and began tossing our baits as the boat drifted lazily along with the wind. Glen switched to a gold weedless spoon, while Thomason and I toyed with a variety of soft and hard plastics.
But it was Glen who got slammed by a redfish. We netted the 20-inch red, and dropped it on ice.
“See if you can do that again,” Thomason said.
And Glen did just that on the very next cast, only this fish was even bigger. Neither Thomason nor I had had as much as a nibble.
“My momma didn’t raise no fool,” Thomason said as he bit the crankbait off his line and quickly tied on a gold spoon.
“Amen to that,” I replied, and tied one on my line as well.
We wailed on the redfish for the rest of the morning. We often had doubles, and even triples on all at the same time. For whatever reason, they wanted the spoons.
“Like I said, this is the great thing about fishing this time of year,” Thomason said. “Catch your trout in the big outer bays, and then move closer to the bank and target redfish, all in the same lakes. If you don’t catch anything up against the bank, you might have to try fishing farther away from the shore.
“Sometimes the reds will hang 50 and even 100 yards off the bank. But work these gold spoons or beetle spins, or just tight-line a soft plastic bait until you get into the action.”
Flat-lining — drifting and trolling over the shallow flats — is your best bet for some great action this month. Catch 5s, Catch 2000s or some other subsurface bait, topwater baits, the big 5-inch Salt Water Assassins and, of course, gold spoons are the hot baits.
Wherever you find the mullet is where you want to be, and an ice chest full of speckled trout and redfish is the top prize.
Maybe flat-lining ain’t such a bad word after all.
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