State Highway 1 between Fourchon and Grand Isle provide a great jumping-off point for kayakers looking to find easy pickings for reds, specks and more.
There are some pretty cool perks to being an outdoor writer. One is that opportunities sometimes present themselves to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
For example, Corey Coghlan, co-owner of Kajun Custom Kayaks, offered to take me kayak fishing in the marsh around Grand Isle last October. I had been going down to Grand Isle for a couple of years to fish the beach but had never tried kayak fishing.
Of course, I jumped at the chance.
Surprisingly, Coghlan told me to meet him and his partner Andrew Chidlow at Moran’s Marina in Fourchon at 8 a.m. instead of the crack of dawn. When I mentioned the late start (not that I was complaining), Coghlan explained that tidal movement was more important than time of day.
“A rising or falling tide is good, just as long as there’s moving water,” he said. “A falling tide might be a little better because it washes bait out of the marsh, and the redfish and trout will hold off in the channel to feed on what’s being washed in.”
Another reason for our leisurely departure was that we were going to be sight-fishing for reds in very shallow water, and a bright sun would make them more visible.
As often happens in mid-October, a cold front had pushed through the night before, and the forecast called for a brisk 10 to 20 mph northwest wind. I was afraid the wind might ruin our trip, particularly since I was inexperienced in handling a kayak, but Coghlan and Chidlow were not too concerned.
Instead of fishing out of Port Fourchon, they simply decided to head toward Grand Isle and fish one of their better-protected spots off Highway 1.
We quickly unloaded the 60-pound K12 kayaks from the trailer, and Chidlow told me to get in one and paddle around to a get a feel for it. The boat’s stability was impressive, even for my 6-foot, 2-inch, 240-pound frame, and I was comfortable with it immediately.
Heading up the channel, we were barely out of sight of the trucks when Chidlow and Coghlan decided to split up. Chidlow paddled off to the left into some broken marsh, while I followed Coghlan across the channel to an inlet where there was a pretty good current.
“We’ll just ease around here a bit,” Coghlan explained, “and see if anything’s moving. You’ll see a lot of mullet swimming around leaving wakes, but the redfish will usually be right up next to the grass leaving a bigger wake. They cruise along the grass feeding. If you see one, don’t throw your jig at him or you’ll spook him. Just drop it a ways in front of him and let him come to it.
“You can either position the kayak close in so you can cast down parallel to the bank and bring the jig back along the grass, or you can remain away from the bank and cast to the grass.”
While I made repeated casts down the bank, I noticed Coghlan standing on his seat, easing along and watching the bank. He never made a cast with his fly rod, but I guess if you don’t see any redfish when you’re sight-fishing, there’s not much point in casting.
After 10 minutes and no action, Coghlan decided to paddle a quarter mile up the main channel to where a small cut led into the marsh.
As we entered the narrow cut, he immediately brightened up.
“The water’s a lot clearer here,” Coghlan said. “We’re going to ease up this channel and make our way back into the marsh. I’m going to let you take the lead. Just keep your rod handy, and look for redfish along the grass. It’s going to be real shallow and they spook easily, so try not to disturb the water any more than you have to as you paddle.”
Within just a few yards, the channel narrowed to perhaps 10 feet wide and maybe 10 inches deep. Even I could tell the great difference in water clarity: The main channel resembled chocolate milk, but here I could see clumps of oysters scattered all over the bottom.
That was a good thing. Even though the K12 only needs about 2 inches of water to float, you can sometimes get grounded on oyster reefs. In the clear water, I could usually see them up ahead and go around.
Having no experience in sight-fishing for reds, I asked Coghlan how far ahead I should be watching for them.
“Look up ahead, but also right next to you — everywhere,” he chuckled. “Sometimes they’ll just sit there and not move until you get right alongside them.”
We crept up the channel with me casting ahead and Coghlan standing tall on his seat a few yards behind. After about 100 yards the channel opened up into a little pond with scattered clumps of grass.
Coghlan veered to the left and told me to bear to the right and stay in the channel.
I rounded a slight bend, made a short cast to the grass and gave the jig about two twitches. Suddenly, what looked like a submarine zoomed in from the left and I felt the solid thump of a good bite.
The redfish dashed one way and then another. My drag screamed as he took out line, and I sheepishly realized that I had forgotten to check it before fishing. The drag was too light, and I fumbled about trying to hold onto the rod and adjust the drag at the same time. As soon as I’d gain some line, off the fish would go again with me trying desperately to keep it out of the grass.
When I finally landed my redfish, I was surprised to see that it only weighed about 2 1/2 pounds. I had heard about the Cajun sleigh rides when kayakers hook a bull red, but I didn’t realize a small one would put up such a fight.
Now that the ice was broken, I decided to stand up for a better view when Coghlan led me into another small pond.
After the initial surprise of not falling out, I saw a redfish dart across my bow about 10 feet away. Remembering Coghlan’s instructions, I tossed the Hybrid jig a few feet in front of him and he nailed it immediately.
Once again, I enjoyed the frantic action as the fish made runs and jumps all around the kayak before I finally lifted him out of the water.
Looking up I saw Coghlan standing in his kayak some distance ahead. He did a double take at the grass line, snatched up his fly rod and made a 20-foot cast. Coghlan instantly set the hook and the water exploded, but then the line went slack.
“I should have had him,” he yelled. “It was following a stingray. The stingrays stir up the bottom when they swim, and the reds sometimes will follow them to eat up whatever bait they uncover.”
For the next hour, we explored several small ponds and channels, spooking a number of redfish along the way and missing a few strikes.
The marsh is a labyrinth of small channels and ponds, and I could have easily forgotten which way we came in even though we were never out of sight of traffic on the road.
I asked Coghlan if he had ever gotten lost while kayak fishing.
“No, not lost,” he said. “There’s been a time or two when I sort of got turned around, but it’s not a big problem unless you go way back in the marsh. You could bring a GPS unit with footprinting ability and just keep a log of where you’ve been. But it’s really not a problem here because you can always either see the road or hear the traffic and make your way to it, and then just follow the canals that run alongside the road back to the truck.
“You just need to pay attention all the time. Sometimes I’ve been catching a lot of fish and get focused on that, and suddenly realize I don’t know how I got here.”
While we were heading back to join Chidlow, I made a cast at the mouth of the channel and missed a really good thump. About 50 feet farther along something nailed my jig again, but I could tell right away it wasn’t a redfish: It was quite a surprise when I wrestled a dark flounder about the size of a dinner plate into the kayak. It was my first one ever.
When Coghlan and I rounded the last bend and hit the big channel, a stiff wind immediately hammered us. It was a bit of a shock because back in the marsh’s narrow channels and ponds the surrounding grass had cut the wind down considerably.
Despite the strong wind, we remained in place to work the area thoroughly by simply pushing our Cajun anchors through the scupper holes in the bottom of the boat and into the mud.
After a break for some water and snacks, we headed over to a deep hole where my guides hoped to find some speckled trout.
Chidlow connected a bungee cord to my bow and used his trolling motor to tow me to the hole, but Coghlan decided to fish his way over.
The wind was kicking up some pretty goods waves, and huge alligator gar were rolling on the surface.
Chidlow instructed me to ease down the bank, and cast my Hybrid jig out into the deeper water and slowly bounce it back on the bottom.
He almost immediately snagged a nice trout and then another, so we let the kayaks drift onto the bank and stepped out into ankle-deep water to fish the school.
I quickly caught one trout, and we missed several more before Coghlan finally arrived. For the next hour or so, we switched back and forth between tight-lining the jigs and using popping corks, and added several more nice trout to our catch.
By then it was early afternoon, and we all agreed to call it a day. While loading up the kayaks, Chidlow asked how I had done, and I proudly said I landed two redfish, two speckled trout, and one flounder.
“A Cajun grand slam!” he declared.
Not bad for an old dog learning a new trick.
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