In a transition month, it takes a transition area to produce fish. These Lafitte hideaways will also protect you from those pernicious March winds.
Generally, March is a warming month. It’s not really winter anymore, at least not here in the deep Gulf South.
On the other hand, it’s not really springtime either. So March is listed under that mysterious category titled “transition months.”“Transition” is a word I’ve come to hate. Basically, it’s become the all-encompassing excuse for why we’re not catching any fish.
Consider: Angler Joe comes home from all day on the water without a single fish to show for his effort. When the wife demands an explanation for his empty-handed return, he lamely mutters, “It’s a transition month.”
That supposedly explains everything. It’s the same “one-size-fits-all” excuse we use at work to explain one fishless trip after another. Just mention “transition month” and nothing more need be said. You have offered the ultimate excuse allowing room for no appeal.
“Oh, a transition month,” they nod, as if they understand. Actually, they don’t understand. Nobody does. That’s why I propose that, in the anglers dictionary, the definition of “transition month” should be “nobody knows where the fish are.”
Just think of the challenges a transition month presents. I can think of three in particular: temperature, water level and ind.
1) Temperature. Fish aren’t really deep anymore, due to longer days, more sunshine and warming water. But there’s still a real chill to the water and some nip to the air, so they aren’t really shallow yet either.
Where are they? “Transitioning” (i.e. nobody knows). They might be deep. Might be shallow. Might be anywhere. (Heck, they might be vacationing in the Bahamas for all we know.)
But Joe Angler comes home lamenting the fact that he “couldn’t find fish nowhere!”
2) Water levels are up and down like a yo-yo. In the winter, you know the water will be low. Very low. That means, fish will be inside, concentrated in the deep canals and bayous. That poses no real problem to Joe Angler. He’ll find a deep bayou, preferably with an oyster bottom and near a cut from the marsh, bounce a bait off the bottom and catch fish.
But in the spring, water levels rise as the winds shift and blow in most frequently from the south. By then, fish have abandoned the deep haunts and scattered, moving into the big bays and lakes and even into outside waters.
Again, that poses no real problem to Joe Angler. He fishes reefs and shorelines in the bigger bodies of water, and looks for baitfish activity on the surface or birds diving from above. It all spells success.
But in a transition month, water levels rise and fall from day to day. It’s no wonder that some fishermen say March is the hardest month of the year to catch fish.
3) Wind. Cold fronts blow down from the north. Sea breezes blow up from the south. Blustery west winds add to the confusion and muddy up the water in the process.
And the fish? Well, they seem to be almost as confused as Joe Angler. He manages to find a few fish down deep one day, shallow the next, and nowhere the day after that.
Worst of all, in “transition” months, winds don’t merely blow. They howl! These aren’t the gentle breezes of spring. No matter which direction they come from, the winds hurl upon us with an amazing, unrelenting fury. And there seems to be no place to escape them. Well, almost no place.
And that brings me to a little story: About 200 years ago, Jean Lafitte, the man who was called “The Corsair,” “The Buccaneer,” “The Terror of the Gulf” and “The hero of New Orleans” had numerous hideaways in the marshes off the area that now bears his name.
The famous rogue is said to have known the waters better than any man, living or dead. And he needed to know them for good reason; he was continually pursued by the country he adopted and the British as well.
But besides being a famous pirate (or privateer, as he preferred to be called) and fighter, Jean Lafitte’s ability to hide was legendary. And the meandering waters — bays, lakes, bayous and canals — of area marshes provided all the cover he needed to stay out of harm’s way.
Today’s angler needs cover and hideaways as well. No, not from pursuing British or American forces, but from these blustery and relentless winds that tend to characterize the month of March.
All of this brings me to Todd Dufour, who has been a charter captain for over 12 years now, operating all that time out of the Lafitte area. Dufour says Lafitte still has its hideaways — little coves, bays and corners where one can duck in and hide from March’s unrelenting winds.
Best yet, Dufour says these hideaways are in “transition” areas! In fact, he says if you know where to fish, and how to fish once you get there, you shouldn’t have any trouble putting both speckled trout and redfish in the boat this month, and plenty of them. A bold claim indeed, for a transition month.
Daylight was breaking as we left the dock of the Lafitte Harbor Marina in Dufour’s 24-foot Pathfinder. The 225-horsepower four-stroke Yamaha provided all the muscle necessary to push us quickly and quietly toward our destination.
We were planning to hit some of his favorite transition areas along the edges of Hackberry Bay, but a frigid cold front and blustery winds forced us to make some last-minute alterations. The new plan was to try the dead-ends of the Texaco Canals, where Dufour was certain we’d catch some redfish, and hopefully some specks as well. Then, if the winds subsided, we’d try his transition spots.
After a frigid 15-minute ride, we motored into one of the many dead-end canals in the Texaco system, and Dufour killed the outboard. From there on, he drifted and trolled toward the end of the canal, keeping the boat on one side as we cast our baits toward the opposite shore.
“The best technique to use here is to tie a ¼-ounce jig directly to the end of your line,” he said. “No swivel, no snap. I use 30-pound Power Pro braided line. Dress it with a smoke/white cocaho, and you’re ready to catch some fish.”
To demonstrate, Dufour tossed his bait toward the opposite shore and allowed it to sink to the bottom. He gave his rod a slight twitch or two, and began a slow bounce-off-the-bottom retrieve. His next cast proved irresistible to a prowling redfish, who inhaled the bait and put up a noble fight before finally surrendering
With the 30-pound braid, Dufour doesn’t even bother to use a landing net except on the really huge brutes. Otherwise, he just swings 3- to 6-pound reds into the boat like they were 12-inch trout.
We saw plenty of movement along the shoreline where we were casting, and a tell-tale V-wake disclosed the identity of an unseen fish. Within seconds, Dufour had on another one. Then, my fishing compadre, Sal Scurria, whooped it up as his rod developed a dramatic bend.
“Two’fers” Dufour exclaimed, as two hefty reds plopped on the deck.
And so it went all the way down the canal. Dufour caught one, and Scurria caught one. They ran a race, neck and neck.
Me? I swatted gnats. Complained. Backlashed. Muttered some lame excuse about it being a transition month, and all the while they caught redfish after redfish.
When he reached the end of the canal, Dufour went back and retraced the entire drift. I gave up tightlining and decided to cast toward the middle with a popping cork. I figured I might catch a trout, since the redfish were ignoring my bait. Nada. Nothing. Not a single bite.
I switched back to tightlining off the bottom, and Dufour tossed a popping cork into the middle of the bayou. He caught trout. I ate a sandwich, muttered something about the stinking cold and the stinking wind and the stinking transition month, and made another cast toward the distant bank. I had an immediate hit! A bronze beauty nailed my smoke/white plastic cocaho and showed his displeasure at my deception. But his resistance was to no avail. I ate him last night.
Dufour says if we have a cold March, you’ll still find redfish in these canals, and probably some trout as well. But if March does what its usual habit is to do, i.e. blow hard, get hot, get cold, blow hard and blow harder, then its to the transition spots you must go.
“In transition months, I head to transition areas,” Dufour said.
In particular, he heads to the edges of Hackberry Bay to find his quarry along the shorelines near the mouth of Jordan Bayou, Bayou Casse-Tette and the cuts in Live Oak Bay.
“I concentrate on the cuts, drains, points and coves and over reefs,” he said. “I prefer to drift or troll this month, never touching the anchor, because I find that once you set it out, you might catch one or two more fish, but that’ll be the end of it. As a general rule, you have to move along with the current to catch fish this month.”
Dufour says you can present your baits in two ways. While you drift, cast a single soft plastic cocaho on a ¼-ounce jig upcurrent or crosscurrent, and using a simple cast and retrieve method, reel the bait back to you.
“Don’t be in too much of a hurry to reel in, especially if the water is still chilly, and I’d even suggest you try bumping it off the bottom and briefly hesitate, while keeping your line tight. If the fish are there, they’ll bite,” he said. “And since you can find both trout and redfish in these areas, along with some occasional flounder, don’t be surprised if you come home with quite a variety in your ice chest.
“The other method is to fish under a popping cork. Just snap one on your line about 2 feet above your bait, give it a pop or two, let it settle and keep the slack out of your line. Repeat that process until you get some action, and re-drift any area that proves productive.”
But Dufour saved his best secret for last. What is it?
“The ponds,” he said. By that, he refers to the no-name ponds near the western edges of Hackberry Bay. One set of such ponds are in the Indian Graveyard area, and those just south of Live Oak Bay.
“These ponds are my secret hideaways,” Dufour said. “This is where I go not only to escape the winds, but to find the fish. These ponds are shallow, so be cautious trying to navigate in them in low-water conditions. But if you have enough water to get in there, you’ll find fish — reds and trout, all in the shallow water, warming up in the sun.
“Remember, drift or troll, be extra quiet in that shallow water because noise will scatter the fish, and fish about 16 to 18 inches under a popping cork. This is a transition area for a transition month, and that’s all you really have to know,” he said confidently.
A place to get out of the wind? A place to actually catch some fish? What more could a March angler ask for. n
Capt. Todd Dufour can be reached at (504) 347-8832.
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