Howling spring winds shouldn’t keep you off the water. That’s when Leeville’s reds are searching for a meal.
A stiff south wind greeted Capt. Chad Billiot and Bobby Gros when they launched the boat.
Small whitecaps already were crowning the waves in Bayou Lafourche, but the pair was unfazed.
While such a howling south wind, which is not uncommon in April, gives most anglers fits, Billiot and Gros would rather have it windy than calm.
“The wind is your best ally this time of year,” Gros said. “It’s moving that water around.”
That means that fish will remain active even if the tide is weak.
There are other reasons for their preference, as well.
“I love a rising tide and that south wind,” said Billiot, the owner of Marsh Rat Guide Service. “It pushes all the baitfish into the ponds.”
Water quality also is improved during prolonged bouts of southerly winds.
“It pushes the clean water in that has all the fish,” Gros said.
The importance of these observations should not be overlooked — April is a transitional time in the Leeville marshes, and the length of the tougher fishing associated with this period is dictated by how fast bait and clean water show up. The more south wind and the higher the tidal surges, the quicker the marshes pack with redfish.
But the month or so it takes for the transition to finish can frustrate some anglers because it takes a bit of work to fill limits.
“Yesterday, all we had to do was drift that one stretch,” Billiot said after a 20-minute run to a large pond on the east side of Bayou Lafourche. “We had our limits.”
This early April day, however, began much slower. There was only one blow-up — a 15-inch trout — in the waters that were so productive 24 hours before.
That was indicative of what happens to the trout during much of the months of March and April.
“The first day we caught all big fish,” Billiot said. “The second day, we started catching knotheads”
This day, the third in a row in which Billiot fished the pond, most of the specks proved to be in that knothead category.
Billiot said this unpredictability often results in anglers giving up too soon because they don’t understand that there are fish in the general vicinity — they just have to be found.
But while most of the dyed-in-the-wool trout fishermen begin heading out to the bigger bays looking for sows on the oyster reefs, those who love to fish the marshes can still find plenty of action.
“The trout are leaving, but the reds are moving in,” Billiot explained.
Don’t make the mistake many redfish anglers make this time of year, however, of heading straight to the small ponds to beat the shorelines because the fish are on the move — they are usually still in the larger ponds during most of the day.
Even in the larger bodies of water, however, Billiot usually doesn’t even worry about fishing the shorelines.
“You find them slap in the middle of the ponds,” he said.
Sound strange when redfish are the target? Remember that the majority of the baitfish still will be moving into the ponds from the outer bays, which means the food sources are scattered.
“Redfish are predators. They’re roaming because the baitfish aren’t real thick,” said Gros, who owns Bobby Lynn’s Fishing Tackle and Marina in Leeville.
The point was emphasized by repeated casts paralleling shorelines, to wind-swept points and into small coves. Not a bite.
Then, a huge swirl enveloped Billiot’s topwater lure, which the guide had been walking across the pond’s center.
“That just shows how much they roam,” Gros said as Billiot wrestled with the big red.
Billiot said he usually doesn’t worry about finding submerged reefs or shell beds when pond fishing this time of year because the fish are so scattered, but Gros encouraged anglers to work any of the fish magnets they come across, especially when the tide peaks.
“You’re always going to find some fish on a submerged reef,” Gros explained. “Schools of mullet show up on the top of the reefs on high tide.”
And where there are schools of mullet, there will generally be predators looking for easy meals.
Billiot’s approach to catching Leeville redfish is simple — he begins working the bigger waters of the area, letting the wind push him along.
As the water continues to rise, he moves farther back into the enclosed waters, finishing the day in the smaller ponds.
“The warmer it gets, the farther they will move back in there,” Gros said.
Again, the movement is due to food — when the tide gets high enough, the baitfish can finally invade the shallow water, and the reds follow suit.
Even in the small ponds, however, focusing on the banks isn’t the best strategy because the fish will still be roaming.
On these windy days, Billiot uses his trolling motor only to keep his boat positioned so his customers can cast downwind — trying to send a lure into a brisk breeze is a quick way to clog up a baitcaster.
At the same time, he keeps his anchor ready for when a couple of fish strike.
“When you get one or two hits, there could be three, four, five or even a dozen in the area,” Billiot said.
Therefore, he stabs his anchor and thoroughly works the waters.
“When I find one or two fish, it’s easier to anchor down and work the area hard,” he said.
Once the fish quit smacking the lures, he simply pulls the anchor and continues to drift.
While plastics, blades and spoons are definitely top producers, the most exciting way to catch redfish is on the surface with plugs. Top Dogs, Zara Spooks, Chug Bugs and similar baits will draw vicious strikes.
This is the kind of fishing Billiot loves because he enjoys the show. Sure, he might not get as many bites as someone throwing a blade or a spoon, but he gets to see the strike.
A firetiger Top Dog will be the only lure he throws until the sun climbs several degrees over the horizon, and he’ll stick with the noisy bait if there is cloud cover.
On partly cloudy days, Billiot will often turn to plastics, like black/chartreuse cocahoes, but he also watches the skies.
“Every time I see a good cloud coming, I switch to that topwater,” he said.
The key to getting numbers of strikes on a topwater plug is discovering the correct retrieve.
“Some days they want it worked fast, and some days they want you to walk it slow,” Billiot said. “The pattern is going to change every day.”
Finding that magic retrieve can really increase the action.
“Have mercy if you find the key early,” Gros said.
However, Billiot said it takes a special kind of angler to stick with a topwater lure when conventional wisdom dictates that the baits are productive only early and late in the day or on overcast days.
“The biggest problem people have with baits is they don’t have any confidence in them” he explained. “I throw that topwater, and I have 100-percent confidence.”
“The guy who’s going to catch fish on that topwater bait is the guy who throws it all day,” he said.
Patience is a must for effective topwater angling. Many people try to set the hook immediately when the water seems to rise and engulf the bait.
Billiot said that postponing the hook-set a few seconds is the key to getting the hooks firmly embedded in a fish’s mouth.
“I believe a redfish isn’t hitting that topwater because he wants to eat it,” he said. “He hits that bait because it (ticked) him off.”
In other words, the fish might grab the plug with its mouth only after batting it around.
On bluebird days, Billiot turns to plastic after the initial morning topwater activity dies.
He’s fond of the ReAction Bayou Chub, but said H&H cocahoes and other similar baits also work effectively.
Adding the flash of a blade helps on tough days, and then there are live minnows hung about 18 inches under corks.
This latter technique is Billiot’s choice when conditions really turn sour.
This day, for instance, only produced about a dozen fish between the specks and reds, but letting a minnow swim around would have greatly increased the anglers’ success.
“If I had slowed down and started pounding the area with live bait, we would have caught more fish,” Billiot said.
While Leeville is full of likely ponds, Billiot said anglers can’t go wrong by heading to a few of his favorites.
These include Gasoline Bay, Bay Rambo, Bay Andre, Oaks Bay, Fishermans Bay, Bay L’ours and the Wisner Wildlife Management Area.
“A lot of people won’t go to the wildlife management area because they don’t want to make that long of a run, but it’s got a lot of good fishing,” Billiot said.
He also really likes the Bay Rambo area because of its diverse habitat.
“It has a mix of good oyster beds and ponds,” Billiot said.
Quality maps generated from satellite imagery, such as those produced by Standard Mapping, are wonderful tools for finding the smaller ponds once the transition has ended and the reds suck up next to the shorelines.
But that kind of fishing is a whole different deal.
Capt. Chad Billiot can be reached at (985) 632-8156, or call Bobby Lynn’s at (985) 396-2678.