April is the month when Bayou DuLarge’s trout make the journey from inside waters out to the coast.
Transition is one of those words that even the most seasoned speckled trout anglers abhor.
In a state sporting the best fishing in the nation, anglers do not take kindly to any circumstances that cut into their catch.Fishing the area to the west of Cocodrie consistently in the month of April usually entails transition happening in front of your eyes. Fishing goes from working the inside waters to the outskirts of the areas typified by traditional summertime angling. Various factors such as water temperature, photoperiod and the moon phase can send the fish to the coast literally overnight.
Last year this process painfully came to fruition for me. Eager to capitalize on a day when the wind wasn’t scheduled to blow (a rare treat in April, especially last year), I eagerly ran down Bayou Dularge in the dark in order to be on one of my favorite reefs at daylight.
Though the breeze would roust itself later in the day, the flags were limp in the predawn as I approached an inland lake that held one of those areas that has consistently proven to be too irresistible to pass up even when the latest intelligence had fish on a reef just further along the same path.
This day would prove to be one when my pride in figuring things out for myself would come back to haunt me in a big way. I was positive that the factors that had resulted in an incredible bite about the time of the NFL Draft a year ago would result in a repeat.
The first spot looked perfect with clean water and plenty of bait holding over the reef, but only resulted in a small redfish. The second delivered a pair of quick trout and then nothing.
The third spot resulted in still more great-looking conditions and clouds of mullet of all sizes and a single cast with a pair of blow-ups. Subsurface baits resulted in the same lack of action.
The next move was far to the west to nearby Lost Lake, where I found the same depressing dearth of activity despite near perfect conditions. With the wind picking up (surprisingly only for an hour or so) and the gas gauge reading low, I cursed my bad luck and headed back to the launch.
A phone call the night before could have told that the large body of speckled trout had made the move to the coastline, where they fed in anticipation for the year’s spawning period like no tomorrow.
The exact date of that orgy of feeding speckled trout escapes me right now, but if you looked long and hard enough in the louisianasportsman.com archives and read between the lines, you could tell precisely the day the fish moved out.
Capt. Bill Lake of Bayou Guide Service is a friend of many years, and has been the source of valuable fishing information for many years. The Houma resident makes hundreds of trips a year to the Dularge area, putting customers on consistently good numbers of speckled trout nearly year-round.
That April day was the day that the trout moved en masse to the areas traditionally known as summertime haunts.
“One of the best areas to fish when the trout make their move to the outside is simply the shoreline all the way from Taylor Bayou to Pass des Iles,” said Lake. “It’s a long stretch, but if you catch a calm day, the fishing can be as simple as cruising down the shoreline and looking for the bait. There’s not much to it if you catch the right day.”
April breezes make catching the right day a tricky proposition for most anglers unable to pick their days to fish. Lake says that should southerly winds damn a trip to “the coast” before it begins, fishing one of the area’s unpolished gems is a good back-up plan, even if the mass of fish have moved out of the area.
“Hackberry Lake off of Bayou Grand Caillou will still hold a good number of fish,” said Lake. “It can be fished effectively with a strong south wind. In fact, that wind tends to blow a lot of good salty water up the bayou (Grand Caillou).”
Lake says that the southern shore of Hackberry is loaded with oyster reefs, keeping the water relatively clean despite strong southerlies. Baitfish is often the giveaway as to the location of the hidden spots.
“Hackberry is extremely dangerous in low water. I don’t ever go there in low-water conditions,” said Lake. “You’ve got to have high water, spring tide conditions to safely navigate it, much less fish it.”
Making drifts across the lake can provide enough action to satisfy anglers, and can also mark reefs for anglers new to the area.
“There are tons of PVC poles throughout the lake, and each one of them represents an oyster bed,” said Lake. “It can be overwhelming, but if you look hard enough you can find an area that holds fish. Hackberry is a major stopping-off point off of (Bayou) Grand Caillou, one of the biggest fish highways in the area.
“One of the problems a lot of people have is fishing too close to the shoreline on those windy days. Even though the calmer water will be right up against the bank, the trout will still be holding well off the bank. I’ll usually start 15 feet off the bank and throw toward the middle when I’m trying to locate the fish, and allow the wind push me out.”
Some of the most overlooked fishing spots in the entire area are the most obvious. The shorelines of Bayou Grand Caillou are lined with shell in large stretches. Lake says trolling the entire length of these banks is seldom productive, but working the points and edges of this structure is often an outstanding producer of fish.
“Wherever the current is broken up along those shorelines is a good place to try,” he said. “The still water sometimes seems to bubble up with mullet, and the redfish and trout will pile in there.”
The mouth of Redfish Bayou is also an outstanding area to fish in April. Lake says the northern end of the bayou is almost solid oyster, providing cover for baitfish and requiring a disciplined approach to lure presentation should anglers forego the use of a cork.
Keeping casts a safe distance to reduce “professional overruns” and holding rod tips high can save a lot of aggravation and fishing time lost when oysters seem to reach up and grab those fancy-colored jigheads.
Jeremy Ball of Falgout Canal Marina says that April can be a tough month for fishermen who enjoy the calm of the year’s later months, but that plenty of fish can be caught when picking the right spots.
“A lot of these lakes are full of oyster beds. That tends to keep the water relatively clean,” says Ball. “If you fish the lee side of the big lakes and allow the wind to push you across, you can find fish. Sometimes it won’t be clean along the entire stretch, but if you look hard, you can find some pockets of good water, and that’s where you’ll find the fish.”
Ball often uses a cork situated above a soft plastic bait for this kind of fishing in the interest of calling the fish to him in the often choppy and stained water, while Lake prefers the tightline technique which has served him so well over the years.
“It’s real simple. Throw it out, let it sink for two or three seconds and steadily reel it back in. You don’t have to hop it or anything,” says Lake. “The only way I put any variation in the retrieve is by stopping my retrieve and letting it sink.”
Proving that April is not confined to the inshore and “shoreline” areas, Lake says he had great success with trout at Raccoon Island last year when the word got out regarding his fish along the coast. Fishing the rock jetties and the beach at Raccoon Point proved successful, and he sees no reason why the fish shouldn’t be there again this year.
“I haven’t seen what the storm did to the island yet, but I do know it’s still there and it should still hold plenty of fish”, he said, adding that there are sure to be plenty of changes in the make-up of the bottom that anglers will have to figure out.
Barrier islands undergo shifts in their underwater topography on a yearly basis with the whims of the Gulf’s currents and brutal winter storms. This year, however, is particularly dicey. Hurricane Lili did a number on the island based on what we have seen in aerial photos, but those photos don’t even begin to show the possible shifting of the thousands of large boulders into open water where anglers safely passed last year.
“You never know what it’s going to look like until you go out there and see for yourself. It shouldn’t affect the fishing too much production-wise, but I would imagine it will shift the areas where the fish will be,” Lake said.
Jetties placed parallel to the beach some years ago have proven to be not only an effective land builder between them and the shoreline, but an outstanding fish-holding structure. Lake says the current breaks provided by the rocks are where anglers should concentrate their efforts when afforded an April day with weather to make an island trip.
Lake has seen a lot of baits come and go, but the effectiveness of his hands-down favorite never ceases to amaze him. The Bayou Chub minnow imitation is pretty much all he fishes with these days, even on those scouting/pleasure trips when the fish are turned on and could be taken while witnessing heart-stopping surface strikes.
“I know there are a lot of times, like this morning, when we could have caught a bunch of fish on Top Dogs and She Dogs, but when you’re catching them as fast as we were, why change?” said Lake while replaying a morning excursion over lunch. “I like to keep things pretty basic out there. This area is based mainly on numbers. Customers want to catch a lot of fish, and that’s what this bait does.”
Black/chartreuse, purple/chartreuse, electric chicken and space guppy are the favorite four based on countless hours of field research with the intention of finding a select number to go with on a daily basis.
For a few months in the spring, the fish have no problem taking bigger baits than what the 3-inch Bayou Chub represents. The 4-inch model in the same colors takes the stage in the period between late March and the time when the fish begin concentrating at the near-shore oil platforms, when Lake says he goes back to the 3-inch models almost exclusively on double rigs.
A sure sign to go with the bigger baits is when the water temperatures reach the upper 60s. Depending on a number of factors, that could be the time when the trout make their exodus to the shoreline, but usually Lake says the bigger lures are good for several trips inside.
“It’s only for a short period of time, but in the spring, maybe when the fish are starting to fatten up for the spawn, the specks will really take the 4-inch Chubs well,” says Lake. “They also tend to weed out the smaller fish.”
Keeping an open mind is important in a lot of things fishing related, as is utilizing available resources. April fishing in western Terrebonne Parish demands it. You never know when the fish you thought you had figured out will give you the slip and make a dash for it.