Cancel that appointment with your psychiatrist, and head to Pointe a la Hache for some real revitalization.
Some people play golf. Women usually like to shop. Kids love the video games. Some people like to piddle in the garden or simply zone out in front of the TV.
All of these activities are, in some meaningful way, therapy. They provide an outlet, an escape, a way to unwind. They’re cheaper than a psychiatrist, and probably more effective.
Me? I fish. I have to. It’s my escape, my relaxation, my amusement. It’s therapy.
And recently I was in sore need of some therapeutic administration of the speckled kind. I was in a bad way, and I desperately needed to feel the tug of a redfish or a trout on the end of my line.
Unfortunately, a sub-freezing cold front blasted through and sat on top of us for a few days, which put the fish into suspended animation. Nothing was biting. Anywhere.
But once it warmed up and the marsh thawed out, reports of great catches began to trickle back in. It was time to make my move, line up a trip, and get some of that sorely needed therapy I longed for.
I booked a trip with Capt. Robin Pati (504-889-4542), who operates out of Pointe a la Hache on the east bank of the river. It’s an area long associated with fishing success, particularly in the winter, and we agreed to meet at Beshel’s Marina just before noon. My kind of fishing!
Pati showed up with Chris and Vivian Kain, long-time friends of his, and after introductions all around, we loaded our gear into his 22-foot Aqua Sport Bay Boat, and the 200-horsepower Yamaha HPDI pushed us on our way.
The wind was blowing much harder than predicted (so what’s new?), and it was blowing from a northern quadrant. The weatherman had predicted a southeast wind, and 70-degree temperatures that day.
I could tell as we made the boat ride, Pati was recalculating his fishing plan. He decided to chase some redfish as our first order of business.
“I know where we can catch trout,” he said, “and we’ll save them for the way in. But right now we need to jump on the redfish before the conditions deteriorate too badly.”
“Hey, you’re the captain,” I said.
I knew that he’s been guiding in the area for about 10 years, so he ought to know his business. Turns out, he did.
A short ride later, Pati turned the Aqua Sport into a big shallow bay, and crept up slowly toward the shoreline. He cut the outboard, positioned us within casting distance of the bank, and dropped the anchor.
“I brought some market shrimp to tip your plastics, and we’re going to fish about 2 feet under a cork,” he said.
He pointed toward the shoreline, and said there was an oyster reef just below the surface that usually holds reds. All four of us baited our hooks and cast out, eager for the action to begin. We popped our corks, we worked at keeping the slack out of the line, and we waited.
But nobody had a nibble. Almost 15 minutes passed before Pati said, “Last cast.”
“Winter or summer, I give a spot 10 to 15 minutes to produce. If the fish are around, you should have some action by then. If not, it’s time to move to another spot,” he said.
But a move wasn’t necessary. A ravenous redfish inhaled one of our baits, and the battle was on. Seconds later, another cork disappeared beneath the surface.
“A school must be moving through,” Pati said. “Everybody keep your bait in the water; let’s try to hold them here.”
Pati subscribes to the theory that redfish are roving marauders, constantly on the move up and down the shorelines and over reefs, hunting prey.
When the water is stained, like it was on this day, the hungry bronzebacks hunt more by smell than by sight. Therefore, if you want to keep the roving pack from moving on, you have to keep some stink in the water.
There’s obviously something to the “chum” theory because it’s widely practiced for both inshore and offshore species, and highly successful. Besides that, we noticed that when we tried fishing without tipping our plastic we didn’t get a bite.
Through the years I’ve seen a few chum tricks used in inshore waters to attract reds and specks. One very successful guide puts dry dog food in a sack, and soaks it in menhaden oil overnight. He carries the sack on board in a 5-gallon bucket, anchors the boat in his favorite spot, ties a rope around the sack and sets it overboard. The scent will attract fish if they’re anywhere near the vicinity.
The bites continued fast and furious until we boated our 20-fish limit. We had a few throwbacks, but most of the fish went 17 to 18 inches, with a few 20s mixed in.
We could have stayed and played catch-and-release all afternoon, but Pati had speckled trout on his mind.
A short boat ride later, we pulled into a body of water I recognized, and an old winter favorite, Baker’s Bay.
“This bay turns on when the weather moderates,” Pati said.
He pointed out how much grass was in the bay, and idled the boat toward an opening in the grass.
“We’ll drift through here and see if we pick up any fish. If we get some bites, I’m going to drop the anchor,” he said. “Plastics about 2 feet under a popping cork, and you need to make some noise with those corks. They want it moving right now.
“Naturally, if the weather was colder, we’d be fishing the bottom in the deeper canals and bayous.
“But it never stays real cold down here for very long. Once the weather begins to warm things up, you’ll want to look for the fish in these larger bays. Baker’s Bay, Wreck Bay, Third Bay, and if it stays warm for a while, Bay Lafourche will also turn on.
“The key is to drift until you find them, but don’t hesitate to drop the anchor once you get some action. Some people think you have to deep drifting and re-drifting an area over and over again to keep the fish biting. Or they think you have to constantly troll to find the fish and keep them biting. That’s nonsense. Why pass over the fish? Put that anchor out and stay on top of the action. I guarantee you’ll catch more fish.”
We drifted for only a few minutes before Chris, had a trout on. Out went the Cajun anchor, and we all began to cast toward the action. The trout weren’t huge, averaging 13 to 14 inches with a few larger ones thrown in — typical winter size — but they were surprisingly aggressive. They slam-dunked our baits like it was spring or summer.
It was working. I was being therapized. All of us began undergoing that wonderful, exhilarating relaxation technique known to us in Bayou Country as “trout therapy.”
The action was hot-and-heavy for several minutes, then gradually dwindled to nothing, and it was time to move on.
“Ten to 15 minutes without a bite, time to move,” the captain said.
A short move down the bay, and we began drifting again.
“The fish are here, but they might be scattered around in small schools. Keep moving until you find them, and you’ll end the day with a great box of trout,” Pati said.
Sure enough, within a few minutes we were back into the thick of the action, and trout were flying into the boat, doing a topwater dance and protesting all the way in.
Tackle and Bait
Pati has his own preferences and opinions when it comes to bait and tackle. He likes three baits — Salt Water Assassins, Salt Shakers by Lunker Lure, and H&H beetles.
He threads them on ¼-ounce jigs, and in mild weather fishes them under a popping cork. He uses the same baits in cold weather without a cork, and simply bounces the baits off the bottom.
“You move them in slow motion in real cold weather,” he said, “because the fish really slow down in cold temperatures.
“But I don’t put much stock in using different colored plastics. Basically I fish with a chartreuse bait. A lot of folks think you have to have a variety of colors, and that fish prefer certain colors at certain times and under certain conditions, but I don’t find that to be true at all.
“I believe the key is all in the presentation of the bait. Put it out there, try to make it swim like their natural food source, and you’ll catch fish no matter what color you use.
“I also prefer to fish with Power Pro braided line because you can feel the bite better when cold weather fishing when you don’t have the stretch of monofilament, and you can horse the reds around without worrying about broken line.
“The advantage should be obvious. The cold weather bite is very slight and subtle. If you don’t have a sensitive rod and a taut line, you won’t even feel it. You’ll go home without a single fish, and you were getting bumped on the bottom all day long. I see it happen all the time.”
Pati says if you plan a Pointe a la Hache trip in cold weather, head to their winter haunts. Big Four Bayou, the pass between Second and Third Bay, Fell Cut, Thorn Tree Bayou at Grand Point Bay, Big Oyster Bayou, Little Crevasse, Lower Grand Bayou at Battleground Bay, the pass between Battleground and American bays, and the cuts in Oak River at Bay Jack and Pointe Fienne Bay.
There’s also a deeper channel in Baker’s Bay where Big Oyster Bayou runs through it, which is a great spot in cold weather, Pati said.
“And when it warms up, the fish simply fan out over the reefs and flats,” he said.
From Pointe a la Hache, Pati says you’d rarely have to run above Oak River to find fish.
But the success of any trip this winter is going to depend on the river.
“Years ago, this was THE winter hotspot, bar none,” Pati said. “And it still is, depending on the Caernarvon Diversion. If the river is high, cold, muddy water flows through the Delacroix area and shuts down the fishing.
“I know the diversion has a positive effect on the area overall. I can see it in all the grass and vegetation that’s springing up in the Delacroix area. But when that cold, muddy water flows through, the fish head for cleaner, warmer water. And if the river stays high, that muddy water filters down all the way to Pointe a la Hache, and shuts us down too. It’s the biggest problem we face in the winter. The cold is not the problem — the river is.”
We continued to fish, pulling up the anchor and drifting when the action stopped, and putting it back over when we found them again. And as the afternoon wore on, the fish actually got bigger. We headed back to the dock early because of evening commitments, leaving the trout biting, and confident we could have limited out if we stayed a little longer.
Surprisingly, it really didn’t bother me all that much to pick up anchor and leave in the middle of a feeding frenzy. But then, I knew I’d be back soon, just for the therapy.