Red State

The wetlands of the Louisiana Marsh are unlike anything else found in the Bayou State.

The first day of the 2004 Redfish Tour Open Championship was fishing about how most everybody had scouted it.

The tremendous amount of water pushed into the Hopedale/Delacroix marsh had brought in plenty of fish, but had seemingly emptied it of the 8- to 10-pound fish needed to finish highly.

A run to Venice was no sure thing either, with most of the delta still a muddy mess from the glancing blow from Ivan.

Chad Dufrene and I scratched through a very long first day to weigh two very average fish, enough to be in striking distance of one of five invites to the Pro Championship awarded to the top finishing teams, but our numbers of fish seen, much less caught, dictated a different plan.

“We gotta do something different. I’ve caught some good fish a good ways north of here, but I haven’t seen that water in a long time,” said Dufrene. “But, it’s got to be better than what we’ve got here.”

So the next morning we made the long run north of the marina, fruitlessly checking on a few spots along the way, and entered a largely untapped section of marsh frequented more by Mississippi anglers than those using Campo’s, Pip’s or Breton Sound Marina.

Even fishermen jumping across Lake Borgne typically favor the adjacent Biloxi Marsh over the less-protected maze of islands just south of Mississippi Sound.

“The beginning of the marsh, around Isle au Pitre (pronounced Isle-a-Pete) and Grand Pass is about 13 miles from where I launch in Pass Christian,” said Clay Bratton, a Biloxi resident and frequent visitor to the marsh, especially when he’s got sight-fishing for redfish on the mind.

Bratton, co-owner of the Venice Sportsman’s Lodge, dearly loves fishing the Mississippi River delta for skinny-water redfish, but says the Louisiana Marsh is an outstanding fishery in its own right.

“Most of the people around here fish for trout,” says Bratton, a competitor in the IFA Redfish Tour and Redfish Cup. “The redfish out there don’t see a whole lot of baits.”

There’s a reason for that, as Bratton mentioned several times and I found out when Dufrene finally came off of step after a long, open-water ride across Bay Boudreau.

The ponds, though numerous upon close inspection of Standard Map’s No. 50, are shallow. Dufrene’s 22-foot Blazer Bay and Bratton’s 21-foot Maverick are two of the better models for a) crossing the open water, and b) traversing the shallow, oyster-studded lagoons holding much of the fish.

Dufrene dropped the trolling motor, and right away I began to notice the differences in the make-up of this section of the marsh.

There was not nearly as much actual land, but rather large islands, many of which were cut in half by deep, meandering bayous. The vast fields of Spartina grass were still evident bordering most every body of water, but mixed in were infrequent shell banks bleached white by the subtropical sun.

The new territory didn’t seem to hold any more fish than the water we had shunned. Though many anglers reported catching as many as 50 fish on the first day, most all in the 3- to 5-pound class, we hadn’t seen near that many.

We had around 8 pounds between two fish in the livewell when Dufrene watched a nice red move off the inside of a point and slash at a pack of finger mullet 40 yards away. A long cast and an excruciating eight seconds of working the spinnerbait resulted in a solid strike, and our first 7-pound fish was in the boat.

Capt. Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana (985-781-7811) crosses the open water of Lake Borgne from his dock in Slidell to reach the western part of the Louisiana Marsh.

Though he spends a large part of his time in the fresher, grassier water of the adjacent Biloxi Marsh, Gallo says there are plenty of fish to be had in the saltier water to the east, as well as some unique opportunities.

“The area we’re talking about is, for the most part, more of a salt marsh, meaning there’s almost no grass like they’ve got in the fresher water to the west,” he said. “But there are a few places where you can actually fish some saltwater grass, the kind found out at the Chandeleur Islands.

“There’s a grass bed on the southeast side of Raccoon Island in the cove where there’s some really good redfishing.”

Gallo said that, like most areas, the wind plays a large role in determining where to fish on a given day. The guide was more than willing to give several good spots, but stressed that success in this region is based largely on the angler’s ability to read water and the wind — not only how it’s blowing at the present time but also where and of what intensity it blew the day and night before.

“There may be a bank that I really want to fish that is on the unprotected side of the marsh,” he said. “I know I’d better fish it first thing in the morning before the wind picks up and dirties the water.”

Gallo adds that he also bases his initial stops, often some of the most productive, on having known where the wind has been blowing, thus eliminating that water from his thought process during the precious first hours of the day.

It’s this time of the day when Gallo also begins making his choices regarding the color the fish prefer, based largely on the color of the water but also on the behavior of the fish. Blind-casting spinnerbaits is the most-effective method for the majority of Gallo’s customers.

“I use spinnerbaits almost exclusively as an artificial bait,” he said. “I start off with a neutral color like avocado, one that I refer to as a zero on the color scale. If I get a bump or a follow from a redfish, that tells me that they’re going to respond to something a little different, so I’ll start guessing, either going up or down on the color chart.”

Gallo’s color chart consists of forest green with gold flakes — what he calls green wave — chartreuse, pearl and white, in that order, on the negative side. On the positive side, it goes rootbeer, purple and black.

Gallo says the northward shoreline as one exits the eastern mouth of Bayou Marron is an outstanding choice for sight-fishing redfish when there is no wind or a light west wind.

There have even been times — October and November — when it is possible to sight-cast to speckled trout on this shoreline, which has several pockets of sand.

Working more toward the fresher Biloxi Marsh is Redfish Bayou and Buster’s Bayou, both of which lead into the marsh near Lake Eugenie.

“That’s an area where you can escape the wind,” he said. “You might have to make your way into the marsh and get all the way in the back, but generally you can find some clean water back there.”

Gallo also recommended the group of islands toward the eastern stretch of the region called the Little Mud Grass islands.

“They’ll all hold fish, but they’re out in the open water, so they’re very susceptible to the wind,” he said. “The wind is going to determine where the fish are holding.”

Bratton and his Redfish Cup partner, Metairie resident Jody Morris, concentrate on the waters farther east toward Chandeleur Sound, where the salt water not only presents big fish but occasionally marauding schools of jacks. The presence of so much shell also presents opportunities for tangling with monster black drum.

“You almost always run into at least a few bull reds out there, lots of 15- to 20-pound fish,” said Morris. “There’s plenty of 5-pound fish as well, but lots of big fish, too. I even hooked a 5-foot bull shark in a pond.

“Fishing Smack Bay is a really good area, especially the skinny islands along the northwest shoreline.”

Morris explained that the presence of the larger predators and so much shell necessitates the use of stout tackle when fishing.

“Braided line makes a big difference out here. There was a big tournament out of Isle of Capri that we lost because we broke off a few fish,” said Morris. “There are times when the water is so low that you’ve got to almost drag the fish over the oysters to get them to the boat.”

Bratton says that while most of the area is a true salt marsh with no submergent grass to speak of, there is a small area of sea grass similar to that which carpets the flats on the bay side of the Chandeleur Islands. Good sight fishing for reds is available when wind conditions allow.

“It’s right in the little ‘cookie bite’ cove on the west side of Kerchimbo Bay,” said Bratton.

In a region replete with colorful names for its bodies of water, Brain Lake stands out as one most appropriate relative to its appearance from the sky.

“It really looks like a brain,” said Bratton, describing a lake more in line with a typical marsh to the south and west toward Hopedale. “It’s got a lot of contours to it even though it doesn’t look like it. The fish can be anywhere along the bank in there.”

On the outskirts of the Louisiana Marsh is Brush Island, which Bratton says is one of the prettier locations when winter’s chill knocks out a lot of the algae.

“There are oysters on both sides of the island, and it’s a place where jacks cruise a good bit,” said Bratton. “In the wintertime, the water gets crystal clear.”

Though the large areas of open water in the general area look to be safe, Bratton did caution that there are certain sections more dangerous on a low tide, even in the summer.

“Northwest Jack Williams Bay is very shallow even out in the middle. You’ll be kicking up mud on a low tide. The east side is a little deeper.”

Our long day last year ended on the best of notes. After a mystifying pair of whiffs — one angler error and one just a simple refusal — on fish that might have put us in the winner’s circle, I saw a fish during the final minutes that turned out to be another 7-pounder, and managed to dig it out of the still-flooded Spartina grass to take third place and a berth in the Pro Championship in early November.

So whether you’re taking the long ride from Louisiana or the short hop from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Louisiana Marsh offers a little something different for redfish stalkers.