Catching 6- to 8-pound redfish is fun and very doable in March, weather and water conditions permitting, in and around Marsh Island south of Cypremort Point.
While guide Shane Johnson of New Iberia leans more to putting speckled trout in the boat, this early, early spring month is kinder more often than not to those chasing redfish. Don’t rule out finding water conditions good enough to hold speckled trout, but be prepared to bust the redfish’s chops.
Johnson, a guide with Acadian Outdoor Charters, believes there are resident speckled trout in the area, but they are harder to track down than redfish inside and outside Marsh Island. He is equally adept at catching those fish with spots, too.
Johnson, 47, and Lorrie Ardoin of Lafayette, a guide with Acadian Outdoor Charters who teaches full-time at Green T. Lindon Elementary School, set the hook on quite a few slot-sized redfish on Jan. 19 in a canal on the west end of the island near the Gulf of Mexico. He has found and boated redfish consistently this winter.
“A buddy of mine said, ‘You’ve got the redfish locked down.’ I said, ‘Patterns can last one tide cycle. Fishing’s an hour to hour puzzle to solve.’”
Rather than exact locations of perennial hotspots, it’s more important and valuable to learn what to look for, as well as develop successful techniques and strategy to match the time of year in and around Vermilion Bay.
“This place is such a dynamic fishery but sooooo fickle,” he said.
The fickleness is compounded in late winter and early spring because of the Atchafalaya River. After it rises, as it always does, higher than, say, 11.0 feet, freshwater runoff pours into Vermilion Bay.
No matter the water color, he offers the fish soft plastics first.
“I’m a plastics guy, and I love topwaters. It’s really the fish tell you what you want,” he said.
When Johnson fishes in late February, March and early April, he’ll try to feed redfish soft plastics first, either under a popping cork, on a Carolina rig or a leadhead dragged or hopped along the bottom. Keep in mind, he said, redfish have been feeding the past few months primarily on shrimp, but they usually expand their diet to pogeys and mullets.
He’s been successful most of the time this time of year using 3/8- to ½-ounce leadheads. Usually, he ties on gray leadheads, but bright colors work, too.
“If the water’s decent, try flashy (colors), like chartreuse or pink leadheads,” he said.
As for colors for the soft plastics, he’ll try to “match the hatch.” For March, that encompasses pogey, mullet and shrimp colors.
If soft plastics fail to generate bites, fishermen can turn to natural bait.
“Redfish love shrimp,” he said.
Where to fish
Where you dunk those soft plastics or natural baits is the key.
“The main thing is to find bait and find the best water you can,” Johnson said, noting just because the Atchafalaya River is pumping muddy water out of the Wax Lake Outlet doesn’t mean there isn’t decent water to be found, and it doesn’t have to be green.
“People focus on finding perfect water conditions. Redfish just don’t care — dirty water or stained water. I force myself to forget about water clarity and focus on how the fish feed,” he said, adding that oxygen levels and, to an extent, salinity levels must be acceptable.
Plus, he said, “What I’m learning about redfish; they love cold water.”
He’s found redfish on so many occasions in shallow water, despite very low water temperatures, but it’s important to have moving water, such as drains along bayous and canals inside Marsh Island. Late last winter, he took three fishermen to the reefs in Southwest Pass, and they caught and released so many bull reds — doubles and triples — he stopped taking photos after 42.
The reefs along the coast just south of Marsh Island can be just as productive, he said.
Mostly, however, the redfish action is at its best inside Marsh Island’s canals, bayous and ponds. Johnson has more faith in the bayous, like Bird Island, Oyster, Blanc and The Worm. There might be 10 drains along one stretch but as often happen only one of them produces, he said.
Marine electronics have allowed him to find “high spots,” or reefs, in the bayous that also give up redfish, he said.
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