This Lafitte guide does all he can to spook redfish along the shorelines of bays this time of year.
Capt. Theophile Bourgeois has no couth.
He lacks respect for tradition.
Shallow-water redfish anglers are supposed to be fanatics about stealth. It’s one of the tenets of the faith.
These anglers are supposed to stand on towers above their motors while pushing their boats through the marsh with pole-vault-length blanks.
They’re supposed to weep and gnash their teeth if the bait makes too much noise on splashdown.
They’re supposed to talk in soft whispers, and only when absolutely necessary.
But Bourgeois has about as much respect for convention as a character from Animal House.
Like a drunken buffoon who walks into a monastery wearing a Hawaiian shirt and crashing cymbals between his hands, Bourgeois is obnoxious in the very realm of the ethereal.
The gall. The nerve.
The only thing is, Bourgeois is no buffoon. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Under certain conditions, Capt. Theophile Bourgeois, one of Lafitte’s best-known and most successful charter captains, does all he can to spook the redfish in his favorite fishing grounds.
No, he’s not trying to scare away the fish so there won’t be any left for the next angler who happens along.
He’s spooking the fish so that his clients can put them in the boat.
It’s a technique he uses frequently this time of year, and it’s proven remarkably successful for him.
“It’s more hunting than fishing,” Bourgeois said. “But it’s the technique I use when I absolutely have to put fish in the box. It works every time.”
Before he attempts it, Bourgeois takes a couple of hours to get a feel for his clients.
“This is not a technique I can use with my average client,” he said. “I’d say eight out of 10 of my clients can’t do this because they simply can’t cast well enough.”
But if Bourgeois determines his day’s charges can put a lure reasonably close to where they intend it to go, he’ll shift into “spook redfish” mode.
He puts one or two clients on the bow, and he gets behind the wheel.
“I get the boat about 25 feet off the shore, and I just idle along with my big motor looking for wakes (from redfish),” he said.
When he does this, he says he’ll invariably run across two very different types of reds.
“The first type,” he said, “I call those ‘runners.’ Those are fish that are going to spook and swim out of that area like a bolt of lightning.
“You just let those fish go; you don’t even try to catch them.
“The other type of fish are lazy. They’ll spook and move, which lets you see where they are, but they don’t go very far.”
It’s these fish that Bourgeois targets.
“The lazy fish push a big, heavy ‘V,’” he said. “If the water’s got about 12 inches of visibility, you can see the fish and just watch him as he cruises along.”
It’s important to work fast, as soon as such fish show themselves, Bourgeois said.
“That’s a fish that felt the pressure of the boat in the water, but for the first couple of minutes, he doesn’t really know what’s happening,” he said. “He doesn’t know there’s a coonass up there trying to catch him.”
But the fish will figure it out before long. Bourgeois said the longest window such a fish will give him is two or three minutes.
He’ll try to read the fish to see how spooked or lazy he feels it is. If it looks fairly calm, he’ll kill the outboard, run up to the trolling motor, and get his clients into good casting position.
If the fish looks somewhat skittish, he’ll instruct his clients where to cast with the big motor still running.
“You have to throw very close to that fish, but not on top of him,” Bourgeois said. “If you cast on top of him, you’ll really spook him. Then you’ll get to see how fast a redfish can swim.”
Bourgeois said that most often the ‘V’ seen on the surface of the water is caused by the dorsal fin, which, of course, is located at about the midpoint of the redfish’s back.
So if an angler can’t see the entire fish, he needs to keep in mind the ‘V’ represents the midpoint of the fish, and he needs to adjust his cast accordingly.
On a slow-moving fish, Bourgeois likes to position a cast no more than 2 feet in front of the fish’s nose.
Faster-moving fish require more distance on the cast.
And sometimes, Bourgeois said, these faster-moving fish — not the ones that have spooked hard and left the area; just the lazy fish that are swimming purposefully in one direction — are the easiest to catch.
“You can keep up with them with the big motor,” he said. “They’re just swimming along, and you’re motoring next to them.
“If the water’s clear enough that you can see the fish, you might watch him chase a minnow or eat a shrimp. That’s a dead fish. If you can cast, you will catch that fish.”
This technique is most effective in lakes and bays, Bourgeois said. It does not, however, work well in ponds.
“Ponds have too many nooks and crannies,” he said. “You want to do it in the bigger bodies of water that have distinct contours. That’s what you’re trying to do — push the fish down those shorelines.”
Bays and lakes that are most productive are those with 1 1/2 feet of water 25 feet off the shoreline. Any deeper than that, and the fish can escape without ever showing much of a wake. Any shallower than that, and the boat and motor will make too much of a racket, alerting fish to their presence well before they’re in casting range.
“Lafitte’s got a lot of shallow bays that this really works well in,” Bourgeois said, “but you can find bays in any area where you can do this.”
In the Lafitte area, he uses the technique in Little Lake, Turtle Bay, Round Lake, Bay L’ours and on the edges of Barataria Bay.
With the Davis Pond diversion putting fresh water into the system, many of the lakes closer to Lafitte are getting thick with aquatic grasses, rendering this technique ineffective.
“You can’t really cast where you want in the grass, and the fish can get away before you have a chance to hook them,” he said.
So Bourgeois stays in the more-saline bays farther from Davis Pond. He especially likes those with oyster shells near the shorelines.
The most crucial factor in any area, Bourgeois said, is to keep the boat from making a wake when you’re looking for the fish.
“Ideally, you want to be bumping your boat in and out of gear, just moving along slow,” he said. “You want that fish to feel the pressure of the boat; you don’t want him to get run out of there by a wake.”
One time Bourgeois absolutely never uses this technique is when he locates fish that are obviously feeding.
“When you see fish feeding on a shoreline, don’t run in there with your motor,” he advised. “Stop far away from them, and go in with your trolling motor. Those are fish you don’t want to spook. You already know where they are, and you know that they’re feeding. Those are fish you know you’re going to catch.”
Conversely, if he’s confident there are fish in a certain area, but he can’t pinpoint them or see any evidence of them, he’ll use his spooking technique to make them show themselves.
“As a guide, that’s how I check my areas to make sure they’re holding fish,” he said. “If I idle down a shoreline and I spook 30 or 40 fish, I’ll do something else for a few minutes, let that area settle down, and come back with my trolling motor and catch them.
“But if I spook three or four fish, I’ll chase those individual fish down, and catch them.”
Anglers who attempt this technique have to train themselves to recognize the differences in fish wakes. In addition to reds, they’ll also spook sheepshead, drum and mullet along the shorelines.
“Whenever I take clients to do this, every mullet they see they think is a redfish,” he said. “It doesn’t take them long to learn the difference, but at first they want to cast to everything.”
He said the mullet in Lafitte can weigh as much as 2 pounds, so they do push some big wakes. The difference, though, is that mullet wakes come and go in spurts.
“They’ll come to the surface, move sharp and quick, and then they’re gone,” he said.
Also, they tend to push wakes farther off the shorelines, Bourgeois said.
Sheepshead, on the other hand, mill about close to the shoreline, just like redfish, but their wakes are taller and sharper than the blunt, wide wakes of redfish, Bourgeois said.
“The wake (of a sheepshead) may even crest,” he said. “Nine times out of 10, the sheepshead won’t push very far. He’s like a rabbit; he’ll double back to where he came from.”
Having the right boat is crucial to this type of fishing, Bourgeois said. He fishes out of a 24-foot Bay Champ that floats in 14 inches of water. The boat is also fitted with a jack plate, which allows Bourgeois to push in skinny water without kicking his motor up and making a ruckus.
But any craft that draws little water is suitable.
“This is ideal for flat boats,” he said.
Anglers with deeper V-hulls can use the technique in bayous that run between productive bays.
“The middle of the bayou may be 8 feet, but if the edge of the bayou slopes off slowly, you can catch them there,” Bourgeois said.
In any area, Bourgeois starts by throwing soft-plastics in dark colors (black/chartreuse, purple/white, purple/chartreuse).
“That’s the most effective way to catch these fish,” he said. “A spoon is a bait that you use on (the fish’s) terms. He comes to get that.
“But these fish, you’re kind of forcing to feed, so you want to use a very natural-looking bait.”
Occasionally, Bourgeois will add a No. 4 gold spinner to the soft-plastics to hold them in the strike zone longer, but he finds that the flashes of metal sometimes work against anglers.
“Some days the spinners make them hit; other days the spinners run them off,” he said.
What? First, Bourgeois spooks the reds, and then he seldom uses spoons or spinners?
Whatever happened to established doctrine?
If he’s not careful, Bourgeois may find himself excommunicated by fellow worshippers of shallow-water redfish.
Capt. Theophile Bourgeois can be reached at (504) 341-5614.
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