For those who don’t know. The northern shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain is about to come alive! As the calendar turns from August to September, the annual speckled trout run is kicking off, and by the looks of it, we’re in store for an incredible fall season of fishing.
Kevin DiMaggio of Ponchatoula targets grass flats along the shoreline between Bayou Bonfouca and Goose Point and said this fall should be the best it’s been since 2021.
“I was consistently catching specks in the eelgrass patches until Hurricane Ida rolled through and devastated the grass in the lake,” he said. “Some of these eelgrass patches were 30 feet wide in some areas.”
Between the salt water that the storm pushed in and the sheer power of the winds and waves, the grass patches that were once a magnet for mullet, shrimp, and ultimately speckled trout, disappeared leaving DiMaggio lost.
“Ida pushed a big storm surge of 9 feet into the lake, and as you know eel grass thrives in brackish ecosystems,” he said.
But now, things are turning around. DiMaggio is seeing patches of eelgrass where there was only sand after the storm.
The benefits of eelgrass
Besides providing excellent cover for baitfish, shrimp and crabs, there are other benefits to fishing eelgrass beds.
“Another big reason eelgrass attracts fish is because it decreases CO2 levels and gives a healthy boost to oxygen levels in the water,” DiMaggio said.
But the main reason the 33-year-old likes to fish eelgrass is because of the various lures that he gets to use.
“The biggest reason why I like fishing over eelgrass is that I can throw whatever lure I want,” DiMaggio said. “Hydrilla, coontail and other subaquatic grasses have lots of bulk to them — lots of little branches and leaves for my lures to get caught on. That’s not the case with eelgrass. Even baits with big treble hooks rarely get snagged.”
What he comes out here for
As DiMaggio targets eelgrass more and more, he is being rewarded. This year he caught his biggest speck ever by fishing over a bed. He was using a Rapala Skitter Walk over a grass flat but wasn’t having any luck.
“After about an hour with not even a swipe, I just about gave up on topwater,” he said. “But a little voice in the back of my head said ‘Change the profile.’ So I dug in my tackle box and reached for my Matrix Mullet.”
He made two casts and, “As soon as I set the hook I knew I was in for it! Even with the fish 50 yards out from the boat, I knew it was a big one,” he said. “I loosened the drag a little bit so the hook wouldn’t pull and babied her in.
“After what seemed like 20 minutes, she made a pass around the back of the boat then I finally got a glimpse of just how big this fish was. She made one big jump right next to the boat, then I scooped her up with my net. You would have thought Rick Flair was on the boat with me as I yelled out ‘WHOOOOOO!!! That’s what I come out here for!’”
DiMaggio’s eelgrass setup
When fishing eelgrass beds, DiMaggio uses a 6’6” Shimano GLF Medium-light taper/fast action rod.
“You have to have a more bendy rod when fishing these beds,” he said. “I like a lightweight rod so I don’t get tired of working the lure. I also prefer a super-sensitive rod so I can feel everything going on at the other end of the line.”
DiMaggio recommends staying away from rods with a lot of backbone.
“As you know, trout have soft mouths,” he said. “When they hit these hard baits, they hit them FULL SPRINT. They are trying to stun the baitfish so they absolutely smoke it. If you try this tactic with a rod that has a lot of backbone you’ll end up losing a lot of fish.”
As far as what reel he prefers, DiMaggio likes anything with a fast gear ratio.
“I have my rod paired with a Shimano SLX with a 7.3:1 ratio so I can catch up with that fish if he hits and runs towards me,” he said.
For line, DiMaggio likes 12-pound Seaguar Invisx fluorocarbon because of its neutral buoyancy.
“It doesn’t hurt the lure’s action,” he said. “Mono and braid float, preventing the lure from falling properly.”
Among his favorite lures to use is the Hoodwink made by Southern Salt.
“I have become a big fan of the Hoodwink lures,” he said. “They have built-in hook keepers so the point isn’t exposed making it super easy to come through cover. They are also soft and flexible which is a big benefit when fishing with an embedded hook. The plastic will move out of the way allowing you to hook that fish easier.”
Drift and stick
When concentrating on eelgrass patches, DiMaggio positions his 22’ Bulls Bay up-wind from the grass bed and shuts off the trolling motor. He then lets the wind quietly ease the boat past the grass. Then when somebody catches a fish, he drops the power poles to concentrate on the same area where the fish was caught.
“We call it a drift and stick,” he said.
When fishing over eel grass beds, DiMaggio recommends using anything that doesn’t dive deep.
“My go-to lures for this type of fishing are jerk baits and twitch baits — Matrix Ripshad, Mirr-O-dines, Paul Brown Lures, anything that runs shallow,” he said.
For those who like to use swim baits, he suggests using a very light 1/8-ounce jighead with a steady retrieve.
“If you feel it skimming the grass just speed up your retrieve a little bit,” he said. “You want it bouncing just over the top of the grass.”
While DiMaggio is seeing eelgrass beds in Lake Pontchartrain, he said there are other areas where he is seeing a comeback as well.
“Lake Catherine has rebounded nicely as well as the marsh surrounding it,” he said. “I’m also seeing great growth in the marshes around the Intracoastal Canal between Chef Pass and the Rigolets.”
These are all good signs that the grass is on its way to being fully restored, which in turn should lead to a great September for speckled trout fishing! DiMaggio said it’s a simple equation to figure out.
“As the grass goes, so goes the fishing,” he said.