Stealth Bombers

Being quiet is critical when targeting redfish and trophy trout. Use these tips to keep the noise down, and you’ll see results on the end of your line.

The sky was gray with low, mid-winter clouds, but the speckled trout action quickly made us forget the raw morning chill. Our fishing guide was trying to shake off a cold he had recently come down with, and brought my Dad and me to his No. 1 spot first thing in the marsh east of Bayou Lafourche.

The dead-end canal levee shielded the north breeze from the clean, black water, and school trout were delicately “plinking” our smoke split tail jigs as they fell over the dropoff. Picking up the delicate strikes and consistently connecting was heady stuff for a 13-year-old in front of a seasoned pro, even if the throwback ratio was around 50 percent.

As we neared the end of the canal, the fish suddenly became noticeably bigger. The guide kicked the trolling motor toward the opposite bank, and silently lowered the anchor on the opposite ledge while deftly keeping as much tension on his fish as possible with one hand.

My strike came seconds after his, and soon a fat 16-incher was flipped, unhooked and deposited into the ice chest before I did what I’d done thousands of times before. The sequence was captured in a perfect moment of stillness rare in a vessel with three occupied persons and the slamming lid seemed to reverberate off the spoil bank shrubs.

Looking back, I can picture the cringe on the captain’s face and the thought process on addressing the issue to the relatively clueless kid. The gentle admonishment seconds after the fish-scattering alarm was the perfect short-term solution — though it was a long, sheepish 15 minutes before the action continued — and few lessons have more strongly hit home.

Most any school of trout or reds will flee from a running outboard. Forget the tunnel-vision jerks trolling through your casting radius and/or tossing their anchor with more air time than an NBA player on a breakaway dunk. That’s obvious stuff, and is sometimes excused by school-sized fish in little or no time.

This is about taking more of a deer hunter’s still-hunting quality in the pursuit of magnum-sized finned quarry, who are wholly unforgiving of nearly all foreign noise.

Louisiana waters’ relative murk precludes most applications of stealth from a sight perspective. Most mountain trout fishermen wouldn’t dream of fishing in a hunter orange windbreaker or fashionably pink Columbia shirt. Many Florida flats fishermen are much the same way. But what is infinitely more important is the noise made in the boat rather than the fashion statement.

Increasingly, anglers are realizing that success in catching large speckled trout requires a different mindset than simply pursuing a bunch of fillets. Noise is the most important factor in Louisiana with the relative turbidity of the water.

While big trout are serially skittish when in their shallow haunts, redfish inhabiting water measured in inches sometimes take on moods where you would swear they were a different strain of the species. Either way, success can only be aided by making yourself as inconspicuous as possible.

“I don’t really think that big trout move from a good area because there are a lot of boats around or you’re making noise, but it does affect how they feed,” said Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Service. “Sometimes when everything is perfect, but there are a lot of boats around, you won’t catch anything. But if you wait until people leave in the late afternoon, you can catch them.”

One of the first steps in having quarry unaware of your presence is the realization of how loud you are being with your movements in the boat. Anybody who has been under water when a running motor comes near realizes how much noise is amplified under water.

Ironically, the use of the most well-known tool for sneaking up on fish is the very factor in spooking skittish inshore species. Trolling motors have revolutionized the way coastal anglers have pursued their quarry, but an increasing number of accomplished anglers are greatly varying the way they utilize their electric motors.

Particularly in the southwestern part of the state, where speckled trout grade consistently larger than most other regions and most fishing grounds eliminate the use of pushpoles, professional guides take a vastly different approach to bow-mounted propulsion.

“I usually use the wind to push me into the area I want to fish and use the trolling motor as little as possible just to keep me in line with where I want to drift,” said Rue.

Taking it easy in dislodging the trolling motor from the mount is an important step, as is keeping the fittings on tight on the mount.

“One of the most important things is to keep your trolling motor tight on your mount so that it doesn’t rock back and forth. That motion will spook fish,” says guide Herman Solar.

Teamwork involving trolling motor use is crucial when fishing in most any kind of breeze. A drifting boat can ruin a school of fish when the angler on point is busy playing or unhooking a fish. An angler’s partner can keep the boat away by taking over the trolling duties when the other is busy. A backwards burst of silt and water is not optimal, but is certainly better than a bay boat on top of them.

Veteran Plaquemines Parish guide Capt. John L. Taylor didn’t mince words when asked what is the most important thing in giving yourself the best chance at a big trout in shallow water.

“You need to have distance, at least 40 yards, in your cast. Many people can’t cast as far as you need to, and most all make too much noise,” he said.

Known for his strong and often unorthodox opinions on most all things relating to Louisiana inshore fishing, Taylor offered one that flies in the face of most anglers, particularly bass fishermen who use the state’s murky water to their advantage in getting close to fish-holding structure.

“Big trout in dirty water will be much, much spookier than those in clear water and I know that won’t make any sense,” said Taylor. “In the clean water, they can see all around them and aren’t as bothered by sound.”

Aluminum boats are common in the inshore waters frequented by out-sized trout and skinny water reds, but Taylor says great care has to be taken to offset the material’s harshness.

“You really have to be careful with aluminum boats. When you start rattling things around, even with carpet, bed-liners or whatever on the bottom, that’s like shooting guns down there,” he said.

Lafourche Parish guide Capt. Chad Billiot says one of the keys to catching big trout is to realize that those fish are, for all intents and purposes, a different species than smaller fish.

“There’s a huge difference in big trout and small trout. You’ve got to have the right mindset for going after them. If you start catching smaller fish — and I’m talking about 2- or 3-pounders — you need to move on if you want to catch the really big ones,” he said.

One of the state’s more renowned fly fishing guides, Billiot spends many days stalking redfish in super shallow water. Although they are not as spooky as trout, he says they present unique challenges as well.

“Redfish are often found in really shallow water, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for error,” said Billiot. “Some days they’ll attack anything, but they can be really moody as well.”

To be sure, Louisiana anglers have it much better than those in other states with its predominantly sedimentary bottom and myriad nooks and crannies in the deep marsh. Fish in Florida have exponentially fewer places to hide in the clear, open flats that dominate the state’s coastal landscape.

Redfish Tour team-of-the-year member Eric Mannino says he is consistently flabbergasted by the habits of Louisiana fish. But the Edgewater, Fla., guide says that the moodiness of these fish makes it worthwhile for all anglers to practice the art of stealth.

“Even though the fish (in Louisiana) are a lot less spooky — we caught one of our winning tournament fish when we were running the big engine — they do gejt spooky at times,” said Mannino. “The redfish in Florida are really shy most of the time. It’s just a given that you’ve got to keep quiet to get them to bite.”

Pushpoles can be very helpful in reaching extremely skinny areas where big trout like to hang out. Few things will spook a sow faster (or ruin an angler’s day) than a trolling motor prop slamming against a piece of shallow structure. A little shoulder work can silently put you in range when conditions allow.

Other simple things can reduce noise in the boat. Many of these will come across as overkill or ridiculous, but the objective is doing everything in your power to be quiet. The fish don’t mind how you stay quiet, but they do care that it does happen.

• Carpet can foul hooks and keep your vessel dirty, but it undoubtedly keeps jigheads from sounding an alarm when a trout rapidly shakes its head on the bottom of the boat. I once witnessed an old man who could dislodge a jig from a trout eight out of 10 times with a flop on the bottom of the boat. His technique was an amazing display of muscle memory and timing, but his sharp thumps would likely turn off larger fish.

• Heavy braided line allows anglers to hoist good-sized fish from the water and keep them from hitting the floor by grabbing the line. The line is no picnic for your hand, but grabbing the fish can keep them off the floor.

• Spear-like Cajun anchors are marvelous devices for holding boats in place, but many anglers make the mistake of actually throwing them like a spear when a simple shove can do the job. Any entry short of Olympic diving-class can cause a fish-scattering splash. A bit of carefully placed duct tape on the shackle can blunt the metal on metal contact, at least on the shaft.

• Of course, objects like ice chests and tackle boxes should always be lifted instead of drug across the bottom of the boat.

• Tools like pliers and hook extractors can’t be knocked over if they are kept in their proper place.

• Gently lowering an anchor all the way to the bottom instead of letting the rope go and producing a mushroom cloud on the bottom can increase the odds even in deeper water.

Also, the grappling style anchors so popular in Big Lake have much less displacement, no moving parts and don’t need chains that rattle both in the water and on the boat’s deck, especially when being hurriedly picked up when a hungry school is happened upon. These anchors also hold well over oyster shells as the individual tines are able to lodge in between thick lumps of the shellfish.

• Any anchored boat can alert fish to your presence due to hull slap, and anchors can lose their grip in high winds. Shoving your vessel into the bank or even a mud flat can stabilize it, provide a sure hold and prevent the bow from pounding.

• A good way to keep the ice box stealthy is keeping the ice in the bag until the fish really need the coating. Loose ice cubes and flopping fish are not a good match in the interest of being quiet. Splashing in water surrounding block ice is much better, and the firm, stiff bodies will make cleaning trout and the ice box less of a chore at the end of the day.

• Horseflies are a menace to the late-spring fishing trip. Also known as greenheads (not to mention other names not appropriate for polite company), these beasts have an especially strong taste for the thin-skinned exposed ankle. Self control is needed in resisting the natural foot stomping action on the deck when the target suffers a direct hit. A pre-emptive coating of strong repellent is highly recommended.

• Some anglers subscribe to the theory that continuous noise is far better than bursts of noise. A bilge pump kicking on isn’t good. A softly buzzing livewell is better.

Maximizing opportunities in skinny water — particularly for big fish — depends as much on an angler’s ability to make like a fox in a henhouse as finessing a topwater plug across a submerged point or reef. How stealthy one is in the presence of fish can mean the difference in a memorable trip or one ending with the angler wondering what went wrong.

Anybody who has committed to eschewing schoolies and chasing magnum-sized fish knows how few ideal weather days there are in their pursuit. Using these tactics can be the difference in simple pursuit and affirming success.