August means long runs to catch fish in the ‘big water,’ right? Well, not if you launch out of Shell Beach. Just follow these anglers to boxes full of fish, just minutes from the landing.
“And all my rowdy friends have settled down!” Artie yelled while making his grand entrance through the back door to Doc’s Shell Beach camp, which was strangely dark and quiet.
But Artie’s rendition of the famous Hank Williams Jr. song had nothing of Hank’s laid-back tone and low volume. Instead, Artie seemed hell-bent on using the famous tune to top the best bellows from Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Axl Rose, Bono — even AC/DC’s Brian Johnson!
Worse still, Hank’s tune was already booming via Pandora from Artie’s handheld speaker at a volume to make the very pilings holding up Doc’s “camp” rattle and hum.
Pelayo, over by the refrigerator getting his milk and cookies while I watched the History Channel alone in the darkness, stopped rummaging and looked over, grimacing in horror at the source of the racket.
His eyes were like cue-balls as he rushed Artie, trying ….
But it was too late: Doc Fontaine exploded through his bedroom door in his Saints pajama pants like Rickey Jackson bursting through the Dallas offensive line to get Troy Aikman.
Artie heard the slamming bedroom door and jerked his head around — but too late.
Doc was already on him like Jon Vilma on Peyton Manning, locking his arms around him and shoving him roughly through the back door and onto the porch.
Pelayo was almost there as Doc regained his balance and yanked Artie’s speaker from his hands. Doc was winding up to throw it into the canal — just as Pelayo grabbed his arm and foiled his hail Mary pass.
“Are you out of your freakin’ MIND?!” Doc snarled into Artie’s face, half drowning him in spittle. “Nana’s here! Can’t you see we’re all turned in? Gonna be an early morning! Everybody’s in bed! Ya got here too late!
“Now GO TO BED! See ya in da morning!”
Artie seemed shaken. Even his trademark smirk was gone, as a nodding and eye-rolling Pelayo moved over to explain the issue.
“But it’s only 9:45,” Artie stammered before Pelayo could get started. “What’s going on?”
“Look,” Pelayo started, “you oughta know by now that some of your usually rowdy friends always settle down on Friday nights this time of year. Can’t believe you forgot.
Pelayo pointed his chin towards Doc’s bedroom.
“It’s that late-summer routine,” he said. “You know: Everybody’s heading ‘outside’ for specks tomorrow. They need a long night’s sleep for that ordeal!”
He began listing the next day’s destinations.
“You know, Da Long Rocks, Comfort Island, Point Chicot, Da Dope Boat — their usual August routine,” Pelayo continued. “So they wanna get an early start and line up to buy a few hundred live shrimp before the place runs out.
“And they wanna get an early start on the fishing before the speck bite turns off’ with the sun and the heat (Pelayo rolled his eyes while chanting this bromide). You know: Their usual routine.”
“Fine with me!” laughed Artie, his trademark smirk back with a vengeance. “We’ll have a nightcap and stay up a little later out here on the porch. Then we’ll sleep later in da morning, as usual.
“Then we’ll probably have the deep mouths of Bayous Sue, Blind, Padre, Grande, Cut-Off, St. Malo all to ourselves as usual — and after a short 15-minute haul, while everybody’s running themselves ragged on that 50-mile round trip to the outside.”
Artie smirked while pointing toward the camp’s bedrooms with his chin.
“You’d really think they learn by now,” he laughed as he re-activated his speaker on Pandora (but at a much lower volume) and popped his first brewskie as Trisha joined us on the porch. “Sure, when the sun gets high and hot in late summer, the bite from specks (and reds, drum, etc.) often turns off. But that’s mostly in shallow waaaw-dah!
“You wanna fish for ’em in 3, 4, 5 foota-waaaw-dah? Then sure! Better get an EARLY start!”
Pelayo chimed in.
“But we’ll keep chasing them after they go deep,” he said with a smirk. “We do it when they go deep in the winter, don’t we? Well, much the same thing applies in late summer: They ‘go deep’ to find more comfortable waaaw-dah temperatures.”
“And we’re right on their tails!” Artie said, raising his brewskie to toast Trisha’s wine glass. “Following them into the deeper channels along the salty east shore of Lake Borgne!
“And hauling them out — often two at a time with white trout — and often during the hottest part of the day!”
“Heck!” Pelayo added as Trisha smilingly sipped her wine and politely feigned interest in our fishing mumbo-jumbo. “Dey still eatin’ down there! Especially with all the shrimp, shiners etc. funneling through those channels on a good moving tide — which is exactly what we got tomorrow!”
The next morning’s boat haul to the mouth of Bayou Sue (“Hasouse” on some maps) from Shell Beach across the calm southeast corner of Lake Borgne took all of 14 minutes.
And all of one boat was visible in the area.
“Sure enough!” Pelayo snickered. “Everybody’s at Da Long Rocks (the mouth of the MRGO into Breton Sound)!
“We got this area — as usual — pretty much to ourselves!”
Nowadays, rock riprap borders Lake Borgne from just south of Proctor’s Point on the west to just south of the mouth of Padre Bayou on the east.
Though titled “Bayou Padre” on most contemporary maps, the late, great Blackie Campo insisted the original and proper name was Bayou Pedro — and Ole Man Blackie sure oughta know!
Whatever, the area between the riprap and the banks at the mouths of these deep bayous that empty and fill the Biloxi Marsh from Lake Borgne, now contain little drains and ledges.
The strong, constricted currents pushing through these arteries into the interior Biloxi Marsh obviously account for this phenomenon.
And these places — as you might guess — are perfect for holding hungry specks, reds, flounder, etc., as the bait pushes through.
Indeed: Little schools of pogies and finger mullet were rippling the calm surface as we idled in to the mouth of Bay Sue.
“Check it out!” Artie said, pointing at a shrimp skipping crazily along the surface, obviously pursued from below.
In brief, the place had fish written all over it.
So we were definitely PUMPED as Pelayo gently let down the anchor near the spartina-bordered shoreline and we scrambled for our poles.
Prudence dictated we bring along some live shrimp.
“Mainly as hors d’oeuvres!” as Pelayo always says.
Then, when they get the fish’s appetites worked up, we usually switch to plastic.
But while we were dipping and fumbling with the live shrimp, Artie was already casting his dead shrimp-tipped beetle to a current line near the riprap.
His cork hit the water and imediately disappeared.
“CORK DOWN!” yelled Doc’s nephew, Cliff, as Artie looked around, gaped and finally set the hook!
“We’re on ’em!” Artie yelled, as a school speck hit the surface in its classic gill-rattling frenzy.
Cliff, who was attending medical school in Vanderbilt ( to his Tulane Medical school uncle’s disgust) had shown up even later than Artie the previous night, so he also slept late and got up barely in time to hop in our boat, instead of his uncle’s.
Now he was casting his live shrimp almost exactly where Artie had scored.
His cork lasted about 3 seconds and WHAM — the fight was on.
But Cliff’s drag was singing crazily and his pole was bent over double.
“Dat ain’t no school speck!” Artie yelled after plopping his into the box.
Cliff was on the bow with his rod high overhead, whooping with delight.
“Feels like a red!” he whooped.
I soon netted it — about a 5-pounder.
In short order that current-scoured ledge yielded 10 more school specks, a flounder and a perfectly sized puppy drum.
Meanwhile Pelayo was casting his tandem sparkle beetles toward the middle of the channel and hauling out smaller specks ( 12¼ to 13 inches long) on practically every cast.
After about an hour, we all switched to his casting routine, but we caught one speck to every four or five of Pelayo’s?
“Here’s the deal,” Pelayo said, finally taking a time-out to explain. “Notice I’m casting upcurrent.”
Pelayo cast, took up his slack, bounced his rod tip a bit ….
“There he is!” he shouted.
And soon another 14-inch speck was soon aboard.
“I’m guessing trout probably know shrimp don’t swim against a current, at least one this strong,” Pelayo explained. “They know such a current usually carries the shrimp with it.
“So I’m letting my jigs bounce along with it. Maybe it looks more natural that way to the specks.”
Whatever, it sure seemed to work.
The pattern worked at that spot and a bit farther up the coast at the deep, current-scoured mouth’s of Bayous Shell and Padre — especially after the sun started blazing in the late morning.
By noon we were done. Not with four-man limits of school specks, but with about 60 to 70 fish.
About a third of the box was made up of delectable white trout.
The action had been almost nonstop. We were hot, bushed but definitely happy-campers — all high-fiving as we cranked up the engine for the hop, skip and jump back to Shell Beach.
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