Timbalier Time

The islands in this large bay stack up with speckled trout in May. Here’s how to load the boat.

Boats stream across Timbalier Bay as the weather warms up and dreams of big trout draw anglers to the barrier islands, but guide Chad Dufrene doesn’t follow the pack. Instead, he makes the short run from Bobby Lynn’s to the first islands between Lake Raccourci and Timbalier Bay.

“They’re passing up fish,” Dufrene said. “This is the first
place the fish stop when they leave the marshes.”

Besides, he said, fishing Timbalier and East Timbalier islands s a tricky business.

“There’s only a handful of days that that you can catch those big fish,” the owner of Dufrene’s Guide Service explained. “If it’s rough, you just can’t do it.”

And even on those days when the weather allows big-trout action, Dufrene said it’s just no fun for him.

“On any given weekend, there’s so many boats out there. You’ve got to take a number to fish out there,” he said.

So he prefers to hop the island chains inside the bay, even if his chances of catching lunkers are small.

“I’d rather catch numbers,” he explained.

However, May is the best bet for a combination of numbers and size on the scattered islands.

“That’s going to last three, four, five weeks,” Dufrene said. “It’s going to be pretty fish — drag-stripping fish.”

The fish will run up to about 4 pounds during this early run, and even then, the numbers of these bruisers will be limited.

“A 3- to 3 1/2-pound trout is a good fish for us,” he said. “You’re not going to catch a box of 4- to 7-pound trout.

“When you catch a 5- or 6-pound trout out here, you might want to mount it.”

By early June, however, the bigger fish will pull out to the barrier islands.

“The rest of the year, you’re going to catch 12- to 18-inch fish,” Dufrene said.

And that’s what draws him to the bay — swarms of trout.

But it’s not just a matter of pulling up to any reef or island. Dufrene said it’s often a process of elimination.

“You might have to jump around, but you’ll eventually find them,” Dufrene said. “Our fish are always on the move.

“You’ve got to be prepared to burn some gas to find fish.”

The key is to time trips to coincide with an incoming tide.

“The tide pushes green water in,” he said. “When that green water moves in, that bait will move up on the islands, and the fish will follow that bait.”

That being said, trout also can be landed during the first couple of hours of a falling tide, Dufrene said.

“You’ll catch some fish on an incoming tide, but you’ll catch more in the evening on a falling tide,” he said.

So he plans to spend a full day on the water.

When fishing visible islands, Dufrene usually looks for cuts that allow the water to flow through, or he’ll set up on a point.

“It seems like the bait congregates on those cuts and points better,” he said.

Reefs or the submerged remains of eroded islands present many more opportunities, since trout can set up anywhere on the structure to ambush bait.

Dufrene said he generally begins upcurrent of structure.

“I really like to fish upcurrent because I think that’s where most of the fish will be,” he said. “They sit in that eddy caused by the water passing around or over the island.”

Of course, if there already are boats set up, Dufrene might have to work other parts of the structure.

His approach to fishing these areas is to be cautious.

“You definitely don’t want to run up there and throw an anchor out,” he said. “People do that, and then they wonder why they aren’t catching any fish.”

Instead, he shuts down well ahead of time.

“I drift in, and find out where the fish are,” Dufrene said. “Sometimes they’re 50 feet off the island; sometimes they’re right on the island.”

The veteran guide uses his trolling motor to slowly position the boat for optimal effect.

“A trolling motor is the key to trout fishing,” Dufrene said. “I don’t know how people fish without one.”

When he gets a couple of bites, Dufrene quietly steps away from the trolling motor, grabs his Cajun anchor and stabs it into the bottom.

“It doesn’t make any noise,” he explained.

This type of anchor works well in muddy bottoms, but Dufrene said he keeps a traditional bottom-dragging anchor aboard in case he has to fish where the bottom is predominantly sand.

“That Cajun anchor doesn’t work too well in sand,” he said.

When he’s forced to use a conventional anchor, Dufrene eases it in the water to avoid spooking the school.

Once set up on a school, Dufrene said there are two options: tightlined plastics and live bait.

His personal preference is the former, but he said that’s not always the best choice.

“If you’re (the only boat on an island), you can catch a lot of fish on plastics,” he said. “But if someone shows up with minnows, you have to move to live bait.”

Shrimp are almost impossible to find in the Golden Meadow/Leesville area, so the baitfish of choice for area anglers is cocahoes.

But even when fish hit plastics, a switch to live bait is sometimes warranted.

“When you’re catching fish on plastics and the bite slows down, you can switch to a minnow and get them going again,” Dufrene said.

At that point, the plastics can generally be tossed aside, but Dufrene said there are times when he’ll still catch a few on artificial offerings.

“If you’ve got two or three people using plastics, and that really gets the school going, one person can throw a plastic out and catch them,” he said. “At that point, it doesn’t make a difference.”

Effective colors for clear-water situations include smoke/red glitter and glow/chartreuse.

“The smoke looks like brown shrimp, and the glow color looks like white shrimp,” Dufrene said. Black/chartreuse and purple/chartreuse are equally effective in dingy water.

“The fish can just see them so much better.”

He prefers the 3 1/2-inch ReAction Chubs over larger versions of the artificial lures.

“You’re going to miss too many smaller fish,” Dufrene said. “There just aren’t enough big trout out there to target them.”

When it comes to live bait, Dufrene said he doesn’t mess with Carolina rigs.

Instead, he just rips off his plastic lure and punches the jighead’s point through a minnow’s lip.

“I just throw it out there and bump it along like a plastic worm,” he said. “They’ll bump it just like a bass and start swimming off with it.”

He uses only 1/4-ounce jigheads.

“You don’t need anything heavier than that,” he said. “You don’t have that kind of current in the bay: It’s just so wide open and big.”

And Dufrene doesn’t want the big magnum minnows. He likes those that are 2 to 3 inches long.

“The bigger ones don’t mean bigger fish, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I find they eat those little minnows better.”

Water depth really isn’t much of an issue for the bay, he said.

“The deepest water you’re going to find in the bay is probably 7 to 12 feet,” Dufrene said. “So it doesn’t really matter how deep the water is.”

Therefore, he’ll fish around any island or over any reef no matter how much water surrounds it.

“I just pay attention to the water,” Dufrene said. “I’m looking for bait and slicks.”

What he seldom pays attention to are diving birds.

“We don’t fish a lot of birds,” he explained. “Most of the time, those birds in the open water are over small fish.”

So he normally just passes by feeding flocks of gulls.

The only exception is when birds are feeding near his target areas.

“The only time I fish birds is when they’re diving on flats or near an island,” Dufrene said. “If you find birds in shallow water, you’ll catch bigger fish.”

But water clarity is a critical factor.

Fortunately, the bay has a cycle that makes the hunt for trout a logical pursuit.

And it all starts on the eastern side of the bay.

“The fish show up earlier southeast of Lake Raccourci in Pelican Pass,” Dufrene said. “It always cleans up first there.”

That’s because the tide floods through the cuts in the barrier islands, and Pelican Pass offers the easiest route for the clean, Gulf water.

So the first stops will be a group of islands on the east side of the pass, marking the boundary between the pass and Jacko Camp Bay.

Two of these unnamed islands are visible, and two are submerged due to erosion.

“Usually, it cleans up here first thing in the morning,” Dufrene said.

So when his Blazer Bay cuts through the marsh and out of Little Lake, Dufrene turns it directly toward these fish-rich waters.

In addition to the islands along the eastern edge of Pelican Pass, Dufrene will often run to an old camp pad at the mouth of Pierle Bay just to the southeast.

“It’s marked with big creosote pilings,” Dufrene said. “It used to be an old camp, and there’s just a big shell reef left there now.”

Once he’s thoroughly probed these areas, Dufrene will turn his eyes west.

He can begin by hopping right across Pelican Pass to Caporn Point, a submerged island just to the east-northeast of Philo Brice Island.

The northern tip of Northwest Island also is a good option.

His next choice depends upon what he finds there.

“If I’m coming across the bay and see the water’s green, I know there will be fish on the southwest part of Fornation,” Dufrene said.

But if the water hasn’t quite made the change yet on Northwest Island, Dufrene heads southwest to Casse-tete Island.

“The western tip is really the best part of the island,” he said. “The bait sweeps around that point, and the fish stack up right there.”

Moving farther west, Dufrene makes stops at Brush Island, which is chopped up into several pieces.

The western tip of the main island has excellent fishing, Dufrene said.

“There’s a cut right there, and that’s the best place on the island,” he said.

He works the Gulf side of the island, moving back and forth until he locates a school.

But he also finds fish around the northeastern tip of the island. This tip is actually a big grassy island now.

If his customers still haven’t finished off their limits, Dufrene said he can generally pick up some fish in the canals on the backside of Timbalier Island.

“If the mullet are present, the fish are going to be in there,” he said.

This pattern lasts through May or early June, when the trout begin looking for cooler water.

“That’s when they move onto the platforms in the bay,” Dufrene said. “They start moving to deeper water.”

The Caillou Island chain is a prime target during the transition, but by the end of June and into July, the trout have moved solidly onto the platforms north of Caillou Island and west of Fornation.

Until then, however, Dufrene will be running from one island to the next to stay on the schoolies for which Timablier Bay is known.

Capt. Chad Dufrene can be reached at (985) 637-6357.

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About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.

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