This couple spends most of their time fishing Lake Pontchartrain’s Trestles, and this month is prime time. So learn how they fill their ice chest with chunky trout.
“She’s ate up with fishing!” the man said. “She starts texting me about noon to go fishing. She’s the honey badger of fishing: She just takes what she wants!”
Tom Cresson was talking about the attractive brunette in his boat, his wife Karen.
“It’s so peaceful to get away from everything,” she said in her own defense. “It’s good therapy for me.
The Slidell couple own Tom Cresson Electric, an electrical contracting business (their boat is named “The Fishin’ Electrician).
Tom ramrods the field work; Karen does all the paper and office work.
The boat ride down Salt Bayou and Lake Pontchartrain was thankfully short. It was bitter cold for November, in spite of the cobalt blue skies.
The couple specializes in fishing the Trestles, the 5.8-mile railroad bridge across the narrow (relative to the rest of the lake) eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain.
They fish it almost year-round, only giving it a break when water temperatures get too cold — typically late December to early April.
“I used to fish all over,” Tom said, “but then our daughter went off to college and Karen started fishing.
“We do all our fishing in Lake Pontchartrain — win, lose or draw. We fish a lot more since we are committed to fishing here.”
“Here” includes the Biloxi marsh and Pearl River areas, but the couple especially likes to fish the Trestles because of its proximity to their Salt Bayou lake house.
“So many of our trips are afternoon trips,” Tom explained.
Exactly where they fish within the Lake Pontchartrain basin is a matter of the time of year.
“April through June and October through December are our best trout months on the bridge,” Tom said. “July, August and September we fish drum, sheepshead and flounder at the Trestles, mixed with trips to the L&N Bridge in the Rigolets (Pass) for redfish, drum and trout.
“A few trips to the Biloxi Marsh to sightfish for reds are mixed in.”
Tom throttled back the bay boat as he neared the long concrete span without passing through it.
“I always fish the west side of the bridge, no matter if the tide is rising or falling,” he said. “We’re not picky; we just go on any tide.”
He did admit they find a falling tide to be slightly better than a rising tide, however.
The Cressons fish the length of the bridge, but under ordinary circumstance will more often concentrate on the south end.
Tom noted that in years when the Bonnet Carre Spillway is opened, dumping millions of gallons of muddy, fresh Mississippi River water into the lake, the north end of the bridge stays clean enough to fish the longest.
But muddy water doesn’t necessarily keep them from fishing.
“The water can be muddy on the surface and clear beneath,” Tom explained.
On this trip, their baitwell held shrimp, their favorite live bait. These were purchased from the nearby Rigolets Marina, but Tom routinely catches his own by cast-netting from the dock at his lake house.
He attracts and concentrates them by tossing out TOPS dog food (the only brand that sinks, he stressed) before beginning to throw his cast net.
“If I can catch 200 shrimp in an hour or two, it beats watching TV,” he said with a shrug.
So addicted to shrimp is the couple that when Tom can’t catch their own and Rigolets Marina is out, they will drive all the way to Chalmette to buy them.
Tom idled to his favorite spot of the moment. They fish the bridge regularly, and go back to where they have recently caught fish until the spot plays out.
Then they move.
When he got to where he wanted to be, Tom whipped out what is probably one of the greatest inventions ever (at least since the hook) for fishing Lake Pontchartrain’s short bridges: the remote control for his Minn Kota I-Pilot.
He punched the anchor button twice and didn’t have to tend the trolling motor again until they decided to move later in the morning. The trolling motor, using GPS coordinates, held the boat stock-still in the same spot in spite of wind and currents.
“We used to have a 3 ½-foot piece of two-by-four board with a piece of rope tied in its center,” Tom grinned. “When we would get on a good bite, we would wedge the board into cracks in the bridge and tied the other end of the rope off on the boat to hold us in one spot.
“This is a lot better.”
The couple leisurely rigged their favorite rigs. Tom used a sliding cork to fish the hook about a foot off the bottom; Karen used a drop-shot rig.
Each rigged a shrimp by carefully driving the point of a hook through the crustacean’s horn.
Fishing the bridge with live shrimp on a sliding cork was done entirely different than fishing with soft plastic on jigheads, which are always cast as close to a bridge piling as possible and allowed to fall all the way to the bottom before beginning the retrieve.
Some of Tom’s casts were, indeed, close to pilings, but many were made between pilings — and some were fanned around the boat, well away from the bridge’s structure.
“You steadily get movement of the bait from the tide’s currents,” he explained.
Both anglers immediately began connecting with speckled trout, with Tom catching two to Karen’s one.
“You need to use a sliding cork, Karen,” Tom rumbled in a low voice Karen pretended she didn’t hear.
When Karen got a bite on her rig, she was able to set the hook quickly because she was always in contact with her hook.
Setting the hook on the sliding cork rig was a little different: Tom had to quickly reel up all the slack line produced by the drifting cork before he could set the hook.
It didn’t take long, though, before the competitive Karen quietly switched to a sliding cork rig.
Catching her rerigging out of the corner of his eye, Tom couldn’t resist ribbing her.
“She listened to her husband,” he mugged.
Karen ignored that one, too.
The Cressons eat their fish, so they take good care of them.
Before the first fish went into the icebox, Tom added enough water to make a slush. This instantly chilled trout.
As a side benefit, the fish died perfectly straight, making for easy filleting.
Speckled trout weren’t the only fish the couple caught.
Karen wrestled down the mother of all sheepshead, and Tom responded by pulling in a blue catfish.
“That’s only my second one ever here,” Tom marveled.
But before they quit fishing, Karen caught a similar-sized blue cat, leaving her husband speechless.
Fish numbers in the box quickly added up on the cold day.
Finally, Tom stowed his rod, but Karen ignored him and kept fishing.
“She never wants to quit,” Tom said with a smile. “It will be getting dark and she is saying, ‘One more cast; just one more cast.’
“I’ll get everything ready, and then she’ll say, ‘Wait, I have to get my line in.’”
Reluctantly, Karen put her rod up.
But not before tallying one more fish than her husband.
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