Trout Masters excerpt: Pursuing big specks with live croakers

Lieux shares tips and tactics for using live bait to catch big-time trout

Pursuing trophy trout can be a slow, pain-staking process – but Charlie Lieux would rather catch five big fish than 25 2- or 3-pounders.

In this excerpt from Trout Masters: How Louisiana Anglers Catch the Lunkers, Lieux discusses how he uses live croakers in pursuit of trophy trout out of Grand Isle.

Finally, at a ramshackle-rusty satellite rig, Lieux’s perseverance paid off. Both men began putting 2- to 4-pound fish in the boat regularly. While they were fishing, an uncomfortably hot wind began to pick up.

As Lieux made one cast after another, with a patented underhand swing any golfer would be proud of, he discussed his equipment and tactics. His preference is for 7-foot, medium-heavy to heavy Castaway rods. His reel of choice is an Ambassador casting reel, although he will use a spinning reel for pitching slip corks under rigs.

He uses different lines, depending upon where he fishes. In the surf, his choice is 20-pound-test Stren or Trilene monofilament, rigged with a 40-pound-test Ande mono leader. When he fishes rigs and rocks, he uses reels spooled with 80-pound-test PowerPro line and, if the water is clear, a 40-pound-test Ande monofilament shock leader. If the water isn’t clear, he fishes without a leader. He uses No. 1 and 2 treble hooks exclusively, with the larger hooks being used for larger croakers, and vice versa.

Lieux inevitably fishes his croakers one of three ways. He uses slip corks, mainly under the rigs but also at rocks. He sets his slip corks at half the water depth to start, and fishes up or down to find the fish.

He uses a Carolina rig, with weights ranging from ¼- to 1-ounce when he needs to get his bait to the bottom. Finally and most of all, he likes freelining, with or without a couple of split shots on the line above the leader. Freelining, he feels, allows the croaker to be more active and natural-appearing.

Signs that Lieux looks for are clear water and the presence of baitfish. In clear water on the beach, he fishes water as shallow as possible for the first hour or hour and a half, then concentrates in the foamy water breaking on the second sandbar off the beach.

He cautions, however, that he has caught speckled trout in water that looks like chocolate milk and that water can also be too clear. When the water is gin-clear, he backs up off the beach into deeper water. He notes that surface waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River can be deceiving. Beneath the lighter muddy fresh water at the surface is often a layer of clear but heavier salt water. Watching the wheel wash of the motor’s propeller will reveal it.

His favorite baitfish to spy are small mullet “tail-dancing” on the water’s surface. Big mullet, those over 9 inches or so, usually attract bigger predator fish than speckled trout. Schools of pogies flicking at the water’s surface are also a good sign.

Schools of glass minnows (silversides) aren’t worth following, he says. Only small trout eat them. The same goes for shrimp. Shrimp as bait are for catching large numbers of smaller trout. If he has to use shrimp, they will be very large shrimp, counting 10 to 12 to the pound.

Lieux doesn’t get excited about birds diving on feeding fish, unless they are pelicans, which often target pogies. Gulls and terns dive on glass minnows and shrimp, and Lieux isn’t interested in what is chasing them.

When fishing the beaches, areas of shell and exposed mud or marsh stubble bottoms in otherwise sandy stretches attract his attention. A clump of roseau cane just behind the beach often promises submerged cane stubble in front of it. Anything different catches his eye.

On beaches, Lieux also studies surface-water patterns, looking particularly for what he calls a “tidal bridle.” These are gaps in the second sandbar where water brought to the beach by wind and waves flows back offshore. They are ideal spots of fish activity, he said.

As for wind direction, Lieux said he can find a place to fish at the mouth of the river with any wind, but at Grand Isle, west or north winds are “the kiss of death.” They shut the fish down, he said, and it is very hard to cast into the teeth of a north wind. The best winds at Grand Isle are slight south to southeast winds.

Other conditions Lieux prefers are cloud cover and falling tides in general. He fishes all tide ranges, but the best, he said, are between 1 and 1½ feet. Moon phase, he feels, affects trout. He likes full moons best, and says that he has caught some “real pigs” on the April full moon. He notes that on full moons, he often finds real good fishing activity at mid-day, which he attributes to the trout feeding at night by the light of the moon. Finally, Lieux swears by solunar tables.

Learn more about how the best guides and anglers across the Louisiana coast catch trout day in, day out by purchasing the Trout Masters Tool Kit, which includes a special package price for Trout Masters: How Louisiana’s Best Anglers Catch the Lunkers and Trout Masters Too: How the Pros do it.

About Jerald Horst 959 Articles
Jerald Horst is a retired Louisiana State University professor of fisheries. He is an active writer, book author and outdoorsman.