Not even bad mojo can stop the trout action right now in Breton Sound.
I told my old buddy, Glenn Sanchez, over at the Breton Sound Marina, that he owed me a trip. A good trip. It’s a debt he has owed me for a long, long time, and it was debt he couldn’t escape, because I wouldn’t let him. You see, many years ago, Glenn and I went fishing in an ancient piece of equipment he called a boat. I hate to diss a man’s rig, but I’ve seen Katrina wreckage that looked better.
I have to confess that I’ve owned my share of ugly cars and boats (and one really hideous motor home), but Glenn’s boat was a definite top prize winner in any ugly boat contest.
The worst part is, not only was it ugly, it was unlucky. Not that I really believe in such things, mind you, but our fishing trip those many years ago was both miserable and fruitless. Glenn blamed it on the weather. “Bad conditions,” he said.
Admittedly, it was one of those 39-degree, rotten winter days, with blustery winds, low water (make that NO water), no tide and NO FISH to show for our efforts.
But conditions shouldn’t matter when you’re a good fisherman. That’s what I told him. A good fisherman can overcome bad days. But even a good fisherman can’t overcome bad luck. Especially when your bad luck is all rolled up and concentrated in the form of one very ugly boat.
So imagine my surprise, my very pleasant surprise, when I laid eyes for the first time on Glenn’s brand-new post-Katrina rig — a 24-foot Blazer Bay boat powered by Yamaha’s flagship outboard, their 250 four-stroke.
That’s the boat he promised to take me fishing on, and he was so confident that this boat didn’t inherit the jinx of the old one, he invited a couple of my buddies to come along and witness the occasion.
We arrived well before daylight at the marina where Glenn is part-owner and Karen, his significant other, is the brains behind the day-to-day operation. We piled our stuff into the brand new ju-ju free boat, and met Glenn’s son, Jonathan Sanchez, who was at the helm, getting everything ready for our departure.
Jonathan, I soon discovered, is also a charter captain, whose youth belied his experience. Glenn said he raised the boy on bait instead of a bottle.
By the time the sun woke up, rubbed the sleep out of its eyes and began to peek over the horizon, we were already well on our way down the Ship Channel, headed toward the distant rigs in Breton Sound.
The rocks at the end of the MRGO are about a 17-mile run from Hopedale. The long rocks actually extend about eight miles into the Sound, making them the longest rock jetty anywhere in the entire United States. Those rocks are a great place to troll, and I have to admit they’re still one of my all-time favorite places to fish. They have salvaged many a trip for me that would have otherwise been a washout.
Just recently I had some out-of-town guests come in who wanted to make a fishing trip into the sound. We ran all the way to the cut in the rocks, only to be met by stiff winds and seas hefty enough to turn us back.
Undaunted, we simply trolled the rocks, tossing a variety of baits including spoons, beetle-spins, soft plastics and topwaters. We ended up with 28 very respectable trout and a couple reds, and we did battle with a jack and even a small shark.
To say that my friends were satisfied would be an understatement. They were thrilled, and have talked about that trip ever since.
I mention this for good reason. The rocks are a great fall-back plan. If for some reason, the sound is unproductive or the conditions too inhospitable, consider the rocks. The one downside to that plan is that, on those days with a stiff southeast wind, it blows straight up the channel and makes even the rocks unfishable.
We passed the end of the rocks, and Jonathan pointed the bow toward the Dope Boat, which lays another 4 or 5 miles or so into the sound. Once past the protection offered by the jetty, we got the full force of the wind and sea. The winds were blowing much harder than the weatherman predicted (so, what’s new?), and the seas were solid 3-footers.
We anchored within casting distance of the submerged hull of the Dope Boat, and began casting live shrimp and croakers in a variety of presentations. Carolina rigs and bottom jigging in general is discouraged over the Dope Boat for obvious reasons. You’re just gonna lose a whole lotta tackle.
Many anglers choose to free-line shrimp or croakers, with maybe just a split-shot attached to their line about 6 or 8 inches above the hook. Others prefer to fish with popping corks or sliding corks.
The fact is, all of it will produce when the fish are there, and when they’re biting. But nothing works when they’re not. And on this windy morning, nothing was biting. So far, we’d had nary a nibble. We rocked and bounced in the big bay boat at anchor, but nothing we tried was working. Either the fish just weren’t there, or they had lockjaw.
All the while, Glenn looked calm and patient, and seemed totally unfazed by our lack of success. Me, I couldn’t help thinking about the jinx of the ugly boat, hoping it hadn’t hopped onto the new one. Not that I believe in jinxes, hexes, ju-ju’s or other such things.
We managed to hang up a few times on the submerged hulk, and began thinking about heading in and looking for calmer water when Jonathan latched on to a hefty speckled trout.
Now, whenever that happens, it can either be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good if it signals the beginning of a feeding frenzy, and everybody begins to catch some fish. But it’s bad if it encourages us to stay even longer at an unproductive spot, especially while we’re rocking and rolling in an unrelenting sea.
Fifteen more minutes passed without another bite and a decision had to be made. Do we stay or do we go?
“What do you want to do, Jonathan?” his dad asked.
We were all ready for the only reasonable answer. Head in, look for some calmer water and try to find a few fish to salvage the day.
“Let’s head to those rigs farther out,” I heard him reply. “About 10 miles out, we can find a place to hide behind some of those rigs, get out of the seas, and hopefully, get on some real action.”
Without further word, we were off and running, albeit much slower than before, in seas that were steadily building. We were heading farther outside in worsening conditions. The only logical explanation was that the son had inherited the father’s madness.
We eventually arrived at a Katrina-battered rig that looked worse than we felt, and Jonathan swung the big bay boat behind a part of the rig that offered us some protection, but not a whole lot.
Once the boat was properly hooked on and positioned, we baited up with live shrimp and croakers, and began what we knew would be more fruitless fishing. I mean, how could anybody catch fish under such conditions?
Weren’t we surprised! The first bait to reach the bottom was greeted by a ravenous appetite in the form of a 2 1/2-pound speckled trout. It pulled and protested and fought like a banshee all the way into the boat. And it was quickly followed by another, and then another, and another.
We were into a speckled trout feeding frenzy, and every bait we tossed got inhaled as soon as it reached the bottom.
And these were no small trout. Several were in the 4-pound range, and the small ones were at least 2 pounds.
It became quickly evident that live croakers were being hit the hardest and the fastest, and they were attracting bigger fish. Live shrimp were also working, but they were being hit pretty hard by banana fish (a.k.a. lady fish; poor-man’s tarpon; aggravating bait-stealing makes-me-want-to-spit fish. And by the way, never swing those nasty things aboard because they are guaranteed to poop a mountainous gelatin of slippery goo the moment you do).
The action became absolutely crazy. Hooks and fish were flying everywhere. Every cast got nailed by something — mostly big speckled trout. My buddies and I were keeping both captains busy just taking fish off our lines.
I switched to the new, large Salt Water Assassin Swimming Shiner in the pogey color, and kept right on catching fish. If anything, I started catching even bigger fish.
I knew that as long as my buddies were fishing with all that live bait, it was safe for me to cast plastics. The live stuff in the water held the fish close to the boat and kept them from taking off. But if everybody started throwing plastics, we might lose the school. And if another boat were at the same rig tossing live baits, we definitely would lose the school.
“This is the way it has been out here all summer long,” Glenn said. “Everywhere from the Central Platforms to the rigs in Black Bay and everywhere in between. You try a rig, give it 10 or 15 minutes, and then try the other side.
“Give that 10 or 15 minutes, and if you still haven’t caught anything, move to another rig. Keep moving until you find them, and come prepared with enough live shrimp and croakers. That’s the whole secret to success right now.”
Jonathan echoed his father’s statements, and said this kind of action is happening on both sides of the Ship Channel right now, on the Central side and on the Black Bay side, and he expects it to continue through September. That is, if there are no hurricanes.
He says he often circles unfamiliar rigs, studying his depth finder, noting the shell pad layer on the bottom. He then positions the boat so he can cast upcurrent, allowing the bait to fall back toward him, making for a more natural presentation of the bait.
“I look for rigs with a lot of flow-pipes when I’m targeting specks,” he said. “I’ve consistently found more trout around the rigs with flow-pipes.
“And if I’m targeting reds, I fish rigs with more pilings and fewer pipes. Fish the same way for reds as you do trout, and dead shrimp will work as good as live stuff on reds. But be prepared to throw back most of the redfish you catch out here at the rigs this month because these fish are huge — 20, 25, 30 pounds.”
Jonathan says live croakers are a good bet for big trout, but the croakers tend to be big, almost too big, in August. Carolina rigs and free-lining are the best techniques, and anglers should let the current dictate which they choose.
On a hard current, you’ll need heavier weight to get your bait to the bottom, so a Carolina rig will produce best.
On light-current days, a single split shot above your bait will be enough to do the trick, he said. And a sliding cork setup is an excellent choice over the flow-pipes to prevent hang-ups, he added.
“If the ladyfish are real bad, try switching to plastics on a ½-ounce jig-head to see if you can get your bait to the bottom where the trout are,” he advised. “But sometimes nothing works.
And if the sharks get too thick, you’ll probably be better off just pulling up and moving to another rig. I always come with a lot of pre-tied leaders out here, because you are going to lose some tackle.”
Meanwhile, we weren’t merely fishing, we were slaughtering specks. Every cast. And each fish seemed bigger than the one before it. The action was as fast and furious as I’ve ever seen it. And we were merciless. We filled the ice chest until it couldn’t hold another fish. Then we filled the ice box in the floor of the boat before we finally reached our limits just as we ran out of bait. The timing just couldn’t have been any better. We wore out ourselves, wore out the fish and left them biting.
But we had been so busy and preoccupied catching so many fish, we totally forgot about how hefty the seas were becoming, which now averaged 4 feet.
It was a wild, rolling, wave-crashing, bone-jarring but entirely satisfying ride back to the launch.
And I was glad for Glenn’s sake. The ugly boat jinx was finally broken! Not that I believe in such things. After all, it’s bad luck to be superstitious.
Capt. Glenn Sanchez can be reached at (504) 491-3841. Capt. Jonathan Sanchez can be reached at (504) 232-6227.