Redfish teem in the ponds and bays around this little Southeast Louisiana port. Here are some tips on how and where to make limits.
There was the faintest hint of the day’s dawn when Rusty “China” Helmer stabbed the Cajun anchor into the soft mud of the shallow pond just south of Plum Point. We had made the early morning run across Little Lake from Lafitte, and Helmer promised the skinny water held plenty of redfish.“Last week, I brought some clients in here, and they caught 20 reds right here,” Helmer said.
The Joe’s Landing guide grabbed a couple of spinning rods rigged with corks and leaders only about 6 or 8 inches long. The outfits were pretty ridiculous looking: I mean, why use a cork if the water’s so shallow?
But I kept that thought to myself.
After threading dead shrimp onto the kahle hooks tied beneath the corks, we tossed the offerings as far as we could toward the bank. The tide was still falling, so the corks moved slowly down the bank.
I popped mine fairly aggressively, but Helmer barely moved his.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to let it sit,” he said. “I don’t know if (popping the cork) pisses them off, or what, but sometimes when you pop it too much, they’ll run from it.”
So I laid off, watching my cork drift and thinking I’d rather take a beating than fish like this. But then, my cork bobbed before disappearing.
The first fish of the day was a trout so small it was hard to believe the shrimp could fit down its throat. But, hey, it was a fish.
In the next 15 minutes, I landed another tiny trout, a 10-inch redfish and a couple of hardheads. Not really what we were looking for. To Helmer’s defense, there wasn’t much sign of redfish action.
“Let’s move,” he said. “We should be seeing some fish move, but they’re not. Maybe we fished this stretch out.”
The anchor was pulled, and the guide trolled the Skeeter around a point as the rising sun painted a bank of clouds with its garish reds and oranges. The breeze rippled the waters, and it was quickly apparent we would be fighting fish soon: Submarine wakes moved up and down the bank ahead of us, and a huge blowup revealed a feeding fish’s location about 100 yards away.
“That’s what we’ve been looking for,” Helmer said.
We continued throwing dead shrimp under corks, but Helmer finally gave me the opportunity I was looking for.
“You can throw artificials if you want,” he said, making another cast of his own.
I didn’t even respond: I quickly grabbed one of my baitcasters, tied on a BooYah Samurai Blade and sent the spinnerbait on its first trip of the day.
Several casts later, I felt a satisfying tap, and then the bait just stopped as if it had hit a wall. The water came alive as I set the hook; the red apparently didn’t think much of the hook, making frantic runs toward small grass islands in an attempt to get away.
It was the first of several hard-fighting reds that fell for the Samurai Blade along that same stretch of bank. Helmer moved to a gold Johnson spoon, and hooked and missed a red before switching to a blade.
The pond was simply alive with redfish, and that’s what Helmer said makes the marshes south of Plum Point one of his primary targets throughout the summer.
“You’ve always got fish,” he said. “It’s the bait: You see how there were those finger mullet back there and those shrimp were popping? You’ve always got bait, and where there’s bait there are fish.”
He was right. The entire complex of ponds was thick with bait, and reds waked all along shorelines and islands.
Unfortunately, the winds were beginning to howl, and the ponds were muddying up quickly. That’s one danger of these ponds, which aren’t small and protected. Look at the area on a map, and what you really find is one huge pond broken by islands and remants of canal banks.
“They used to be small ponds, but they’re big now,” Helmer said.
As the water continued to dirty, the fishing became tougher. The Lafitte native said that wasn’t surprising because of the wind. Well, not so much the fact that it was windy; rather, it was the direction of the breezes that was causing the steadily declining water clarity.
“If you get any north wind, the water muddies up,” he said.
That was exactly what was happening this day: A 10- to 15-m.p.h. breeze was blowing out of the northeast, and the water was getting filthy fast.
However, Helmer said a south wind doesn’t cause the same problem.
“If you get two days of a south wind, it’ll be root beer,” he said. “It cleans up fast, but it dirties fast.”
But Helmer said the great thing about the marshes surrounding Lafitte is the wide range of options.
“You don’t have to go very far,” he said. “There are ponds all over the place. You can always go somewhere and be hidden.”
On those days that are questionable for a Little Lake crossing, Helmer said anglers can simply point their bows southeast of Lafitte to the oil-field complex located between Bayou Dupont, the Dupont Cutoff and Bayou Cutler.
Helmer fishes defined banks, broken banks and islands, but said the latter is definitely his favorite.
“I like to fish the points of the islands,” he explained. “You wouldn’t believe those little islands will hold so many fish, but they will.”
He generally fishes the downcurrent points, targeting redfish ambushing bait being swept past.
Whenever possible, he’ll set up so that his clients can fish more than one of these islands.
“If you’ve got four men on the boat, you can anchor so that they can fish two islands,” Helmer said. “They can fish on both sides of the boat.”
But he doesn’t stay in one place too long unless he’s on fish.
“I’ll fish for 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes, and if I don’t get any bites, I’ll move to another pond or another area of the pond,” Helmer said.
Joe’s Landing co-owner Sid Bourgeois offered one word of caution about fishing interior ponds, however.
“A lot of places are posted,” Bourgeois said. “There are a lot of areas you can’t fish that we used to fish all the time.”
Some of the landowners are becoming pretty aggressive about keeping the public out of what they believe is their property, he said.
“Just be aware of the posted signs,” Bourgeois said.
Helmer, however, sticks with the ponds as the summer ages, but he said it becomes more difficult to fish because grass mats the surface of many of the most-productive waters by late summer.
It’s still possible to fish some ponds, focusing on the edges of grass beds, but Bourgeois said it gets difficult as the summer ages.
“The grass can start getting pretty thick in the ponds,” Bourgeois said. “The fishing can get a little difficult.”
In fact, there already were ponds where grass was matting in late May, with snotty green algae making fishing those areas difficult.
However, Helmer said that his short-leadered cork rigs come in handy in these shallow, grass-choked waters.
“The leader is short enough that you can fish around that grass without getting caught up in it,” he said. “You can fish over the grass that hasn’t reached the surface yet.”
Bourgeois, however, simply prefers to move out of the ponds to focus on deeper water. He said redfish are plentiful in the deeper waters of the bayous snaking through the marshes, but he agreed with Helmer that the presence of bait is of critical importance.
“You’re looking for mullet and shad on the edge of the bayous,” he said. “If you can find some bait, the redfish are usually somewhere around.”
Water movement also is a crucial element, and Bourgeois said there are areas in any bayou that will be natural ambush points for voracious reds.
“You want to fish those points where current’s coming around and cuts coming out of the marshes where there’s current,” he said.
Helmer agreed that there needs to be water movement for the ponds to be productive, but said it doesn’t really matter which way the tide is moving.
“Sometimes it’ll be better when it’s coming up, and sometimes it’ll be better when it’s falling, but as long as you’ve got some movement, you’ll catch fish,” he explained. “It’s hell to catch them when there’s no tide, though.”
Water clarity isn’t as important to Bourgeois as to Helmer.
“Bait is more important,” Bourgeois said. “Even if the water gets a little cloudy, as long as there is some bait you can catch fish.”
If the winds allow, Bourgeois and Helmer agree that reds can be found in Little Lake and the surrounding bays.
“If you can catch a day when the wind isn’t blowing, you can catch bigger fish in the bays,” Helmer said.
Prime targets include Plum Point, the northwest shoreline of Little Lake, the point between Bay L’Ours and Little Lake, Bay Round, Coffee Bay, Bay Five and — for those wanting to go a little farther — Hackberry Bay.
Bourgeois said he works these banks, focusing on cuts through which water is pouring. Again, however, he doesn’t waste time in an area if there’s no bait.
“You’ve got to have bait,” he said. “I’ll usually let the mullet tell me where the reds are.”
Such bait-filled areas are generally going to be found on shorelines along which current sweeps.
“Just stay out of the dead water — those pockets where you don’t have any current,” Bourgeois said.
Helmer looks for some irregularity that offers fish ambush points.
“It’s always a shoreline with a rock line or a hard point,” he said.
One of his favorite stretches of bay shoreline is found on the western bank of Little Lake, where rocks have been placed in an effort to stop erosion.
“Every quarter mile or so, there are cuts, weirs in the rocks,” Helmer said. “You can catch a lot of fish around those cuts.”
While both agreed that artificials can put fish in the boat, they always carry live and dead bait.
“That way you have options,” Helmer said. “If it’s tough on artificials, you can always turn to the bait and catch some fish.”
Live cocahoes and dead shrimp are always handy because different conditions call for different bait, Helmer said.
“If the water’s clear, minnows will work better than shrimp,” he said.
He usually begins the day with clients working both kinds of bait until the fish tell him which will be more effective.
“If I’ve got four guys, I put two on shrimp and two on cocahoes, and see which one works better,” he said. “Sometimes the shrimp works better; sometimes the cocahoes work better.”
While the live or dead bait is generally fished under corks in the ponds, Helmer said that’s not always the case when fishing the bays.
“I might use a Carolina rig in those bays,” he said. “You just keep pounding away at those points.”
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