Leeville runs Red

Marsh ponds around this Southeast Louisiana hotspot are swarming with redfish this year. Here’s how and where to catch them.

The weather was standard South Louisiana issue: Heavy clouds draped the sky despite predictions, and hard southeast winds threatened to sweep the anglers off the boat. Capt. Dan Bryan of Marsh Masters Guide Service wasn’t worried, though, despite the fact that not a single redfish had been hooked by 10 a.m.

“This is a game of patience,” Bryan said. “You just have to wait until they decide to bite.”

The problem certainly wasn’t a lack of fish: Reds swarmed the Leeville-area ponds, easily visible through the beautifully clear water.

They just wouldn’t bite.

“There goes one,” Dan said, pointing to a red missile streaking past about 10 feet off the boat’s starboard gunnel.

Minutes later, the day’s charters were watching a big red swim from a nearby bank, pushing the signature monster wake in front of it.

“That looks like a submarine,” marveled Tennessee’s Dave Ferguson.

Trey McDonald of West Monroe, who had never fought a redfish, shook his head.

Still, Dan pushed Ferguson, McDonald and McDonald’s father, Larry, to continue casting.

Finally, the satisfying swish of a rod was heard as Bryan set the hook on a redfish, and he quickly handed it off to Trey McDonald.

The young man grunted when he felt the power of the fish, and then he ran down the port side of the skiff, trying desperately to keep up with the frantic mass of muscle attached to the end of his line.

“Redfish are strong, huh?” Bryan called from the front.

Trey McDonald didn’t answer, apparently too busy trying to simultaneously fight the fish and keep from being pulled in the water.

The elder McDonald and Ferguson could only laugh as they watched the angler dance along the back deck.

As the fish made a run back down the side of the boat, Capt. Tate Smith leaned out and netted the still-struggling red.

Trey McDonald grinned as the fish was unhooked and tossed in the cooler.

Dan, still laughing, was already casting again, searching the shoreline for the next fish.

“If it’s real clear, a lot of times they’re spooky,” he said. “I love it when it’s crystal clear, I do. I can see the fish, but a lot of times it’s not ideal for catching fish.

“If you get to moving around, they’ll see you and spook.”

Patience and perseverance paid off, however, and 18 redfish were packed in the ice chest by the end of the day.

Leeville has long been a popular destination for anglers looking to have their rods jerked out of their hands, and Bryan and Smith said this year should be better than ever.

“I’ve seen more reds this year than in a long time,” Smith said.

Capt. Bobby Bryan, Dan’s father and a longtime Leeville guide, agreed.

“We’ve got the biggest crop of redfish in a long time,” the elder Bryan said. “The bays and ponds are going to be full of fish.

“We’re seeing schools of fish, maybe 200 to 300 fish a day in those shallow areas.”

The trick is to know where to go and how to fish them.

Anglers frustrated from slow March trips shouldn’t give up, Bobby said.

“The fish are in a moving pattern in March,” he said. “They’re coming out of their winter holes, and the big fish are moving offshore because they’re big enough to spawn.”

Juvenile reds, which include fish to about 30 inches, are beginning to work ponds but are still scattered.

That all changes beginning in April, however.

“By April, the fish are getting into a summer pattern,” Bobby explained. “We can go back to working the grasslines and shorelines with spinnerbaits, spoons and popping corks with minnows.”

The mossy, snotty vegetation that explodes in the ponds during the late winter also is pretty much gone, opening up waters that haven’t been fishable for the past couple of months.

So all anglers have to do is get in the right ponds and catch red after red.

The Bryans said there are certain characteristics for which they look.

Depth is one of his first prerequisites.

“If I was fishing in April, I’d find me some duck ponds with good depth of about 1 1/2 to 3 feet of water in it,” Bobby said.

Those are scattered all over the place, but Bryan’s other criteria narrow his search even more.

“I want the bank to have some irregularities,” Bobby said. “I want there to be pockets that form points.

“Reds like to back up into some of these pockets.”

He also likes to fish ponds that have cuts on opposing sides.

“That way, you have current through the pond,” he explained.

The resulting current makes fish predictable.

“They’re going to be in those pockets behind those points,” Bobby said.

But he also said the mouths of the two cuts will provide perfect feeding areas for prowling redfish.

“I’ll anchor and fish both of them,” Bobby said.

The key to success is positioning.

“Always work with the tide when working both openings and along the points in a pond,” he said.

So Bobby will approach a pond from downcurrent through one of the cuts, anchor in that cut downstream of the pond and fish the opening.

Once he’s satisfied that he’s caught all the fish possible there, he moves into the pond and works the points along the shores.

Dan Bryan said he often will work through the back end of the pond, letting his boat pretty much flow with the tide, working the banks and cuts as he goes.

But Dan said he always focuses on the windblown side of a pond.

“The wind blows the bait against the bank,” he explained.

That attracts the reds, especially the bigger specimens.

“There seems to be bigger fish on the windblown side,” Dan said.

Besides, the calm bank generally holds other species.

“Usually you’ll have more sheepshead on the calm bank,” Dan said.

That being said, there are times when he disregards his general rule and makes a few passes on the calm side of a pond.

“If I know there’s a shell bank on the calm side, I’ll fish it,” he said.

That’s because he knows redfish love to cruise shell bottoms.

“I like a shell bank with a little drop to it,” Dan said. “It’s a little bit deeper water for the fish to move, and the baitfish are going to be in that grass along the bank.

“A red is going to swim right around that (shell) bank like a highway, waiting for a minnow to swim out of the grass, or to spook out.”

The guides’ favorite lures for working the cuts and points are gold spoons, Spot Removers and plastic cocahoes.

However, Bobby said he’s pretty selective on when to use a gold spoon.

“I don’t like a gold spoon in clear, clear water,” he said. “The fish just don’t seem to hit it.”

But the flash of the baits are perfect for lightly stained water.

Bobby also is particular about the size of the plastic cocahoes he uses.

“I like the queen-sized cocahoes. It gives the fish more to see,” he explained. “The long tail also gives it more action.

“You use it on the same hook as the small ones, so you’ve got a lot more behind the hook to give it action.”

These baits also have more buoyancy.

“They’re easier to hold off the bottom,” Bobby said.

The weight of the bait also is a factor.

“It casts better because it’s heavier,” Bobby said. “So when it’s windy, they’re easier to use.”

As far as cocahoe color, Bobby said that’s pretty simple.

“The best colors are black/chartreuse and purple/chartreuse,” he said. “That’s the colors I throw all the time.

“They’ll hit most of the colors, but that’s the colors they hit most consistently.”

Although the Bryans share a preference for ponds through which current can flow, Bobby said deadend ponds can also be dynamite if fished correctly.

“If you know there are fish in a deadend pond, you can catch them when the tide is falling out,” he said.

Anglers shouldn’t just barge into the pond and begin banging on the banks, however.

That, Bobby said, is a good way to spook the fish.

Instead, he recommends beginning in the cut draining the pond.

“You can set up in that canal or cut and fish the corners of the opening,” Bobby said. “They’re going to sit there and ambush that bait as it’s washed out of the pond.”

He also advised probing just into the pond to see if the channel extends through the cut’s opening and into the pond a ways.

“If if does, you can anchor just down from the cut and throw your bait into the pond,” Bobby said. “When it’s swept into that deeper channel, the redfish will be there waiting on it.”

Bobby said finding these extended channels simply takes time.

“You’ve got to learn the area,” he said. “It takes patience and understanding where you’re fishing.”

Minnows under corks are perfect for this kind of fishing.

“You just throw your minnow out and let it sit,” he said. “The current will pull it right to the fish.”

Although outgoing tides provide the best fishing, both guides said reds can still be caught when the water’s moving into the marsh.

And figuring out how to hook these fish isn’t all that complicated.

“You just reverse everything,” Dan said.

That means anglers still work their lures with the tide, but they have to approach ponds from the opposite direction as on a falling tide.

Dan also said it’s just a matter of following fish back to the banks.

“On a falling tide, you follow the fish from the banks to the middle of the ponds and to the deeper water in the cuts,” he explained. “When the water is coming in, you reverse that and follow the fish right back to the banks.”

Bobby said he allows the tide to work in his favor when he knows a deadend pond is holding fish.

“I pull into the pond and anchor, assuming I can reach the far bank with my lure,” he said.

He pulls out a cork, lips a cocahoe and tosses it out so that it sits just on the outside of the bank.

“Then I prop my feet up and forget about it,” Bobby said. “I don’t pop it or anything.”

He simply keeps an eye on the cork, knowing it’s just a matter of time before it disappears.

“It might take two or three minutes, but that redfish knows everything that’s going on along that bank,” Bobby said.

He said this has produced numerous limits for him and his clients.

“It’s not fast fishing, but you can sit there and catch 15 or 20 fish sometimes,” Bobby said.

Both anglers like to target their fishing time during the optimal period of a falling or rising tide, but they disagree on the timing.

Dan said he finds the last couple hours of an incoming tide is most productive.

“The fish feed every 12 hours,” he said.

However, his father would rather be on the water right between the two slack periods.

“I like it when there’s the most water moving,” Bobby said. “When the tide is dying, there’s less flow, just like when the tide is just starting to turn around.

“So I like that part right between the peak and the bottom of the tide.”

Regardless of what part of a tide reds are biting, however, Bobby said it’s a good bet that April fishing will include the frustrations inherent in chasing cagey reds.

“They’re not settled (into the summer pattern) yet,” he said. “They are still sort of on the moving pattern.

“So the less noise the better.”

That even extends to the use of baits: It’s best to allow blades and plastics to hit the water with as little splash as possible.

But it’s even more important when fishing with corks.

“A lot of times, you throw a cork out there and make one pop and see the fish scatter,” Bobby said.

So he’ll often not pop it at all.

But there’s more to ensuring baits don’t spook fish.

“You don’t want to throw a bait right in front of a fish,” Bobby said.

This is wise even when using plastics or spoons.

“A lot of times, we throw 6 or 7 feet in front of it, even if we have to wait on the fish to get to it,” he said. “Then we pick up the lure.”

Finding the ponds that hold reds is a matter of knowing where to go and paying attention to the wind.

“If the wind is blowing out of the east, the clear water is on the west side (of Bayou Lafourche),” Bobby said. “If the wind is blowing out of the west, the east side is clear.”

Whichever side is chosen, however, there are myriad choices.

A consistent east-side choice for Marsh Master guides is Wisner Wildlife Management Area, which is located south of the Southwestern Louisiana Canal and east of Lake Jesse.

But Bobby narrowed it down even further, pointing to the marshes bordered by the western-most boundary of Wisner, the Southwestern Louisiana Pipeline on the north, Bayou Ferblanc on the east and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline on the south.

“All of that is full of little ditches and ponds,” he said. “It’s excellent, excellent redfishing.”

There also is quality fishing in the ponds south of Lake Laurier.

If that fails, anglers can turn north of the Southwestern Louisiana Canal, but Bobby cautioned that much of the property there is private, with landowners jealously asserting their rights.

However, the marshes east of Bayou Ferblanc are pretty safe bets.

“Bay Rambo, Lake Pierre, Bay Vasier — all of those have a lot of ditches and ponds around them,” Bobby said.

West-side choices include the Devil’s Bay, China Bayou and Little Lake areas.

Devil’s Bay is located due west of Pointe Fourchon, and is very close to the open Gulf.

The spit of marsh separating the bay from the Gulf of Mexico, along with those on the north side between Devil’s and Pierle bays, are chock-full of fish.

“On a falling tide, all of those little ditches stack with redfish,” Bobby said.

And he said that there is always clean water to be found because the bay is surrounded by marsh.

“If you’ve got a north wind, you’ve got a clean bank. If you’ve got a south wind, you’ve got a clean bank,” he said.

China Bayou meanders past the northwestern side of Little Lake directly west of Leeville, and provides first-class fishing.

“China Bayou has pretty good ditches one right after another that flow out into the bayou on an outgoing tide,” Bobby said.

He said he just jumps from one cut to the next, fishing the mouths.

“They’re going to come out in a school,” he said. “You just follow them out.”

Bay Laurier, just off Grand Bayou Blue, is another good choice.

“Again, it’s got a lot of little ditches and ponds off it,” he said.

Moving much north of Bay Laurier, however, will again put anglers in contested waters.

“All of the marsh around Catfish Lake is private, and people can get in trouble up there,” Bobby said.

That’s a problem that he worries will only grow worse as more land erodes and more landowners make claims, but he said he’s always willing to sit down with anglers and provide them direction.

“If people would come by and drink some coffee with me, I’ll get a map down and show them places to fish where they won’t get in trouble,” Bobby said. “The fish are out here for everybody; they don’t belong to us.”

The Bryans can be reached at (985) 396-2411.

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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