Abundant action awaits those who learn how to fish Louisiana’s expansive coastal wetlands.
It wasn’t the best of days, but Capt. C.T. Williams had a plan that leveraged Louisiana’s vast delta habitat and pretty much nullified Mother Nature’s attempt to stymie our bent-rod hopes. A windy day was about to hand us the kind of conditions that make it tough to catch fish even in the south’s fishiest region. Most of the outer bays and barrier islands would see muddier-than-usual conditions, and boat positioning would prove royally challenging without a substantial lee.
Launching from Venice Marina, we needed an area we could easily reach with a protected run and there find sheltered water with willing fish. Consulting his delta chart, Williams decided on Redfish Bay, so we traveled comfortably downriver, made a left at Pass-A-Loutre and then hung a right at Southeast Pass.
An incoming tide would begin its approach soon after our 8 a.m. arrival at the Gulf portal. With time to kill, we anchored on outer points and corked bait shrimp for any reds or trout that may be cooling their heels before the current started rolling.
The wind gave us no quarter, and it quickly became apparent that ours was little more than a shrimp-soaking initiative. Nevertheless, the slow start woefully belied a piscatorial plentitude we’d soon find within the roseau-cane labyrinth.
After probing our way into the marsh, checking various points and edges, we located a small cove surrounded by roseau. We spent an hour and a half on this spot, but during a 30-minute rally, our group yanked up a handful of redfish, trout and black drum, along with several jumbo sheepshead in rapid succession.
Locals may look down their noses at the striped nibblers, but with a crew hailing from Florida and North Carolina, these plump ’heads provided loads of tugging fun and the promise of tasty fillets.
Bait shrimp fished beneath weighted rattling corks did most of the damage; however, Williams also scored a big red on a customized Berkley Blade Dancer. Notably, his big red nailed the lure on Williams’ first cast into a little pocket where his boatmates had already made several presentations.
Keep it going
No doubt, the action on our first serious spot proved wildly entertaining, but an eventual conclusion surprised no one. It’s unlikely that we caught all the fish in that pocket. Even though we packed the fish boxes, it’s more likely that those remaining just got wise to our exploits.
With plenty of time left in our trip schedule, Williams suggested we reposition and try to find another population of hungry fish. We didn’t have to go far, as Williams used his trolling motor to slide us forward about 40 yards into the mouth of a cut connecting our small pond to a larger lake. With the bow aimed at the cut, the stern facing the pond’s open water and broken roseau can patches on either side, we had plenty of options.
Williams explained a piece of marsh insight that held true on many occasions.
“You’re going to find your redfish and sheepshead near the cane edges, but the trout will hang out in the deeper water in the middle of the pond,” he said.
True to form, it was trout that ate nearly every shrimp cast to the open water, while the reds and ’heads stuck to the structure. A couple more moves like this kept the action rolling until the day’s conclusion.
The lesson here was one of optimism tempered with realism. The marsh is a dynamic habitat with lots of honeyholes, plenty of promising spots and some areas that just don’t offer much on a particular day. Unlocking a day’s full potential means remaining mobile and replacing any remorse over a bite’s end with the belief that another waits just around the corner.
Why it works
Solid marsh action exists in various forms throughout South Louisiana. In the saltier habitat of Lafourche Parish, Capt. Troy Robichaux finds a similar mix of species dominated by redfish and trout. The Golden Meadow guide said the key to marsh abundance is habitat, lots of habitat.
“It’s just the vastness of it all,” Robichaux said. “There are so many places for baitfish, crabs and shrimp to grow up, and so many places for fish to hide.”
A giant food production facility with endless living quarters — that’s a pretty good snapshot of life in the marsh.
“That’s the biggest difference between Louisiana and other places — there’s more habitat,” Robichaux said. “That’s probably why our fish are less skittish, because the boats are more spread out so the fish don’t get run over all day long.
“On a typical redfishing trip, I might only see two or three boats all day long. You come back to the landing, and there are (many more) boats, but you just don’t see them while you’re fishing.”
Moreover, as my trip with Williams demonstrated, the ability to find solace from the wind is a beautiful thing. It’s not always easy, but locating pockets of clean, calm water is far more realistic in the marsh than along broad expanses of open shoreline.
Robichaux says he can find a bite year-round, but September and October comprise the peak period.
“Until the cold fronts start moving through, the fall is the best time to be fishing the marsh,” he said. “We catch redfish year-round, but the marsh fishing really turns on (during that period). That’s when a lot of the baitfish are moving in.
“That time of year, you can catch redfish and trout together. Once your water temperature starts dropping, the trout move out of the shallow marsh and into deeper bodies of water and the main channels. In these areas, you’ll find them on current lines and under birds. It takes a pretty cold day for the reds to move out.”
Well before the hardy redfish vacate the shallow ponds they favor, the marsh sees fantastic auburn action.
“In the fall, you’ll find redfish schooling up inside the marsh,” Robichaux said. “They may come down the shoreline in pods of 40-50, busting baits with their backs out of the water. You see it in the spring on low water, but there’s always more fish in the fall, probably because there’s more bait in the water.”
Notwithstanding salinity differences, vegetation variables and local densities of alligators and nutria, all marsh fishing generally follows common principles mostly relating to a fish’s ability to find food.
Redfish, trout and other predators certainly patrol shallow marsh lakes and ponds on the higher tide stages, but outgoing cycles create more predictable feeding spots near the runouts. When water from a large area squeezes through tight openings, it speeds up and creates current — this signals feeding opportunities for anyone with an appetite. As the baitfish and crustaceans fall out of the shallow areas, predators leverage the ambush points for easy pickings.
“On the falling tides, I’d look for fish around the mouths of these ponds because everything’s falling out of there, and it sets up a natural ambush scenario,” Robichaux said. “The reds and trout will sit right outside the current edge and pick off the bait that flows out of there.”
The same holds true on the outer edges of the marsh, near the barrier islands. Here, look for spots where the cuts between islands and gaps in grass lines create funnels.
“The trout and redfish will sit just outside the edges of the current where they don’t have to fight the water,” said Buras guide Anthony Randazzo. “They will just hang in the slack water and pick off their meals.”
Working such food funnels can provide loads of fun, but between these bites, you can keep the rods bent with a more active approach. Jumping on the trolling motor and casting your way through various marsh neighborhoods can often put you on an intercept course with foraging fish. When delta sloughs present open-water hydrilla patches, Randazzo backs away from the hard edges, and casts around the submerged greenery.
“You’ll snag the vegetation frequently, but that’s where the redfish (roam), so you just have to work through it,” Randazzo said.
When working cane or grass edges, look for areas with lots of breaks and points. You can certainly catch quality fish adjacent to a flat line of vegetation, but contour is always an attractive element for fish. Ambush, refuge and current breaks are the common attractions.
As fall progresses, mud flats adjacent to main channels will become increasingly popular. When low tides drain the marsh oatmeal, these spots heat up during midday sun and become comfortable cafes when the tide returns. Throw in some shell bottom packed with all the crabs, shrimp and invertebrates that redfish and other predators love to eat, and you have a winning location.
Feed ’em right
The good thing about marsh diversity is that a variety of baits will produce fish, and that keeps the fun open to anglers of all experience and ability levels. Natural baits offer the no-brainer option, but a bent rod is a bent rod — especially when you’re hosting children.
Live cocahoes fished on a 3/0 kahle hook or ¼-ounce jighead (good on windy days) under a cork will tempt trout and redfish. If variety suits you best, you’ll usually find more willing species with bait shrimp.
“There’s no telling what you’re going to pull up when you fish bait shrimp,” Robichaux said. “Trout and reds will eat the shrimp, but you’ll also get the sheepshead, black drum and flounder.”
Robichaux suggests tight-lining bait shrimp on a jighead in shallower spots, but in deeper water, he’ll fish his bait under a weighted rattling cork. The cork’s splashing will spook fish when water’s low; however, such commotion will attract an abundance of redfish, drum and sheepshead in depths of 3 feet or more.
For artificials, Robichaux prefers Colorado-bladed spinnerbaits with cocahoe minnow bodies in avocado/red flake. He’ll also throw grubs on ¼-ounce jig heads, gold spoons and topwaters. One of the simplest artificial rigs to throw is the jig-and-cork rig. Hang a 12- to 18-inch leader below a rattling cork, and tie on a ¼-ounce jig with a grub, jerkbait or plastic shrimp. Twitch the rig and reel tight when the cork submerges.
Many paths lead to marsh-fishing success, and many baits may work once you get there. Most promising is the notion that each day finds the deck shuffled and a new hand of opportunity dealt to those who would play the game.
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