Mellow Yellow

When harsh winter conditions have all other areas turned off, Yellow Cotton Bay is fish-filled as a giant aquarium.

Frigid cold fronts and blustery north winds signal that it’s time to head to one of the most famous Louisiana wintertime trout hotspots — Yellow Cotton Bay in Buras. This area, which is comprised of deep holes and shallow flats, lies just to the west of Highway 23 in lower Plaquemines Parish.Each fall, the first really cold blast of air sends tens of thousands of speckled trout scurrying into holes as deep as 100 feet in and around the Buras Canal, where they remain throughout the winter.
According to Capt. Owen “Big-O” Langridge, the vast expanse of Yellow Cotton Bay, which now stretches from Buras to Venice, was actually four separate bays in years past. Yellow Cotton Bay, Hospital Bay, Ellison Bay and Bay Carrion Crow were all distinct bays 20 years ago.

Numerous tropical storms and hurricanes have taken a toll on them, swallowing up acres of land and trees. For the most part, the land masses and marshes that once separated them have been washed away, and today the area resembles one large bay.

“Only old-timers like me still refer to the four bays when giving directions,” said Langridge, who has fished this area for the last two decades.

Recently, Langridge’s son, Brian Langridge, was home on a short leave from the Air Force. The younger Langridge, who pilots C-17 transport jets, managed to squeeze in a much-needed fishing trip before heading off to Stuttgart, Germany, where he will spend the next three years in a specialized training program.

His wife, Diana, a dark-haired beauty from the Czech Republic, had never fished before marrying Langridge and traveling to Louisiana to meet the in-laws.

In spite of the cool, windy conditions, she was enthusiastic and ready to catch fish.

“In my country, I had never fished, but I really enjoy it,” she said as she cast her line in the glimmer of the morning sun.

Diana was using a Tsunami swim bait under the watchful eye of her father-in-law. She followed Langridge’s instructions carefully, and worked the jig near small tufts of grass — remnants of the grass and roseau cane islands that once dotted the area.

“I got one,” squealed Diana as she reeled the thrashing, iridescent speckled trout across the surface and into the landing net.

“Ohhh, I love to eat fish,” she said as the flapping trout was placed into the ice chest.

“In Czechoslovakia, for our special holiday meal we have carp,” said Diana. “They usually bring the carp to the store a couple of days before Christmas, and we buy them for Christmas dinner.”

Her husband Brian wrinkled his nose.

“You eat fish on Christmas? Why not turkey?” he inquired.

“Why do you want to have turkey again if you just had it for Thanksgiving?” Diana fired back.

Her valid point quickly ended the discussion.

The catching continued with Diana adding more speckled trout and then a redfish to the cooler. Brian was playing catch-up using a Bass Assassin in electric chicken suspended under a popping cork.

“I think I need to change baits,” he lamented as Diana continued mauling the fish.

Although Langridge primarily fishes downriver after launching from Venice Marina, he is happy to adjust his plans during the winter and make a short run to Buras.

“Usually the fishing is so good in here in the wintertime that I don’t even go down the river,” he said.

There are however, some tricks to fishing the Yellow Cotton Bay area. Although it’s a consistent winter destination, Langridge cautions that the day of a front or the day immediately following is not a good time to fish this area.

“If you have the luxury of picking your days, the best time to fish the Yellow Cotton Bay area is on the third day after a hard front blows through,” he said.

The day after a strong front, the water is usually stirred up and very low. Usually by the third day, the southeast flow returns, bringing with it plenty of clean water and increasing the depth.

“When that clean water from the southeast comes back in, it really turns the fish on,” Langridge explained.

Stump field

According to Langridge, Hurricane Ivan wiped out what remained of the tree line in this area, leaving behind many stumps, and giving the area the designation of the stump field.

Boaters may run on plane to the deep hole. Once there, those unfamiliar with the layout should get on their trolling motor to avoid losing a lower unit in the minefield of ragged stumps. Langridge trolls on a southwest heading, and watches his depth finder.

“When your depth finder indicates 4 feet, drift the area slowly with either a D.O.A. shrimp in glow or clear with red flakes or a 3-inch black/green back split tail Tsunami suspended under a rattling cork about 18 inches,” Langridge suggests.

Bay Carrion Crow

Anglers facing the Boothville water tower from a boat will be in Bay Carrion Crow. From this point, they should cross the bay toward the Buras Canal until they reach about 15 feet of water.

“Shut down the big motor and get on the trolling motor until you reach that magic depth — 4 feet — and then start your drift,” says Langridge.

This particular area is ideal when the wind blows hard out of the north as it is protected by a 28-foot levee. Additionally, there is a small, shallow pocket directly to the northwest of Bay Carrion Crow that holds fish. This area is approximately 2 feet deep, so exercise caution when the winds are blowing from the north or you may find yourself aground.

Ellison’s Bay

Ellison’s is sometimes referred to as Pelican Point because it attracts massive flocks of wintering migratory white pelicans during the colder months. The land mass was basically wiped out by Katrina, although there is still a point of land visible. Langridge’s favorite way to fish Ellsion’s Bay is to drift with the wind, keeping in mind that a south wind is required to fish this area as it is only about 2 feet deep.

Columbell Cut

On the south side is Columbell Cut, which connects to the popular circular maze of canals knows as the Wagon Wheel. This cut may also be navigated to reach the Gulf of Mexico and the Sandy Point area.

After completing their last spawns during the months of August and September, speckled trout begin their migration from the beaches to the inside waters of the marsh and inner bays, and this funnel point is a natural migration route for speckled trout.

Four Corners is one of Langridge’s favorite areas, and is located about a half mile to the east of Columbell Cut. This small maze, which connects to Spanish Pass, also serves as a route for migrating trout as well as redfish.

Tackle tips

Langridge likes using Tsunami Holographic Swim Baits, but often finds they can get expensive when they do not hold up to the rigors of charter fishing. He has found a way to make them last much longer.

“I purchase ½-inch shrink tubing at an electrical supply store. Measure and cut a piece long enough to reach from the head of the bait just behind the eye to the inside of the hook shank. Slip it over the bait and heat it with butane lighter, which makes it almost indestructible,” he explained.

Another of his favorite tips, applying SoftBait glue, works well on D.O.A. shrimp since using shrink tubing would cover up the legs of the shrimp.

“Remove the shrimp from the package, and before you use it, place a drop of SoftBait glue below the eye of the hook and where it comes out on the belly. It will last really well,” he said. “I keep a bottle on board at all times, and have used it to repair broken rod tips and for other minor repairs.”

Patterns changing

Langridge has noticed a change in patterns over the past couple of seasons.

“Recently Capt. Anthony Randazzo and I were discussing the change in speckled trout patterns,” he said. “Up until a few years ago, we used to catch lots of trout in deep holes, but something has happened over the last four or five years to change things.

“Possibly the continued land loss has resulted in the formation of numerous flats, and we are finding that the specks often move up onto the flats to feed as the sun warms the water during the day.

“In addition to using plastics suspended under a cork, we have even caught some there on topwater baits.”

In the past, 50 or more boats might be clustered around the deep holes dropping heavy jigs and plastics and slowly working them until the trout were located. But now, more and more trout are being caught on the flats once the sun warms the shallows.

Redfish also roam the skinny water, and are welcome by those anglers who like to sight cast or even fly fish for the bronze brutes.

Capt. Rich Waldner guides fly fishing enthusiasts on his 16-foot Dolphin flats boat, and silently poles them across an area of skinny water on the southeastern edge of Yellow Cotton Bay known as Carruths Pond. Although this area took a severe beating during Katrina, it still holds trophy reds if you have a boat capable of navigating the shallow maze of cypress knees and stumps.

“When I approach the area near Newman Crane, I shut down the motor and slowly pole in to avoid spooking the fish or losing a lower unit,” Waldner said.

Although the water in the ponds is only a few inches deep, I can attest to the fact that it harbors some really large redfish. Prior to Katrina, I landed and released a 16-pound redfish on fly as it meandered down the shoreline.

Another change is the absence of grass. Prior to the storms of 2005, numerous grass beds existed. Years before, they were home to a population of really nice largemouth bass.

There are a few areas within Yellow Cotton Bay in which the grass is slowly returning, but it may take years for the coontail, eel and widgeon grasses to rebound from the saltwater intrusion that devastated the majority of the area’s eco-filtration system.

Proceed with caution

Underwater hazards abound in this area, especially since the hurricanes of 2005.

“Anywhere you see a PVC pipe sticking out, that is usually a good indication that there is an underwater obstruction there, so exercise caution, said Langridge.

One hazard that boaters need to make note of is a sunken boat located about 300 yards straight out from Columbell Cut. According to Langridge, the bow is sticking out of the water about 2 feet, but on high tide, it may be somewhat submerged. He also stated there is a large metal tank as well as a set of creosote pilings about ½ mile north of Four Corners.

At press time, both obstructions were marked with Styrofoam crab floats.

Capt. Owen Langridge can be reached at (225) 978-1136.

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