To beat the heat and catch bigger trout, head to the lighted rigs in Ship Shoal, and hear the beautiful music of ripping drags.
He just wouldn’t shut his mouth. I mean, you never guarantee limits. It’s just not done. I tried over and over again to get guide Marty Lacoste to stop, and for a while, I thought I had succeeded. And then he just blurted it out, as if a dam had burst.
“I have a 98-percent guarantee of limits,” Lacoste said.
Jeez. There it was: the curse. All I could think was how we would be in the 2 percent that didn’t catch squat.
So as the Blazer Bay headed south down Bayou DuLarge, I was worried. Lacoste and buddy Joel Wakeland only grinned, however.
Our destination was a platform in Ship Shoal block 28 dubbed the Mardi Gras rig because of its yellow and green paint. It sat in about 15 feet of water, and Lacoste said big trout lived there.
Although the sun was still bright, our goal wasn’t to catch these fish before sunset. In fact, it was just after 7 p.m. when we left the dock, and the Absolute Fishing Charters owner said he didn’t expect there to be much action until well after darkness had covered the Gulf.
“Sometimes you have to wait,” Lacoste said. “The moon chart shows the peak feeding time to be 11:49 p.m.”
When we broke out of Pelican Pass, the Gulf waters were choppy. Lacoste never let off the throttle, the bay boat easily slicing the sloppy 1-foot waves.
The waters also were fairly muddy, but that wasn’t a concern, he said.
“I think a lot of times the water is just muddy on the top,” Lacoste said. “It’ll be muddy for a few feet, and clear underneath. You still catch trout.”
By 8 p.m., we were easing up to the rig. Two other boats already had staked out positons on the far end of the platform, and Lacoste said that’s why he likes to leave so early for night trips.
“I like running out in the daylight and getting in position,” he said. “If you run out at 9:30 (p.m.), every light might be taken. There are more people doing this than you would expect.”
And that’s the key to the entire affair: Getting a prime spot near one of the lights.
That might seem easy, on the surface. After all, dozens of lights dotted the platform.
However, Lacoste pointed out that only a few would really attract fish.
“You see how that light is pointed right at the water?” he asked. “Those are the lights you want.”
The light in question wasn’t one of the smaller units designed to allow workers to see where they were walking: Instead it was brighter and seemed to be designed to allow crew boat captains to dock.
Wakeland pulled out the anchor and prepared to slip it into the water, while Lacoste worked the boat into position upcurrent of the sole light remaining in play.
When the anchor was dropped, the current pulled the boat just out of the lights’ still-dim influence. That is key to success, Lacoste said.
“You don’t want to be right under the light,” he said. “You want to be on the edge of the light so you can cast into the light and on the other side.”
In fact, it doesn’t matter if the light is upcurrent of the rig or downcurrent.
“There is no upcurrent or downcurrent with this,” Lacoste said. “You’re fishing the lights: That’s what’s attracting the fish.”
What you don’t want to do, however, is run through the light while getting into position. We watched one nearby boat do that repeatedly while having trouble setting an anchor near another light, and we never saw one fish come from that area the rest of the night.
As we pulled out rods, I was still worried about the curse. I had been on many a “guaranteed” trip only to come home empty-handed.
On the positive side, the water had cleared up some. But wasn’t beautiful by any means. Another strike against us, I thought.
But the fish were already hungry, and before I even rigged up for a cast, Lacoste was fighting a 2-pound trout to the boat.
“I told you,” he crowed.
The trick to sticking these fish was getting lures all the way to the bottom.
“During the daytime, you have to fish the bottom,” Lacoste said. “You just want to crawl it across the bottom, bumping it.”
The lure of choice is a double rig, featuring two ¼-ounce jig heads rigged with Cocahoes. This is what Lacoste uses, night or day.
“I usually use LSU or avocado Cocahoes,” he said. “That avocado is usually the best, but I rig both and pay attention to which ones the fish are biting.
“If they favor one color, I’ll switch both to that.”
What isn’t needed is live bait.
“We rarely use live bait,” Lacoste said. “You just don’t need it.”
As the sun faded, lights on the rig shone on the water all around and under the structure, but the illumination of the big light near which we were stationed took on new meaning. It was many times brighter than most of the other lights on the rig, and every now and then, shrimp could be seen popping the surface within its bright glow.
That, Lacoste said, is the real key to why the bright lights produce so consistently.
“The lights attract bait, and the bait attracts the trout,” he said.
There already were several fish cooling in the box, but the action had really cooled down after sundown.
That wasn’t unexpected, Lacoste said.
“You have to be patient,” he said. “I’ve had to just sit here until midnight before, but when the fish turn on it’s like someone flipped a switch.”
Fish continued to turn up here and there, but almost all were caught on the bottom.
And then several shrimp popped out of the water right in the middle of the lighted area, followed by loud whirlpools of feeding fish.
“There they are,” Lacoste said.
Wakeland was soon fighting a nice trout to the boat, while Lacoste and I missed strikes.
However, we weren’t letting our lures sink to the bottom. When the fish begin feeding on the top, a dramatic change in tactics is needed.
“You want to keep the lures right on the surface,” Lacoste said. “You want to cast out and use a steady retrieve.
“If the fish really get in a frenzy, you’ll see the fish all over the top of the water.”
In fact, when conditions are right, topwaters can be productive.
“Sometimes you get out here, and it’s slick,” Lacoste said. “That’s when you can watch trout smacking shrimp, and that’s when we throw those Top Dogs.”
The waters were nowhere close to slick on this night, so we stuck with the double rigs.
The action on top didn’t last long, and Lacoste said that was unusual.
“Normally when they get on top, they stay there for a while,” he said.
Yep, I thought, the curse was alive and well. We had maybe 15 trout in the cooler, and the fish already were scattering.
Lacoste and I went back to working the bottom, pulling in a fish now and then.
Wakeland, on the other hand, seemed to have the golden touch. He caught fish on top, on bottom, in the light and in the shadows away from the light.
It was on a cast outside of the lighted area that he called for the net.
“This is a big fish,” Wakeland shouted.
Lacoste and I just looked over the gunnel like two imbeciles until the fish swirled near the boat. The sight of a thick back, followed by the sweet music of line being stripped from a reel, put us into action.
Lacoste grabbed the net and ran to Wakeland’s side, as the big trout made another splashing pass by the side of the boat. The next time it made that mistake, Lacoste swept the net under it and pulled it in the boat.
The fish was a brute for these parts, pulling a handheld scale to just shy of 5 pounds.
Lacoste said the catch proved one of the rules of fishing the lights.
“Usually your bigger fish stay in the shadows on the edge of that light,” he said.
Wakeland confirmed this by catching another fish weighing more than 4 pounds a few minutes later, again by casting outside of the light and pulling it toward the illuminated area.
Big trout also hang inside the rig legs, especially if there are any strong lights shining on the waters, Lacoste said. However, it’s only on very calm nights that it’s feasible to fish these areas.
“That’s where your bigger trout hang out — in the structure,” he explained. “But you can’t get close enough to fish there unless it’s slick.
“On a calm night, we’ll pull up to the corner of the rig and cast into the structure.”
As we fished, boats came and went. Many headed for a lighted rig in the 33 block of Ship Shoal, but Lacoste just shook his head.
“You have to be patient,” he said. “The fish will eventually feed.”
About 10:30 p.m., I glanced south of the rig and noted a swelling bank of clouds blotting out the full moon. Fifteen minutes later, a wall of rain could be seen in the moonlight.
By 11 p.m., winds from the thunderstorm hit our location, whipping the waters into a froth. The storm was fast approaching, skirting just to the west of the platform.
That abrupt change seemed to be the switch about which Lacoste spoke earlier. Almost as soon as the winds howled through the rig, bait rose to the top and trout began busting the water. We reeled in quickly and made sure our lures remained near the water’s surface on subsequent casts.
Hookups quickly followed, but the change in the wind swung us farther from the light, making it impossible to reach the far side of the illuminated area. We could just reach the edge of the lighted waters, and only Wakeland could cast to the rig, but still fish came in the boat quickly.
Despite the action, Lacoste began discussing the need to reposition so the full light could be fished.
“Sometimes the fish will be right next to the rig, sometimes they’ll be in the shadow and sometimes they’ll be right under the light,” he said. “You want to be able to work the entire area.”
Other boats also were prowling about, looking for a place to anchor and fish. That sealed Lacoste’s decision. If we didn’t make a move, someone would get on the other side of the light and crowd us out.
Minutes later, we were again on the edge of the light, but the wind from the storm had passed and the feed was over. But we had quickly swelled the number of trout in the ice chest to more than 40. Several were in the 3-pound range.
By midnight, we had between 50 and 60 beautiful fish in the box, and decided to call it quits. No need being greedy.
“I told you we would catch fish,” Lacoste said. “In the eight years I’ve fished night trips out here, I can count the number of times we struggled. There have only been a couple of times that we didn’t catch anything.”
He said if the fish don’t turn on at the Mardi Gras rig by midnight or so, a move to another rig might be necessary. Blocks 33 and 23 are great choices, and are within sight of 28.
“I remember one time I ran way past these rigs, and didn’t catch anything,” he said. “On our way in, I stopped at 33, and had our limits in no time.
“It’s just a matter of being there when they feed.”
Capt. Marty Lacoste can be reached at (985) 856-4477.