Take a seat on the bench and listen to Grand Isle fisherman Curtis Gisclair. His offshore tactics will assure you of victory.
Hey, howya doin’ there Coach,” crackled the VHF radio.
Capt. Curtis Gisclair answered the familiar voice with a pleasantry of his own and inquired of the other fisherman’s luck before reestablishing his full attention to positioning his vessel near the oil platform.
The Mississippi Canyon was the origin of conversation, but it just as well could have been the hallways of South Lafourche High School or any number of stomping grounds along Bayou Lafourche. A fixture of prep athletics for almost 30 years takes on the “Coach” moniker quite naturally and with almost unilateral affection.
It’s also a handle carried by Gisclair on the water as a part-time offshore charter skipper and owner of Fair Catch Charters. With his son Taeger running the cockpit, Curtis has turned a passion for blue water into an unusual side vocation to teaching.
An ever-ready smile and pleasant humility are what strike you when you meet him for the first time, and those traits truly come across when he’s discussing the ins and outs of plying the fertile offshore waters off of Fourchon.
“We owe a huge amount to Myron Fischer,” says Curtis of the venerable charter captain, “Taeger has been fishing with him for a long time, and he’s taught us so much.
“Some of the things we do are Taeger’s innovations, but most come right from Myron.”
Taeger has spent many days learning the craft under the watchful eye of Fischer, and has earned the respect of the owner of Different Drummer Charters.
“He is the best deckhand I have ever had with a gaff,” said Fischer. “Taeger is a natural athlete, and has pretty much seen it all on my boat, from 150-pound tuna to 700-pound marlin.”
Taeger followed in his father’s footsteps, and is a coach and biology teacher. He plans on getting his captain’s license in the winter.
The sun was just beginning its ascent as I stepped aboard Gisclair’s 33-foot Wellcraft Coastal, a 1987 hull whose aesthetics would indicate a 2- or 3-year-old boat. The Cummins diesel rumbled as the Fair Catch‘s charter loaded provisions for the forecasted heat. Old friends were the patrons of the day, and conversation flowed freely on the trip down the Flotation Canal.
A game plan of amberjack at the rigs, a search for the deepwater trawlers for tuna and whatever happened to be hanging around the rip was agreed upon on the way to Belle Pass. The region’s slow red snapper season predicated the snubbing of Louisiana’s most-popular offshore species.
“It’s been a tough one,” said Taeger. “This area gets hit pretty hard with all of the boats around. Starting off with amberjack usually gets the trip going well.”
The Grand Isle 48 blocks was the first stop for amberjack offerings, and nine perfect-sized hardtails made their way to the livewell about as quickly as humanly possible. Subsequent drops resulted in similar success. The only glitch in the bait process was a fired-up jack crevalle that made a shambles of the 20-pound sabiki rig Taeger was bringing up. Two hooks and a single bait were all that was left.
“This is about all that this rig is good for,” said Taeger as he unwrapped and rigged another string of the multi-colored jigs. “Yesterday, a jack took the whole thing.”
The rig provided an unbeatable combination of semi-clear water and an abundance of just-the-right-size bait for the quarry and the catcher.
Big bait means more time the angler has to spend hoisting them to the boat, which means unwanted attention from ugly yellow-finned and steely eyed toothy predators, not to mention break offs from the bait itself.
“The big hardtails can tear up even the 20-pound Sabikis,” said Taeger.
The water was clean enough to see the multitude of flashing baits 20 feet down in their struggle, but not so much that it would be difficult to catch them.
“It’s really hard to make bait out at the rigs where you’re catching your fish,” said Curtis. “They’ll be all over the surface, but are hard to fool in that blue water.”
The count reached 26 and, combined with a dozen or so pinfish, the crew was ready to fish.
Soon, the rigs adjacent to “The Hole,” a renowned bluewater spot where the water drops off to more than 1,000 feet, were within sight. An abundance of scattered grass and a gradual color change gave hope to a nice rip later in the day, but the task at hand involved getting mean with the back-alley bullies of bluewater — amberjack.
Fischer was already at the chosen rig and was hooked up when we made our observant circle. One of the most important things in working these rigs is to be aware of the currents and subcurrents swirling about in the 250+ feet of water.
How these variables affect baits and vessel can determine immediate success or frustrating hours of fruitless attempts. The right amount of weight and an adequate supply of bait are also important in cashing in on an amberjack’s willingness to bite.
“Good-quality, 6-ounce weights aren’t cheap, but they are invaluable when you need to get to where the fish are,” said Curtis.
“We usually try to get at least 20 baits when we have six people fishing,” said Curtis. “That gives us enough of a safety net when sharks and barracuda are around.”
As Fischer gradually drove the boat away from the rig to aid in landing the fish, Curtis slipped in on the productive corner. Two rods rigged with 6-foot, 120-pound leaders, a 6-ounce slip sinker and a frisky hardtail hooked through the tough cartilage just past the upper lip with a 13/0 circle hook were readied for action.
Hardtails and frisky go together like red beans and rice, but another trick hedged our fish-attracting bet in a good way.
“When you cut the tail fins, you accomplish two things,” said Taeger.
“No. 1, when you have sharks and ‘cudas around above the good fish, you don’t want to attract a lot of attention on the way down.
“No. 2, when you do get it in front of the fish, you want it to kick its tail a lot and not move very much. This helps with the lazy fish.”
At the captain’s signal, the rods were dropped to the strike zone with an easy, rhythmic lowering and raising of the rod from 7 o’clock to 12 o’clock. This approach took a bit more time than simply allowing the bait to free-fall for a certain number of seconds, and gave an accurate count of how much line was out relative to the length of the rod.
The rods were then place in holders, and the vigil commenced. Soon, one of the stiff rods pulsed and then slowly dipped as the circle hook did its efficient work.
“Before circle hooks, you could hardly save a jack, they’d be hooked so deep,” said Curtis.
The angler would take the rod out of the holder and hang on. Several times, the fish weren’t able to be stopped and the fight ended with a sudden, violent release of pressure.
“At some of these rigs, you can back off 100 yards and still be taken into the legs,” said Taeger, speaking of the size and spread of the rig legs and the size of the fish inhabiting the Canyon.
As is often the case with amberjack, once a few fish were caught, the rest were drawn into frenzy. Between Fischer’s boat and ours, there was constant gastronomical stimulation to the school, providing double hook-ups several times in a row.
The action slowed after a bit with the box being one fish short of a limit. A move to an adjacent rig brought back good memories to father and son. Grand Isle 82 sits in 205 feet of water on the edge of “The Hole,” and is where they took the state- and Gulf-record yellowfin tuna back in late March.
“It was right on that southwest corner,” said Curtis. “That’s another thing Myron taught us. There’s almost always good fishing on the southwest corner of a rig.”
The starboard line dipped soon after on the southwest corner, and 10 minutes later, the biggest AJ of the day lay on the floor as ice bags were shuffled to make room for the fish.
The shrimpers had passed hours before on their way to the west, and no others were visible on the horizon or amongst the radio chatter, so the decision was made to find the rip and see what it had in store for us. Tons of decent-sized chicken dolphin were around the day before, and there were reports of lemonfish cruising the grass line separating the dirty green and blue water.
To attract the dolphin, the Fair Catch crew deploys two teasers on the outriggers, a whole ballyhoo on a rigger and three spinning rods rigged with small live bait hooks on a stiff mono leader. Cut squid is attached to the hooks and is trolled behind the boat.
The teasers, consisting of a pink soft conehead and natural squid daisy chain, are trolled as close to the boat as possible to draw the fish close and keep them that way when the school is drawn by the first one or two hooked fish.
“It’s an easy way to keep them close to the boat without having to chum so much,” said Taeger.
The whole ballyhoo is deployed for roving bull dolphin, but is often difficult to keep the chicks off. The height of the rigger keeps it bouncing high off the waves and, ideally, out of reach of the chicks. Any bull dolphin will make it a point to get the bait should it decide that it wants it.
The mono leader gives the angler a chance with a bull dolphin and also gives the deckhand occasion to be aggressive with the fish slinger when the fish are coming aboard fast and furiously.
Pressure put on light line with the slinger can snap it quickly, taking the person out of the game and giving the deckhand another job when there are already 18 others he can do at the time.
Slow fishing had the crew perplexed. Reports of action in the opposite direction was enough to switch course, and we were almost immediately rewarded with several large schools to pick through.
After boxing a number of dolphin, we got our chance at a lemonfish. A 30-pounder came out from under the sargassum like a grumpy old man wanting to know what all the ruckus was about among these young punks.
Looking out of place in the crystal-clear water and among the colorful dolphin, the cobia gobbled up the chum thrown before him and then pounced on a live pinfish amidst the mahi mahi madness.
Two anxious minutes (a tangled dolphin line) were followed by three better ones (a typical, bull-dogging cobia fight in open water), and the ugly duckling of the rip took its place in the fish box.
The chicken dolphin then went on a rampage, with huge groups uniformly following the boat in our quest for another lemonfish. They attacked the daisy chain in groups or three or four with a vengeance, drifted back to the school once they realized it was a phony and were replaced 30 to 45 seconds later by a fresh pack.
With our fill of the delectable fillets, we headed toward home, stopping at a couple of buoys where another lemon teased us into thinking we had a chance at him.
“The same smart one as yesterday,” said Curtis, recalling the similar though more-drawn-out episode of the day before.
You’ll hardly hear Curtis Gisclair’s voice rise in the day’s events. A sighting of a bull dolphin or lemonfish will get him excited, but no clipboard throwing fits of rage take place when an average tangle turns into “How in the heck did THAT happen?”
Just a cool-headed captain and a wise right-hand man to put you back in the game.
The Gisclairs can be reached at (985) 632-2559.
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