Louisiana has no shortage of opportunities for hunters who want to get a jump on the deer season.
Anticipation ran fever-high last April as we pulled out of Hopedale Marina in Rich Evans’ boat. Our destination was the lower Chandeleurs. Our quarry was speckled trout. Not schoolies, but those early season monsters that make a tsunami when they explode on your poppers.The weatherman had forecast calm seas, and we were hoping for once that he’d be right.
For Steve Lee, Mark Skinner and me, joining our friend Rich on this outing to the “Louisiana Keys” was an opportunity to wade alongside one of the best all-around fly fishermen there is. Whether it’s rainbow trout or speckled trout, redear or redfish, black bass or blackfin tuna, Rich seems to know the fish better than they know themselves.
It had been several years since my last voyage to either Gosier, Curlew or Breton. Like anywhere else, fishing can be tough at times, but when it’s good, it’s awesome. The water is clear; you can watch the bull reds and mule trout as they attack your flies. Best of all, the line-ripping action takes place in knee-deep water while wading hard bottom. A very unique scenario in Louisiana.
As we first headed down the MRGO, it appeared all the planets were aligned. We watched as gulls dived over small baitfish crashing beneath. Our captain proceeded, patiently knowing that bigger rewards lay ahead.
But by the time we hit Breton Sound, it was apparent we’d be fighting wind. As Rich’s boat skipped through 4-foot waves, we found ourselves hugging the rails, and hoping that this was the worst we’d have to endure.
Our first stop was Gosier. As Rich anchored the boat, Steve and Mark jumped off and waded to the edge of the island. On his last trip here, Mark sightcasted to reds cruising the northern shore.
I bypassed this stretch, and found an interior pond that was inches deep. The crystal clear water and hard sand bottoms reminded me of the Florida Keys. As I surveyed the area, my polarized lenses picked out a large shadow moving erratically back and forth. With an 80-foot cast, I placed the pink charlie within a few feet of the shadow, then watched as it rushed toward the bait. Suddenly my line went tight, and the fight was on.
After a good tussle, the shadow made its identity known — a hardhead catfish. Oh, well, at least it was a good fight.
As usual, Rich was the only one to catch a real fish, a rat red. Quickly we loaded back up, and headed for the next island.
By 11 a.m., we had fished three spots, with only that rat red and catfish to show. The water was still a bit milky, but hope was alive as the wind and the waves had dissipated.
At West Breton, Mark and I found a bar running parallel to the shoreline, with a trough in between us and the island. On his second cast, he hooked up with a nice red. I switched from a Clouser to a gold spoon fly, hoping that more reds were there.
The hunch paid off. After an hour, Mark and I had each landed and released four reds, all in the 24- to 26-inch range. Not many fish, but each one seemed to take forever to land. It’s something about wading — being in their domain — that makes those fish seem so much stronger.
We waded to the beach, and walked the shore until we found Rich. His tally was five reds, all on a purple/gold fly known as the LSU Clouser. More impressive, he was sight-casting to his fish, something Steve, Mark, and I were unable to do in the area we were. We watched as he stalked another red, executed a perfect cast and set the hook. After a good fight, the 8-pounder was released.
We still wanted to get into speckled trout, so we moved over to East Breton. It was 3 p.m., and perhaps our last shot. By now, the water was flat.
Steve and I walked about 300 yards down the island, each armed with LSU Clousers. There we found a small ripline. On his first cast, he hooked up with a nice red. On my first cast, I made two strips, before the line went shooting through my fingers. To my surprise it was not a red, but a 20-inch speck.
Subsequent casts landed more specks, albeit smaller, but just as hard-fighting. I switched to a popper, and watched as boil after boil ensued upon it, with occasionally a speck getting hooked. Steve and I were laughing as rods were bending. Fulfillment was at hand.
By this point, the stringers had come out. Fly fishermen, for all our endorsement of catch and release, enjoy fried fish as much as any folks do.
Rich and Mark arrived, and joined in on the action. On one occasion, I noticed Rich’s 8-weight was almost doubled. He’s quiet on the water, so I began to wonder if he needed help to land this beast.
Well, he did finally managed to get it within reach of his Boga-grip, and when he raised it up out of the water, cheers broke out. Mission accomplished — a speckled trout over 5 pounds!
Before I could rush back to shore and grab my camera, the fish was released.
“Big ones like that don’t taste that good” was what I heard Rich say. Good spin from a good conservationist.
As we headed back to port — this time over flat seas — we couldn’t help but wonder how long this Louisiana fly-rodder’s paradise will exist.