Catching fish in unusual ways is normal in this winter destination.
The sun was barely up when Capt. Nash Roberts IV cut the engine and let the big 24-foot Bay Stealth glide to a standstill.
The depth sounder registered a 3-foot depth under the hull. The water was so clear I could see the oyster shell bottom, and I watched as Roberts and his friend and fellow charter captain, Stanley Geiling, snaked purple/white Deadly Dudley Terror Tail onto ¼-ounce jigs.
“This where we’re going to fish?” I asked.
They must have noticed the tinge of incredulity in my voice.
“This is it,” Roberts said, smiling. “Just cast over that shallow flat, and reel in just fast enough to keep from grabbing bottom.”
Roberts flashed his bait over the flat and began a retrieve that would compare to any summertime technique. When his bait reached the boat, he flicked it right back out and reeled it in again. He was probing, making each cast about 20 feet farther than the one before it, hoping to bump into some speckled trout.
I picked up my Daiwa 2500S spinning reel rig, one that I keep loaded with a DOA shrimp under a Cajun Thunder popping cork, and was preparing to cast when Roberts interrupted.
“It’s too shallow over that flat for that,” he said.” There’s only about a foot of water over there.”
Returning that rig to the rod holder, I picked up my baitcasting rig just as Roberts hooked his first catch of the day, a nice speckled trout.
“They’re out here, but they’re scattered,” he said, as he plopped the fish into the ice chest. It would be the first of many.
“This is strange,” I muttered, as I cast my bait over the shallow flat and quickly reeled it back toward me.
“This is Port Sulphur,” Roberts said, “and Port Sulphur fishing is peculiar in the winter. It’s not like Venice or Buras or Delacroix or Hopedale, or anywhere else that I know of. Everyplace else, trout seek out the deeper canals and bayous and huddle down on the bottom, and you catch them bouncing baits on the bottom. But in Port Sulphur, we never catch trout in deep water in the winter.”
Peculiar seemed like a good word to describe it. We were fishing in a foot of water, ripping our baits toward us like it was springtime or summer, but this was the dead of winter. And it was cold. I had to get the ice off my windshield that morning before I made the drive to Roberts’ camp in Port Sulphur.
Roberts divides winter fishing into two categories: pre-frontal and post-frontal, and each category requires a different technique.
During the pre-frontal period, the weather is warmer, the tides are up, wind blows in from the south and the sky is cloudy.
“Those are trout days,” Roberts says.
According to Roberts, speckled trout absolutely bite best on cloudy days.
“In the winter, in Port Sulphur, that is unquestionably the best conditions. It might be different elsewhere, but if you want to catch trout in the winter in Port Sulphur, fish those overcast days just before a front. Fish shallow water, over flats and reefs, and forget everything you think you know about winter fishing. None of it applies down here,” he said.
“If you fish just up the road out of Buras this month, you’ll find trout holding in 30 feet of water down in the deep holes. And the same is true in Venice. If you cross the river, you’ll catch trout in 6 to 10 feet of water in Delacroix or Shell Beach and Hopedale.
“But here? You’ll never catch trout in more than 3 feet of water. And most of the time, we catch them in 1- to 2-foot depths.”
“Mighty peculiar,” I replied.
“I think the high barometric pressure affects trout and shuts down the bite right after a front also,” Roberts said, “especially in this shallow water. Kind of like the way it affects bass fishing.
“On the other hand, reds really turn on after a front. Before the front, the water is high and the redfish are all up inside the shallow ponds. I look for ponds that have a good oyster bottom, and then we fish them with gold spoons, Deadly Dudleys in purple/white, purple/chartreuse or black/chartreuse, or with spinner-baits.
“If the water is deep enough, we troll to within casting distance of the bank, and fish along it. If the water is too shallow, then we cast as close to the bank as we can. The redfish will be in those ponds, and you just keep moving, keep casting, and keep searching until you find them.
“And don’t let a strong south wind scare you off. The water in the ponds stays clean, and you can catch fish even with a 20-knot wind.
“But during the post-frontal period, the north winds drive all the water out of the ponds, and the redfish gang up in the deeper canals and bayous. But they’ll stay close to those ponds, hanging out at the drains and cuts.
“So if you want to catch redfish in Port Sulphur, fish just after a front, in the deeper canals and bayous, at the intersections of drains and cuts from the ponds. That’s where they’ll be.”
“Live minnows fished on a plain ¼-ounce jighead,” he said. “If the water is real clean, you can also fish them successfully with soft plastics. But if the water is cloudy at all, use live minnows.”
Roberts says that overall, redfish will always get into the shallowest water they can find, except when the temperatures really plunge. Then they have to get into the deeper canals and bayous. And the trout will only go into deeper water on those freakishly cold days that occur only a few times a year.
The specks got harder to find, and Roberts decided to move. We already had a good number of trout in the box, but the old sulphur mines of Grande Ecaille were beckoning, and the two captains aboard just couldn’t resist the call.
Once there, Roberts dropped the trolling motor, and we half-drifted, half-trolled along the numerous pilings, casting as we went. The water here was extremely shallow (1 to 2 feet), and the bottom was clearly visible. Also visible were submerged pilings, lurking barely beneath the surface, rigid and ready to pulverize your fiberglass or crumple your aluminum, and turn your lower unit into worthless scrap. If you choose to fish the area, CAUTION is the key.
About that time, Geiling began casting a topwater plug in the shallow water.
“Do you actually catch trout on topwaters in this cold weather?” I asked.
“All the time,” he said.
“Peculiar. Mighty peculiar,” I mumbled.
We invested most of an hour patrolling the whole area and had only a couple of decent specks to show for it. Roberts said that’s just the way it is this time of year in Grande Ecaille — boom or bust.
“Either they’re here, or they’re not. Today, they’re not,” he said, so off we went to chase some reds.
Port Sulphur’s Top Ten Winter Hotspots
1. The intersection of Grand Bayou and Secola Canal.
Roberts says the water is 7 or 8 feet deep, and the junction is a great place to catch redfish, sheepshead and drum.
“Put a live minnow or a wad of market shrimp on a plain ¼-ounce jighead, and you can usually catch all the drum and sheepshead you want, and you’ll generally catch some reds in the mix,” he said.
In fact, Roberts says anywhere along Grand Bayou in between Happy Jack Canal and Secola is good fishing.
2. Grand Bayou at the junction of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.
“It has deep water for those very cold winter days when the fronts have driven all the water out of the marsh. Bounce plastics off the bottom, or put a live minnow on a jig and sit it on the bottom,” Roberts advised.
3. Bayou Dulac.
This bayou averages between 5 and 10 feet in depth, and is a favorite haunt for redfish on post-frontal winter days. Roberts says all of the cuts into Bayou Dulac are likely to hold fish.
“A lot of the marsh drains right into Dulac, so it’s an excellent place to fish, especially on low tides,” he said.
Live minnows or market shrimp on the bottom are the best baits. Soft plastics bumped off the bottom will also produce if the water is clear.
4. The Grand Ecaille Mines.
This is mostly a trout hangout, but reds pay occasional visits also. Roberts says this is a pre-frontal spot, best fished on warmer winter days, but it can produce well between fronts. Remember, it’s very shallow, peppered with lots of pilings, some of which are submerged. Soft plastics tightlined, topwaters, and shallow-swimming crankbaits will produce best.
5. The 7 Foot Canal.
This is another excellent low-water, post-frontal destination. Roberts says to fish the corners, cuts and at any of the drains from the marsh with live minnows or market shrimp on a jighead or with soft plastics bumped off the bottom.
6. The Freeport Sulphur Canal.
This area is best fished after a front, when the weather is cold and the water is low. Look for oysters on the bank around cuts and drains from the marsh, and fish there.
7. The Two Sisters Bayou area.
There are some good shallow ponds for pre-frontal and between the front fishing, and deep holes, especially in the turns, for post-frontal action. When the tide is up, work the ponds with gold spoons, spinnerbaits, topwater baits and soft plastics fished as close to the shoreline as you can cast. After the fronts, fish the holes with live minnows and market shrimp on the bottom.
8. Rattlesnake Bayou.
This pre-frontal area produces both trout and redfish, and is best fished by drifting or trolling around the various cuts and canals, over the flats and up in the ponds, casting gold spoons, soft plastics, shallow swimming crankbaits or topwater baits.
9. Bay Adams and Bay Lanaux.
These bays hold mostly trout this time of year. Roberts says to drift or troll the oyster reefs and flats, casting soft plastics, until you get some hits. Then stick the anchor and try to stay on the action.
Gold spoons, beetle-spins, shallow-swimming crankbaits and topwater baits will also be effective.
10. Bay Sansbois at Bayou Dulac.
This is a shallow, pre-frontal trout hotspot. Troll or drift, casting soft plastics, topwater baits or shallow-swimming crankbaits over the flats.
For the next few hours we meandered through several shallow ponds, and trolled along canals and bayous casting our purple/white Deadly Dudleys, and retrieving them much faster than I thought we should.
Everywhere we went, we caught fish.
Capt. Nash Roberts can be reached at (800) 887-1385 or (504) 837-0703.
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