Piece of His Mine

This guide makes his living in March drawing surface strikes from big trout and redfish from a perennial hotspot.

In the 1960s, the only jobs available in the Bayou Lafourche area related to either fishing, sugar cane or oil. But the development of the Frasch process — a mining technique that recovers up to 92 percent of a salt dome’s recoverable sulphur — made it possible for companies to exploit the vast underground sulphur deposits under Louisiana’s marshes.

Sulphur has been used since Biblical times, and is utilized today in the manufacture of more than 30,000 items, including gunpowder, matches, phosphate, insecticides, fungicides, medicines and in vulcanizing rubber and impregnating wood and paper products.

Almost 90 percent of the domestic sulphur production is converted to sulfuric acid, which is a major component in the manufacture of thousands of products, especially fertilizer. About half of America’s sulphur goes to the fertilizer industry.

The Frasch process super-heats water and sends it underground into the sulphur deposit to melt it, and then forces the molten mix above ground into recovery tanks.

Texas Gulf Sulphur Company began operations in the Bully Camp area (later simply called “the Sulphur Mine”), and employed a lot of local labor for construction and operations. Unfortunately, the mining endeavor was relatively short-lived, and when sulphur prices plunged worldwide in the late 1970s, the mine ceased operations.

Today, nothing remains of the original structures, but the mine never ceased production. Now it simply produces a different commodity, but one just as highly prized, and maybe even more so.

Recently, I was having some strong withdrawal symptoms solely due to a lack of fishing. The constant cold, dreary and rainy weather was beginning to drive me stir crazy, and I was running out of things to do indoors.

Usually, when the stir-crazies strike, I re-spool all my reels, tie on all new tackle, wipe down my rods, check all the guides, rearrange my tackle box, etc., and when there is a break in the rain, I go out on the front lawn and cast with a practice plug.

But that only relieves me for a little while. Then I get the jitters. Once that starts, I know next I’ll begin to twitch if I don’t get a “fishing fix” soon.

But cold-weather fishing is good in only a few places down here — the Sulphur Mine being one of them. I was more than ready to do some “mining” for some silver and bronze in the finned variety, so I called an old friend and long-time fishing guide in Larose, Capt. T-Man Cheramie, who fishes the Sulphur Mine extensively throughout the colder months of the year, and when he told me he was on a good trout and redfish bite, I sort of invited myself for a trip.

Cheramie fishes out of a big Predator bay boat, and when I pulled into the Big Bayou Blue Marina just after daybreak, I saw his boat moored at the dock just waiting for me to climb aboard. Before we took off, I introduced myself to Jerry Sandras, the new owner of the marina, and after stowing my gear on the boat, we headed down the bayou toward the Mine.

“I love to fish the Sulphur Mine in March,” Cheramie quipped. “It’s probably my favorite month of the year for targeting big trout and redfish on topwater baits.”

Cheramie says March weather is usually sunnier and milder, which warms up the outside air and the water temperatures, and draws the trout out of the deeper canals and bayous, and sends them scurrying over shallow flats and venturing into shallow ponds foraging for food.

“You’d be surprised at how shallow the trout will be in March,” he said. “We’ll fish the corners of the Sulphur Mine in 3 feet of water or less, and if there’s enough water to get the boat up into any of the ponds around the Mine, you want to troll in there and cast those topwater baits as far as you can, and work them all the way back to the boat.

“There are a lot of ponds around the Mine, and you can catch redfish in them tossing spoons against the bank, and trout casting toward the middle.”

But it was a cold ride down the bayou, and the chill made us think the fish would probably be deep that morning, at least until the sun had a chance to warm things up.

Once we entered the Sulphur Mine, Cheramie killed the outboard and dropped the trolling motor over for a stealth approach to the shoreline, about 50 to 60 yards away.

“We’ll start with tight-lining some plastics this morning, to see if anybody’s home and if we can wake them up,” he said. “Let your bait go to the bottom and start a slow retrieve, bouncing it back slow toward the boat.”

Cheramie likes black/chartreuse and purple/chartreuse Bayou Chubs in colder weather and on overcast days. The baits produce equally well on both specks and redfish. But on bright days he prefers glow/chartreuse Salt Water Assassins or Dudley Terror Tails.

“Fish them on a ¼- or 3/8-ounce plain jighead, tied directly to 12- to 15-pound-test monofilament line,” he said. “In March, you also want to break out the crankbaits and the topwater baits. Throw a Catch 5 or a Catch 2000, an Excaliber, or a Bomber Long A this month, and the trout will pounce on it here in the Mine.”

Topwater baits, such as the Zara Spook, Top Dog Jr. and the She Dog, are also among Cheramie’s favorites.

“I look for signs of baitfish in the water,” he said. “Wherever you find mullet swimming, that’s where you want to toss your topwater or crankbait. Best color is the solid chartreuse or chartreuse/white belly and the mullet color with either silver or white.”

When Cheramie fishes topwater baits, he uses 15- to 20-pound-test monofilament. He also uses Ambassador’s 5500C, and calls it “bulletproof.” He likes a 7-foot medium-action casting rod for the best topwater action.

“You need a rod that will bend for topwater fishing,” he said. “Too stiff a rod won’t give you the action you need, and it can make you pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth. You want to cast as far from the boat as you can, walk the dog, stop for a second or two, walk the dog, stagger your retrieve, stop … let it sit a second or two, and resume.

“And work the bait all the way back to the boat. You’ll be surprised how often you get hit right alongside the boat.

“It’s also important to use monofilament when you’re fishing topwaters. You want a line that will stretch a little, because you don’t set the hook like you normally do. You just sort of pull your rod tip up when they hit it. Braided line does not stretch, which might be good for some applications, but not for topwater fishing.

“Personally, I don’t like braided lines because every one of them digs down into your spool whenever you catch a hefty fish. We get jumped by a lot of redfish on topwaters and crankbaits, and they’ll pull so hard that braided line will bury itself in your spool. And you know what that does the next time you try to cast.

“Also, this is usually a very windy month, and if you cast into the wind and backlash that braid, it ain’t nothing pretty.”

Fact is, probably the biggest challenge March anglers face is the wind. It can blow long and hard and from any direction, which can turn shallow water into foam whitecaps and muddy up the water so much as to make it unfishable.

“I usually don’t let the wind or the tide keep me off the water. I’ll just fish the lee side on a hard wind, which I consider anything over 15 knots. Under that, I fish the windy side. Just look for decent colored water.

“As for tide, it doesn’t really matter all that much whether it’s falling or rising, just so it’s moving in one direction or the other. If you ask me for my preference, I guess I prefer to fish trout on a rising tide and reds on a falling tide. But to be perfectly honest, it really doesn’t matter that much.”

Meanwhile, we were catching fish. The weather was chilly, but the sun was gradually warming things up as we drifted and trolled in 3 to 5 feet of water. We were tightlining plastics and getting some pretty steady action from specks and also adding an occasional redfish to the box.

When the action slowed, I switched to a Berkley Power Shrimp in the natural shrimp color, and fished it about 2 ½ feet under a Cajun Thunder cork, and the trout wouldn’t leave it alone.

Cheramie was putting some nice fish in the boat on a Bayou Chub in purple/chartreuse, which he says is probably the best overall color this month. None of the fish were huge, but a few were close to 2 pounds.

“Typical winter fish,” he said. “But bigger fish will come on those topwater baits in March.”

Cheramie pointed out how close we were drifting to the shoreline, and said March anglers should fish the Mine by their depthfinder.

“Stay in water between 3 and 4 feet deep or less, because the fish this month will be shallow. Drift and cast until you get some hits, then stick the Cajun anchor over and try to stay on the bite as long as it holds. And don’t neglect the middle.”

Cheramie says the middle has been torn up and turned topsy-turvy by the hurricanes, and some big humps have formed up in the middle, which provides some bottom structure and, therefore, holds fish.

“Drift and cast just like you would along the shoreline,” he said, “right out in the middle.”

Although the mining operation ceased some 30 years ago, the Mine has produced an extraordinary amount of trout and redfish through the years.

Cheramie’s dad, Herman Cheramie, says the amount of fish that have been pulled out of the Mine is incredible.

“And it just keeps on producing year after year,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

There are no above-surface structures left to indicate there ever was a mining operation going on there, but several small gas wellheads on the north end of the Sulphur Mine are excellent places to work topwater baits in March, Cheramie said.

Cheramie says the same technique and the same baits will work this month in Catfish Lake and in Clovelly around Plum Point in Little Lake.

“All those areas will turn on big time this month, and anglers tossing topwater baits and crankbaits are going to catch some nice fish out there,” he said.

“And whenever you go, always bring along at least a pound or two of dead shrimp. If ever the fishing is slow, you can add some of that stink to your hook, and you’ll always catch something.

“There are lots of redfish, drum and sheepshead out there, and they can’t resist a wad of stinky shrimp.”

Capt. T-Man Cheramie can be reached at (985) 693-6828.

About Rusty Tardo 365 Articles
Rusty Tardo grew up in St. Bernard fishing the waters of Delacroix, Hopedale and Shell Beach. He and his wife, Diane, have been married over 40 years and live in Kenner.

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