Raising Cane

Roseau is just about the world’s most perfect fish attractor.

Surveying the hall of green and brown, Jimmy Fisackerly asked, “Which side do you think we should fish?” With a stiff wind puffing across the Delta, Fisackerly had worked his 23-foot Hydra-Sports bay boat into a small cove within a large stand of roseau cane. Still bearing scars from the hurricane haircut of two summers past, the cane field presented numerous cuts, points and scattered clumps in various stages of uprooting.

It all looked fishy, and the only logic I could come up with was to try the windward side, in hopes that the big fan had blown a bunch of bait into a concentrated redfish buffet. My host concurred, and his second cast into the mouth of a little runout drew immediate attention from a redfish in the food mood.

Good call, but the part about everything looking fishy remains a constant head-scratcher for roseau neophytes. Nevertheless, that’s about the only downside to the sprawling acreage of this fixture vegetation so emblematic of delta redfishing. Whether it’s a long, orderly row of cane that looks recently groomed, or a ramshackle assemblage of storm-torn randomness, there’s no arguing with the productivity of Phragmites australis.

“I think roseau cane makes great structure because of its orientation,” said Anthony Randazzo of Paradise Plus Guide Service. “It grows near the bottom, and it grows close together so it allows water to flow along it and through it. This also allows baitfish to hide in it.”

Flourishing throughout much of South Louisiana, roseau can tolerate waters with low levels of salinity, but the fresher the better. Of the delta’s three main arteries, the Pass-A-Loutre area holds more cane than South and Southwest passes because it has more of the shallow edges necessary for cane growth.

One of the enduring features of roseau cane is its strength. Throughout history, the tough fibers, strong enough to withstand all but the fiercest of weather conditions, have filled various Native American needs from arrow shafts to art and construction materials. Anglers in the know might find more contemporary uses.

On a recent outing, Capt. C.W. Howard demonstrated roseau tenacity when he needed to hold his boat against a cane edge. Fashioning an impromptu bow line from a nearby stalk, he tethered it to his trolling motor, and we didn’t budge until Howard untied the cane.

Of course, just about everything in nature bows to the strength of a major hurricane. Katrina’s delta damage was significant, but Randazzo and other guides have simply applied established search strategies on a larger scale.

“In the past, we’ve paid particular attention to cane areas that have sustained small amounts of erosion,” he said. “That created a small but productive area for fish because the current would go over the (subsurface) structure, and that’s always a good scenario for any type of fishing.

“The sad part is that these spots were always temporary because the points would always grow back. But with Katrina, the points didn’t wash back 15 yards, they washed back 500 yards. So that created a giant learning curve for anglers.”

Randazzo’s suggestion: “You have to go out there and envision what was there to try to take advantage of what’s there now.”

Notwithstanding the ongoing need for exploration, a few basic criteria will always help in judging cane potential.

“Usually, the things that we look for are areas that filter the water so when the tide runs out of the cane, it comes out cleaner than it went in,” Randazzo said. “That tends to attract more baitfish and game fish. Also, areas with older, denser marsh behind the cane will filter the water even better than just frail sections of cane on the edge of the coast.”

When the water is generally clean, savvy anglers further refine their redfish searches by targeting areas with a healthy current and good contour. Just don’t rush the process. If an area looks good enough to explore, give it a fair inspection before scooting. It’s hard to catch redfish on plane, so another 30 minutes of casting and observation often proves more productive than incessant relocation.

“The most common mistake is when people pull up to one point and leave without investigating the entire area,” Randazzo said.

There are so many idiosyncrasies along a shoreline. Maybe it’s a different depth or the way the current runs across it. It’s not always just the structure of the cane that matters.

“It’s very common for me to pull up on 1,000 yards of cane and only catch fish on 10 yards of it,” Randazzo said. “It’s best to cover as much water as you can, but do it scientifically.”

Key to this thought is the understanding that redfish don’t march in straight lines. Ever watch a herd of grazing cows? Well, they don’t exactly follow any discernable patterns. Reds are about the same — they go where the ol’ sniffer tells them to go. If that means running along a fairly smooth line, so be it; if the day’s dining plan calls for a meandering route, that’s good, too.

“When you’re fishing cane areas, you want to work around all of the structure,” Fisackerly said. “That’s why I usually stay off the cane, so I can work (various ranges).”

Shrimp or cut bait under corks is a good way for kids or novices to learn the roseau routine without worrying too much about casting accuracy. Corking natural baits is also a technique used by more experienced anglers looking to test an area before committing to a more time-consuming artificial approach. Cast a corked bait uptide, let the rig drift along a cane edge and note when, where and if you get a taker. Two or three passes will tell you if there’s fish to be caught.

When it’s time to work an area on anchor or trolling motor, the popular selection includes spinnerbaits, shallow-diving crankbaits and soft-plastics jerkbaits — free-lined or fished under corks. Darker colors typically work best, but throw a gold glitter, pearl or chartreuse body into the mix if the bite slows.

“You want something that will just dive down close to the root structure and not penetrate it,” Randazzo said. “We also use a lot of topwater plugs because they don’t get snagged unless you throw them into the cane. Topwaters are usually best early in the morning when the mullet are positioned closer to the surface.”

With baitfish imitators, a little space is good, but with spinnerbaits, proximity prevails. On my first trip with Randazzo a decade ago, his advice was simple: Cast as close to the cane edge as possible and don’t hesitate to slap the stalks. Particularly with noisy spinnerbaits, dropping your lure right off the vegetation’s profile mimics a crab scampering along the muddy moat. Opportunistic redfish cruising for something crunchy will make short work of any object that even sounds like a crustacean.

Case in point: On a past delta trip, I spotted a redfish swimming a shallow edge and fired off a spinnerbait. About a second after release, I could tell that my “buck fever” cast was going to fall ridiculously short of leading my target. So embarrassingly poor was my delivery that the bait landed 2 inches behind the fish. Rather than bolt away from the disturbance, the redfish literally spun around like he was screwed to the bottom and crushed what he surely thought was a careless crab.

Lesson: Roseau plus redfish equals mercy for ill-aimed casts. Translation: Just fling it up there until someone bites.

“The fish can be right up on the base of those canes, so you have to start right at the cane and move out,” Randazzo said. “But there are times when we know that there’s a lot of structure in the water, so we’ll position the boat against the cane and fish outward.”

In any scenario, consider that roseau cane grows in clumps, and that means a constant threat of snagging — especially in spots where dislodged bunches lay in awkward angles. Turning the root structures toward the surface creates different cover for forage species and the game fish that seek them, but it also increases the snag potential.

“A lot of times, the (root base) extends a lot further than the part that’s above the water,” Fisackerly warned. “You have to keep your bait moving so it doesn’t snag on the roots.”

No doubt, roseau cane has its considerations, but that’s true for most any angling scenario. However, with millions of wispy banners pointing to potential redfish action, bending a rod is often just a matter of picking a section and working down to the sweet spot.

About David A. Brown 323 Articles
A full-time freelance writer specializing in sport fishing, David A. Brown splits his time between journalism and marketing communications www.tightwords.com).