Red Jaws

What’s fiercer than a man-eating shark? Perhaps a Rat-L-Trap-chomping redfish in this south-central Louisiana hotspot.

You ever get those calls at work in the afternoon that you hate and know would tick off your boss? You hate them because, one, you’re in the middle of a big bid and a hot job that you have to get out, and two, because the conversation you’re about to hear from your buddy is how he just got back from slamming the fish.

“Hey, dude. Whatcha doin’? You busy?” your friend asks.

Well of course, he darn well knows you’re busy. Why else would you be at work, while he’s out FISHING. Quietly keeping your voice low, while looking out toward the door, you speak without thinking, “No, I, uh, I’m not — what you got?”

As your face gets warm and your heart rate increases a little, you think, “So that’s what a lie detector measures.”

“Man, dude, I’m stopping by your house this evening. What time you get home? We slammed the fish today,” he says. “We gotta make a plan. Can you sneak away in the morning?”

You’re mind says, “I don’t want to hear it!” But you know you have to indulge some things, regardless if your paranoia causes you to think he’s rubbing it in or your boss really cares that you take a minute to unload some of your pressure. “Can I sneak away? I’m sure! Not with this mess I’m working on. Where’d you fish today?” you quietly ask while clicking your mouse on Fire Fox and going to louisianasportsman.com, hoping no one walks in your office while you check the tide and what time it gets daylight.

“South of Franklin,” your buddy says. “We fished the Jaws area.”

“Really? The Jaws?” you reply, while minimizing the screen back to your spreadsheet as your boss walks by. “And you slammed them?”

“Man, dude, I’m ready to hit ’em again. We can leave at 6:15 a.m. and be there in 15 minutes. I figure we can bang the banks and make a little noise with some Rat-L-Traps, and in a few hours head back in. Can you go in late?”

There’s no doubt, over the years, the Franklin Jaws area that opens to West Cote Blanche Bay is one of those sleeper places for chasing redfish along the central coastline.

Exactly why it doesn’t receive much attention may be because of perceived better locations. Areas such as the Burns Point, a few miles to the east in East Cote Blanche Bay, Cypremort Point a few miles to the west, Marsh Island and Vermilion Bay further west tend to be better known.

However, according to local angler Ray Beadle, a friend who calls my office frequently to set up fishing trips and share fish and game reports, there are other reasons.

“What affects the Jaws tremendously and why you don’t see a lot of people fishing it, it’s very sensitive to hard south winds,” he said. “South winds come up in there and really muddy up the water, and it’s hard to fish reds when that happens.”

Yet, in spite of the murky-water challenges, Beadle mentions that people go to the Jaws and fish shrimp on the bottom mainly for catfish, and always pick up a few redfish.

“It’s not an area fished by a lot of people, but every year I see a handful of people fishing the main waters out there on anchor fishing with shrimp,” he said. “Some come over from Burns Point. Some have hunting camps up in the marsh, and they’ll set on anchor fishing mostly for catfish because it’s close by. They’ll catch a red or two, but mainly by accident.”

On the trips that I’ve made with Beadle to the Jaws, nary a shrimp was ever allowed in his Skeeter bass boat — or my little 16-foot Avenger for that matter. No, Beadle would rather bang the banks and make a little noise with artificial lures.

When, my wife, Christine, went on a trip with us knowing we didn’t bring along any shrimp, her only comment was, “Ray, I don’t know about this … .”

Beadle acknowledges the fact that by sitting on anchor with shrimp when the conditions are less than ideal, people probably will catch more fish than him, but it doesn’t deter him from using artificial baits.

“The Jaws was always one of my secret favorite spots, and I never saw people there fishing it like we do it — trolling along these banks,” he said. “We’d always see people chunking lures in the Burns Point area and over by the Humble, but never in the Jaws. In the Jaws, you can troll both the east and west banks, and catch reds.”

Prime time for fishing the Jaws area is late May through September. As the weather begins to change into its summer pattern, the murky waters clear up, where artificial bait-throwing anglers can troll the banks and find success.

Along the west side of the Jaws, fishermen will find structure along the mixed silt and shell bottom in the form of piling, stumps, partially sunken logs and other debris rolled up from weather events. Along the east side of the Jaws, there are grass beds along numerous points all the way to Point Maroon.

Though much of the aquatic vegetation continues to recover from the effects of Hurricane Rita in 2005, patches of coon-tail, hydrilla, milfoil and ribbon grass can be seen along the banks that hold baitfish.

And where there’s baitfish, there are redfish.

“Redfish have similarities to bass,” Beadle said. “What’s crazy about redfish is they’ll sit around sticks and grass, just like a bass. A redfish is predatory, and they’re hunting and seeking, trying to eat. And just like a bass, they’ll hit a Rat-L-Trap, spinnerbait and a spoon.”

In both East and West Cote Blanche bays, one of the first lures of choice typically used by redfish anglers is a saltwater-series Rat-L-Trap in chrome/blue. For years, anglers have been making noise with this venerable vibrating bait, whose sound simulates distressed baitfish.

There’s a reason the bait has stood the test of time, according to Wes Higgins, a marketing representative for Bill Lewis Lures.

“Basically that original sound and vibration has been researched over the past 20 years, and it’s such a specialized sound that we ended up getting it trademarked as ‘Liv-n-Sound,’ and that’s based off of some research we had done at a bio-acoustics lab in Seattle.

“We had them do some analysis on our Rat-L-Trap, and they compared it to the sound made by a distressed baitfish — in particular shad. They took a spectrograph meter and compared the sounds, and when they lined up the chart, it was amazing. They were almost identical. So it came out that the specialized sound aided by the shot inside the Rat-L-Trap creates a sound frequency that matches up with distressed baitfish.”

Beadle is one believer.

“I saw a red come 30 yards to hit a Rat-L-Trap,” he said. “He hit that thing, and wouldn’t even slow down. If you got the drag set right, a red will rip it, and you’ll think you got an amberjack or some tarpon or monstrous fish on.”

Other lures effective when bank banging the Jaws area are Johnson spoons (silver or gold), Strike King’s Diamond Shads, Rapalas and spinnerbaits like Stike King’s Redfish Magic.

When fishing the Jaws, I prefer to use an open-bail spin-cast reel set with a light drag. The tide will dictate how close you can get to the bank, and a spin-cast reel allows you to make some long casts out in front of spooky reds that you spot while sight-fishing.

Along the eastern bank, there are canals with sheet pile weirs with rock embankments that are also good places to search for redfish. It was along one of these canals where my suspicious wife caught a redfish on artificial bait for the first time.

Once she got the bait out there consistently, it didn’t take long before her distance and accuracy improved. With each cast, her determination increased as reds swirled along the banks of the canal’s inlet from the bay. Suddenly, her efforts paid off as a red grabbed her spinnerbait, and the fight was on.

We also passed a boat setting on anchor behind the sheetpile weir drowning shrimp. Fishing on the bottom, just out of the main current, they were having success, and were satisfied waiting for a red to interrupt their relaxing afternoon of fishing.

When fishing with Beadle, you’ll find he brings along as many as five rods, each affixed with different baits.

“This is the art of having enough food with you to go out and get reds,” he said. “It’s not just the knowing, it’s having the tools ready with the things you can catch fish with. I’ve got a weedless shrimp, a Rat-L-Trap, spinnerbait and at least five or six other weapons with me so that under any conditions, when I see a fish, I can pick up any one of those weapons and chunk something he’ll bite on.”

When you’re bank banging with noise-making crankbaits along the Jaws that lead out to the West Cote Blanche Bay coastline, you have to keep lures in the water.

“Because you don’t see anything out there, it doesn’t mean the next cast might not be a 12-pound red,” Beadle said. “The crazy thing is you can be yack-yack-yacking with your partner, and all of a sudden you got a fish on, hollering, ‘Get the net.’ While he’s scrambling to get the net, he’s got a fish on. We get the fish in the boat, and we throw again and realize we’re in a school of them and they’re going into a feeding frenzy.”

The Jaws is one of those places simply overlooked by south-central Louisiana anglers that just might be one of those sleeper areas you want to punch in some GPS coordinates on, when you only have limited time during a work-week morning.

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