Rigoletts Reds

This productive bayou is very close to Lafitte’s launches, and it never offers better action than in October.

When Hollywood hung the title “Red October” on a submarine movie some years ago, they had no idea how apropos it was for Louisiana anglers. October is transition time in the Louisiana marsh. Fronts make their way south in more rapid succession, and the winds begin to blow with genuine cold. The air lacks the heavy humidity that we’ve become accustomed to breathing, and mornings take on a gray briskness that lets us know winter is not far away.

That change in our weather is an outward sign of the changes going on under the surface of our coastal waters. Water temperatures are steadily dropping. Nothing dramatic at first, but a juggernaut process has begun — a gradual, irreversible cooling process is now under way that nothing but next spring will stop.

Winds blow much more frequently from the north. Tides become lower, and no longer rebound to the levels they did in the summer.

Shrimp become scarcer, as do baitfish, and redfish are invigorated with an incredible, voracious appetite. Their instinct to feed propels them into interior marshes, where along shorelines, over flats and reefs, and around marsh and coastal structures the bronze predators hunt with a drive somewhat akin to desperation.

Friend, if you love to fish, now is the time to get out and do it because at no time on the calendar will redfish be more plentiful and aggressive.

Chad Daigle of Lafitte Harbor Marina recently invited me to fish with him and Capt. Scott Poche, who operates his Crescent City Fishing Charters (504-915-0392) out of the marina. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, since I’d never had the chance to fish with either of them before.

We rendezvoused at the marina, exchanged greetings, and loaded my gear in the boat. I was ready for some redfish action, and according to Poche, action wasn’t far away.

“We’ve been catching a lot of redfish real close in lately,” he said. “Today we’ll try to find some clean water along the east shoreline of Bayou Rigoletts, and do some trolling and casting, and see what we come up with.”

There was a note of confidence that I liked in his voice, despite a steady northeast wind. That wind is what greeted me when I first walked outside before I left my house in Chalmette that morning. I knew then that no one would be fishing outside in the open water on this day, and those who ventured inside would be dealing with low water and a brisk northeast wind, making for some pretty tough conditions.

We were mere minutes from the dock when Poche killed the outboard and dropped the trolling motor over the bow.

“The water is beautiful here in Bayou Rigoletts, and up against this east side there is only a slight ripple on the surface. There’s some baitfish activity around…. I think we’re going to do some good here,” he said.

Daigle staked out a position on the rear casting deck, and I stood behind Poche on the fore deck. Both of them were casting black/chartreuse Bayou Chub minnows on plain ¼-ounce jigheads.

I already had a spinner mounted with a natural-colored plastic shrimp tied on my line, so I opted to stay with that. I’ve had a lot of success catching both specks and reds with beetle-spins, and even flounder sometimes find the flashing blade irresistible, so I was pretty confident I could catch my share of redfish with it.

I learned long ago that when choosing an artificial bait, it’s important to select one you have confidence in — something that you are sure will produce. I don’t know exactly why, but an angler confident in his bait will catch more than one who isn’t.

But something happened to my confidence that morning. I was intimidated. Thoroughly intimidated, and I admit it. It started when Poche pointed to the water surface ahead of us and said, “There’s one, coming this way along the bank! See him?”

“Where?” I asked, looking to where he was pointing but seeing nothing unusual, nothing but wind-produced ripples, nothing that would indicate a fish beneath the surface.

“Right there,” he pointed, and realizing I was unable to see what he saw, he cast his bait just ahead of the inconspicuous movement. He bounced his bait off the bottom a couple of times and then let it sit momentarily, when WHAM! The fish slammed the bait, and Poche set the hook. The fish went about 20 inches, and Poche didn’t even bother with the landing net.

“Power Pro. I love this stuff,” he said, referring to the fishing line he had on his reel. “I almost never lose a fish due to broken line anymore, like I used to with monofilament. I got tired of broken lines and my customers losing good fish, so I switched to the braided line and said good-bye to those problems. It’s a tough enough business finding fish, and getting the fish to bite, then to only lose them because your line snapped.”

The longer we fished, the less confident I became in my choice of bait, and even in my own ability. Poche repeated that whole scene a half dozen times.

He could see movement beneath the surface that was virtually imperceptible to the untrained eye. He’d try to show me, to point out the minute movement, but would inevitably have to cast to it himself, and each time he caught a redfish.

There were also times when the patrolling redfish left obvious V-wakes, and on occasion the whole back of a fish broke the surface.

I did try casting toward those fish, but by that time I was so rattled and felt so amateurish, that I couldn’t even cast straight. I’d miss my mark by 20 feet. Or drop the bait right on top of the advancing fish’s head, which only spooked them. I felt like I had two left hands, and both were clumsy.

Poche, on the other hand, was in constant motion. He scanned the surface for the slightest unnatural ripple (hard to distinguish when the wind has the surface rippled everywhere), and would cast in a flash.

He threw across and in front of approaching fish, so his bait looked to the predator like fleeing prey. And the fish couldn’t resist his technique. The one word I could think of to describe him was “intense.”

“I’m still in tournament mode,” he explained.

He had just finished competing in the IFA Redfish Tour Open out of Grand Isle, and he was definitely still operating in full-throttle tournament gear.

Meanwhile, I felt like I was on drugs, moving in slow motion, bumbling and uncoordinated. I totally lost confidence in my bait, and decided to switch to what Poche and Daigle were using. My shrimp bait, while successful on the east side of the river, obviously didn’t “match the hatch” on the west side, at least not on that day. So why keep tossing what isn’t working?

Daigle was much less animated on the rear deck, but in spite of having the disadvantage of fishing behind a human gill net, he had at least managed to put a couple fish in the boat, while I had caught nothing.

Finally I was able to distinguish a small wake Poche pointed out, and I made a half decent toss toward it, casting across and in front of the approaching fish. I mimicked Poche’s technique, bouncing the bait off the shallow bottom once or twice, and then pausing for a brief couple seconds, and WHAM! I had him!

The fish ran and pulled, and my drag sang a long-awaited tune. It’s amazing how quickly my deflation turned into elation, and the old confidence began to return. I decided I hadn’t lost it after all.

I still had it.

For October and throughout the fall, Poche says both the east and west sides of Bayou Rigoletts should produce some nice fish, as should the lower west side of Bayou Perot, the upper end of Bayou Perot at the opening into Lake Salvador, the top end of Turtle Bay, the south end of Little Lake, Coffee Bay, Bay Dos Gris and Bayou St. Denis.

“Choose any place that looks like it holds potential, and start casting. Points, drains, cuts and coves deserve extra effort, and a plastic cocaho on a ¼-ounce jig is all the bait you’ll need to put some excellent fish in the boat,” he said.

Poche employs the “run-and-gun” approach to red fishing — that is, keep trolling and cast as you go. Work the shorelines thoroughly, and look for any signs of reds patrolling the shallows. Their movement is sometimes glaringly obvious — a V-wake moving steadily along a bank and crashing against the shoreline in pursuit of small crabs or minnows.

Other movements are not as obvious, but still perceptible if you know what you’re looking for. Basically, that means anything that indicates movement beneath the surface — maybe a ripple out of sync with the direction the wind is blowing the other ripples on the surface, or a subtle hint of that tell-tale V-wake.

Remember never to toss your bait directly in front of the fish, but to cast across and far enough in front of the fish that you can swim your bait across its path. Hop and pause the bait, twitching slightly, and keep the line tight!

Some anglers prefer to anchor at a point or drain, and fish with live or market shrimp under a cork, which is also very effective, Poche said.

Poche says he prefers to fish a falling tide, though a rising tide is productive also, and he likes to fish a southeast wind, though those are just about gone for the season. North and northeast winds become commonplace in the fall, and are very doable, he said.

The worst situation is a strong and steady west or northwest wind, which produces miserable conditions in the marsh, he said.

About Rusty Tardo 370 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.