School’s In

Summer may not be quite over yet, but the trout in Timbalier and Terrebonne bays have already heard the bell ring.

The morning had barely begun, but Capt. Troy Robichaux already was speeding across Lake Raccourci with one eye glued to his GPS.The seas were supposed to be slick, but a chop had greeted Robichaux’s boat when it broke out of the marsh. Thunderheads could be seen forming offshore as the first rays of daylight turned the skies pink.

“So much for the calm weather we were supposed to have,” he said, shaking his head.

The water was muddy, but Robichaux pushed the Gravois southeastward for another few minutes.

And suddenly the water began to turn green. Soon it was beautiful.

Robichaux explained that the color change was expected.

“The water on the east side of Lake Raccourci always cleans up faster than to the west because of (Pelican) pass,” the partner in Golden Meadow’s Saltwater Guide Service said.

Finally, Robichaux powered back the outboard, both eyes now locked onto the GPS.

He idled around until he was in just the right position, and then he killed the motor and headed for the front deck.

There was nothing visible above the water’s surface for hundreds of yards, but Robichaux gave assurances that we were about to fish an island.

“There’s an old island down there,” he said. “It’s not much, mostly just hard mud.

“But it holds a few fish.”

The “island” was indicative of what has become of the string of islands that dotted Timbalier and Terrebonne bays. In fact, the two waterbodies, along with Lakes Raccourci and Barre, once were separated by marshy spits of land.

Today, there really is no defining boundaries in the system.

“You can run from Fourchon almost to Cocodrie, and it’s just one big bay now,” Robichaux said.

But remnants of those lush, green islands remain, and they can provide some fantastic summer trout fishing — if you know where they are.

“A lot of these islands you won’t find without a GPS,” Robichaux said.

The remains of the un-named island we were fishing were strange, no more than a few mud lumps scattered along the bottom of the bay.

Most of the islands, however, eroded to reveal expanses of oyster shells, forming typical reefs around which trout teem.

The captain had his line out first, while Capt. Jim Thibodeaux and I rigged plastics.

The baitwell was full of cocahoes, but we all hoped they wouldn’t be necessary.

Only a few casts into the morning, I felt a hard tap and set the hook.

The first fish of the day — an undersized trout — was brought to the boat.

As I dropped that fish back, Robichaux was fighting another undersized speck.

It was a portent of the coming morning.

After only a couple of keeper fish, along with a few more throw-backs, Robichaux called for a move.

The next couple of reefs were equally as unproductive, but Robichaux said he wasn’t worried because the tide still was racing in.

Although a rising tide is preferred by many trout anglers, Robichaux said he’s found over the last several years that his home bays have become more productive on an outgoing tide.

“I think it’s because it’s so open now, and the bays fill up with bait being pushed in with the incoming tide,” he said. “These bays just fill up with bait, and on a losing tide, the fish go into a frenzy.”

He said that’s even the case now on the outside beaches of West Timbalier Island.

“The beaches on West Timbalier Island used to be best on an incoming tide, but now the beaches fill up with trout on a losing tide,” he explained.

By the time we had backtracked to Northwest Island along the southern boundary of Lake Raccourci, the tide was slack.

“This is definitely one of the most popular islands out here,” Robichaux said. “It’s probably the best island for trout in Lake Raccourci.”

Of course, there really is no island remaining, but it’s well-known, and can actually be pinpointed without a GPS under the right conditions.

“It’s easy to see. When the sun is up, you can see it about 2 feet deep,” Robichaux said. “It’s a hard-shell bottom, and those shells show up real well.”

The best fishing is usually found on the northern and southern points of the reef.

“The north side makes a T, and has more underwater structure,” Robichaux said. “The south side is just a drop-off.”

But if those two spots are taken, which isn’t at all unlikely, fishing can also be good along the eastern edge of the reef.

“I don’t usually catch many fish on the west said,” he said.

But to get a spot, you had best leave the dock early.

“If you want to fish this island on the weekend, you better be here before daylight,” Robichaux laughed.

By the time the tide had turned and started rolling southward, we had switched to live minnows.

As predicted, the fishing picked up with the falling current, although the majority of the fish remained small.

Robichaux said that’s not unusual for these bays.

“This area from Timbalier Bay all the way to Cocodrie is better known for numbers,” he said. “If you catch a fish over 5 or 6 pounds, it’s considered a trophy.”

The trick to locating active fish is to hop the reefs and few remaining islands.

This day’s fishing included moves to several more unnamed reefs, the very northern tip of Casse-tete Island, Caillou Island and even to an old pipeline on the western end of Timbalier Island.

Other Islands and reefs, such as Cat Island, Terrebonne Island, Pelican Islands and Brush Island also can be extremely productive.

On each move, Robichaux would concentrate his efforts on one of the points, a tactic he said is critical to success.

“You want to be on the point where the current is washing bait around the structure,” he said.

And the best bet is to be on the upcurrent side of that point.

“There will be times you can catch them downcurrent, but 70 percent of the time, you’re going to catch more on the upside,” Robichaux said.

And while the islands and scattered reefs still are very important, Robichaux said he’s finding the trout are making a gradual shift to the proliferation of oil platforms in the bays, particularly during the oppressive heat of the summer.

“I think the main reason is the loss of the islands,” he said. “We used to never fish west of here in Lake Barre, but now without the islands, we have to.

“There’s just fewer and fewer islands, and the fish are holding more to the structures now.”

There also might be a more practical reason why the fish move to oil platforms in the hottest part of the summer.

“Beginning in June, they want this deeper water,” Robichaux said. “The water around these structures is 8 to 10 feet deep, sometimes 12 feet deep.

“That deeper water is cooler.”

But there are some distinct challenges to fishing the rigs, since there are literally hundreds of platforms from which to choose.

Robichaux said he automatically ignores the vast majority of these facilities.

“I like the bigger (rigs),” he said. “There’s more structure to hold fish.”

But there’s a more-practical reason for ignoring the smaller platforms.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of little ones that hold just as many fish as the big ones, but there are just so many of them,” Robichaux said. “There might be 200 platforms, and only 20 of them might hold fish.”

That makes finding productive small rigs comparable to locating the proverbial needle in a haystack.

“There’s so many platforms, you say, ‘Where do I start?’” he said. “I usually just start looking at the big platforms.

“There’s fewer big structures, so you can explore them easier.”

Even then, however, it’s a game of hopscotch until an actively feeding school is found.

“You might stop at five or six structures and not catch a fish, and then stop at one and catch 50 or 60,” Robichaux said.

Of course, he keeps a mental log of which structures produce, and makes use of that information on later trips.

“Some structures seasonally hold fish consistently,” he said. “Some structures might be day to day.”

The key to any platform is bait.

“If I pull up to a platform and don’t see a lot of bait, I don’t expect to catch a lot of fish,” Robichaux said.

If there’s bait flicking about, however, he knows he’s found a probable treasure trove.

At that point, there really isn’t much difference between fishing the rigs and picking apart the reefs and islands.

“You want to be on the upside of the structure,” Robichaux said. “That’s where the fish will wait to ambush bait being pushed through the structure.”

And he puts his bait right on the bottom.

“I’d say a good 70 percent of the time you’re going to catch the fish on the bottom,” he explained. “They’ll come to the top to feed on shrimp, but most of the time they’re going to be on the bottom.”

His last option to fill limits is to chase down feeding flocks of birds.

But he will often pass up large groups of birds without even stopping.

“Usually, when the birds are diving in relatively deep water (8 to 10 feet), the fish will be smaller,” Robichaux said.

He proved that twice on this afternoon. The last time, the trout were so thick all we had to do for absolutely guaranteed hits was put our baits in the water.

In less than two hours, we estimated we caught more than 100 fish.

Only about 20 of them made the 12-inch minimum, however.

A small flock of gulls diving over shallower water produced different results. The fish weren’t as thick, but they were much nicer.

Robichaux said that’s standard.

The only exception to his avoidance of deep-water divers is when there is shallow water or structure nearby.

“If the birds are diving closer to an old island or a platform, they’re better fish,” he said. “That’s because those bigger fish will come out and feed on the shrimp on the surface.”

And while he would rather fish plastics, Robichaux said live bait has become a much more important part of fishing in the system.

“Used to, we’d bring 50 minnows, and that would be plenty,” he said. “Now, if you don’t bring 200 you don’t have enough.”

Shrimp is another great choice of live bait, but Robichaux said it’s just too difficult to get on the east side of the bays.

“They’re just not set up to keep them alive,” he said of the bait stands in Golden Meadow.

And those vendors who do sell shrimp near Fourchon and Grand Isle run out early, so it’s not practical to make the long trip from Golden Meadow on the off chance that there will be any left.

Besides, Robichaux said it’s not really necessary.

“Once you get fish used to eating minnows, I find they’ll feed on them every day,” he said. “If you are catching fish on artificials, and somebody pulls up and starts throwing minnows, the fish will shut off on the plastics and eat nothing but that live bait.”

The one thing he cautions is that big cocahoes don’t necessarily produce big trout.

“I just don’t catch the fish on those big cocahoes. They just bite better on the smaller ones,” he said.

The technique of choice is to tight-line the bait on a jig.

“I really don’t like fishing under a cork,” Robichaux said. “I don’t think you need to.

“You just bounce that minnow along the bottom.”

But don’t be surprised if something other than a trout grabs your bait.

Robichaux landed a 40-pound redfish while bouncing his lure around Caillou Island.

“You used to never catch bulls in these bays, but there are more and more of them now. There are even sharks coming in now,” he said. “I think it’s because it’s so open.”

Capt. Troy Robichaux can be reached at (986) 693-3950.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.