Shell Game

Hunt trout over Buras oyster beds, and you won’t be disappointed.

The last time I pulled into Capt. Anthony Randazzo’s Paradise Plus lodge in Buras was about two months before Katrina’s infamous visit. The storm’s wash-through left little more than a shell of the log-frame building. How ironic that for this reunion trip, my host would choose to fish over a bunch of bivalves.When I met Randazzo at his newly renovated lodge, he introduced me to his stepsons Ryan, 13, and Dylan, 7, Mundt, and we all piled into the truck for a five-minute run up Highway 23 to Joshua’s Marina at the Buras boat harbor. Along the way, Randazzo explained his game plan.

We would be targeting trout over the commercial oyster beds west of town. In areas such as English Bay, Bastian Bay and Bay Adams, trout prey on the shrimp that gather over shell bottoms in 18-36 inches of water. We fished Bay Adams, about 5 miles from the boat ramp, and found hungry fish easily fooled by artificial baits.

Approaching the trout grounds, the first thing you notice are hundreds of stakes that mark oyster beds. PVC and willow branches have long been the popular marking instruments, but Katrina trashed so much of the area’s willows that oystermen have used a lot of bamboo. Whatever the material, these markers have a dual purpose.

“These stakes also serve as road signs — they keep you in the travel lanes and off the oysters,” Randazzo said.

Somewhat symbolic, maybe a little eerie, were the frigate birds perched stoically atop many of the marking posts. Not the warmest of welcomes, but frigates have long been a favorable sign for fishermen, so their mere presence boosted our confidence.

Area anglers also like to see gulls and terns in the Buras area. Both like shrimp, and their best chances of nailing the tasty crustaceans is when predators such as trout and redfish push the schools topside. Thus, screeching birds, hovering near the surface, bode well for anglers — so much so that Randazzo kept his binoculars handy, and frequently scanned the area in search of concentrated avian activity.

Describing the relationship from the opposite perspective, Randazzo explained to the ever-inquisitive Dylan why we were easing toward the feathered beacons.

“Those birds are diving on shrimp and that’s what the trout and redfish like,” he said. “We’re going to stop upwind of the birds so we don’t drive into them and spook them. Try to cast as close to the birds as possible.”

Randazzo had outfitted his crew with plastic cocahoes and pearl shrimp bodies on ¼-ounce jig heads suspended beneath rattling corks. Sharp rod twitches make the corks chug and chatter with enough commotion to attract the interest of any trout in the area.

Once the fish follow the sound, they’ll spot the lure dancing beneath the surface and attack.

Moreover, corks provide strike indicators that prove helpful for kids or any novice angler. Whether you hang an artificial lure or a shrimp beneath your cork, the visual aid gives anglers something to watch, and that helps curb the anxiety of wondering what’s going on under the surface.

“OK, I thought I had him but he got off,” Dylan lamented when a sneaky trout dunked his cork but eluded the jig’s hook. “That’s just weird.”

It probably did seem a little perplexing to a 7-year-old, but like all fishing, success hinges on understanding and mastering the mechanics. In this case, Dylan was waiting too long after his cork went down to respond. That gave the trout time to feel the jig’s metal form, realize his mistake and spit out the imposter.

On the flip side, a trout’s delicate mouth easily releases hooks under excessive pressure. You always want to keep the heat on a hooked fish but, as Randazzo explained, moderation is the key to keeping a trout from coming unbuttoned.

“When you reel, you want to reel fast but not really hard,” he said. “These fish have soft mouths, and it’s very easy to pull the hook out.”

The advice helped, with Dylan and Ryan both boating several nice speckled trout and white trout. Unfortunately, the day saw blustery winds that gave our youngest angler fits.

Dylan complained: “I can’t make it pop when it’s windy.”

Again, Randazzo offered insightful technique instruction: “Try popping it downward. You don’t get that big belly in your line that way.”

Continuing that thought, casting form can factor greatly into your retrieve. A sharp, overhead cast is what most use in the majority of situations. However, overhead casts into the wind often die in the air. That means your bait loses momentum against the oncoming wind.

You can still work with the results — provided your cast reaches far enough — but when line continues peeling off your reel, you end up with too much slack. In windy conditions, that loose line typically blows to one side, leaving the big belly on the water. When you twitch your rod or turn the handle, your directional force dilutes considerably as it passes through all the slack.

The best bet for overcoming this frustration is a low sidearm cast. Hold the rod low, lean to your casting side, load the rod and release the cast around waist level. If you can generate sufficient momentum for a line-drive cast, that’ll minimize the wind’s affect, but a low-lobbing form is usually easiest to control.

Anytime you need a little more distance with a cork rig, add a large split shot just below the bottom swivel. The extra weight can help you punch through a breeze and extend your reach.

Now, the temptation may exist to forego the cork and just fish more aerodynamic baits like a straight jighead with a grub tail, a soft-plastic jerkbait or a beetle spin. This can certainly work, but you’ll need a deft touch, as oyster beds claim plenty of tackle from those who allow their baits too much sink time.

Randazzo noted that crankbaits can be especially productive for searching oyster beds and locating fish. Diving only to their set depths, the lures will bump an oyster mound lip-first before the hooks make contact. This, plus the fact that crankbaits float up if an angler stops reeling, means less snagging potential.

Experienced lure slingers will enjoy incredible drama by working topwater plugs across oyster beds. Given their fragile form, trout are often dismissed as mild-mannered fish. Not so. Walk a MirrOlure Top Dog or Rapala Skitterwalk through the Buras shallows at dawn, and you’re likely to witness some of the most brutal strikes imaginable.

Medium spinning tackle with 20-pound braid and 20-pound fluorocarbon leader will handle any trout Buras has to offer. For concentrated trout missions, lighter line will suffice, but beefy braid makes an easy transition into redfish duty without requiring additional rods.

Randazzo said the Buras trout fishery presents a year-round opportunity with seasonal variances. Weather extremes on either end of the mercury can slow the action and push the fish into deeper coastal environs.

“The trout bite on the surface is pretty consistent from March through November and then the fish move deeper in the winter,” he said. “The peak seasons are mid-March through June and then it picks up again in September/October.”

Productive conditions: “You want a good moving tide. It doesn’t have to be a really fast tide, just a strong current,” Randazzo said. “Also, cloudy or overcast days are better than bright, clear days. I believe the shrimp are more comfortable in the cooler conditions than on days where the sun is blazing down on the shallow water.”

Unlike specific rigs, or particular shoreline points, the Buras oyster beds comprise a sprawling area of opportunity. Cover the water and keep casting — this is one shell game you can easily win.

For Buras trout trips, contact Capt. Anthony Randazzo at 504-656-9940.

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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).

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