Skeeter Beaters

Point your bow to Mosquito Bay, and you’ll find it’s not bugs that are doing all the biting.

In August, when the temptation hits you to run for the air-conditioning, run for the sunscreen instead. That’s exactly what we did following several schedule- and weather-related postponements that managed to push our saltwater fishing trip into the dog days with Capt. Ivy St. Romain of Morgan City.

St. Romain offers both fresh and saltwater excursions for anglers. I had two goals in mind when I decided to book our trip with him.

First, I wanted to put some redfish, black drum and speckle trout fillets in my freezer as I tend to have this primitive meat-hunter mentality that needs to be satisfied every so often. Nothing compares to a redfish fillet, still in the scales, cooked on the grill with butter, garlic and Creole spices or a red gravy courtboullion with bite-sized chunks of black drum.

Second, I wanted an educational experience. I was looking for someone who was willing to take the time to help raise my saltwater fishing game level.

With St. Romain’s affable, laid-back approach, I was immediately comfortable with spewing out my ignorance to anything other than basic shrimp-drowning tactics — tactics that so often didn’t produce near the catches of fish when comparing notes with others who were fishing the very same locales I was.

Typically, I sort of stand on the outside edge of this circle of chest thumpers with a poser’s smile on my face and an occasional agreeing chuckle. After all, I learned a long time ago, as Samuel Clemens said, it is better to remain silent and appear a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt. I am sort of like the Bob Uecker of saltwater fishing, batting .200 lifetime.

Our destination for the trip would be the marsh bayous, canals and pipeline dams in the surrounding area of Mosquito Bay at Point au Fer Island. The plan included moving to the outside for speckled trout along the coastline if time and weather permitted.

I immediately noticed that several of the rods were armed with St. Romain’s personally manufactured baits that upon first glance resembled Strike King’s Redfish Magic bait. With further “close-up” examination, I realized this bait was a Humvee by comparison with a few modifications.

“I start out with a 5/16-ounce jig head with a double-locking collar that secures the bait better,” said St. Romain. “The eye is set at a 60-degree angle versus the 90-degree angle on other jig heads, so it fishes better. It also utilizes an R-bend wire that pivots on the jig head instead of a fixed R-bend wire molded into the head. When a redfish takes the bait he twists it hard. The pivoting head reduces some of that.

“We also use .50-gauge wire rather than .32-gauge wire used in most baits. Big bull reds are too strong for regular spinnerbaits.”

Entering Mosquito Bay, it wasn’t long before we were casting the baits toward the shoreline as we were propelled slowly along by the trolling motor. St. Romain negotiated each and every point, weir and dam, coaching each one of us in our party that included my spouse Christine and close friends Eddie and Cindy Darce of Centerville.

As an avid bass fisherman, I realized I could take a lot of this, and understood immediately this shallow-water tactic. St. Romain pointed out the biggest difference between utilizing spinnerbaits for bass and for redfish is the reds are constantly moving while they feed.

Therefore, like good pupils, we made it a point to try out this technique as redfish gave us opportunity.

For me, I did find it took a bit of getting used to at first. I’m normally accustomed to casting at fixed targets around structure, rather than moving ones.

Of course, an advantage I immediately found was there were no low-hanging willow trees, bull tongue or myrtles at the water’s edge for me to get hung up in.

With admiration, I watched St. Romain utilize that smooth underhand cast that is so common with bass pros. The gold Colorado blade spinner, with the purple/chartreuse plastic attached, landed out in front of the moving red as if it were divinely guided. Immediately, the water erupted in a depth charge-like explosion. The ensuing struggle was short, as St. Romain clearly was in his realm.

“For 25 years, I worked in the oilfield,” he said. “Now I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do and enjoying it.”

Mosquito Bay has several canals that offer excellent redfish opportunities. We tried a canal cut through the marsh located on the south end of the bay and closer to Bay Cestagnier, where a steel sheet pile formed a barrier that blocked off part of the back end.

I’m sure the barrier was a feeble attempt to prevent any further loss of precious marshland, as a result of man’s errors. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and the mitigation, thankfully, will somewhat prolong the inevitable.

Just left of the barrier, a trenasse drained into the canal. St. Romain instructed all of us to switch over to a Carolina rig, as we would anchor a 20-yard casting distance away from the spot and bottom fish with shrimp in the deep-water drop-off. By casting toward the shallow shell bank of the trenasse, the bait would drift down onto the oyster bed.

Though I have fished with a Carolina rig before, the pre-packaged tackle St. Romain personally made up for us looked slightly different.

“Because of the way a redfish picks up food, I like to use No. 4/0 kahle hooks,” he said. “I’ll snell the hook onto the line. This increases its effectiveness as you pull up, setting the hook.”

The rig utilized a 1-ounce lead barrel weight, but by the size of the shrimp we were handed to bait with, I wasn’t sure why we even needed it. A question asked by the normally quiet Cindy Darce was, “If we don’t use all of these shrimp, can we take what’s left over home to fry?”

I noticed right away that I could feel the Carolina rig’s movement along the bottom and the fish picking it up. The snelled kahle hook was a nice combination that I looked forward to utilizing on channel cats come next spring.

Managing a couple of reds in the dead-end canal, the action wasn’t fast enough for St. Romain. He decided we needed to try our luck on speckled trout.

The coastline proved we weren’t the only ones with this idea. The area was full of boats anchored out on the reef where, of course, St. Romain wanted us to be. However, that didn’t stop us. Pulling up on the bank, we got out and walked along the shells to where the boats were gathered. There was plenty of room for everyone, and the action kept us all busy.

St. Romain set the ladies up with popping-cork rigs and shrimp. He spent time ensuring they got the pop technique down — finesse and all.

Meanwhile, he used a chartreuse plastic split-tail bait attached to jig head with a popping cork. Eddie used a similar bait. I, on the other hand, went back to the spinnerbait, immediately catching a speck.

After several more casts, I had another. I had to get used to their quick strikes, which reminded me of the way a white bass hits. My lip-ripping largemouth jerk technique wasn’t working for me very well. I was over anxious and perhaps missed far more than I should have.

We picked up 20 or so speckled trout, one by Cindy worth bragging about. But speckled trout are either on or off, and we were soon on our way to the deep water of Big Oyster Bayou.

Once again, we went through an equipment change, pulling from the rod rack extra heavy tackle that sported three-way swivels. St. Romain quickly fastened 4-ounce pyramid lead sinkers to the bottom swivel of each rod.

Next, he added a No. 12/0 circle hook with approximately 12 inches of line to the side swivel in order to suspend the bait. This time, the bait was half of a fresh, boiling-sized rab.

Just to cast the whole rig out was a two-hand affair that was awkward and clumsy. Nevertheless, each of us got the whole mess overboard and waited.

We were anchored perhaps 20 yards away from the bank on the edge of the deep drop-off that naturally ran parallel with it. According to St. Romain’s depth finder, we were in 39 feet of water. I noticed that when I had cast out toward the middle of the bayou, the whole rig drifted halfway back to me.

“Fish are moving along this drop-off with the current,” St. Romain said. “Keep a tight line on it as you would while fishing catfish, and leave it there. Don’t reel in. We catch bull reds and black drum along here. That’s why we use the bigger tackle.”

In moments, Christine had a fish on, followed seconds later by Eddie. Her line was zinging off her reel, and Eddie was flat out punishing his fish for even thinking of getting on his line. The rest of us reeled up to give them time to pull the fish in. We were in black drum, and big ones too.

For 33 minutes, Christine was working over her fish, but I’m not sure if it wasn’t the other way around. When fatigue set in, St. Romain set her in a chair.

It was the same for Cindy, whose 40-pound black drum took 53 minutes to land. The girls had smoked the men again on this trip.

We had achieved the trifecta of Mosquito Bay, icing down a nice mix of reds, speckled trout and black drum. Goal No. 1 of putting fillets in my freezer was met. Goal No. 2 was achieved as well. I had received an education.

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