Most competitive anglers wouldn’t give this odd couple a second glance, but Justin Duncan and Adelaide Holden know how to put massive speckled trout in the box.
“Well, at least the pork chop sandwich is good.”A half hour earlier, at 5 a.m., I stepped out of my truck under the Seabrook Bridge and a 20-mph wind hit me in the face like I had been smacked with a cast-iron frying pan. I was here to fish this legendary New Orleans urban fishing spot, where the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal opens into Lake Pontchartrain.
I walked up to where Adelaide Holden and Justin Duncan were sitting in Adelaide’s truck. The looks on their faces weren’t promising. A tropical depression was parked just offshore of the Florida Panhandle and whipping wind and rain bands into Louisiana from the northeast.
They weren’t sure that we could fish. In the darkness, we could see white foam as the big lake’s waves crashed into the sheet piling bulkhead outside of the launch.
“I don’t know what I am going to do with our lunch if we don’t go fishing,” murmured Holden quietly.
Lunch? Hmmm; I asked what she had.
“Well, I got fried pork chops and fried Bachemin’s beef hot sausage for sandwiches,” she replied. “And I got sliced ham and sliced turkey. I got cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, pineapple, strawberries and cantaloupe. Oh, and I got potato chips and Oreos, too.
“You want a sandwich?”
Now that’s what I’m talking about! We sat quietly waiting for daylight while I polished off the sandwich. Then she made a beef hot sausage sandwich for me. Not wanting to insult the cook, I ate that too.
As daylight softly crept in, the wind abated slightly. And the waves didn’t look nearly as ferocious as they did in the pitch darkness. Duncan, who had spent the entire night cast-netting for live shrimp urged Holden to launch.
Holden backed the trailer holding her 18-foot Bay Stealth bay boat down the launch. The trip was on.
Back at Duncan’s home, parked in the driveway, was his 18-foot Nautic Star, a boat he won in the 2008 Coastal Conservation Association’s STAR Tournament.
At the STAR awards program in Baton Rouge, where I met Duncan, he stuck out like a sore thumb. All the other winners were crusty old men with years of fishing experience. Duncan was a 19-year-old whipper-snapper.
Not only that, he was a black guy.
“You don’t see too many black dudes in fishing magazines,” he admitted to me later.
Seated at his table with him, beaming with obvious maternal pride was Holden, whom I promptly mistook for his mother.
“I taught that boy everything he knows about fishing,” she said after correcting me, “and now he’s better than me.”
This trip was planned to be to “The Seabrook,” where Duncan caught his STAR-winning fish.
After launching, the two conferred in low voices while they looked over the conditions. They settled on fishing at “Big Daddy,” a large metal cylinder used to buttress the wooden bumpers just outside of the drawbridge.
It was still rough, but the spot was fishable after they tied bumpers between the boat and the steel of the cylinder. In the channel of the waterway itself, a strong rising tide produced a powerful current that slammed teeth-first into the northeast wind, producing large standing waves.
Duncan and Holden quickly rigged their rods with drop-shot rigs. Duncan made a rig by cutting a 3 1/2-foot length of fluorocarbon leader material. He tied a 1 1/2-ounce bell sinker to one end. About 2 1/2 feet above the weight, he tied a simple overhand loop to which he attached the line from his rod. On the remaining 1-foot length of line, he tied a relatively small treble hook.
Holden rigged her drop-shot rig by tying a 1 1/2-ounce sinker to the end of the monofilament from her reel. A couple of feet above that she made her dropper by tying an overhand loop in the line. At the end of the double line of her dropper loop, she tied a kahle hook.
Both hooked the live shrimp they were using for bait under the horn on top of the shrimp’s head.
“Nice shrimp, Justin,” complimented Holden.
“I slaved for them,” he replied.
“It’s about time,” she retorted, laughing heartily.
Holden’s face was seldom without a huge smile all morning.
It didn’t take long. Duncan struck viciously. He stared at the pound-and-a-half fish he reeled in disapprovingly. Duncan likes big trout. Two minutes later, he had a second one. It was a little bigger, but still not what he wanted.
A minute later, another trout took Duncan’s bait, and this one seemed better.
“That’s Seabrookin’ it,” Duncan said approvingly.
The fish kept its head down and didn’t want to come to the surface from the bottom in 30 feet of water.
“Look at this,” said Holden in obvious pride over Duncan’s prowess.
“Must be a sheepshead,” I editorialized.
Then a big silver and lavender flash appeared.
“That’s a big-ass trout,” Duncan said in contradiction. “I know my fish.”
It was a 4-pound-plus speck.
Holden scrambled for the net in case the fish was shallow-hooked.
“I got to hurry and catch up with him,” she said.
She was aware that Duncan had opened a three-to-nothing lead over her.
The next trout was hers, as was the next one.
“It’s about time, neighbor,” said Duncan, using his pet term for Holden.
But she never quite kept up with Duncan, who fished with ferocious intensity. When he had a bait in the water, his whole world was what was happening at the end of his line.
Holden is so good-natured that it is hard to imagine her angry. I asked the 62-year-old, who, by her own measurement, is “5-feet-and-one-half-inch tall” why she is always smiling.
“That’s because I’m single,” she said. “No offense, but the husband I had, he was a pain in the butt. And I am fishing. I just love it. When I come out here, I have nothing to worry about but the weather. I like it veeerrry much.
“At one time I had it so bad that I would call in sick to fish. Before I had a boat, sometimes I would sneak over the levee and fish in the ship channel near the Bulk Plant. The Levee Board officers would run away the men, but since I was a female, they would let me stay and fish,” she said with a big infectious laugh. “I would catch fish by the ice chest there.
“My dad fished every weekend, but he never took me with him. He said there was no place for a girl to go to the bathroom. I always cleaned all his fish though.
“But my mother took us fishing and crabbing on the I-10 Twin Spans before they opened for traffic. We just used market bait (a New Orleans term for dead shrimp), and we never caught anything better than croakers. But that’s how I got started.
“Oogh, I used to wish that I had a boat. Finally in 2002, I got one. But until then, I just fished off the bank or from the Frank Davis Fishing Pier under the Seabrook Bridge.
“I am gonna retire in November. Then I’m gonna fish every day,” she said with a stern look and a level gaze. For once she wasn’t smiling and laughing. She was serious.
While she was talking, she was fussing because she was missing bites. But Duncan was just whacking them. Most of his specks were between 3 and 4 pounds, and a few were over 5. Mixed with the speckled trout were some really nice white trout and an occasional black drum.
Then the subject of Hurricane Katrina came up, and Holden kept talking.
“I stayed for the storm, and I had 8 feet of water in my neighborhood,” she said. “When the water came up the day after the storm, I got in my boat and rescued people.
“After I took in several boatloads, I volunteered to let the fire department use my boat. I was scared that someone was going to pull a gun on me to get the boat. I never saw the boat again.
“I spent that night in St Augustine High School with 300 other people. The next day, the Coast Guard took us to the elevated interstate highway. I spent five days there with no food and only a little water. There was no place for anyone to go to the bathroom.
“Every night we heard nothing but shooting from all around us all night. I saw a guy waist-deep in the water holding a machine gun over his head. He had two ammunition belts criss-crossed over his chest.
“The body of a woman with a baby tied to her back floated by.
“It was the most horrible experience of my life. I had nightmares for weeks, and I even began smoking cigarettes, something I had never done in my life. But I quit that after four months.”
She quietly shuddered, then grabbed the landing net as Duncan played down a trout well over 5 pounds, the biggest of the day.
She went on after rebaiting her hook.
“Justin’s parents were my neighbors in the 7th Ward,” she said. “When he was about 12 years old, he started bugging me to take him fishing. I take a lot of credit for training him.”
Duncan had been eavesdropping, because he turned slightly, with a big toothy grin.
“Yeah, I guess that I did kinda bug her,” he said. “I had done some freshwater fishing because my family owns property on Bayou Lacombe. When I realized that my neighbor shared my love of fishing, I went over every evening after she came home. She’s like my grandmother.”
“And Justin is like a son to me and a fishing buddy,” countered Holden. “Anything I need done, he does it. I never go fishing without him. But he goes without me because he has a more flexible schedule.”
Duncan, at 5-11 and 185 pounds, was lean and trim, and oozed well-mannered self-confidence.
“I love to fish too much,” he said with passion. “I can’t describe it. I love fishing more than being with her.”
Duncan fished a picture of a stunningly beautiful girl, his girlfriend Rachael, from his wallet.
“In the summer,” explained Holden, “it’s kind of a competition. Justin will spend more time with me fishing than with Rachael. I have no grandchildren, so I’m depending on Rachael and Justin when they get married.”
The wind was still honking out of the northeast, but the day turned beautiful as the skies cleared to cobalt blue. The 80-quart ice chest echoed as the big trout in it thumped their tails against its sides and lid. The box was near full.
For a change of pace, Duncan rigged up with one of his favorite artificial bait rigs, what he called a “Seabrook Special.” It was a 1 1/2-ounce bell sinker above a fluorescent bead and swivel. Below the swivel was a 6-foot leader of 20-pound-test monofilament, on the end of which was tied a Finesse Minnow.
This one was in firecracker color, but Duncan explained that he uses a variety of other colors, ranging from chartreuse to bubblegum to ice. His preference is generally for pastel clear colors.
“You wouldn’t believe the fish we catch with this rig here,” he said. “It is the most popular artificial bait used by fisherman fishing off the pier under the bridge.”
Duncan has a distinct preference for small baits. He claims that his STAR-winning fish last year was caught on the smallest live shrimp in the baitwell.
But the trout were having none of it that day. The anglers had spoiled them with live bait. When he didn’t get a bite and Holden kept picking up fish, Duncan flipped back to a drop-shot rig and live shrimp.
While they finished off filling their ice chest, the two explained that while they like fishing at Seabrook, fishing isn’t that good there during the cooler months. From mid-October to mid-May, they fish what Holden calls “the canals.” This includes Bayou Bienvenue, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Lake Borgne and the Violet Locks.
Duncan fishes year round, and is addicted to big speckled trout. If the members of the small fraternity of trophy-trout fisherman in Louisiana feel hot breath on their necks, they may turn around to find The Kid hot on their