Photo by Patrick Hogan.
The thick, briny salt air clung to our clothes as we slipped a hook through the collar of a live shrimp and whipped it toward the small island of partially submerged grass in the Gulf waters of southeast Louisiana not far from New Orleans. Our floats had not been bobbing long in the wake of the gentle waves that early morning when we gave them a sharp tug causing a loud “slurping” sound.
Two more such tugs occurred before my partner’s float began racing off and then under. Thus began our morning of filling the cooler with pan-sized speckled trout that would later delight our mouths for supper along with cornbread and okra.
Redfish and speckled trout make up the diet of many anglers probing the briny marshes of Louisiana’s southeast coast. Come late May and June, a fishing phenomenon ensues — a pre-dawn caravan of trucks pulling trailers, rushing down the highways to the guts, bays and bayous after stopping to catch or buy lures and live bait for the day. Where do these anglers spend their time, and how do they load the coolers? We went to two well-known Louisiana guides for the skinny on fishing for these tasty game fish.
EAST OF THE RIVER
Captain Gene Dugas is a native of Louisiana and has fished the local waters his entire life. He puts clients on specks and reds in the marshes and lakes in the Hopedale area and Delacroix Island in Black Bay. Dugas is very knowledgeable about the biology of the fish that he targets, and he’s more than willing to educate his clients, as well as put them on the fish to fill the cooler.
He told us that in late May and June, specks have moved to the outer lakes and edges of Black Bay and other nearby bays in Breton Sound. The specks are most likely to hang near shell bottoms such as oyster beds not far from the edges or islands in less than 10 feet of water. Dugas pointed out there is a reason the specks have moved out to the bays and outer islands.
“Come April, the specks begin spawning on each full moon cycle. This occurs through the month of September. There are two reasons the specks will find successful spawning in this area. First, during a full moon the tide runs strong, which allows their eggs to be suspended on the moving tide. Second, the water salinity of the outer marsh areas is much higher — around 14 parts per million — and this permits the eggs to float. If they sink, they die.”
For this reason, our guide targets the outer islands and bays during June. Many fish are congregated here, and the fishing is spectacular. Dugas was quick to point out that the entire month of June is great fishing, but the best times to fish are during the week before and after the full moon when the fish are stacked up tight to spawn.
Anglers wanting to catch sheer numbers of specks should take care to get enough live shrimp to use during the course of the day. Birds begin diving on shrimp being carried along on the tide, and that often points the way to a feeding frenzy of speckled trout. Our pro will often take advantage of such a situation to put fish in the cooler for clients. However, he offered a good tip to anglers using their own boats who want to get in on the action.
“Be careful not to just run up on the diving birds and begin casting,” Dugas said.
“Instead, motor along upwind of the birds, use your trolling motor to ease up to a spot upwind of the feeding activity and let the wind drift you back through the school or around the edges to keep the school intact. If you don’t approach in this manner, you will scatter the bait and drive the fish away.”
Dugas uses a 6 1/2-foot rod with a Shimano reel to cast live shrimp under a popping cork, a Cajun Thunder Cork or a Rattle Cork. He also uses 12- to 15-pound-test Trilene with a 20- to 25-pound-test leader and a No. 2 Kahle hook. Rig the bait to suspend 1 to 3 feet below. When the birds are working hard and the fish are really hitting, you can switch over to a soft-plastic shrimp bait such as the DOA or Old Bayside body on a 1/4-ounce jighead.
Again, rigging them under a popping cork is the sure way to go, but casting them and jerking them back will work well too. Don’t be afraid to use a tandem rig to catch doubles either!
Fishing under birds is a fast, furious and fun way to put fish in the cooler fast. The average June speck found under diving birds will be the 1- to 2-pound fish. However, if you can get out early enough to get the first bite at sunup, bigger fish can be caught on topwater lures. Captain Dugas enjoys seeing clients cast a Zara Spook to the edge of mullet and other baitfish schools. Hooking up with a speckled trout while fishing in this manner may put a 4- to 5-pound fish in the boat.
There are other conditions that make a fishing trip more or less productive, and again our guide came through for us and provided the particulars.
“I personally prefer to fish the week preceding or immediately following the full moon,” Dugas said. “Water that is slightly stained is the best. If I can look down and make out my prop, the water clarity is good for fishing. If I cannot make out the prop, then I will still fish, but the expectations might be lower.”
June is a hot month and the fish are generally found shallow in water less than 10 feet in depth, so our captain likes to get an early start on the fishing before they shut down. Later in the morning, begin fishing deeper water in the 4- to 10-foot depth. The first few hours of the day and the last few hours of the day are prime times to get the best fishing in. Water temperatures are in the mid-70s and 80s in June and the air temperature is much higher. Winds out of the southeast are far better than winds out of the west, which bring in dirty water and shut down the fishing.
Redfish can easily be caught while fishing for trout on the same trip. However, to increase your odds of catching them, you want to focus just on the places where they like to feed. Dugas finds redfish in one of two places. The first place is the shallows near grass around the drains, guts and outer points.
The reds use these areas to ambush small baitfish such as croakers. The second location where reds are likely to be found is near the rigs out in the bay. Most of the rigs have been emplaced over shell bottoms, and the bull reds like this type of habitat. Try fishing the downtide side of the rigs
first. You can anchor to the side or off the corner of a rig. If the fish are not there, don’t overlook the uptide side. Let the bait (most often a live croaker) drift back from the boat naturally.
When the tide is really rolling hard, anglers will find that getting bait down around the rigs is tough, and, as a result, the fishing is better near the grass and islands. Shrimp are great baits for redfish as much as they are for specks. But if you really want a large bull red, you need to put a live croaker out to do the work for you. Use a Carolina rig with an 18-inch leader.
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