Much of Louisiana’s coastline is defined by islands, and it’s no secret that they can provide outstanding fishing for several popular species of saltwater game fish. Names like Chandeleur Island, Breton Island, Grand Isle, Timbalier Island, Last Island and Marsh Island — among others — have become almost synonymous with these fish, especially speckled trout. Yet there is another “island” that is not as well known or highly touted as those, though the fishing it offers — also primarily with specks — can be as good or better than any of the others. It is Eugene Island.
Photo courtesy of Pete Cooper Jr.
Ever heard of it? I’d imagine most readers have not. That’s because it is not actually an island but a section of the Gulf generally south of Morgan City that was given that name by the old U.S. Geological Survey (now the Minerals Management Service or MMS). The purpose therein was to differentiate the area from others like South Marsh Island and South Timbalier for petroleum-leasing purposes, and I’ve been told the name originated from a prominent seamount within it some 80 miles offshore.
Such benthic structure lying that far offshore is not a subject for this article. What is of interest here is the veritable plethora of platforms in the northernmost “blocks” — subdivisions of the Eugene Island region — that at times can be loaded with speckled trout.
I first became acquainted with this part of the Gulf in 1964 on a three-hour crewboat ride from Morgan City to a drilling rig where I was to have a summer job as a roustabout. Still, almost 45 years would pass before I cast a line across those waters.
The first trip to do so was compliments of Chip Metz of Morgan City — a fly-fishing friend and life-long prospector of the nearshore reaches of the area. And on that note, let me clarify that all of “Eugene Island” lies in federal waters — the Exclusive Economic Zone or “EEZ.” Therefore, the possession of redfish — which can occasionally be caught here — is prohibited, even if they were taken in state waters. Don’t forget that!
There was a third member of the crew on that enlightening morning — Emmett Galloway of Houma. That might tell you something about the productivity of the platforms in this area, since Galloway chose to fish with us there rather than in the “super spots” around Cocodrie and Theriot that are much closer to his home. Upon arriving at our destination — a platform in about 12 feet of water in the northeastern blocks — we discovered some competition working the particular spot that Metz wanted to fish.
And the current, which can be pretty stout hereabouts, prevented us from securing our boat near enough to the spot to work it without interfering with the guys in the other boat, who were clearly catching fish.
Too bad, we thought, as Chip used the trolling motor to fight our way to the upcurrent side of the apparent hotspot. There, we set the anchor and drifted back toward the structure to a point perhaps 20 feet from it and began prospecting — a little half-heartedly, I must admit.
It didn’t take long to realize that the upcurrent retrieves necessitated by the boat’s position quickly lifted our jigs out of the strike zone.
After 10 minutes or so of fruitless retrieves against the current, I made a short cast directly away from the platform. That allowed the jig to sink and remain near bottom as the current swept it toward me and allowed retrieving line only fast enough to keep contact with the lure. On my second or third such effort — again, casting away from the structure — I was rewarded with a solid thump. And that thump initiated a 2 1/2-hour melee that resulted in 64 gorgeous specks, all taken by casting away and upcurrent from the platform.
There’s little doubt that speckled trout around any given offshore platform — anywhere along our coast — will not be holding to bottom all the time. However, on occasion, they will, and one of those occasions is in strong current. Then, if your jigs are too light to sink into and stay within their zone, your action will be slow at best.
And don’t be reluctant to work the upcurrent side of a structure with your casts made both toward it — if the current is light enough to permit doing so — and away from it. That is, indeed, an uncommon practice with offshore speck-slayers and most often requires anchoring rather than securing the boat to the structure, but it’s something that will be beneficial, if not today, then maybe tomorrow.
Then again, there is another setting in which specks can be found.
I was reminded of that on another trip with Metz a couple of weeks later. We had found the structure that had been so good to us on that first trip to be in river water with a strong current. A short but thorough test proved that nobody, if at home, wanted to come out and play, so we headed west, seeking to cross the fresh effluent of the Atchafalaya and find some salty, clearer water. And we soon did.
The first platform we tried quickly yielded a half-dozen or so good fish, but either those were all that were present or those that may have remained quickly learned to avoid our jigs. Farther west and still in fine water, another structure yielded nothing, so west we went again, eventually arriving at a rather unimpressive, scantily-dressed, four-legged structure.
The Gulf was slick that morning, so Metz dropped the trolling motor and began working around the platform, beginning on the south (downcurrent) side of it and continuing around to the east. About midway along that side, he made a cast to a point well within its legs — underneath its deck — and hooked a fine fish!
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