Louisiana's Roseau Redfish
September 28, 2010
A common sight all along Louisiana's coast, roseau cane can provide excellent habitat for redfish and outstanding action for the anglers who pursue them. (September 2008)
Capt. Bobby Warren admires an impressive Louisiana redfish caught along a stretch of roseau cane. Roseau cane is angler-friendly and fish-friendly, providing pockets of clear, calm water.
Photo by Pete Cooper Jr.
When you get right down to it, most anglers of both the freshwater and the saltwater persuasions don't especially care for aquatic vegetation. However, one particular form of such flora provides an excellent opportunity for coastal fishermen, especially those who have redfish on their minds.
The weed -- or "reed" -- is roseau cane, a versatile plant that can grow to heights of 10 feet and cover acres of damp terrain and water ranging in salinity from fresh to brackish in depths of up to 4 feet. Almost as important as the role it plays in coastal erosion control, roseau cane provides three very important benefits for our state's anglers: First, it creates habitat for numerous prey species. Surface-oriented minnows find shelter and nourishment within the thicker stands of reeds, while shrimp, crabs and other bottom-dwellers make a good living within the plants' complex root systems -- at least, until a hungry redfish arrives.
While there are areas along our coast where roseau is the predominant emergent vegetation, much of it is found in scattered and rather small stands within other grasses such as spartina and three-cornered grass. When the latter are found along the edge of a large pond or small bay, any stand of cane should be a focal point for anglers.
Roseau cane's utility to anglers was reinforced recently on a summer trip to Cote Blanche Bay with my wife's boss, Charles Manuel of Broussard. Along the south side of Marone Point we found some clear, shallow water teeming with small pogies, but the only reds we caught were holding to the small stands of cane that extended onto those flats.
The second tactical role roseau plays in saltwater fishing is that it filters the water. In areas like the Mississippi and Atchafalaya deltas that are beset for most of the year with rather grungy water, thick canebrakes can create pockets of unbelievable clarity. Sight-fishing within them is often possible.
More often, though, that clarity simply allows for better overall fishing. Some of those "pockets" will become clear and provide the same great action for weeks on end during the late summer and early fall -- but usually only on the falling tide.
I once encountered a sweet spot like that just south of the mouth of Raphael Pass in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Hit it on a slack or rising tide and you were wasting your time, but the fishing at this spot could be phenomenal on a falling tide.
Years ago, I ventured to this spot with a former editor of Louisiana Game & Fish and a writer from the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association. We arrived at my spot to find a swath of water the color of weak tea flowing easily out of the mouth of a small cut in a "corner" of the canes. There, with the Gulf of Mexico at our backs and a wall of roseau before us, we amassed a fine catch of reds. We also boated some of the nicest bass you could imagine for that part of the state -- an added bonus to fishing the fresher areas where roseau cane is found.
The third benefit of roseau cane is that it can serve as a fine windbreak, creating a protected shoreline along the small passes, coulees and ponds that are found within the larger brakes. Smaller "stands" like those I mentioned along the edge of Marone Point also serve to shelter upwind shorelines. That simply makes for easier, more efficient fishing.
It also makes fly-fishing -- a subject dear to my heart -- much easier.
Capt. Bobby Warren, a long-time fishing companion who works the lower Delta out of the Venice Marina, and I were scouting the area immediately north of the mouth of Octave Pass for an upcoming redfish tournament. We were fishless until mid-afternoon, but as the tide began falling, we eased into a pond of some two acres within the canes -- much of which was slick-calm in the 15-knot breeze, where the reds glowed in the crystalline water like freshly minted pennies.
Like all good tournament fishermen should, after catching a couple of them, we saved the rest for the tournament.
Several techniques for fishing roseau are effective, but they all point in the same direction -- the base of the canes. In shallow water, that is usually unavoidable. Even a surface lure passes close to the root system. On the other hand, it's a different matter when the water approaches maximum depth.
Because of coastal erosion, a lot of productive "structure" can be overlooked, even in the clearest water. That is the result of wave action along the perimeter of a brake -- or a smaller stand -- that has broken off the canes near the waterline. The bases of the plants and their root systems may be dead, but they are often still present and can still hold redfish prey.
It's a good idea to continue working your lures a short distance across what may appear to be open water just outside the canes. Coverage of a zone some 10 to 15 feet wide should be sufficient with sub-surface lures and a bit less than that with topwater presentations.
Generally, a fairly solid wall of canes is the least productive form of this structure. However, that's likely to be what you encounter upon entering a small pass, canal or a large coulee through them. Here, the tactic of flipping that is so effective for bass can provide some rambunctious action for reds.
I discovered as much on a trip to the Delta Duck Club oil-field canals -- again within the Delta National Wildlife Refuge -- with my old oil-field buddy, Carroll Melancon of Houma. We were targeting bass that day, but the reds really appreciated our efforts, too. There's a serious difference in what ensues after you stick an 8-pound red rather than a 1 1/2-pound bass at a range of around 8 feet.
Along the "regular" edges of cane-lined canals and such, any little abnormality may hold a fish -- on the falling tide, of course. That can be as seemingly insignificant as a clump of two canes growing a foot or so out from the edge of the "wall" or a bushel-basket-sized pocket in the wall's edge.
More obvious abnormalities in these waterways are small drains emptying into them or the back of a sharp turn in the waterway. Another is the point where the canes end as the canal traverses a small pond.
There's no doubt that you can catc
h a lot of reds -- and bass -- flipping Texas-rigged, 4-inch Tequila Sunrise curly-tail grubs along the edges of such waterways, but that's far from being the only productive pattern for these reeds.
When dealing with broader open areas within thick brakes, there are two very effective options. The bottoms of these "ponds" are occasionally carpeted with submerged vegetation like widgeon grass, and reds prowl the edges of the thicker mats in search of prey. Therefore, you have the double-barrel opportunity of working structure in the open water of the pond as well as the canes along its perimeter.
Here, you could make do in both scenarios with a quarter-ounce gold Johnson Sprite or a spinnerbait dressed with a 2 1/2-inch soft-plastic grub in lieu of a skirt. I prefer the spinnerbait for this double-trouble opportunity, since I can buzz it around the edges of the mats of submerged grass, as well as work it a bit deeper along the rim of the canes.
There is, however, a marked exception to that pattern, and that is finely illustrated by my fly-fishing efforts that, after the water has cleared with the falling tide, almost always involve poppers. Spincasters can easily substitute a junior-sized "Dog" for that spoon or spinnerbait and have almost as much fun in this setting as I do with fly-rod poppers!
Stands of roseau found along the edges of bays require fairly precise casting, since they're frequently in water too shallow to gain flipping distance. In this case, the casts should be made to points where the lure can be drawn parallel and close to the edge of a point or pocket on the rim of the canes. Tossing the lure to the back of a pocket or the tip of a point is seldom productive.
Stands of canes found in this setting are greatly enhanced by the mouth of a coulee within them. While the apparent target zone may be right at the spot where the coulee opens up into the adjacent water, coastal erosion may have again created a major factor for determining what is indeed the best target area.
That is because of the wave-induced subsidence of the stand of canes, which over time tends to leave a rather broad and shallow flat outside of the mouth of the coulee. On the low end of the falling tide, these areas may be too shallow for reds. And yes, water actually can become too shallow for redfish, especially when it's over a hard bottom.
Here -- again, on the falling tide -- prey may be carried through the coulee and out its mouth with the current, but the reds may be feeding some distance from that point. If you are not aware of that, it's easy to idle your boat right through a gang of them as you try to approach what seems to be "the right spot" for prospecting the area.
If there is any indication that the water outside the coulee is shallow -- like an abrupt change in its hue -- then stop a long cast from it and prospect the area between it and your boat. Be quiet about it; the fish may be right in front of you.
You may have been able to determine that from a distance by obvious feeding activity, and that's what you should hope for. On the falling tide, always work the water away from the mouth of a cut through a stand of roseau on the edge of a bay first -- whether you have seen signs of fish there or not!
Don't hesitate to prospect the water on the side of the cut where the current may be passing, even to a point some 50 to 60 feet away from it. While the flow at that point may no longer be able to transport the prey species, some may have become disoriented and, therefore, vulnerable to attack.
A fly-fishing buddy -- Dennis Vidrine of Lafayette -- and I encountered such a scenario a couple summers ago. The tide was falling out of a small and very shallow coulee that we could barely reach with our flies, but the action came well away from the coulee's mouth. On the falling tide, there likely will be flounder at the mouth of a shallow coulee through a stand of roseau at the edge of a bay. On that trip with Vidrine, our flies accounted for more flounder than redfish -- not that either of us complained.
If there is one setting in which roseau do not seem to provide good action, it is when they are found in a stand along the edge of a bay where the adjacent water is comparatively deep -- or more than three feet. Granted, Vidrine and I have caught some very nice fish along such stretches of Mud Lake's shorelines southeast of Theriot, but more often than not, we've been skunked there.
Conversely, the points where those stands of canes end at the stretches of bare banks between them give up fish fairly consistently. Maybe a spoon or a spinnerbait would be more productive in the deeper water there, though when it is clear -- which is relatively typical of those spots -- I would doubt it. These days, I usually bypass those stands of deep-water canes.
Even roseau isn't infallible, but, given the right scenario, the opportunities it creates for redfishing can be second to none -- especially on the falling tide!
(Editor's Note: Pete Cooper Jr. is the author of Redfish: All You Need To Know About When, Where And How To Catch Reds and Fly Fishing The Louisiana Coast.)