September 28, 2010
In spring, a young man's attentions may turn to love, but a wise man's attentions turn to the Gulf! That's where you'll find redfish as memorable as your first heartthrob.
By Tom Waynick
I'll never fish for bass again!
You may consider that a pretty bold statement, coming as it does from a certified bassaholic who has spent countless years chasing what is arguably the nation's No. 1 game fish. But it only took one marsh trip to cure my chronic case of "greenfishitis," which was an indisposition of truly epic proportions.
That malady out of the way, I now suffer gravely and happily from RED (redfish extraction disorder), severe episodes of which are brought on persistently by my inability to visit the Louisiana coast often enough.
Smoking reels and incinerating anglers' hopes and dreams daily, Louisiana redfish are steamy sultans of the salt. Unsuspecting fishers learn quickly that there are a few things you just do not do when facing a red. For one thing, you just don't take these fish on with a wimpy sissy stick and light gear. For another, you shouldn't expect to land one as small as 3 to 5 pounds without stretching the limits of your ability. And if you happen to tangle with a rotund red of 25 pounds or more, you'll need a long break at battle's end. It's possible that you might even be in dire need of some physical therapy - if you're lucky.
At the heart of Red Country are New Orleans and Lafitte. The Big Easy could have received its time-honored name from 1800s anglers if they had been part of some early version of the current redfish revolution: Springtime reds here are both big and easy to find.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
APRIL INSIGHTS FROM THEOPHILE BOURGEOIS "Springtime brings excellent fishing conditions, as southerly winds raise the salinity of the water in the bayous," said Capt. Theophile Bourgeois. "Wind pushes water levels higher, which allows redfish to move deeper into the marsh.'
The Lafitte guide, who guides on the northern end of Barataria Estuary, just south of New Orleans, targets shallow bays that were high and dry only a few weeks earlier. "Tides are as much as 6 inches above normal now," he observed. "This allows bay boats to get back into areas they previously could not access."
Schools of red marauders can be found east of the Barataria Waterway in Airplane Bay, Bay Five and Bay Round. The knowledgeable Capt. Bourgeois also likes Three Bayou Bay and Bay Lone at this time.
"The shorelines of Little Lake Salvador are a sure thing," he said. "Redfish begin to school up now. They may not be gathered by the hundreds, but it's much better than in the winter, when you will only find two or three in an area. In April, once you catch a fish, you should expect to find six or eight reds in a pack - sometimes 10."
The grassbeds that grow within the small ponds off the bayous die back during the rigors (relatively speaking) of the Bayou State winter. New growth is sprouting now, attracting small marine creatures and reds like a magnet.
Pulling a jighead and a soft-plastic bait through the weeds is difficult at best at this time of the year. That's why Bourgeois, when he finds himself faced with these conditions, prefers a gold Johnson Silver Minnow spoon. Reds have a real penchant for gold. Just as sparkling jewels can dazzle a young bride, so will a gold spoon overpower the most stubborn redfish, especially when it's nestled far back in the weeds.
"By this time," the captain noted, "the water has warmed, their metabolism has picked up, and the redfish are aggressive enough to chase down a spoon."
When fishing edges of grass and open flats, the combo of a standard plastic minnow body and a leadhead jig will often prove better than will a live offering. "Shrimp and crabs begin to stir now, becoming the main forage for early-season arrivals," Bourgeois said. "You want to 'match the hatch.' Those bull reds are searching for crabs, which are brown, and shrimp, which are clear with a grayish-brown tint; I go to colors similar to that. I'll throw smoke-glitter grubs like Bass Assassins or the Deadly Dudley Terror Tail. Another great choice is a mullet color, which Bass Assassin calls 'silver mullet.'"
Most often, Bourgeois will employ a pump-and-drop retrieve when he's fishing a jig. But you shouldn't hesitate on that account to try a slow swimming action that will occasionally allow the lure to bump bottom. "Redfish can be fooled into thinking a small crab or shrimp is skittering about," he remarked, "and they can't resist that."
Another lure that works well, and one that caught this writer's attention, is the spinnerbait or spinnerblade. "Some people call them a 'Cajun Spin,'" Bourgeois said. "Down here, though, a spinnerbait is not what you bass fishermen think of. It's more like a really big Beetle Spin with the blade attached to a wire, which is attached to a jighead."
That's when this naÃƒ¯ve bass angler just had to ask if they'd hit an ordinary spinnerbait.
"Yeah, they'll hit it - and a redfish will destroy it," Bourgeois answered. "But you need something targeted for salt water. Heavier-gauge stuff."
When asked if he would mind describing his absolutely most-favored way to hook rambunctious reds, Bourgeois, his eyes brightening, grew a grin on his face that threatened to widen to the dimensions of the mouth of the Mississippi. "I really get excited," he said, "because April brings the time I wait for all winter, and that is my specialty: topwater!
"Typically, I'm going to throw the chartreuse Top Dog Jr. I fish this lure from now until the water gets cold again in December. This works for redfish and specks. The key is to keep it moving. When a hump forms in the water behind your lure, don't panic. Just keep it moving. Those reds will ease up, turn upside down and suck it in. When you hook them, the waters part, and the mud explodes!"
Capt. Bourgeois operates Bourgeois Charters and Cajun Vista Lodge. You can reach him at (504) 341-5614.
BILL LAKE AND THE HOUMA REDFISH CONNECTION "Houma" means "red" in the Native American language known as Muskogean, and it's a fitting label from the angler's standpoint: Some of the state's prime redfish areas are nearby.
Capt. Bill Lake of Bayou Guide Service considers this area to be one of the most diverse of angling venues, as sinewy spottails can be found in what seems like hundreds upon hundreds of locations. The Houma guide suggests checking the shoreline
s of Caillou Lake, Moncleuse Bay, Bayou Dunord and the many duck ponds throughout North Bayou Seveur.
"Sister Lake" - as the locals have long been accustomed to calling Caillou Lake - can be accessed by traveling south down Bayou Dularge to Grand Pass, the large four-way intersection that separates Lake Mechant, to the west, from Caillou Lake, to the east. Bull reds can be caught along the dropoffs in Grand Pass year 'round.
"The pass has 40- to 50-foot depths in the channel, and reds live their entire lives here without ever having to move," Lake said. "The lake has an oyster-laden bottom, which attracts redfish in great numbers."
The shoreline of the lake just north of the Conservation Camp Island, a mile east of Grand Pass, is a proven redfish hotspot. The island, with its lone camp on the northwest end of the lake, is a popular landmark.
"A rising tide is best because it brings an influx of baitfish and shrimp," Lake noted. "Redfish can be found in abundance on points, cuts, coves and mouths of small natural bayous all along the north bank and running all the way back to Grand Pass."
Moncleuse Bay is another redfish haven. This area is known for producing big redfish in the 12- to 20-pound range. "Redfish are migrating between winter and spring forage grounds now," Lake said, "and islands are natural stopoffs. The oyster bottoms around the islands hold baitfish, which tend to keep the redfish nearby. The main diet of a redfish is blue crab, and there's no shortage of them in the bay."
Bayou Dunord lies just to the north of Moncleuse Bay. Look for the lone camp on the left when entering the mouth of the bayou. Between the camp and the bay on the left bank is a steep dropoff. "I only use live bait or cracked crab here," Capt. Lake offered. "Fish the baits on a Carolina rig."
The area's reds, usually in excess of 27 inches, are real stonerollers once hooked. A falling tide offers the best conditions, since the big fish feed on crabs flushed from the inland marsh and ponds.
Capt. Lake's favorite shallow-water fisheries in the area are the numerous duck ponds on the north end of Bayou Dunord and Bayou Seveur. April is the premier month, as solid numbers of redfish are on the move, migrating in from the deep canals. The ponds hold a veritable smorgasbord of baitfish, crabs and shrimp - brown shrimp make an impressive appearance by mid-month - and the redfish action is correspondingly world-class.
"The ponds are my personal favorites for reds in the 4- to 12-pound range," Lake offered. "My personal best is a 16-pound redfish that must have forgotten to migrate south." (Bulls of that size are normally found further out.)
The ponds are accessible and easy to fish until the grassbeds growing in their waters thicken in late May, which hampers the fishing appreciably. During high tides, you can expect easy access and safe running for bay boats. Redfish of all sizes haunt the shallows, and will hit many types of lures there.
"Gold spoons are very productive when worked slowly back to the boat with a lazy side-to-side wobble," said Lake. "Attaching a swivel to the spoon will keep line twist to a minimum. Those redfish can't resist the flash of the spoon in clear water."
Despite the effectiveness of the spoon, Lake admits to his favorite redfish lure here being a purple Bayou Chub Minnow with a chartreuse tail. "I cast it and retrieve it back to the boat with a slow-to-medium retrieve," he said. "I regularly dip the chartreuse tail in garlic-scented dipping dye. The garlic seems to produce more strikes."
Another lure high on the captain's list is the Spot-Remover spinnerbait rigged with a Chub Minnow trailer. "This is a very productive lure that will drive the redfish crazy," Lake asserted. "You want to hit the banks just like when you're bass fishing. Most reds will engulf the lure as soon as it hits the water." The most promising areas to fish have 2 feet of water or less.
During a falling tide, Lake targets easily identifiable run-outs or trenasses. Reds stack up like lottery hopefuls at a ticket window at the mouths of these ditches, ready to cash in on a rich foray of marine life trying to navigate the chute.
"Look for irregular features such as points, coves, pockets and inlets as hungry redfish will usually be present, waiting to ambush their next meal," the guide said. "And never pass up a chance to fish old duck blinds. Wooden structures hold baitfish and hungry reds."
Capt. Bill Lake can be contacted at Bayou Guide Service by calling (985) 851-6015.
WESTERN REDS WITH ERIC RUE On the west side of the state we have another incarnation of redfish paradise: Calcasieu Lake. And that's where you'll find Capt. Eric Rue.
Calcasieu Lake, 18 miles long and 10 miles wide and as deep as 8 feet, offers a redfish every imaginable luxury. Shallow marsh areas surround the massive estuary, which is adjacent to a ship channel 45 feet deep. The channel, leading to the Calcasieu River and the Gulf of Mexico, offers reds a variety of depths and migration routes.
Capt. Rue regularly locates plenty of reds in Grand Bayou and Lamberts Bayou in the southeast corner of Calcasieu Lake. West Cove is a shallow lake on the western side of the ship channel. Similar to Grand and Lamberts but sited in the northwestern part of the estuary, Black Lake is another shallow marshy area with a great many of ponds and cuts.
For Rue there is strength in redfish numbers. "What I call 'rat reds' - fish up to 10 pounds, and lots of them - make up the majority of the migration population coming into the lake," he said. "Smaller fish prefer shrimp. Once reds are 7 pounds or more, they generally follow porgies and mullet. Don't get me wrong: - They'll eat anything that gets in their way. But the bigger fish are mostly feeding on porgies and mullet."
Rue looks for bait first - shrimp, mullet or crabs - and then casts to hard-bottomed shallow areas that are hosting baitfish. "The reds will be where the bait is," he explained, "but larger numbers of fish will inhabit oyster beds and reefs. Reds know these areas make it easier for them to catch a meal: Shrimp bury themselves in the mud, but they can't bury themselves in an oyster shell."
He admits that most local anglers chase speckled trout here in April, except on windy days - and it's when things get blustery that reds just happen to become easier to catch. "We can't stay on the reefs fishing for trout when it's real windy, but we can run those shorelines and catch reds."
Rue's choice of lures is basic. His tackle box is full of Hoagie Lures or Norton Bull plastic minnows rigged on 1/4-ounce heads. "I just bounce them off the bottom, hopping the lure along.
"A very successful and easy tactic is to use a spinnerbait with a gold blade. Rig your leadhead and plastic body on a spinnerbait. Just toss th
e spinner on the shorelines, and they tear them out of your hand. They're pretty foolproof - just chunk them out and wind them in."
The Lake Charles guide suggests that anglers train themselves to spot the fish. "When there is a bunch of fish in an area, they will create slick spots in otherwise choppy water when they are feeding. When there are good numbers, they'll be pushing water, making wakes along the shoreline, chasing bait or popping these slicks up. You really have to pay attention to your surroundings to keep up with them.
"When they're schooling, they move very fast - you have to have a trolling motor to keep up with them. The good news is that as long as you keep up with them, they'll readily eat whatever you put in the middle of them."
Rue believes that a gold spoon or spinnerbait works best in shallow water. He saves his jig for times when the fish are deeper.
When you're looking for bull reds of 20 pounds or more, Calcasieu Pass and the adjacent deep-water jetties and surf will be smart choices, especially when the water's clear. Artificial-lure proponents will find that large redfish will readily take a jig-and-minnow, but, Rue advises, this might be the time for you to give serious consideration to using the real deal.
"This is where I would use a Carolina-rigged cracked crab, finger mullet or piece of a large mullet. For the larger fish, you definitely want stouter tackle. Inland, a light bass rod and 10-pound-test will work. Out here, you need 15- or 20-pound-test and a heavy-action rod if you plan to consistently land them."
Capt. Bill Rue may be contacted at Calcasieu Charter Service (337) 598-4700
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