September 28, 2010
Don't let the hot weather get you down. It's not bothering the speckled trout or the redfish. Try these hotspots and tactics for more specks and reds right now.
By John N. Felsher
As the spring bass season begins to wane, anglers in South Louisiana turn their attention to salt water, and more specifically, speckled trout and redfish.
A gill net ban several years ago allowed more speckled trout to grow to proportions unimagined just a few years ago. With the help of stringent management and reduced bag limits, redfish recovered from population distress to astonishing abundance.
All along the Louisiana coast, from Sabine Pass to the Chandeleur Islands, anglers can expect excellent trout and redfish action. This article highlights just a few selected areas where anglers might find the best action.
SPECKLED TROUT In May 1950, Leon Mattes set the speckled trout standard with a 12.38-pound fish. Over the next four decades, Louisiana anglers seldom saw a trout weighing more than 4 pounds. Most rarely saw one weighing more than 2 pounds until the state banned gill nets in the mid-1990s.
Today, anglers commonly catch trout in the 6- to 8-pound range with many fish breaking 9 pounds. Each year, a couple of dozen fish hit double digits with a few breaking the 11-pound mark. For trophy trout, Sabine Lake, Calcasieu Lake, Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River delta below Venice stand out.
A gold spoon pulled this nice redfish from the marshes around Lafitte. Photo by John N. Felsher
In the official record books, the Lake Pontchartrain-Lake Borgne area produced three fish including the second- and third-place fish. Calcasieu Lake added three Top 10 fish. The Venice area contributed one. The locations that produced three fish remain officially unknown, but Mattes allegedly caught his hawg in Lake Pontchartrain. Sabine Lake, on the Louisiana-Texas border, did not contribute any fish to the Louisiana record books, but at least one 11.5-pounder hit the Texas scales.
In May 1997, Kevin Galley began the modern trophy trout run with a 10.81-pound fish he caught in Calcasieu Lake. The first 10-pounder landed in Louisiana since 1979, it took second place at the time, but has since dropped to fifth. Since 1997, anglers caught seven of the Top 10 trout.
In a year that saw a 10-pound trout showing up nearly every week from April through June, anglers landed three Top 10 specks in 2002. Timothy J. Mahoney broke the Calcasieu Lake record on May 5 with an 11.16-pound speck. In April, Dudley Vandenborre landed a 10.50-pound speck from Lake Pontchartrain and Alfred S. Mouton landed a 10.25-pounder from Calcasieu Lake.
Many large fish never make the book because people do not complete paperwork or officially weigh their fish. Anglers caught at least one 12-pounder in Lake Pontchartrain and one possibly hitting 13 pounds in Calcasieu Lake in recent years. In 2002, several 10-pounders came from Sabine Lake, and probably at least two dozen came from Calcasieu Lake.
Sabine Lake Sabine Lake measures about seven miles long by 20 miles wide, averaging 5 to 8 feet deep. The Intercostals Waterway crosses the old Sabine River channel at the north end. The Neches River enters from the northwest and the Sabine River flows down from the north.
Below the Intercostals Waterway, the Sabine Lake fans out into flats dotted by oyster reefs. Sabine Pass connects the estuary to the Gulf of Mexico. Several bayous enter the system on the marshy Louisiana side.
In 1999, Dr. Kelly Rising, a Beaumont, Texas, obstetrician, set the Sabine Lake record with a 30.5-inch fish that weighed 11.50 pounds. In May 2001, an Ohio woman fished with Jerry Norris of the Original Sabine Lake Guide Service in Port Arthur, Texas. Her catch included a 32-inch trout with a girth of 16 inches, a potential record.
"I suspect her fish was over 12 pounds," Norris said. "The lady didn't want to keep any fish. I suspect it would have been a lake record. The biggest one that I've ever caught was over 11 pounds."
In the summer, Norris recommends concentrating on the islands at the northern end of the lake or the jetties at Sabine Pass. Use topwaters or live bait. For booking trips, call Norris at 1-877-258-5288.
Calcasieu Lake At 12 miles long by nine miles wide, Calcasieu Lake south of Lake Charles provides ample room for trophy trout to roam. Known locally as Big Lake, it averages less than six feet deep. The adjacent 40-mile-long, 40-foot deep Calcasieu Ship Channel provides fish and boaters easy access to the Gulf of Mexico. It also provides a deep sanctuary for fish to escape weather extremes or pressure.
"For several years, I expected a new state record trout to come out of Calcasieu Lake," said Capt. Erik Rue, of Calcasieu Charter Service. "I'm really surprised that it hasn't, but I'm still expecting it."
Anglers don't usually catch consistent trout limits on Big Lake, but they usually find quality fish. Specks don't even attract attention until they weigh more than 9 pounds. Often, anglers may catch a dozen or more fish averaging 5 to 6 pounds. Anglers start catching huge trout in late March. The peak "trophy run" occurs in mid-May to mid-June, but anglers may land huge fish through late fall.
Consistently landing trophy trout requires patience, determination and a plan, about 90 percent of which occurs before the boat leaves the dock. People must ignore the temptation to fill a box with 12-inchers to fish for one or two big strikes.
"Sometimes, fishing for big trout is about as exciting as watching ice melt," said Capt. Kirk Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun Club. "When we leave the dock, we have to decide to either catch big fish or a lot of fish. It can be pretty slow, when looking for that one big strike."
Hackberry Rod and Gun Club lands about 80,000 trout a year. About three percent of them, or approximately 2,400 specks per year, fall between 6 and 10 pounds. Some better trout holes include the Long Point reefs, Commissary Point, the Washout, 9-Mile Cut, Turner's Bay, Basket Reef, West Cove, the old jetties, the Cameron beaches or the Calcasieu Ship Channel jetties.
Anglers may also find big trout roaming the middle of the lake. Small trout must congregate in schools for safety. Ranking near the top of the food chain, large solitary trout can roam their hunting grounds at will. Look for "slicks," or discolored sheens that often indicate feeding trout. Trout attacking oily fish somet
imes create a slick on the surface.
While people can catch trophy trout on nearly any lure or bait, big trout want big meals. They can easily swallow a 12-inch mullet. Large topwater lures or natural baits often produce the most trophy trout action. Use mullets, shad or croakers instead of shrimp. Use a 6-inch mullet on a Carolina rig, or hook a 4-inch mullet to a jighead and work it like a lure.
For booking trips, call Hackberry Rod and Gun Club at 1-888-762-3391, Big Lake Guide Service at (337) 598-3268 or Calcasieu Charter Service at (337) 598-4700.
Lake Pontchartrain Years ago, few people caught much in the 5,000-square-mile Lake Pontchartrain Basin near New Orleans except croakers, small drum and hardhead catfish. Beginning in February 1999 when Kenny Kreeger landed an 11.99-pound speck, anglers began to consider Lake Pontchartrain a trophy trout lake.
Shell dredging ended several years ago. The once muddy and polluted lake cleaned itself, and seagrass sprouted again in some areas. Now, anglers fish grassbeds with topwaters or troll crankbaits or plastics parallel to the 22-mile-long Causeway, the twin Interstate 10 spans, old U.S. 11 bridge and the ancient railroad trestle.
Two deep passes connect Lake Pontchartrain with Lake Borgne, and indirectly, with the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers find deep water in the Rigolets and the Chef Menteur. Anglers fish the U.S. 90 bridges that cross these passes or the old railroad trestles. The Hospital Wall, a crumbling structure near the Rigolets, also holds good fish.
For booking trips, call Dudley Vandenborre at (504) 847-1924 or Dee Geoghegan at 1-888-773-2536.
Venice Marshes Near Southwest Pass in the marshes south of Venice, anglers often catch trout in the 7- to 9-pound range near Southwest Pass. Occasionally, someone lands a 10-pounder. Not far from Southwest and Southeast passes, tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River force mud lumps above the surface, almost like someone sitting on a waterbed. These lumps appear and disappear regularly.
With access to both deep waters and shallows with abundant food, these lumps can produce outstanding trout and redfish catches. While anglers can catch speckled trout and monster reds all year long, the best trophy trout action occurs from April through July.
Depending upon river stages and tidal conditions, anglers could find outstanding fishing or a sea of mud devoid of fish. During low river periods, less fresh water and silt reaches the lumps. Most anglers wait until the river stage at New Orleans falls below 5 feet before "lumping it."
"It's a gamble running to the lumps," said Capt. Eric Nicotri of Reel 'Em In Charters out of Venice Marina. "In the summer when the conditions are right, we can almost guarantee five to 10 trout weighing 4 pounds or more. Most people go to the lumps for big speckled trout, 8- to 10-pounders. Old gill-netters used to report catching trout over 12 and 13 pounds."
In heavy current, use lipless crankbaits or other noisy lures. In clear water, use plastic minnows or shrimp. Most anglers use 1/4-ounce leadhead jigs, but during surging tides or swift river currents, many anglers opt for heavier leadheads. Toss these into tidal slack spots behind lumps or at cuts between the lumps. Hot colors include glow and chartreuse, avocado and red, avocado and chartreuse, black and chartreuse or white and red.
For information, call Nicotri at (504) 453-7136, Cypress Cove Marina at 1-888-534-8777 or Venice Marina at (504) 534-9357.
REDFISH Along the coast of Cameron Parish south of Lake Charles, about 60 miles of beaches provide Louisiana anglers rare opportunities to catch huge fish without launching boats. From the Sabine River at the Texas line east through Holly, Constance, Preveto, Martin, Dunn and several other beaches, landlocked lunker lovers find abundant opportunities to tangle with truly monstrous redfish.
Working in aggressive pods, redfish surround mullets and herd them toward shore where they run out of room to escape. Sometimes, anglers catch redfish breaking 50 pounds in water less than 2 feet deep. Sometimes, redfish almost come up to the shoreline, sticking their backs out of the water.
"I've caught two bull reds over 48 pounds," said Don Comeaux. "I fish nearly every day and catch more than 900 redfish a year, releasing most to fight again. Most redfish on the beach average between 21 and 28 pounds. I caught 21 redfish in three hours one day."
To tempt big bulls, Comeaux uses several 12-foot surf rods. He thrusts them into homemade PVC rod holders stuck into the ground. These holders keep rods above sand or salt water and to keep redfish from taking them. On the terminal end, he attaches an 11/0 or 12/0 hook to 130-pound wire leader tied to 25-pound line. Above the leader, Comeaux attaches a spider-like weight on a swivel.
Comeaux tempts reds with oily, pungent morels. Top baits include live finger mullets, mullet chunks, shrimp, squid, live or cracked crabs, live croakers or croaker chunks, pogies or just about any bait that leaves a scent trail in the water.
For more information, call Comeaux at (337) 437-8232.
Barataria-Terrebonne Estuaries The marshes of the Terrebonne, Lafourche and Barataria estuaries create some of the finest redfish habitat in the country. Hot honeyholes include the marshes surrounding Catfish Lake and Bayou Blue. The Sulphur Mine contains deep water and flats that hold great redfish and trout populations.
"We've had some days where we caught 400 to 500 redfish, but redfish are temperamental," said Danny Duet of Cajun Resort in Golden Meadow. "They don't always bite. I've had them pass under the boat, and hit them in the head with a shrimp, and they wouldn't bite. Sometimes they'll hit almost anything."
In the summer, the beaches of islands dotting Timbalier Bay, Terrebonne Bay, Barataria Bay, Lakes Raccourci, Felicity and Barre attract numerous bull reds. In marshy southeast Louisiana, these islands offer rare hard, sandy bottoms. Fishermen may choose to stay in their boats or wade-fish in the surf.
"People might think a beach is a sterile environment, but it is not," Duet said. "Along the beaches, especially along the Timbalier Islands, there are things that attract baitfish and shrimp and that attracts big fish. East Timbalier Island has a lot of rock jetties that attract minnows and shrimp. Look for different contours on the bottom. When it gets warm, we'll get some 35- to 40-pound redfish off the islands."
South of Lafitte, anglers catch redfish in Turtle Lake, Little Lake, Bayou Rigolets, Bayou St. Denis, Bay Round, Airplane Bay and Bay Five. Closer to the Gulf, anglers might find big redfish in the passes of Barataria Bay near Grand Isle. Some other hon
eyholes include Hackberry Bay, Caminada Pass, Cooperbell Pass, Four-Bayou Pass and Barataria Pass.
"In the Barataria system, we catch many 15- to 20-pound redfish heading out into the Gulf," said Theophile Bourgeois of Bourgeois Charters in Lafitte. "I have seen what I call a 'red tide,' where 400 to 500 redfish feed on the surface. I wouldn't want to put my hands in the water then."
For more information, call Cajun Resort at (985) 475-5179, Capt. Phil Robichaux's Saltwater Guide Service at (504) 689-2006 or Bourgeois Charters at (504) 341-5614. For Lafitte Harbor Marina, call (504) 689-2013. For C-Way Marina, call (504) 689-3148.
Lake Borgne Marshes The marshes near Hopedale and Delacroix south of Lake Borgne offer outstanding redfish habitat. A freshwater diversion project at Caernarvon added aquatic grass to areas. Tolerant of fresh water, redfish often feed next to largemouth bass, eating the same items.
Some better honeyholes include the 39,583-acre Biloxi Wildlife Management Area, Lake Eugene, Lake Robin, Lake Coquille, Lake Calabasse, Oak River, Four-Horse Lake, Lake John, the Twin Pipeline, Bay Shallow or islands in Breton Sound. Almost any bayou or pond that feeds into Lake Borgne or Breton Sound should hold redfish.
In the summer, catching redfish in shallow marshes resembles hunting. Redfish prowl along weedy shorelines looking for shrimp, baitfish or crabs to munch. Often, their backs or tails protrude through the surface. Anglers "stalk" redfish they see, targeting individual fish.
Use gold, silver or black spoons around weeds. Tip spoons with a pork chunk or scented plastic for better attraction. Work these around indentations in shorelines or in tributaries. During a falling tide, redfish frequently congregate at the mouths of drains emptying marshy ponds. Work baits with the tide.
Few angling experiences in shallow water equal the thrill of a ravenous redfish attacking a topwater bait. With mouths facing downward for sucking crabs off the bottom, redfish sometimes roll to attack topwater baits. Often, they miss on the first pass. If they miss, keep working the bait, even increasing speed like a mullet trying to flee. That infuriates redfish to strike again even harder. Usually, redfish either miss or hook themselves when attacking topwater baits. Wait until feeling pressure from the fish before setting the hook.
With so much highly productive water, someone could spend a lifetime chasing specks and reds in a different water body every day without fishing the same spot twice. For booking trips in Hopedale, call Bayou Charters at (504) 278-FISH.
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