June 24, 2013
In Southern parlance, stating that someone is "raising cane" typically refers to a caustic, ill-tempered behavior. That's no less applicable in Louisiana's Mississippi Delta region, but the cane you find there is actually more likely to evoke gleeful contentment from anglers happy to stretch a line.
It's called Roseau cane - Phragmites australis to botanists - and this stout, stalky vegetation common to the river's brackish regions offers abundant habitat for redfish, black drum, sheepshead, flounder and speckled trout. Roseau pattern defies summation but whether it's a long orderly row, a ragged pond perimeter with lots of nooks and crannies, or a random smattering of storm-torn patches, there's no denying the productivity of this iconic Delta plant life.
Click the image for the Raising Cane photo gallery
Capt. Anthony Randazzo runs a multi-boat guide service from his Paradise Plus Lodge in the Venice area, toward the delta's southern end. So productive is the cane environment, that he and his guides spend the majority of their time working the abundant vegetation.
"Across the spectrum of the entire year, we target Roseau cane about 60 percent of the time," he said. "When the Mississippi River is high (generally during the first six months of the year), the fish are forced to the extremities of the Delta and that's laden with Roseau cane."
Randazzo said that cane closer to the coast is usually most productive, as it provides a buffer zone between the seasonal movements of marsh fish. A lot of the backwater areas also have Roseau cane, and this habitat offers a promising target wherever you find it.
"Roseau cane is just a very unique shallow water structure," Randazzo said. "You have the obvious cane plus the underwater root structure that creates additional habitat for fish."
Obviously, this presents a serious snagging hazard, but Randazzo said the rewards more than justify the risk. "I'd rather fish 50 yards of root structure with water flowing over it than one point with water flowing around it because I know the fish have a great big runway of feeding area."
Also called common reed, giant reed, giant reedgrass and yellow cane, Roseau typically forms dense stands along marsh and slough edges with up to 19 stems (live and dead) per square foot. Throughout coastal marshes of the southeastern U.S., this reed often exists with big cordgrass (Spartina) along the upland edge marshes to form diverse habitat with features appealing to local species.
Randazzo observes: "I think Roseau cane makes great structure because of its orientation. It grows near the bottom and it grows close together so it allows water to flow along it and through it. This also allows baitfish to hide in it."
Keys to the Cane
Given the Delta's fish-rich abundance, any cast to the cane could conceivably draw a strike. Consistency, though, typically demands a strategic approach, so mind these points:
- Cane filters the water, so it comes out cleaner than it entered. Rising tides move fish closer to the cane, but the top of the outgoing cycle often sees that most intense feeding, as the falling water emerges clear and refreshed.
- Outgoing tides also pull baitfish and crustaceans out of the cover, so predators leverage this increased feeding access.
- Randazzo notes that areas with older, denser marsh behind the cane will filter the water even better than just frail sections of cane on the edge of the coast.
- Work around the entire Roseau structure. The root structures extend well beyond the point at which the stalks enter the water. Work a lure well past the visible cane for fish that may be sniffing around the outer root edges.
- When the water is generally clean, savvy anglers further refine their searches by targeting areas with a healthy current and good contour. Just don't rush the process. If an area looks good enough to explore, give it a fair inspection. Fish may bite across a broad length of cane edge, but sometimes a red hot section will be flanked by apparently barren water.
"It's very common for me to pull up on 1,000 yards of cane and only catch fish on 10 yards of it," Randazzo said. "It's best to cover as much water as you can, but do it (methodically)."
Hanging fresh shrimp or cut bait under corks is a good way for kids or novices to learn the Roseau routine with little worry of casting accuracy. Corking natural baits is also a technique used by more experienced anglers looking to test an area before committing to a more time-consuming artificial approach.
Cast a corked bait upcurrent, let the rig drift along a cane edge and note when, where and if you get a taker. (In slower current, just reel your rig along the edge.) Two or three passes will tell you if there's fish to be caught.
When it's time to work an area on anchor or trolling motor, the popular selection includes spinnerbaits, shallow diving crankbaits, and soft plastics jerkbaits - free-lined or fished under rattling corks. Darker colors typically work best, but gold glitter, pearl or chartreuse bodies may spark some interest if the bite slows.
Randazzo uses sturdy rods and baitcasting or spinning reels loaded with 30- 65-pound braided line. That's heavier than you'll need for most marsh residents, but you'll need the extra heft to avoid loosing fish and donating lures. Make no mistake, Roseau cane makes for one tough neighborhood, but it's loaded with opportunity for those who would seek it.