Captain Frank Dreher fishes out of Grand Isle.
Captain Theophile Bourgeois runs his guide service out of Barataria, about 30 miles north of Dreher’s launching spot.
The chances of the two seasoned guides crossing paths are pretty slim for about 10 months of the year. But, from early March through early May, there’s a good chance their boat wakes will lap against each other as Bourgeois runs down and Dreher heads into the northern and middle grounds of Barataria Bay in search of early-spring speckled trout.
Both said the warm air and water this year mean the tried and true bite is about a month ahead of schedule under the innumerable flocks of birds ganged up within site of the Barataria Ship Channel and along the reefs in places like Hackberry Bay, Bassa Bassa Bay and Manilla Village.
“Bassa Bassa and Hackberry are hot right now, and there are some nice fish up there,” Dreher said. “Wind has really been the only limiting factor for us. Anything too hard out of the east or the north is going to dirty the water and make it tougher. But if the weather allows, we’re finding plenty enough fish to make a good trip in just three or four stops.”
Dreher said he’s letting the experience of his customers dictate what he’s fishing with right now, but has been going to live shrimp more and more over the past two weeks since Grand Isle bait shops have been stocking them more consistently.
Bourgeois said he’s looking for shrimp too, just not fishing with them.
“The birds have been working shrimp around the regular spots like Government Reef and Manilla Village for the last few weeks and they are nice shrimp,” Bourgeois said. “The water has been on the dirty side most days, so we are sticking with the solid-colored plastics like glow, chartreuse and black and chartreuse — colors that show up well in that churned-up water. Just keep hitting different flocks. If you pull up to birds and the first five or six trout you catch are small, keep moving.”
Bourgeois is particular about the corks he uses, opting for the Bomber Paradise Popper corks with the deep cup in the top that makes plenty of noise and keeps the bait in the strike zone longer.
Dreher said he's letting water depth determine if he’s tying on corks or bouncing baits off the bottom.
“We found nice keeper trout on reefs in about 3 feet of water last weekend, and they wanted plastics and live shrimp under a cork,” Dreher said, adding that the live shrimp he’s buying are much larger than what he’s used to seeing in late March and early April when live shrimp are usually scarce.
“We also found some good trout over humps and reefs in about eight feet of water and we switched over to chartreuse plastics like Lemon Head Matrix Shads on half-ounce jig heads and slow bounced them," he said. "We can catch plenty of fish this time of year on plastics alone, but it’s always reassuring when you can get good quality live shrimp this early in the spring.”
Interior lakes around Barataria and Lafitte usually hold enough school-sized speckled trout in March and early April to let Bourgeois and his armada of guides make quick runs to The Pen and Round Lake, but extremely low tides and dirty water has moved trout to deeper-water areas earlier than usual, he said. There are some larger trout in the bays adjacent to Little Lake for anglers willing to exchange plenty of bites for bigger bites.
“Trout want to be in three or four feet of water, and we just didn’t have that in the areas close to home this spring,” Bourgeois said. “But we have been able to find some bigger trout along the grass beds off Little Lake around Coffee Bay and Turtle Bay throwing topwaters. You’re not going to catch as many as fishing the birds, but the big female fish aren’t going to be under the birds. They want topwaters around the grass.”
Bigger trout are what Dreher is starting to focus on, too, meaning he and Bourgeois are unlikely to cross boat wakes more than a couple more times this spring. When the winds allow, trout in the 3-5 pound range are being caught along the rocks at Caminada Pass and on the barges and rocks along the Fourchon Beach.
“It’s not live croaker time on the beach just yet, but it’s not too far away,” Dreher said. “We’ll keep running north and fishing the reefs and birds if the wind and weather keep us off the beach. But a lot of the trout we’ve been catching in the last week or so have pretty mature eggs in them and I think those fish are heading to the passes and the beach soon. As soon as that happens, we’ll be right there with them.”