When Andy McDaniels turned north from Barataria into the marsh near Little Lake early Wednesday morning, he was turning a page in his fishing life.
After a few minutes coaching from charter skipper Nick Rando and a few more frustrating minutes trying to figure out why he couldn’t land the speckled trout that were blasting a new-to-the-market Rapala Trigger X soft-plastic shrimp imitation, McDaniels hauled in a pound-and-a-half speck.
“That’s the first time I’ve caught a trout under a poppin’ cork,” he said.
That was good enough for Rando, good enough because McDaniels, an Oklahoma City Okie, didn’t call that thing holding up what had proven the most productive lure for two straight days a “bobber” or a “fish indicator.”
McDaniels had caught specks before, but this was different because trout weren’t on the docket when Rando piloted his Blazer Bay boat out west of the Barataria Waterway.
Tuesday morning, Noel Vick, the writer-boss from Traditions Media in Minnesota, was Rando’s charge, and redfish filled the ice chest well before lunchtime. It was an early bite on gold spoons - nothing on gold-bladed spinnerbaits - before the reds pulled off the edges of the marsh and took a liking to the gray ghost-colored Trigger X. Vick admitted the pair of 30-inch redfish he took were the largest he’s caught.
That’s why it was a stunner when Wednesday’s morning first cast with the new plastic bait produced an 18-inch-long speckled trout.
“Look at the bait in the water,” Rando said, pointing his rod tip towards dozens of small schools of finger-sized mullet and shrimp painting dapples on the slick water.
Very little from day to day except that instead of casting into the edges of a marshgrass-lined shoreline - Tuesday’s pattern - Wednesday’s first tries were 80 yards off the banks, and that one hungry trout altered the game plan.
Rando cast the bait under a cork and put two solid trout in the ice chest.
“Wow! These are great trout for the marsh,” Rando said. “Go figure. Guys are trying trout all over this area. Guys are making long runs (to look for speckled trout), and here we are catching nice trout. What a day.”
McDaniels and Vick were two in a 20-person entourage gathered at Theophile Bourgeois’ Cajun Chalet in Barataria for a three days’ of information and discussion of Louisiana’s constant fight with a disappearing marsh. McDaniels is the national outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation’s Vanishing Paradise Program.
Writers from across the country - Minnesota and Arkansas west to Montana, Colorado and California - spent and will spend this week learning about the state’s staggering coastal-restoration chore.
It was Tuesday and Wednesday morning fishing trips that further bound them to what most of them already know is the most productive estuary in the country. Evidence was the mostly 17- to 24-inch redfish - a handful of the reds went more than 30 inches - filled chests with a five-per-man limit. Throw in a couple of flounder and Wednesday’s solid-trout surprise tracking their food up into Little Lake helped them understand even more that restoration help is needed from across the country.
Here’s what they also learned:
- Several of them said they were surprised that redfish blasted the poppin’ cork and not the bait. The solution is to jerk the cork hard enough to bring the bait under the cork to rise behind the cork. Most times the redfish will come back and find the bait falling in front of his eyes. Count 2, maybe 3, then hang on.
- Fish the windy marsh banks. Tuesday’s early morning breeze pushed bait into the marsh edges; Maybe Wednesday’s windless morning was the reason why specks were feeding in open water.
- Inside waters mean gold spoons, especially in Little Lake waters where coontail grass gives redfish even more area to feed and hide from the sun.
Kelly Pratt is the latest Bassmaster Classic qualifier after he won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River out of Richmond, Va.
Pratt, from Williamsburg, Va., totaled 42 pounds, 6 ounces to beat Alabama’s Randall Tharp (37-1) by more than five pounds. Chris Daves was third (36-7) and Michael Iaconelli was fourth (35-1).
Iaconelli and Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam are in the 12-man field for the Friday-Saturday first leg of Toyota Trucks’ All-Star Week in Alabama. Only eight of the 12 will move to the July 29-31 shootout on the Alabama River.