Thanksgiving Day 2014 means more to Louisiana’s coastal fishermen than most of the millions of anglers around the country could ever imagine.
Coming after disappointing spring and summer speckled trout catches, reports during the last month confirms the state’s coastal waters have trout, and this species is more than ready to erase those last months when tens of thousands of fishermen sweated out a downturn veterans said they haven’t seen in decades.
No anglers are happier than old fishing friends Tom LeBlanc and Ron Aime. These guys average three trips a month, all in saltwater, every the year for as long as their wives remember, at least the last six years.
It was no secret that they were confounded about the action, or lack thereof, since late April. LeBlanc keeps meticulous records, so he knew how much 2014 lagged behind their catches of the last six years.
That’s why there was no containing their excitement when they returned from the Golden Meadow area last week.
“This was our first trip to the Sulfur Mine this season, and boy did it turn out great,” LeBlanc said. “About 10 minutes after we started fishing we hit a spot, put out the anchor, and proceeded to catch our limit in an hour and a half.
“The only fish we threw back was No. 51 which we didn’t need. After the luck we’ve had in the past six months, I was beginning to think we would never catch another limit,” LeBlanc said. “The weather was cold, the winds were minimal, the sun came out and it was perfect. Life is good!”
Their catch came with 10-15 knot northeast and east winds blowing across the lake.
OK. So why?
When LeBlanc mentions “season” he’s talking about fall leading into winter. For Aime and him, Bason’s Marina in Golden Meadow provides access to the Sulfur Mine, a lake between Golden Meadow on the east and Montegut on the west.
The reason trout, and sometimes redfish, hole up there in the late fall is the lake’s depth. It’s the largest, deepest waterbody in the the area, and the canals that lead into the lake are deep, too. For specks, it’s a cold-weather, colder-water sanctuary.
Even better is that when the trout get finicky in the dead of winter, there usually are some trout and active redfish hanging on the points in nearby Old Bayou Blue.
Their choice of lure is simple: They use the tried-and-true black/chartreuse H&H Cocahoe Minnows, add in another color called “limestreuse,” put it on a jighead and work this soft-plastic lure at various speeds near or on the bottom. When cold water sets in, they crawl the baits along the bottom.
Deep water a key
Water depth is a big factor now and for the next four maybe five months. Decreasing hours of sunlight, downright chilly temperatures and cold winds send water temperatures down. Trout and redfish are seeking warmer water, and that means deep water.
Another factor is that strong north winds push volumes of water from the marshes. Ponds and small lakes that held water on post-front south winds, can become dry overnight on a strong cold front, and predator fish are instinctive enough to know they can’t live there.
Deeper water in canals and the deep bends in bayous and rivers will hold more fish, so places like the Intracoastal Waterway, “The Wall” and Oak River are hot trout spots during fall-winter chills.
What happens, too, is that baitfish and shrimp move to the deeper water, and trout and redifsh follow.
After deep water, it’s key to find places that direct warming sunlight into the water.
The Pontchartrain bridges illustrate this point: These expanses of steel, concrete and wood conduct heat into the water. Measure dead-of-winter water temperatures around The Causeway shows temperatures as much as eight degrees warmer at the pilings than water as near as 40 yards from this structure.
Shore-lining rip-rap, piers, oil/gas platforms, even pipelines do the same thing, which might explain why “The Wall” near Bayou Bienvenu holds fish in the winter. It’s why trout will bite in coastal bays like Lakes Pelto and Barre south of Cocodrie, during the late fall and winter.
Oyster and shell beds also hold warmer water in open-water lakes and bays.
What was odd about the LeBlanc-Aime report was that the barometric pressure was at 30.43 inches that morning.
That goes against the rule that veteran trout catcher and Pontchartrain area pro charter skipper Dudley Vandenborre offers that pressure at 30.30 inches reduces the trout bite.
An explanation for their mid-November, Sulfur Mine catch might be that the water temperature wasn’t low enough to affect the bite.
Vandenborre’s rule holds lots of water when water cools into the winter and takes firm hold in the first 48 hours after a cold front moves across coastal waters.
Between the fronts
Depending on the frequency and severity of cold fronts, weather conditions (temperatures and barometric pressure) usually moderate 48 hours after the frontal passage.
Most times southerly winds follow strong north winds and refills the marsh. Moderating air temperatures and abundant “blue-bird days” sunshine warm water enough to move forage onto flats and edges of the marsh, and the trout and redfish gradually will move back to feed.
Use lighter line, and choose line according to the area. XT, extra-tough line, is made to take the abrasion you’ll encounter around rip-rap and shells. XL, extra-limp line, works better in the cold and over sandy and muddy bottoms. And work baits slowly.
So many artificial lure colors and styles work, so it’s your preference, and when all else fails, there’s live cocaho minnows.
A rod with a medium butt and fast tip will allow you to detect the soft strikes trout are know for at this time of year.
Don’t forget offshore
Comfortable days off the Louisiana coast are fewer and farther from now through March than during the summer and early fall. Take advantage of those between-the-fronts days to take yellowfin tune and the year’s heaviest wahoo in offshore waters.