Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on fishing the Hopedale marsh with charter captain Charlie Thomason.
Get Charlie Thomason started about his chosen fishing country, and you’re in for a treat — and a treatise.
Drawing on his LSU coastal environs degree, the veteran charter skipper dissects St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes marshes with the vigor and vibe of a college professor on a par with Robin Williams’ John Keating role in Dead Poet’s Society.
He liked this question: What’s the difference between the Hopedale marsh and the Delacroix marsh?
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “The Delacroix marsh has a muddier bottom. The Hopedale marsh has a sandier and much harder bottom.”
That’s just the start, and Thomason’s further explanation shows why his peers acknowledge the Bayou Charters charter captain among the top teaching charterboat operators in the country.
“That bottom structure makes a big difference,” Thomason said. “The softer bottom in Delacroix allows for more (submerged aquatic) grass to grow there.
“Because of the harder bottom, Hopedale doesn’t have the amount of grass, but the bottom structure allows for more oysters to grow,” he said. “That’s why Hopedale is the leading oyster producing place in the country.”
From his Silver Side Lodge on the Hopedale Highway, Thompson and his fellow charter skippers can run west and south to Delacroix or south and east to stay in the Hopedale marsh.
Because of the Caernarvon siphon and other factors, like being nearer to the Mississippi River, Delacroix holds more freshwater than the Hopedale’s marshes.
And Hopedale, because it’s nearer to Lake Borgne, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and the Gulf of Mexico, has saltier water and holds the promise, especially in springtime, of producing heftier speckled trout than can be found in the Delacroix area.
“When you look at the ecosystems, Delacroix holds more food resources for (predator) fish, yes more biomass,” Thomason said, “but Hopedale has larger (predator) fish, and that’s because there’s access to open water.”
Tying one on
Last week’s trip into the Lake John area of the Hopedale marsh produced redfish, speckled trout and flounder on as many as six different lures that run the gamut of what any coastal fisherman would carry in a tackle box.
Soft plastics, hard plastics, sinking baits, topwaters, some under corks, others on a jighead, and the ever-present heavy-wire spinnerbait that has become a staple for blind casting for redfish.
“We like to use topwaters,” Thomason said showing a bone-colored Top Dog.
He didn’t have to explain why: On his next cast, a solid bronze-colored, 6-7 pound redfish blasted the lure 30 yards from his bay boat.
“I tell everybody that they should throw the bait they have the most confidence in,” Thomason said. “You know what your favorite bait does, know how it works, know where it works and that pays off.”
Soft-plastic colors can make a difference, but the “chicken on a chain” color (and there’s little info on how that name came about) and “opening night” color (clear with lots of silver ribbon glitter) work in the fall months, but any soft-plastic you use must have a chartreuse tail.
Somehow Thomason let it slip that a much-unappreciated color is purple, and his other charter skippers tried to hide the purple Top Dog topwater. The secret is out.
And, to a man, Bayou Charter skippers said there’s always the option of using live bait.
Take me to your leader
This is simple: Every one of the rods in Bayou Charters boats use braid, baitcasting and spinning reels, but with a 4-6 foot piece of fluorocarbon leader.
Thomason uses a uniknot to join these lines.
When you’re dealing with hard bottoms studded with oyster shells, braid and 30-pound fluoro (sometimes heavier) gives you more time with baits in the water and not constantly re-tying to avoid line breaking on a hard-battling redfish.
Talk to any experienced fisherman and they’ll tell you clear water is where you want to be. Tell that to anyone from outside Louisiana and they think they have to find crystal-clear conditions.
That doesn’t happen in south Louisiana, and you seldom catch fish in water that looks like it should be flowing in a mountain stream.
“Clear” water here is when you can see your bait 12-18 inches under the surface.
Add water movement, either by wind or tide, across the mostly shallow water in the southeast marshes and look for water breaking around a point, water pouring from a runout, or water pushing into a bank.
In the upcoming fall and winter months, north winds will push water from the marsh. When winds turn around, water gets pushed into the marsh. This water transfer keeps marsh water oxygenated, healthy and, for anglers, productive.
“Did you see that? All the shrimp jumping?” Thomason said. “There are more shrimp in the marsh right now than I can remember in a long time.
“That will hold fish in here, especially speckled trout,” he said. “Have you ever noticed that when you clean a redfish, you almost never find it’s been eating shrimp. Trout like shrimp. Redfish like crabs and finfish.”
His comment came from waters south of Oak River and just east of the Twin Pipelines, both landmarks in the Hopedale-Delacroix area.
Shrimp were everywhere, in the canals, bayous, open ponds and in moving water off points. So were small pogeys.
“That’s good for us,” Thomason said. “It’s going to be a good fall.”