Anglers who want to be consistently successful fishing along the Louisiana coast need to always be cognizant of two factors: wind and tide.
Sometimes the two combine to roll a conveyor belt of feeding speckled trout directly into the ice chests of those who happen to be in the right place at the right time.
On other days, wind and tide conspire to turn coastal waters into an opaque soup of silt, a veritable maelstrom of mud, more suitable for planting daisies than catching speckled trout.
But Empire anglers have a third factor to consider: river water. It’s ever-present in the spring, and winds, tides and the whimsy of nature’s eddies can push it from one side of the estuary to the other in only a few hours.
That might make anglers want to avoid this southern Plaquemines Parish port until the low-river season in the fall, but those that do are making a big mistake. The trout bite is on down there, and charter captain Sal Gagliano is one of the anglers taking advantage of it.
Gagliano has been concentrating on the west side of the river, and he’s been bringing in some nice trout hauls. He’s been watching wind and tide, and trying to make some educated guesses each day about what it’s doing to river water.
“When you have a strong incoming tide, it’ll drag that water from Red Pass, which right now is all muddy water,” Gagliano said.
Too much south wind will also do the same, so Gagliano has been timing his trips on days when tide ranges are about a foot or less, or when winds haven’t been screaming out of the south for days in a row.
On days when the winds allow, Gagliano has been starting his trips along the beaches or at the Empire Jetties. The latter spot has been particularly good to him lately, just as it usually is this time of year.
Last March, in fact, Gagliano caught a 6½-pound trout while fishing the lines of rocks.
“March’s full moon kicks it off,” Gagliano said. “It’ll run through April and May and then maybe a little bit into June.”
Gagliano fishes the jetties an unusual way, targeting the trout there with an H&H TKO Shrimp rigged Carolina-style.
“I’ll use the lightest Carolina rig I can get away with, a quarter-ounce to no heavier than a three-eighths ounce egg sinker to let it fall slowly,” he said. “I try to keep it off the rocks. As it falls, I’ll pull it slowly toward me so it doesn’t just fall right into the rocks and hang up.
“You have to be able to judge how far away from the rocks it is.”
The big fish he caught last year fell for the TKO Shrimp, Gagliano said.
After leaving the jetties, the veteran guide will typically work his way back toward Delta Marina, hitting oyster reefs along the way. On both the way in and out, he’ll keep his eyes peeled for dipping birds.
“It’s just starting to happen; I’m just now starting to see birds (diving),” he said. “You’ll have to pick through some undersized fish, but generally, the earlier part of spring — like now — the fish are bigger, and as the season progresses, the fish get smaller under the birds.”
The location of diving birds helps newcomers to the area find the oyster reefs between the marina and the beaches. Much of the marsh out of Empire has subsided or eroded, so the area looks like a broad expanse of nothingness. The productive structure, however, is still there, Gagliano said.
“There’s nothing left to look at,” he said. “A lot of people like to fish structure that they can see, and people don’t know how to fish hidden structure, but that’s where the fish are.”
As an example, Gagliano mentioned the Iron Banks area on the east side of the river.
“There’s tons of boulders under the water,” he said. “People don’t even realize they’re there, until they find them with their lower units. Once you know where those structures are, you can fish them.”
What you throw at them depends on how confident you are there are fish there. Gagliano uses his TKOs as search baits, but he cautions anglers against leaving their bait wells empty.
“Live shrimp tend to keep the fish corralled a whole lot more, so a guy who doesn’t fish a lot can really keep the fish near his boat if he feeds them live bait,” Gagliano said. “It’s faster to find fish with plastic, but in order to complete your limit, live shrimp is crucial to keep the fish there.”
The crustaceans are available at Frelich’s Bait Shop on La. 23, as well as the recently reopened Delta Marina in the shadow of the Empire bridge.