For the average angler, fishing is a respite. It’s an escape from the 9-to-5, and the intense stresses of the work week.
It’s a chance to fall through Alice’s rabbit hole into a world with fresh air, soft sounds and instant gratification rather than cubicles, spreadsheets and workplace drama.
Because that idyllic landscape is so alluring and, for many, is essential for quality of life and mental health, anglers invest huge chunks of their paychecks into boats, tow vehicles, fuel, camps, gear and tackle, hoping, and knowing, the payoff can’t be measured in dollars.
But the sport can add frustration of a different sort when the photos splattered all over social media during the work week, showing coolers spilling out their contents, aren’t easily replicated on windy weekends.
That’s because many anglers don’t want to invest a few more dollars on live shrimp — and they’re making a huge mistake, according to longtime Hopedale fishing guide Charlie Thomason.
“We bring live bait 100 percent of the time,” he said. “One of the reasons our business has grown is that we don’t take the cheap way out. We always will have live bait on our boats, and lots of it.”
That’s true even when clients hire Thomason and swear they’ll only throw stuff made in a factory rather than grown in a marsh.
“The people who say they only want to fish artificials, by 8 or 9 o’clock, they’ve switched to live bait, and they’re catching fish, and they’re very happy,” he said. “I’m not saying artificials don’t work, but fish are temperamental, and day in, day out, I KNOW that live bait works. I’m doing this for a living, so I have to put people on fish. Live shrimp makes it almost a guarantee.”
Thomason’s got extensive experience fishing plastic baits, and whenever he’s out fishing for fun, by himself or with seasoned buddies, that’s what he throws. But on those days, he fishes very differently than he does on outings with clients, even those who are accomplished anglers.
“If you’re fishing, say, a point or a drain or a pocket, and you think there are fish there, with live bait, you can throw in there and just wait, but with artificials, you might think, ‘OK, maybe I have to work it more up-current or down-current or change my angle some kind of way. Maybe I have to fish faster or slower, deeper or shallower. Or maybe I have to fish a different style of bait,’” Thomason said.
On days with clients, that means he spends more time with his Power Poles down and less time spinning the prop on his trolling motor.
“Most times when you’re fishing live bait, you’re presenting the bait right in the specific area you expect the fish to be,” Thomason said. “For instance, if you get set up on a point, you’re going to throw that shrimp to the point, you’re going to pop your cork a few times, and you’ll know if there’s a fish there or not because if there is, you’re going to get a strike in a few seconds.
“When I’m doing charters, I live by the five-cast rule. If I’ve got guys who only want to fish artificials, I go from the five-cast rule to maybe the 20-cast rule. I know that I may have to present an artificial bait to a fish two or three times before they actually strike it. You’ve got to coax them to bite. When they see a live bait, they’ll strike it as soon as they see it, off of instinct. There is no coaxing. They’re either biting or they’re not.”
Thomason buys his shrimp from nearby Campo’s Marina in Shell Beach, and he stocks his live-bait well with 50 per person, plus another 50 in case he’s plagued by bait-stealers or undersized fish.
Campo’s, like many South Louisiana marinas, remains stocked with live shrimp year round, now that the state allows licensed bait dealers to drag trawls even when the brown- and white-shrimp seasons are closed.