Serendipity is often essential to discovering successful fishing patterns, and it certainly was for coastal charter fishing guide Tommy Pellegrin less than a decade ago.
Pellegrin was having a good time at a family Christmas party when he found himself standing next to his niece’s husband, who is a biologist with the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The young man asked Pellegrin, a veteran guide down in Terrebonne Parish, why he never fishes the barrier islands during the wintertime.
“I said, ‘I don’t know. I just don’t think there’s anything out there,’ ” Pellegrin said. “And he said, ‘Well, we just sampled out there, and we caught a bunch of trout.’
“I said, ‘Aha, OK. It’s time to think about this.’ That’s when I started poking around and found out which spots hold fish in the wintertime.”
Pellegrin has perfected the pattern since then, and regularly runs out to Wine Island, Timbalier Island, the Sulphur Mine and the litany of wellheads and cribbins that dot lower Terrebonne Bay. It’s the stuff anglers fish in the spring and summer, but it’s all loaded with speckled trout in the winter.
Pellegrin and a guest caught and released more than a hundred on a perfect day last week.
Identifying those fair-weather days is the key this time of year, Pellegrin said.
“The weather is very predictable with these cold fronts that come through in December, January and February,” Pellegrin said. “They sweep across the state, and leave a high pressure behind them. You time yourself with the location of that high pressure, and go fish then because it’s calm.
“Now, the fishing isn’t thought to be best when there’s a high pressure, but this is when it’s calm. You can’t catch them if you’re not there.”
The wind direction behind those fronts keeps the clean water from getting too far away, and that’s an important factor, Pellegrin said.
“You can catch them if the water’s a little stained but not horribly muddy,” he said. “That’s another reason you have to pick the right day. You’ll have north wind blowing when the front comes through, so the beach is protected. Once the wind dies, a rising tide will bring in all that clean water.”
That means anglers hoping to emulate Pellegrin’s pattern need to watch the forecast, and go when it’s right. Even a few hours can make a huge difference.
“You don’t get a lot of opportunities to be out there because of weather, but when you do go, you need to be quick because normally, the weather doesn’t hold very long,” Pellegrin said. “You need to get out there, catch some fish and not get hammered.”
Pellegrin said the specks that are in Terrebonne Bay in the winter aren’t the same ones that were there when temperatures were scorching.
“I personally think those fish that are there are those that are offshore during the summer, and they move in X distance and meet the shoreline, and the shoreline fish move X distance and end up in the marsh,” he said.
When he goes, Pellegrin throws one lure almost exclusively: a 5-inch, swamp gas-colored Havoc Grass Pig on a quarter-ounce jighead. Nothing else comes close to its productivity for the bigger fish that crowd the islands and structures in the outside waters, he said.
“Every year, that’s one of the top baits,” he said. “Last year, I did really well in late February and early March on a glow bait with a chartreuse curly tail. You pop it up and let it fall. That curly tail has so much action, they’d pop it on the fall. Last year was the first year I tried it. But mostly, that Grass Pig is the bait to have.
“This time of year, I always use that bigger bait. The smaller Grass Pig works, but I want the bigger bait so I can catch the bigger fish. The fish out there are much bigger on average than the fish you catch inside. That’s what makes me think it’s offshore fish. They weren’t on the beaches and reefs in the summer getting caught.
“And they’ll go back offshore. It’s funny: When the catfish show up, those fish leave. That’s the same time that the shrimp show up and the pompano show up and the smaller trout show up.”
And Pellegrin also shows up — every time the weather’s right.