When charterboat guide Eddie Berthelot took Louisiana Outdoor Adventures television host Kevin Ford out to shoot a show last week, the entire playground was open to him.
Winds were lighter than angel-food cake, so the Grand Isle guide could have gone absolutely anywhere he wanted.
But he didn’t have to think very long about where he’d head.
“The first time I got out on the beach was last week,” Berthelot said. “We went out there Wednesday, and we spanked them. We limited out by 7:30 in the morning.”
That was the day before the trip with Ford, so a stop along Elmer’s Island was again the plan, and it turned out to be a good call. The two anglers quickly limited out on speckled trout weighing up to nearly four pounds.
“It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had as far as size and numbers,” Berthelot said.
Using the unusual
The fishermen caught the trout using an unusual technique, at least among beach anglers. They used live croakers — a common bait in that neck of the woods — but they rigged them under corks rather than on traditional Carolina rigs.
It’s a technique Berthelot said can turn trips from bust to boom.
“If you’re fishing the beach itself, most of the time you’re fishing over the first trough, which is along the beach, or the second trough, which is 20 to 25 yards on the outside of the beach,” Berthelot said. “The first trough, you’re looking at 10 to 12 inches of water, and the second trough is about 2 feet deep. So I’m using a 30-inch leader, which lets the croaker do whatever he wants.
“I’ve seen days where we throw a Carolina rig with croakers, and we can’t get a bite. We just catch catfish on them. You throw that cork into the same water, and it goes down every time.
“I’ll bring eight rods and switch back and forth depending on what they want,” he said. “When it slows down under the cork, I’ll try the Carolina rig, and vice versa.”
Patience, mon ami
There was no need to try Carolina rigs on this trip because the trout wouldn’t stop hitting croakers under corks. But, Berthelot admitted, using the technique requires nerves of steel.
“You actually have to let the cork go under and stay under for three to five seconds,” he said. “You’ve got to have so much patience. That trout has to get the croaker in his mouth, and he just about has to swallow it before you set the hook.
“I’ll take my rod tip, and drop it all the way down to the water level. I’ll take in my slack, and then make that hard set to be able to pull the hook through the croaker itself and back into the trout.”
Berthelot rigs croakers on a No. 2 Kahle hook, which he said is his go-to whenever he’s fishing live bait anywhere.
“I’ll rig the croaker through the lips but not in the nose,” he said. “A lot of people go in through the nose of a croaker, and that kills it almost instantly. Sometimes I’ll rig it about two-thirds down the body, just behind the dorsal fin.”
The right place
Where exactly he throws them depends on the day, but there are certain factors Berthelot always searches for on the boat ride out in the morning.
“Obviously I look for bait on top of the water, whether it’s mullet, shrimp or pogies,” he said. “That’s always a good sign. Another thing to look for — and most people just pass it up — is seagulls standing on the beach. Most people are looking for seagulls hammering the top of the water, which is a good sign, but a lot of times on the beach they’re on top of gafftops or hardheads (catfish). It’s always something good to hit, but most of the time you’re going to be disappointed.
“But when they’re lined up on the edge of the surf, they’re saying, ‘There’s bait right here, and we don’t have to fly far. We’re just waiting for it to come up.’ If the bait is that close to the beach, most of the time it’s being pushed up by trout.”
Frequently, the trout are most concentrated around beach anomalies any angler can find, if he has access to old charts.
“I look for old bayous or waterways that came through the beach itself,” Berthelot said. “With the erosion, you had all kinds of cuts, especially along Elmers Island and Fourchon. If you look at the old maps, you’ll see all the waterways that came out before they repaired the beach. Those have a soft, muddy bottom rather than a hard-sand bottom. The bigger trout prefer soft mud to hard sand.
“Between Caminada Pass and Fourchon Pass, you probably have two dozen places with old cuts that still have mud under the water.”
And if all else fails, Berthelot will keep his eyes peeled for what he calls "eddy tides."
“That’s where the water flows from the beach straight outward,” he said. “You don’t fish the center of them, but on either side, they’ll stack up with fish. You’ll have a deeper channel intersecting with that first trough than anywhere else along the beach, and it usually stays a little calmer there because it’s a deeper trough.
“You start close to the beach first thing in the morning, and then work your way out as the sun gets higher. Those trout get lazy, and just set back and catch the bait as it’s getting sucked through that little channel.”
Rising tides are always better for beach fishing, but Berthelot said the fish will also feed on a falling tide.