Beating the dirty-water problem in Barataria marshes _lowres

Baton Rouge Louisiana Fish Fry executive John Deutschman shows off the hefty redfish he took in the marshes south of Theophile Bourgeois' charter operation in Lafitte a day after north winds dropped water levels by more than one foot and left anglers searching for trout and redfish in muddy water. 

It was a day an avid Louisiana marsh fisherman would label “marginal,” an afternoon following a couple of days of strong south winds then 36 hours of north winds that dropped the morning temperature into the 40s.

Even worse, the late March cold front’s winds dropped water levels more than a foot measured at Bourgeois Charters dock at Barataria. It was combination that spelled doom for the next morning’s excursion into the upper Barataria marshes, and forced a move to an afternoon trip.

Decades of experience under the high-sky, dirty-water conditions made finding clear water the target for the six boats venturing south on the Barataria Waterway from Theophile Bourgeois’ restored schoolhouse he’s turned into fishing lodge on La. 3257.

Bourgeois’ right-hand man, Craig Matherne, a longtime charter skipper, put a “sloshing” label on this predicament: “You get south winds and then north winds and south winds and north winds and it’s like taking a bucket of water and sloshing it all around,” Matherne said. “It’s that back and forth that leaves us with water that looks like chocolate milk. It’s just not pretty.”

Matherne said the fall-back plan targets redfish and drum, “because those fish are a staple. They’re always here and we can still get a bite on the standard issue — that’s market shrimp under a cork.”

Joe’s Landing, down the road from the lodge, always has fresh market shrimp and Matherne said it’s not a loss to keep the shrimp on ice just in case reds and drum aren’t biting.

“Remember when your grandpa told you if you don’t catch fish then you’re going to have to eat the bait? Well, it’s not a bad deal to go home and eat the shrimp you bought for bait,” Matherne said through a chuckle.

That’s what happened to a couple of boats that afternoon last week.

For the other four boats, working their way into the Bay Round area, there were speckled trout. Not a lot of trout, certainly not limits, but enough to keep balance of the day interesting in the clearest water on the bay’s northern edge.

Matherne makes no bones that Bomber’s “Mud Minnow,” a soft-plastic minnow imitation, is the choice for Bourgeois’ charter captains.

And the color choice that afternoon was black back with gold glitter on the sides and belly.

“You need to use something the fish can see in the dingy water,” Matherne said. “This week, we’re using the ‘opening night’ color with the lemon-chartreuse tail and a new color, a bait that has more of blueish back with more (metal) flakes than most other baits.”

The black/gold choice produced a handful of trout, but noticing a couple of trout following the bait back to the boat brought out a pocket knife used to cut an inch from the front of the soft-plastic lure. The now 3-inch bait produced instant results and added 15 more trout, some in the 2-3 pound class, to the evening meal that included Bourgeois’ now-famous grilled redfish.

Even with the reduced take, Matherne isn’t grumbling.

“We’re coming off the best winter speckled trout season in 10 years in Lafitte,” he said. “And we’re still seeing more specks closer (to the lodge) and more quality fish. On the days when we’re putting 25 trout (per angler) in the boat, we’re culling only five fish (less than 12 inches long) and there are several are 19 to 20 inches long.

“Lafitte has never been a big trout place, but we’ve got plenty of ’em, but we don’t know how long they’re going to be this close,” he said drawing a line on the map that ran from Myrtle Grove on the east to Larose on the west.

Matherne said it’s a matter of time before the charters will have to run farther south to Bayou St. Denis, Manila Village and Basa Basa for the springtime and summer catches, “but for now we have small pogeys and shrimp around here and the fish are going to stay where there’s food.

“We know the trout will have to move to the saltier water for their spawning rituals, and we’ll follow them,” Matherne said. “The dirty water is a problem, but after this is over fishing is going to get even better.”