It’s safelight in South Louisiana, and as most fisherman would attest there’s something magical about the dawn of a new day. Like that of a roux as a base for a good gumbo, this period of low light is a beautiful blend of the butter of endless possibility and the flour of angling anticipation – just add hard work and attention to detail, and the base of your day is set. So it should be no surprise when the methodical “walk-the-dog” cadence of a topwater gets rudely interrupted by the predatory instinct of a speckled trout. Especially, when the backdrop is the sun cresting over a spartina field, earmarked with a subtle point and a strong incoming time. In short, it’s the sight most lure enthusiast live for.
Fortunately for me, I’ve been blessed enough to witness the aforementioned. Actually as I type this, I can’t help but reflect on the Delacroix estuary during the mid 90’s. A time when I was more familiar with our route to Black Bay versus the maze of roads connecting Metairie and New Orleans. Places like Lonesome, Stone and Snake Island were more a part of my daily conversation than Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit or Michigan’s Fab Five. And short of the few late spring fronts that pushed through, the azmuth of our old 17’ Weldcraft, “Git’ da’ net”, rarely waivered from the larger bays that fringed Breton Sound. It was where the trout were and we weren’t far behind, except we took a slightly different approach at catching them…the artificial way.
Whether it was soft plastics or topwater baits, the array in which we targeted speckled trout knew no limitations. In fact, it was why we fished, my dad especially. Part of the fun for him was knowing that he just fooled a living breathing creature into eating something most unnatural. To him it was art, and the marsh was his easel. Each careful stroke he’d make with his rod expressed his intent on the other end, and depending on the fishes reaction, he’d vary his expression. He wasn’t always like that though. In his younger years, even as a young father of 2, live bait was the name of the game. Besides standing in line at the local marina’s, he could be found pulling a test trawl using whatever his efforts yielded. He even went as far as fabricating a bait well out of marine grade lumber, carefully measuring every inch, in hopes that it would carry the bait of the day on the transom of his boat. It was what he knew and what he taught us, and despite the 10-year gap between me and my brother, I wasn’t pardoned from his former ways. Until that one day in the mid 90’s I previously mentioned.
That outing started just like all the ones before…in line, to fill a white bucket full of Serigne’s finest live shrimp, as if we were in a school cafeteria serving line. And like many times before, our imagination of catching trout on artificial lures became quickly overshadowed by the “reality” that they could only be caught in large quantities, using live bait. Fortunately, what we didn’t know, is that this day would mark our last trip to a baitwell and Iron Banks would be the setting.
For those that have ever fished Iron Banks, know its reputation for trout fishing. For everyone else, take my word that it’s everything you’d look for in a spring trout fishing spot. It has subtle depth changes, points, coves, oysters and man-made structure, plus it’s on the outer cusp of the LA Marsh. So after failed attempts at catching anything other than hardheads at Lonesome and Stone Island. We set a directional heading across the slick calm seas for Iron Banks. After a few minutes in the trout fishing mecca, our efforts yielded a spiny, grunting pathetic thing that was so distant from its crispy, thin fried cousin, it made you wonder if they were ever in the same catfish family.
Fortunately, that was the last straw, and the removal of a kahle hook and a cork gave way to a 1/4oz jig head and a plum/white H&H Cocahoe Tail. Over the next two hours, as we flipped trout over the gunnels we became born again with the cool salty water coming off the shaking head of a recently boated fish. Our 50 trout soaking in an ice chest proved that fishing was more than standing in a line, it was a sport that rewarded thinking outside of the box. No longer did we wait at the bait tanks, instead we left a little earlier and fished traditional spots in unconventional ways. From Storm Jointed Thunderstick’s over submerged oyster reefs to mini Rat-L Traps in the bays out of Myrtle Grove, the arsenal to what we fished knew no boundary in versatility, and the trout rewarded our creativity and perseverance. It’s a mindset that adopted us and our passion for getting the next bump, became forged in loyalty to the artificial way. In fact, it’s been 25 years since “I’ve touched the stuff,” and figure if they don’t want to eat my plastic offering then they weren’t worth catching anyway.
So, as we continue through the unbearable heat of summer, a time of year when long dark runs and live bait become the benchmark. I encourage you to save the live shrimp for a po-boy and tie a loop knot over a Top Dog versus a palomar over a kahle. Instead of forking over fifty dollars in live bait, invest in the knowledge you’ll learn by purchasing a few jigs, corkies and soft plastics. Save that 30 mins, you’d spend waiting in line and instead get set up a little earlier than the rest of the fleet. What you will find is that the sport of fishing and its surroundings will mean more than the artificial
façade of success, live bait manifests. The sound of flipping bait will auto tune itself to your brain and the decibel level will take over the competing music blaring from the wet sounds a half a mile over. The gentleness of a current cresting around a point will overshadow the slamming hatch of a live well. And the acute eye of a set of birds working on a school of bait will offer way more clarity to success than any report posted on social media.
In closing, don’t give in to the instant gratification that the “live bait” mentality harbors. Instead, focus your fishing lens on becoming a better angler, and relish at the opportunity to replicate nature so perfectly that it draws a strike. If you’re anything like me what you’ll find is yourself becoming more alive by simply fishing something artificial.
It feels good to be back…Tight Lines and God Bless!