Fishing is divine, from vibrant serene sunrises to the witness of predatory natural instinct, it’s hard to argue that time on the water isn’t time well spent. It’s no wonder that as I sit through 11 o’clock church service, I can’t help but think about the wind, tide and trout on the flats. Actually, I’m so captivated in my thoughts that I become numb to my kids restlessness and the preacher’s words sound more like a Charlie Brown teacher soundtrack. Until, the dial of sharpness and clarity return from the stereo in my mind, I connect the dots of the message with my fishing endeavors. In short, my mind was in the church pew of my Ranger Banshee Extreme being christened by the glare on the water and the dew settled on my console. Despite being isolated in a place where I should be paying attention, I’m lost in a lowcountry paradise replaying scenarios and estuaries like a Netflix original.
One of those places I often drift back to is “The Burned Down Camps” in Port Sulphur, LA. For those familiar with that estuary, can attest to its productivity, and since we had a camp on Martin Lane in Happy Jack it was virtually in my front yard. This spot rests on the Southwest corner of Bay Sanbois, and its productivity is solely dictated by the tide and its range. Another key feature about this spot is the multitude of lonely pilings often utilized as perches for area seagulls and pelicans, but better suited for a Southern Living cover. Story has it, that this was once a thriving community and judging by the outline of the foundation left in the receding marsh, you can tell it was nice. I can only imagine rewinding back to when it was operational, but my memory device stops around 1997. Around this time is when my little flatboat started bellying up to its submerged oyster bar, to order thumps from hungry speckled trout, courtesy of a Smoke H&H Stingray Grub. As I became a year round regular, I figured out that it wasn’t just jigs that produced here, but a variety of baits targeting the entire water column. In fact, if it wasn’t for this spot, I would have never received the education of embracing the tide provided in its crisp cool pages earmarked with southerly breezes and mosquito bites. However, despite all the success I’ve had at these camps, one trip stands out above the rest.
On a cool, calm, overcast November Sunday is when I earned my first communion in patience and my confirmation of fishing the entire water column, in the church of the LA delta. Unlike other trips, I just so happened to be alone, but that was only fitting. As I carefully navigated my way through Secola Canal, which empties into the northeast corner of Bay Sanbois, I couldn’t help but feel like I was easing into a foreign land. Not only was it still dark, but the fog was so thick, that it felt like I was knifing my way through a pillow of cotton. I remember wiping my face to remove the accumulated dew from my eyebrows, and praying that the little black track was accurate on my glowing GPS. Despite running that route close to a hundred times, the passing crab traps and random pilings took on a whole new life especially at quarter throttle. Fortunately, I made it unscathed, but the eeriness still lingered. Feeling somewhat uneasy, simple tasks like easing the trolling motor into the water, and picking up my rod and reel, were greeted with surfacing porpoises and a choir of laughing seagulls. Additionally, the rush of the water cresting around the camp pilings indicated a persistent incoming
tide, which was forecasted to turn an hour earlier. Having previously been productive on a high incoming tide, my experience told me that a top water bait cast down current would draw a strike from the trout sitting on the ledge, but like they often do, they had a better idea. Unfortunately, my darting top water drew no interest, except for flipping mullet nearby. It was almost as if they were mocking the robotic swimming motion of my top dog and making recommendations on how to become more attractive. Listening to their advice I switched over to a 3” Avocado H&H Cocahoe on a generic 1/4oz jig head and imitated the same approach I had with my topwater offering, but yet again come up empty.
Now completely discouraged and an hour into my trip with zero to show for my efforts, I feel like giving up, but the one shred of hope I have left, leads me to reposition the boat and try a different angle. This angle would allow me to cast up current of the flat and work my bait back to the ledge, capitalizing on the movement of the tide to present my bait to the fish. Having never done this before, I cast my bait into the unknown. Struggling to retain contact with my offering, I increase the speed of my retrieve, and lift the angle of my rod to a more vertical setting, incorporating slight dips to ensure my bait doesn’t become a permanent feature of the bottom contour. After a few casts of uncertainty, sweet redemption surfaces, shaking her head indicating her disagreement with the potential outcome earmarked for a Coleman 48. With consistency, trout after trout submit to the same, but the purity in my approach and education reconciled me of my gluttonous sin. Also, the rain starting to get heavier, further ensured my baptism into becoming a more versatile trout fisherman.
Moving forward now almost 20 years, my growth as a trout fisherman, hinged on the education I received that day at the Burned Down Camps. I realized that day, that the tide was too heavy unlike previous times that produced. In other words, my baits casted down current paired with the lighter jighead never made it to the strike zone, but that’s hindsight.
To me that trip was spiritual. And it was only fitting that it happened on a Sunday in the church that I still find myself mentally attending. Now being separated by a thousand miles, and thousands of trout, I find that my journey as an angler and a person started somewhere in between the top and the bottom of the water column.
Have a good fall everyone…God Bless!