He waited under the pipe fence, hiding beneath the rusted metal barricade blocking the entrance to a large, shallow, marshy lagoon.
Water only a couple feet deep, the brute guarded the channel like an old fort dominating travel at a river mouth. When the tide drained such lagoons, baitfish funneled into the constricted area and into the beast's mouth. His favorite food, mullet, would have no place else to go as they poured from the lagoon.
The fish didn't wait for the tide to change. Perhaps, considering the purple and chartreuse plastic cocahoe minnow an appetizer, he sucked it down. Surprisingly, the mild-mannered bite concealed the true size of the fish. However, once hooked, he fought like George Foreman.
"Here he is. That's the one I've been waiting for," I shouted. "This one has some beef to it."
The fish surged under the decaying piping and raced into the shallow lagoon. Bubbles and mud stirring from the bottom marked his progress.
"He's going under the fence," I yelled to guide Toby Duet. "I don't know if I can hold him. The line is scraping against the pipe."
Toby worked the boat up against the barricade. When he closed the gap, I passed the rod beneath the lower pipe as the fish continued to strip out line. Finding the water too shallow, the fish reversed course.
"He's heading back," I yelled. "He's going under the fence again." I reeled slackened line frantically to avoid giving the fish any help.
The fish shot through the channel into deeper water. With the rod pinned and bowed against the pipe, I knew the rod or line would surely pop. Again, I fed the rod under the pipe while the great fish began taking out line once again. However, the strain surely began to take a toll. Eventually, the 12-pound redfish came to the boat where Toby netted it.
"Man, I didn't think you were going to get that fish," Toby said incredulously. "When he bowed that rod against the pipe like that, I thought, that's all we're gonna see of that fish."
Toby, his brother Danny Duet and Bud Angelette run Marshland Enterprises of Galliano, Louisiana near the coastal oil and fishing village of Fourchon southwest of Grand Isle. The operation sits squarely astride some of the most productive redfish waters along the Gulf Coast.
To the north, tidal marshes spread into numerous fish-filled bays, ponds, bayous and canals along Bayou Lafourche and Bayou Blue around Golden Meadow. To the south, the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico harbors unimaginable numbers of fish that congregate under numerous oil platforms.
Just a short boat ride to the west, fishermen routinely pull huge redfish and speckled trout off the surf of barrier islands dotting Timbalier Bay, Terrebonne Bay, Lakes Raccourci, Felicity and Barre. Fishermen may choose to stay in their boats or fish the surf, both highly productive methods. Along the beaches, redfish prowl close to shore. They herd small baitfish and shrimp into the shallows to devour them when their prey runs out of room to flee.
Many fishermen use a popping cork rig along the islands. They tie a jig or beetle to the line and dangle it beneath a cork. A little shrimp on the beetle sweetens the enticement. Throw the rig near the shoreline and let it sit. Every few minutes, yank on the rod to "pop" the cork under the water. This popping action simulates the sound of feeding fish. Attracted to the sound and commotion, fish see the beetle and bait and devour it.
"We fish the beaches and barrier islands," Danny Duet said. "We've had some days where we caught 400-500 redfish. We caught and released fish until we got tired. The same with trout. When it gets warm, we'll get some 35- 40-pounders off the islands. Usually, in the surf, you'll get the 6-8 pound reds. Bull reds need a bit more water."
If shrimp-laden popping corks won't work, try cut, whole or even small live mullet. Redfish can't resist eating mullet. Small croakers or minnows also attract attention from big predators.
"Cut mullet has always been the best bait for bull reds," Danny said. "Mullet is a smelly fish and redfish love them. Cracked crab is another good bait. When they get big, they feed on the bottom a lot, but I have caught them on topwater. When he's ready to eat, he'll eat."
Look for beach areas with a little structure or "character" instead of sterile white sand. Frequently, fish might stack up in one hole, but not even visit an area just feet away. Anglers who find structure, like old shell reefs, jetties, logs or other things to attract baitfish, find redfish.
"People might think a beach is a sterile environment, but it is not," Danny said. "Along the beaches, especially along the Timbalier Islands, there are things that attract baitfish and shrimp and that attracts big fish. East Timbalier Island has a lot of rock jetties that attract minnows and shrimp. Look for different contours on the bottom. Shrimp love to hang on those mud bottoms. That's going to attract trout and redfish."
Fishing barrier islands requires a large boat to tackle expanses of open bay or Gulf water. However, anyone can fish the back marshes with just a small aluminum boat and outboard. Launches along Louisiana Highway 1 at Cut Off, Galliano, Golden Meadow and Leeville provide easy access to vast marsh tracts. Highway 1 parallels Bayou Lafourche as the only road connecting these towns.
From the marshes, anglers can fish grassy flats along Bayou Blue, Bayou Lafourche, East Canal, West Canal and smaller unnamed bayous. The main channels connect a labyrinth of shallow lagoons, broken marshes, potholes and bayous. Without knowing the area, one could easily become lost in the endless sea of featureless grass.
"There's a lot of marsh area from the Mississippi River west," Danny said. "There are a lot of areas in which fish, I'm sure, have never seen a bait. The marshes are full of fish. Before you venture into any marsh, make sure you have the landowner's permission. Some of it is private and some of it is not.
Fishing marshes requires a vastly different approach from fishing beaches. In marshy lagoons, sportsmen "hunt" tailing redfish. Fishermen locate redfish by the commotion they make in the shallows. Redfish get in the shallowest water they can find to feast on crabs and shrimp hiding among the reeds, mud and grass. When they grab bait on the bottom, their tails or back frequently breaks the surface.
"It's hunting. That's what it is," Toby Duet said. "You are hunting the coves and points. Redfish wait in ambush under cover with their backs up against the grass. They are waiting for something to come across to kill and eat it. If they are not hungry, they are going to try to kill it; that's how aggressive they are."
"I like to look for broken areas, grassy areas along the shoreline," Danny said. "A lot of times, you might find four or five blades of grass sticking up and you know at one time there was an island there that sunk. Redfish will get in there and ambush bait."
Frequently, sportsmen find redfish in water less than two feet deep over grassy bottoms. Deep-running lures would cause anglers to pull their hair out. In this thin water, anglers can successfully use a variety of topwater baits or shallow-runners.
"I've caught fish when their backs were sticking out of the water. That's how shallow you want to fish. Don't think they won't get in that shallow water. They are in there chasing crabs and shrimp and things. A redfish will come off grass flats or up in the grass in the shallow open ponds and follow the bait for a ways before he strikes. It's really exciting seeing the wake following behind the bait."
Redfish move from the shallows as the season progresses. In winter, they congregate in deeper holes in bayous and canals where water temperature remains more constant and feed during the later, warmer periods of day. "They feed in late afternoon or early morning in summer and fall," Toby Duet said. "It's different in the winter. When the weather gets cold, it gets better as the water warms up during the day. From noon to 2:00 in the afternoon, the water warms up a little bit and the fish start feeding. During the winter, they shut off early in the morning or late in afternoon or at night. They don't want to feed then."
Summer or winter, these spot-tail powerhouses of the shallows have returned from severe depletion less than a decade ago. Stringent limits along the Gulf Coast keep redfish populations healthy and fishing for these brutes exciting.
For more information about fishing the Fourchon or Golden Meadow area,
call Marshland Enterprises at (504) 632-3267 or (504) 475-5179.