Catching Louisiana Redfish

When Jean Lafitte’s buccaneers plied the labyrinthine waters of Barataria Bay, they smuggled contraband goods into New Orleans and gold out of it.

According to legend, Lafitte stashed his golden cache somewhere in south Louisiana, perhaps near his fortress-home on Grande Terre Island at the mouth of Barataria Bay. In nearly three centuries, nobody ever found the loot, but modern mariners still mine coppery gold from these legendary waters.

Today, that golden hue comes from redfish swarming the fertile waters of the Barataria Estuary. Differing from the Calcasieu Estuary, unbroken delta marshes stretch as far as the eye can see around Barataria Bay. Only shallow ponds, bayous and bays disrupt the sea of grass. Instead of open water reefs, people fish shallow ponds for the spot-tailed monsters of the marsh.

Ray Keel holds up a 6-pound redfish he caught in the marshes near Lafitte, La. (Photos by John N. Felsher)

About 40 minutes south of downtown New Orleans, Capt. Scott Poche, a guide for Capt. Phil Robichaux’s Saltwater Guide Service, and I headed south down the Barataria Waterway to Bayou St. Denis.

Stalking The Shallows
Armed with our own gold from spoons, we stalked the shallows. Redfish love extremely thin water. We spooked one red in a small tide pool. The 5-pound fish flopped over like a flounder and flapped away, not to deeper water, but deeper into the flooded marsh more like a nutria than a fish.

“In the fall, redfish come out of the duck ponds when cold fronts push water out,” Poche said. “Most of the water we fish is less than two feet deep. I like to find a shoreline with some shells or rocks on it. I also like a shallow flat with a little drop-off.”

We found a pond offering a broad flat bordering a broken weedy shoreline. In the shallows, marauding redfish feasted upon crabs, shrimp, cocahoe minnows and anything else they could devour.

Poche struck first, getting about a 4-pound red to inhale a gold Johnson spoon reflecting like a mirror in bright sunshine. I wobbled a gold Red Ripper spoon through shallow weed patches.

“Gold spoons are good in clear water,” the captain said. “They are excellent when the sunlight can flash off them. In stained water, redfish can’t see them. In stained water, I use something with more noise, vibration or scent.”

The golden Red Ripper produced great action and excellent flash. However, a slightly larger hook might hold fish better. In one cove, I hooked several big reds, but each spit the hook.

A trailer hook might help. Spoons sweetened with scented plastic grubs or pork chunks may give fish enough flavor to hang on longer.

Redfish often lurk at the mouths of coves where cuts draining marshes create mini deltas. In such places, toss a bait as far up the drain as possible, and flutter it down with the tide. Often, several large redfish might block the entrance of a drain, so keep casting even after catching a fish.

A Lot Like Hunting
More like hunting than fishing, we stealthily moved along the shoreline watching for any activity that might indicate a feeding fish. We watched for wakes, fins, tails, splashes, jumping baitfish or other signs of hungry reds.

“Look, there goes one now and one over here,” Poche said. “See the wakes? You throw at that one and I’ll throw at this one. Toss ahead of it to get his attention.”

We did and it worked, thus adding two more reds to our score. Quick, accurate casting pays big dividends. Along weedy shorelines, we continued targeting cuts and grass clumps when not throwing at visible fish.

In one spot, a large “V” wake erupted from the weeds and rushed toward my spoon. I slowed the action, allowing the predator to catch up while still giving the appearance of a fleeing baitfish. As it neared, I braced for the hit.

Capt. Theophile Bourgeois (l-r) of Bourgeois Charters in Lafitte, La., and David Porthouse, CEO of Champion Boats, show off two nice redfish they caught on topwaters in the Louisiana marshes.

The fish smashed the lure and raced for deeper water. This time, the hooks held and I battled a determined 6-pounder. In clear water, it sported black stripes instead of coppery scales.

“A sheepshead hit a gold spoon,” I said. “I’ve caught sheepshead on grubs tipped with shrimp before, but never on a hard metal lure. I’ve caught black drum on grubs, but this is a first for me.”

We released the big chomper with the human-like teeth. Besides spoons, redfish hit black and silver or chartreuse and gold Top Dogs or soft plastics. They liked Seaside Samurai Shad grubs that resemble fat cocahoe minnows and come already spiked with Yum scent attractant. A chartreuse holograph version worked best.

By noon, we headed back to the marina with two limits in the box. We released several more limits and lost more fish than that. One huge fish grabbed a Samurai Shad and kept going. It never turned, breaking 15-pound test line.

As water temperatures drop, anglers might shift to deeper waters. Although some redfish remain in the shallows all year long, seasonal low tides in fall and winter make reaching them extremely difficult. Depending upon winds, shallow flats might become mudflats, concentrating fish in deeper bayous, passes and channels.

Bite All Year Long
“Redfish bite all year long,” said Capt. Phil Robichaux. “People think they can only catch winter redfish in deep canals. That’s true, but only when we have freezing cold temperatures for a long period of time. They’ll stay in some ponds all year long. Shallow water warms up faster and they can find food quicker.”

In the fall, Lafitte anglers don’t travel far to find excellent redfishing. Anglers can reach Bayou St. Denis in 15 minutes from Lafitte Harbor Marina. Within minutes of launching, people could also tempt redfish in Little Lake, Turtle Lake and Bayou Rigolettes and The Pen.

The Pen offers fishing almost behind the marina. Years ago, a storm broke through levees and flooded a crop field. Today, it holds about four feet of water. Often, anglers catch redfish and bass on consecutive casts.

On the east side of the Barataria Waterway, anglers fish Bay Round, Airplane Bay and Bay Five. These water bodies offer more defined shorelines with drop-offs.

For information, call Robichaux’s Saltwater Guide Service at (504) 689-2006.

For a fine assortment of fishing gear, click here.

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