I had lived in Louisiana for more than two and a half years when my friend, Eric, asked if I wanted to join him for a day of fishing near Grand Isle, Louisiana. Though not much of a fisherman himself, Eric had spent the prior weekend in Grand Isle fishing with co-workers and was eager to return. He had landed a bull red and large black drum on his maiden trip and insisted I had to come check out his new Honey Hole. Not asking much in the way of details, I agreed to join in and we planned to meet early the following Saturday.
Arriving early, we combat launched along a seemingly nondescript stretch of LA 1 between Port Fourchon and Grand Isle and began paddling. To my surprise, Eric anchored at the mouth of a large channel no more than 100 yards from our launch. Sliding a long dead shrimp on his hook, he cast into the middle of the channel and leaned back in his canoe.
Slightly confused, I inquired if this was indeed his Honey Hole, and he quickly replied in the affirmative. Now asking for the details that I should have prior to the trip, he explained that the bull red and large black drum were the result of soaking dead shrimp at this spot over the course of an eight hour day.
Rigging up my own rods, I settled in as well working the channel and adjacent points with everything in my box. An hour in, however, the lack of action began to bore me, and I informed Eric that I was going to explore a little deeper into the marsh.
Into the Labyrinth
Leaving Eric and his well soaked shrimp behind, I made my way into the marsh. Tides were extremely low that morning, and, at times, I found myself belly crawling my small kayak across 4″ deep mud flats and oyster bars. I prospected cuts, ponds and points as I went, but still remained fishless as I navigated the labyrinth that is the marshes of southern Louisiana.
Eventually though, perhaps one-third of a mile from where Eric had anchored, the main channel narrowed and curved sharply through the marsh. And as it did so, the water deepened significantly with 4-12 inch depths giving way to depths of 6-8 feet.
A carolina-rigged soft plastic on my spinning rod (I had not braved the marsh with a fly rod at this point), I cast to a stretch of visible current at the head of the pool and began a slow, steady retrieve. As my bait descended the slope, I was greeted with a solid thump and my line grew heavy. A short battle later, a slot redfish lay across the bow of my kayak.
A second followed shortly there after. Then a third. Realizing I had stumbled upon something, I called Eric from my cell phone and urged him to make the trek across the mud flat.
Fish in a Barrel
Repositioning my kayak to allow us both room to fish the narrow channel, Eric and I proceeded to alternate casts for the next hour or so. In that time, we each caught the equivalent of two daily limits of redfish. By the end, it quite literally felt like we were fishing in a barrel.
Returning to the Scene of the Crime
Eric and I returned to that magical hole perhaps a dozen times over the next few years. As a rule, it generally produced fish (including a 7.6 lbs red that helped Eric place 5th in Paddle Palooza X). Depending on season and tide, redfish, speckled trout, flounder and sheepshead could be found residing in that hole. But…there was just something different about those December trips when the tide was low.
In time, I began to recognize the keys to success: Warm, clear days following a cold snap with extreme low tide (0 to -0.5′ height) early in the morning and a strong rising tide as the day progresses.
Eric long moved on from life in Louisiana, I still watch the weather and tides closely each December in hopes of continuing the tradition.
Fish in a Barrel 2020: Fly Rod Edition
2020 largely in the rear view (Thank God!), the time had once again arrived to begin preparing for Fish in a Barrel day. Fairly well stocked from my spring and early summer ventures to the coast, I organized my fly box and began consulting the tide charts.
The first few “cold” fronts of the year were behind us, so it would simply be a matter of identifying a strong Spring Tide with morning lows. Flipping through my TideTrac app, I identified December 28th – 30th as my best bet and crossed my fingers that the weather would comply.
On the Road
Rising late on the morning of December 28th, the sun was already peaking over the horizon as I began the two-plus hour drive towards the coast. Clear skies were in the forecast with a high near 65 F and projected winds between 10-15 mph. While the latter gave me pause as winds tend to outpace projections along the coast, I remained optimistic. Hedging my bets, I had tucked a medium action spinning rod into the back seat, and felt I was prepared for a good day even if wind gusts limited the prospect of fly fishing.
Pausing only briefly to purchase a life jacket (as, in a moment of brilliance, I had left mine lying on the garage floor), I arrived at my launch site shortly after 9 AM and was combat launching into shallow, muddy water by 9:30 AM.
Winds were already pushing 15 knots by this point, and I found myself battling a surprising amount of chop as I crossed open water heading towards my destination.
Entering the channel that Eric had introduced me to eight years prior, I found calmer water…at least where water existed. Exposed mud extended two to three feet from the edge of the marsh grass, and a large oyster covered flat I often fish in the spring was now “dry” ground littered with feeding egrets. The channel itself was as shallow as I had ever seen it with 12″ shallowing to less than 6″ as I proceeded.
Pausing at the first sign of deeper water, a small 4-5′ deep hole just around the bend from my intended target, I tied on a purple & chartreuse Redfish Ritalin and began fan casting in search of reds. A dozen casts later, I had failed to elicit any strikes.
Not wanting to write off the hole just yet, I attempted a few casts with my spinning rod before moving on to the main hole. To my surprise, each and every cast was met with a strike. Though none were of note worthy size, the spinning rod produced at least half a dozen small redfish in as many casts.
Trying once more with the fly rod the bite, all but disappeared, and I elected to proceed towards the primary hole.
Preferring to stick with my fly rod as long as winds allowed, I re-evaluated my setup as I moved forward. As all of the reds thus far had been “rats,” I wondered if my fly selection was too large. Digging through my fly box, I located a smaller EP Shrimp fly. Rigged in tandem below my Redfish Ritalin, I began prospecting the pool in the same manner I had the previous.
To my surprise it took only three casts for the new fly to pay off as a 12″ rat red inhaled the EP Shrimp. Setting up my GoPro in hopes of capturing some of the excitement, I proceeded to land a string of rat reds as I fan cast across the head of the pool.
With low tide now past, the tides had turned and increasing flows pushed through the narrow channel. As it did so, the bite intensified. While none were of size, the bite remained consistent as red after red (including a few stunning young “Leopards”) made their way to my hand.
A short while later, my GoPro beeped reminding me why I should always charge the battery before heading out on the water. Cursing myself, I tucked the camera away and made another cast.
As if right on queue, I felt a heavy thump and my rod doubled over as a fish quickly put me on the reel for the first time all morning. GoPro now out of commission, the larger reds were ready to play. Fighting beyond its weight, a nice fish in the 20-22″ range slid onto my kayak after a few strong runs. To my surprise, this fish had sampled my larger offering. My purple and Chartreuse Redfish Ritalin fly lodged deep in his mouth.
Releasing the brut to fight another day, I continued casting and spent the following thirty minutes repeating the exercise with similar sized fish. The second (pictured) and fourth, succumbed to the Redfish Ritallin. The third, as well as a string of slightly smaller fish that followed, preferred the EP Shrimp.
By the time the wind had picked up and the bite finally died shortly before 12:30 PM, I had tallied over 30 fish. Almost all of which came from this single hole. It was “Fish in a Barrel” at its best.
If only Eric were still in town to enjoy it with me. Maybe next year…