Three Days in the Marsh
As I’ve noted in past posts, targeting winter redfish deep in the Louisiana marsh has become a bit of an annual tradition for me. At least once per year, tides and temperatures align in a manner that allows for unbeatable fishing. The fish stack up in deep holes as the nights cool, and feed voraciously as the tide turns early the following morning. It’s as close to “Fish in a Barrel” as I’ve found.
This fishing is a game of variables, however. And while you can control for tides, weather is another story. With our January weather often described as “all four seasons in a seven day span”, this means such trips are often spur of the moment. When company’s coming to town, however, you sometimes have to make the most of it, no matter the cards you’re dealt.
Such was the case when my cousin Jake and I selected dates for his recent visit to Louisiana. Booking his flight a month-plus in advance, we picked our tides and hoped the weather would cooperate.
When the time finally arrived, it appeared we had lucked out. At least for a few of the days…
LA 1 – Day 1
The sun was shining and winds were light as we made our way to our Day 1 launch along Highway LA 1. A two hours drive each way, I’d be use to it before the trip was through. The epicenter of Hurricane Ida’s landfall five months earlier, the region was still in full recovery mode. Leaving little hope of local lodgings.
Unloading roadside around 8:30 AM, we slogged our kayaks through 4-6″ deep mud flats to our eventual starting point. A Roseate Spoonbill greeted us on the mud bar where we’d beach our kayaks, and a 22-24″ redfish cruised the sand bar where we’d be standing. Good omens for sure.
Two casts later, the first red of the day snatched my blue Redfish Ritalin from the bottom of the lower hole and I was on the board. Perhaps a dozen smaller (16-18″) reds followed on the next 20 casts and the day was off to a hot start. Swapping his streamer for a Ritalin as well, Jake quickly followed suit with a series of smaller slot reds.
On to the Ponds
As the tide began to rise, we left the fishing biting at the “Fish in a Barrel” hole and worked our way deeper into the marsh. 2-3′ deep channels were interspersed with shallow flats and ponds throughout. Often standing for a better view, we spent the next few hours sight fishing the shallows and blind casting deeper cuts and points.
Along the way, fish were sighted throughout. Tailing slot fish worked the edges as the random bull cruised the flats. Sheepshead were in the mix and even a flounder was spotted staging in a shallow cut between two ponds.
Spreading out, we each continued to catch…occasionally shouting when a cameraman or net was warranted. The reds landed were not large (24″ at best), but were more prevalent than on any prior trip.
Staked out along a narrow, shallow cut connecting two ponds, I spent the better part of an hour casting to reds as they cruised by unaware of my presence. Landing a few along the way, the real highlight came as a single sheepshead cruised past. Dropping my fly along his path, I was elated to watch him pause, examine and crunch the sparsely tied Redfish Ritalin. The elation was short lived, however, as I mistakenly attempted to turn the fish mid-run. Needless to say, Jake heard the expletive that followed from a quarter mile across the marsh.
There were still plenty of highlights regardless as numerous reds followed along with my first flounder.
When the bite finally died mid-afternoon, we had landed roughly 50 reds between us along. Content with the results of day 1, we headed home for pizza and beer. (Dry January be damned).
Day 2 – Back for More
After some discussion, we agreed to revisit our same launch on Day 2. Winds were projected to be even lighter than the day prior, and conditions would be ideal for sight casting as the day progressed.
Repeating yesterday’s morning nearly verbatim (park, paddle, slog, beach, wade, cast), we were back on the fish within minutes of our start time the day prior.
Wanting to mix things up, I started the day with an Electric Chicken fly hoping to provide proof of concept for my recent Step-by-Step tutorial. Half a dozen casts later, I had it. The bite was slower than the day prior, however, and I swapped back to a Redfish Ritalin after a few more fish.
Working our way up the bayou, we followed largely the same pattern as the day prior. Fewer fish were spotted, however, and we wound up covering ground much quicker than the day prior. Though low tide was slated to hit an hour later than the previous morning, winds had pushed more water into the marsh. As a result, the fish were far more spread out than we had expected.
Landing only a few fish along the way, we returned to the initial hole.
Failing to entice any further fish from the hole, I left Jake to sort through his fly box while I headed towards the flat nearer the road. While I was greeted by a few slot reds, spooked sheepshead and a drum that followed my fly to the bow of my kayak, the next hour proved largely uneventful.
Thankfully, shouts from Jake’s direction broke the monotony, and I headed back towards the hole.
Having switched to a small, natural shrimp pattern, he had been on fish since I paddled off. Along with a dozen slot reds and a flounder of his own, he now found himself doing battle with what would be our best fish of the day. At 29″, the leopard would be our first bull of the trip.
Following his lead, I switched to a similar fly and proceeded to catch fish after fish by simply drifting the fly along the bottom of the deep hole. One particular fish took off running, and I was off on my first sleigh ride in my new Native Ultimate.
Though the fish was only ~26″, it appears far larger care of Jake’s photography skills. A true lesson in perspective and a good reminder that I clearly need to work on my “Hero Shot” technique.
Day 3- Bulls or Bust
With the weather slated to turn, Saturday was shaping up to be our last day of fishing on the trip. Rain and wind were in the afternoon forecast and temperatures would be near freezing by the following morning. Far from enough to deter Jake, it was more than enough to deter me. And, more importantly, would put the fish down for at least a day or two.
Deciding to target quality over quantity, we changed up our plan and headed for a stretch of marsh recommended by Ben Roussel. It was a stretch I wasn’t familiar with, but one that Ben believed might hold bigger fish this time of year.
Combat launching once again, Jake was on the first fish of the day before the kayaks had hit the water. Reacting to scattering bait, he grabbed his spinning rod (for shame, I know) and pitched a stick bait in the direction of the commotion. The rod doubled over immediately, and a 20+” trout came to hand a short battle later. After a few attempts to repeat the process with a fly rod failed, we headed into the marsh.
Beyond a few more trout shortly after launching, the morning proved largely wet and fishless as a series of fronts moved in from the west. This is not to say the reds were not present. They were. They simply would not bite. Of the dozen or so bulls encountered along the way, we each were presented with two or three opportunities. None produced more than a refusal, however, and until Jake stumbled across a school of slot fish mid-afternoon, we had both struck out on reds.
Calling it a day as the weather turned, we were in the car by 2pm. Wind, rain and plummeting temperatures effectively signaled the end of our trip.
While we admittedly braved the elements to do some location scouting the following morning, that is best saved for the preface of a future post (I hope).