As restoration projects in South Louisiana continue, it’s not unusual for anglers to catch bass, trout, and redfish in the same area on consecutive casts with the same bait
All anglers will admit they have a favorite fish to pursue. Speckled trout has always topped my list.
A decade or so ago, I would leave the dock in my favorite waters near Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans, to catch only trout. If I couldn’t catch trout the way I wanted to catch them, I’d return to the dock disappointed.
There is plenty to be said for dialing in a particular species, figuring out how to catch them in any conditions, at any time of year. But it can be just as satisfying to tie on a spinnerbait or pitch a soft plastic, pick a pretty stretch of marsh, and see what bites.
Not being picky paid off for me and my longtime buddy, outdoor journalist Todd Masson, on a clear, cold day in mid-January. Water temperatures hovered in the low to mid 40s and a hard north wind had pulled the plug on the marsh, dropping water levels more than two feet. All told, the chances of catching even a handful of speckled trout in those conditions were slim, even though trout fishing had been very good all fall and winter.
Fortunately, we had an option that promised to be far more rewarding than pounding on cold, beat-up wintertime water for notoriously temperature-fickle trout—largemouth bass.
Over the last decade, the bass population has been climbing in the areas around Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), the ill-fated federal navigation channel that funneled storm surge into New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, damaging hundreds of thousands of acres of freshwater and brackish marsh and swamp. As marsh restoration and efforts to limit saltwater have progressed, the same marshes that were good places to catch redfish and speckled trout in the fall and early spring 15 years ago are now teeming with largemouth bass.
Persistent spring flooding of the Mississippi and Pearl rivers over the last decade has boosted both submerged vegetation and a more diverse forage base. Bass are eating traditional saltwater prey like shrimp and crabs. Redfish and speckled trout are eating freshwater prey like bluegill, crawfish, and shad.
Now, catching bass, trout, and redfish in the same area, on consecutive casts, and with the same bait is not unusual.
Bass fishing in these marshes can only be described as incredible. Good days produce 30 to 40 bass for a couple of anglers. Great days this past fall pushed that number past 50 fish, despite the constant surges of saltwater from the five tropical storms and hurricanes that hit Louisiana last year. These aren’t tournament-winning fish. A three-pounder is a big bass here. But what they lack in size they make up for in tenacity and numbers.
Lower salinities have, at times, moved speckled trout and redfish out of areas they once dominated, but it hasn’t eliminated them from the area’s marshes and lakes. Masson and I fished with two good friends last November and caught 30 fat speckled trout, a handful of redfish, black drum, and flounder not more than a few miles from our January bass fishing spot. In early December, another buddy and I caught 30 speckled trout in a couple of hours jigging a deep ledge in the MRGO, before moving a half mile to a narrow, grass-lined bayou to catch more than 30 bass.
I took my son and my dad at Christmas and landed a nearly 30-pound flathead catfish that hit a small soft-plastic swim bait on the same deep ledge where I’d caught trout just weeks earlier. The trout bite was slow that day, but we caught 15 bass and smiled all the way home. In July, the same area had offered my friend’s 11-year-old son the opportunity to catch his first redfish. The youngster battled an angry eight-pounder less than five minutes after I dropped the trolling motor at our first stop. We caught 14 more redfish, a handful of bass and a couple sheepshead before putting the boat back on the trailer around noon.
Largemouth bass, catfish, and white bass are becoming part of the accepted—and expected—bounty of the area. Local anglers are no longer scowling and saying, “All I caught were those damned green fish today.” Now, they smile and say, “We caught 25 bass today, a dozen trout, and even a few freshwater catfish.”
Duck hunters in Louisiana are following a similar path. As marshes, unfortunately, become open water, the opportunity to hunt mallards, pintails, and gray ducks (gadwalls) has been replaced by shots at dos gris (scaup), redheads, canvasbacks, and ringnecks. Shooting some divers for the grill and the gumbo pot is much more fun than complaining that the puddle ducks aren’t here.
There isn’t an area I have fished in South Louisiana that’s the same as it was 20 years ago. We’ve lost 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands in a century. Most of those changes have meant less habitat and fewer opportunities to catch fish. Change is the only constant in this highly dynamic place.
More change is coming. As diversions from the Mississippi River are constructed to rebuild those vanishing wetlands and marsh creation projects further limit saltwater intrusion, there will certainly be seasonal changes to our fisheries. More habitat will mean more opportunity for hunters and anglers.
But in the short term, and while diversions are operating, some brackish species like speckled trout will move. It’s a return to the natural cycle that built our coast before levees prevented annual floods from spilling over the river’s banks. The fish, both freshwater and saltwater species, that inhabit this delta are equipped to deal with it. They wouldn’t live here otherwise.
Undoubtedly, some sportsmen and women will shake their heads and complain, focusing on the short-term impacts of freshwater and sediment rather than the long-term benefits of growing wetlands and expanding habitat.
I think I’ll tie on a spinnerbait, pitch a soft plastic, pick a pretty stretch of marsh, and see what bites.
Fish the marsh with Chris and Marsh Man Masson in the video below!