About 20 years ago I was invited to go along with a fellow outdoor writer on a fishing trip to the famed Chandeleur Islands located (at least they used to be) about 90 miles off New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico. I’d read about the excellent speckled trout and redfish angling in these islands and didn’t miss the opportunity to go along on this trip.
Getting there was about as much of an adventure as the fishing trip was. We left a seaplane base near New Orleans in a single engine plane that was packed with gear like gas cans, block ice, fishing rods two hefty anglers and the pilot. Stating that the plane was “terribly overloaded” the pilot required three attempts at taking off in the relatively small creek that he used as a runway before we finally gained enough airspeed to become airborne and when we did get off the water I could see small tree limbs caught in the pontoons below the wing. We were definitely “overloaded.”
About an hour out of the New Orleans area we began to see small marshy islands on the horizon and began to descend to water level near what appeared to be a small barge with a house on it. A half-dozen small aluminum jon boats were tied along this “Mother Ship” that was to be our home for the next four days.
As we taxied up to the Mother Ship a grizzled older Louisiana “Coon-Ass” by the name of Rudy Geiger came on deck to welcome us aboard his fishing camp. Behind him was his black helper who was to cook, clean fish, wash clothes and dishes and accomplish about any tasks that might happen.
Our staterooms aboard the Mother Ship were cramped but comfortable. The food was cooked in typical Cajun style and was quite memorable. Geiger would go out every afternoon and gather a couple of dozen coon oysters and using canned milk, bacon and some butter create a fine oyster stew to go along with the usual fried fish and potatoes. The plane had re-supplied the fishing camp with other staples that made our meals aboard Geigar’s camp meals to remember.
Every morning each angler would board one of the 14 foot jon boats and venture out into the vast tidal flats that the Chandeleur Islands are famous for. Geiger recommended that we look for grass flats in water that ranged from one to three deep and look for finger mullets jumping in the immediate area. “If you find the mullets, the specks and reds will be there” Cigar told us.
It wasn’t any trouble to find the grass covered tidal flats and it seemed that the little jumping mullets were everywhere I looked. Picking a small cove tucked in behind one of the islands that looked very similar to the flats and islands we call North Carolina’s Outer Banks, I anchored the little jon boat and jumped over into water that was no more than three feet deep.
The rig that Geiger recommended to me was quite different that what I’d been used to using in North Carolina but our Cajun host said that this was what the fish would be biting on. When professional guides tell you to do as they recommend, it’s always a good idea to do just that. We were using both spinning rods with 8 pound-test line and casting rods with 12 pound-test monofilament line. The fishing rig was tied on with a short length of shock leader to the “Louisiana Rig” that was reported to be a “killer” in these shallow waters.
The rig consisted of 3/4-ounce top water popping plug with the hooks removed. On a short piece of 12-pound test monofilament line that was tied to the eye of the rear of the plug a simple ¼ ounce jig head with a white grub tail was attached. The line between the hookless plug and the jig was from six to ten inches long.
Geiger’s instructions to us was to find a likely looking flats, anchor and quietly wade the flats casting to the small openings between the grass beds. “Don’t pass up the water that’s only a few inches deep,” he said. “Sneak up on where you think the fish might be and cast the rig into the clearer water beside the grass line. The plug should keep the jig just above the grass so you shouldn’t be tangled in the grass too much and the fish should think that the jig is a shrimp following behind a fish.
Using Rudy Geiger’s Louisiana rig we spent the next few days catching more speckled trout and redfish than I’d ever seen before. It was a dream of a fishing trip and I hated to see the seaplane coming to pick us up and return us to New Orleans a few days later.
I couldn’t get over how much those Chandeleur Islands reminded me of our Outer Banks. Those shallow, grassy tidal flats in the sounds behind the Outer Banks are so very similar to the fishing areas we found near the Chandeleurs that we thought that surely some of those Louisiana fishing methods and tackle would work here in North Carolina too.
My first trip to the Chandeleurs was a long time ago but some of the Creole/Cajun fishing methods that were developed down in Louisiana have proven successful here in what we now fondly call the “Inner Banks of North Carolina.”
No longer do many of our Tar Heel fishermen seek out a deep hole or slough to fish for speckled trout and red drum. We’ve learned that it’s important to be stealthy in our approaches to likely looking spots in very shallow water and cast our lures to where we think that predatory fish might be looking for a meal. The “jig behind a top water attractor” works just as well here in our waters as it did down in the Gulf of Mexico. With the popularity of fishing from kayaks has come into its own an entirely new kind of fishing for speckled trout and red drum is taking place.
I’m convinced that our Pamlico-Albemarle Estuarine area is one of the less heavily fished waters in the United States when you look at just how few fishermen you usually find in those waters. Anglers who come to this area of our state to fish are constantly amazed at just how few other fishermen they see on their home waters like the Chesapeake Bay or Long Island Sound. On a recent Sunday morning’s fishing trip out the Pamlico River and into the Pamlico Sound we only saw three other fishing boats within that vast area.
Fishermen in the Albemarle, Pamlico and Core sound areas are learning that they can access shallow water areas that hold lots of trout, drum and flounder just waiting to be caught by anglers that know how to fish the shallows. Many of the better fishing areas are alongside either national or state parks that allow camping on the shore near the fishing spots. They are beautiful and darned remote areas to set up a camp and experience fishing that a lot of outdoorsmen would die for.
Our Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine area is very much like the Louisiana area called the Chandeleur Islands and, as I am writing this column, that is the very area of Louisiana that Hurricane Isaac is tearing to shreds. Hurricane Katrina had torn the Chandeleurs to bits a few years ago and now H. Isaac is taking much of what little was left of these beautiful islands. The live weather reports from the Chandeleur Islands area is that the Saint Bernard Parish and the Plaquemines areas are in terrible shape from H. Isaac. After our similar experiences from H. Irene a about a year ago we can truthfully say that “We feel your pain.”