Ok, so you call yourself a fisherman. You spend a few weekends a year at your favorite lake or stream wetting a line with your family or a couple of buddies and maybe you even venture out of your normal realm to a far-off place like Canada or Alaska periodically. Fishermen come in all shapes and sizes, kind of like the fish they are chasing after. For most, bigger is better and the thought of something exotic finds its way into our thoughts every once in a while.
Now for me, one of those exotic thoughts has always been to venture to the southern part of the country in search of redfish. Last spring, I got my first taste of the action in Louisiana at a writer’s retreat and although they call them 'reds' – in my eyes it was more like discovering 'gold'!
Here’s a little info on our highlighted species. Red drum are a dark red or almost a golden color on the back, which fades into white on the belly. They have a characteristic eyespot near their tail and their body is somewhat streamlined. Three-year-old red drum typically weigh 6-8 lb. The largest red drum on record weighed just over 94 lbs and was caught in 1984 on Hatteras Island. Red drum and their black drum cousins both make a croaking or drumming sound when distressed, contributing to their given names.
The most distinguishing mark on the red drum is one large black spot on the upper part of the tail base. Having multiple spots is not uncommon for this fish, but having no spots is extremely rare. As the fish with multiple spots grow older, they seem to lose their excess spots. Scientists believe that the black spot near their tail helps fool predators into attacking the red’s tail instead of its head, allowing the red to escape. Red’s use their senses of sight and touch and their downturned mouth, to locate forage on the bottom through vacuuming or biting. On the top and middle of the water column, they use changes in the light to spot possible food sources. In the summer and fall, adults feed on crab, shrimp, and mullet; in the spring and winter, adults primarily feed on menhaden, mullet, pinfish, sea robin, lizardfish, spot, Atlantic croaker, and mudminnows.
Red drum are found along the eastern and southern Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, the Carolina’s and Virginia. Immature red drum prefer grass marsh areas of bays and estuaries when available. Both younger mature red drum (3-6 years of age) and bull reds prefer rocky outcroppings including jetties and manmade structures, such as oil rigs and bridge posts. Around this type of structure, they are found throughout the water column. Mature reds spawn in near shorelines from mid-August to mid-October.
My break into the redfish nation came about from one of those, friend of a friend of a friend associations. Ralph Crystal of the Gone Fishin’ Lodge in Alaska introduced me to Don Dubuc, a radio and TV personality from Louisiana, who was well acquainted with Bourgeois Fishing Charters, located about 35 miles south of New Orleans. Before this part of the story gets out of hand – eventually Ginger Jenne, Marketing Director for Bourgeois Fishing Charters (and wife of Theophile Bourgeois) gave me a call to invite me to the writer’s retreat and while there, the process began for their operation to become part of our Platinum Approved Outfitters family and our Pro Membership Sweepstakes.
On that first visit, we ended up being sandwiched between two cold fronts, making conditions a little less than ideal. We were still able to catch plenty of fish inshore, but because of the winds, we were not able to include a flyout to the Chandeleur Islands as to include that part of their operation in their feature story. And from the cover photo for this issue, you can see why we needed to make that trip part of the story! So now, fast forward to the last week of March 2019.
Arrangements were made and fellow Pro Staffer, Rick Rosenberg and I soon found ourselves boarding our flight to New Orleans the last week of March. As soon as we grabbed our gear, we headed to the rental car desk and a few minutes later, found ourselves headed for Barataria, Louisiana.
Forty minutes later, we pulled up to the gate in front of the lodge, a beautiful two-story restored plantation-style inn, complete with palm trees, gorgeous garden setting at its rear and located 50-yards from their boat docks on the bayou. Two float planes poked their noses out of the adjacent hanger and a half dozen bay boats could be seen at the dock. Yes, our adventure was about to begin, one that both Rick and I had been looking forward to for a long time.
Soon we found ourselves unloading our gear in our room, complete with two queen beds and two bunk style beds, designed to hold groups of buddies or families of two to six. Other guests were mingling throughout the area, playing pool, watching March Madness and some just admiring the memorabilia and antiques of fishing of days gone by scattered throughout the game room. At the end of the room, the bustle of the kitchen staff could be seen getting everything ready for our first of many great meals during our stay – and all strictly ‘Cajun Style’, of course.
After a great meal and a little interaction with some of the other guests, as we filled out our lunch requests for the next day, Theophile and Ginger filled us in on our planned adventure for the next day. With the wind a determining factor for our flyout, our departure time would depend on the wind doing an about face, therefore allowing us to land safely along the isolated sandy outcroppings of the Chandeleurs.
Friday morning found us at the breakfast table at 6am, with fishermen and guides preparing to head out for the day. Theophile informed Rick and I that the wind was not cooperating and that we would have to wait it out in hopes that it would swing in the next few hours. So, our next target was set at 8am, ten, then 11am and finally, Ginger came in and told us to grab our gear and head out to the plane. The time was finally at hand – it was going to happen. Big bull redfish, here we come!
Here’s a little info on our flyout destination. The Chandeleur Islands are a chain of uninhabited barrier islands located 50 miles east of New Orleans and 35 miles south of Gulfport, Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. The Islands were formed over 4,000 years ago and are the remnants of the St. Bernard Lobe of a former Mississippi River delta.
The Islands were discovered by explorer Pierre Le Moyer d’Iberville around 1700 while searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River. He named the Islands after a Christian feast day – La Fete de la Chandeleur – in honor of the event.
The Islands are described as a crescent-shaped archipelago. President Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed with the Islands that he designated them the second national wildlife refuge and today most of the Chandeleur Islands including Curlew, Gosier and Breton Island are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge.
The Chandeleur Islands serve as a buffer zone between the Gulf of Mexico and the mainland protecting New Orleans and the surrounding area from wind and storm surge associated with tropical systems. Yes, Katrina comes to mind as her forces ripped through this area unmercifully.
The Islands are prolific environments where hundreds of species of finfish, crustaceans, and wildlife flourish. The heavily vegetated interiors of the fragmented islands are sanctuaries where juvenile fish, crabs and shrimp crab find protective cover increasing their chance of survival. For this reason, the Islands offer some of the best coastal fishing for redfish and speckled trout.
As we approached the slender slices of sand, we started our slow decent. We then began circling to lose a little more altitude and as we did, schools of fish could be seen everywhere below us. Theophile made a couple more passes on other sections and all were just covered with fish, so he picked the best place to land and seconds later, he was softly easing the pontoons along the blue waters of the Gulf.
We each quickly donned our waders and wading shoes as Ginger and Rick grabbed spinning outfits and I grabbed my camera. They would be throwing soft plastics, rigged on jig heads. It didn’t take long, as Rick found himself hooked up on his first cast and the battle was on. Line started singing from his reel as the big bull red headed for deeper water. The smile on his face was truly priceless as he eventually fought his foe to the net. A beautiful 32-ich Louisiana redfish was his prize and just the first of over fifty that our group would catch on this afternoon.
After watching Rick, Ginger and Theophile put on a show for 30 or 40 minutes and getting plenty of photos, I worked my way over to the float plane and rigged up my Redington 9wt. I decided to use floating line and started with a yellow and white clouser minnow pattern. I made a couple of blind casts into the deeper water, but it looked like I wasn’t quite getting down far enough. So instead of going back over and putting on my sink tip line, I decided to change to a double-eyed pattern with a little more weight to see if it would do the trick.
The next cast produced a violent strike on the second strip, as my 15lb leader snapped on the set. Quickly, I tied on another fly and two casts later, I was fighting my first redfish of the trip. Theophile waded to my side and soon eased the net under the most beautiful golden-backed redfish you can imagine. After a quick photo and a quick release, it was back to casting, but this time, Theophile and I would be searching the shallows, watching for shadows.
The next two hours produced fish after fish, both for me on my flyrod and Ginger and Rick on their spin cast outfits. The amazing thing to me was that every single fish was in the 30- to 40-inch range and I was even able to throw in a black drum for good measure. I’m told that the speckled trout fishing can be just as good around these islands as well, so next time (and yes, there will be a next time), I may just have to force myself to tear away from the redfish to spend a little time chasing them as well.
The next morning found us hopping on Captain Dave’s boat and heading out to do a little inshore fishing along the seemingly endless marshlands and estuaries. With the fog hovering in the early morning hours, Captain Dave decided to be on the safe side and not venture too far out into the fog to start, so we stopped along a breaker wall to make a few casts. Rick and I grabbed spin cast setups and Dave topped them with shrimp. Our first few casts produced some subtle takes and we soon found out that those rat-a-tat-tats were sheephead’s looking for a free meal.
We slowly worked our way down the long wall that served to protect the shoreline in this area and intermingled with the sheephead, we started to pick up a solid redfish here and there. Finally, the fog lifted and we headed out to a few of Captain Dave’s favorite spots.The rest of our morning was filled with plenty of reds in the three- to six-pound class and we even managed to throw in a couple of small black drum for good measure. After a short break for lunch, we headed to another spot to pursue some trout. Dave positioned us adjacent to some poles sticking out of the water and instructed us to cast our rubber-tailed jigs all around them, retrieving them with a quick, jerky motion. Captain Dave would even get in on the action with us on this final stop on this day and I will have to say – He was not only a good guide, but a pretty darn good fisherman as well!
Well, as you can see, our trip down south to Louisiana was a rousing success with Bourgeois Fishing Charters. Theophile Bourgeois and his wife, Ginger run an exceptional operation in the Cajun Bayou and we are proud to welcome them as one of our newest Platinum Approved Outfitters. Their accommodations are great, the food is excellent and the fishing, well let’s just say if the weather cooperates, it is about as good as it can get! We will be adding this trip to our Pro Membership Sweepstakes in 2020, so a lucky member and their guest will be able to see for themselves just how good this operation really is.
In the meantime, if you are looking to book a trip, give them a call at 504-341-5614. Fishing is available year-round, but primetime is late March through June and September through early November. You can also check out their website at neworleansfishing.com to see all of the other great adventures they also have in store during your visit if you choose to partake. And with downtown New Orleans only 35-minutes away – well, need I say more?