Disappearing Marsh Still Holds Abundant Redfish

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by John N. Felsher

From the deck of Sweetwater Marina, raised above the flood stage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the marshes still stretched as far as the eye could see, but more open water than I remembered shimmered in the sunlight.

Born just up the road near Reggio, I started fishing St. Bernard Parish with my father in the 1960s. Where unbroken marshes once stretched to the horizon, numerous shallow lakes punctuated with tiny grassy islands dominate the terrain beyond Bayou Terre aux Boeufs. Over the years, erosion, subsidence, canal building, saltwater intrusion and other factors broke apart the once endless marsh.

In the 1970s, Dad and I headed to Delacroix for a cast and blast nearly every weekend during duck season. We hunted ducks in the afternoon and the next morning. At night, we slept in an 18-foot homemade wooden boat. We fished the next afternoon, catching redfish without limits in those days.

Unlike most people at the time, Dad preferred redfish to trout. He used 50-pound-test black Dacron line on a Penn 309 attached to a broomstick rod, fishing two shrimp at a time on the bottom with a large sinker. One night, we anchored in the middle of a bayou flowing into Bay Shallow, now more an open lake than a channel. After Dad went to sleep in a cabin he built to accommodate one person just his size, my friend Eric Holbrook and I stayed up to fish. A huge school of redfish moved through the bayou that night. We caught reds two at a time until we both realized that we needed to “wake up” in less than an hour to go hunting.

By that time, only four unused shrimp remained with an entire fishing day ahead of us. Encouraged by our catch, Dad forgot about hunting. As Eric and I paddled our pirogues to the duck ponds, my elated father couldn’t wait to tempt his favorite species with his favorite method without moving the boat. On the first cast, he landed two keepers. On the second cast, he added two more, clearly anticipating one of his best fishing trips ever! Then, he discovered the empty bait bag! Across the marsh, I thought I heard an angry rumble that sounded like some vocabulary Dad picked up in the Navy as the Japanese shot at him during World War II.

Decades later, redfish still roam what’s left of these marshes, perhaps in bigger numbers and certainly large sizes than decades ago. Hoping to lessen marsh losses, the state opened a freshwater diversion project at Caernarvon in 1991 to pump Mississippi River water into brackish marshes near Delacroix. That freshened flow changed the habitat, making it more like the original delta marsh centuries ago. In the sweetened water, largemouth bass now feed side by side with redfish. Both gorge themselves on abundant prey from marine and aquatic environments, frequently striking the same lures.
“In my opinion, Delacroix is the second best place in Louisiana to catch redfish, second only to Venice,” said Capt. Jack Payne, owner of Sweetwater Marina. “The river diversion really changed fishing in Delacroix — for the better! With the fresh water coming from the Mississippi River, it’s more like Venice now. In the fresher water, redfish have so much more to eat and more variety to eat. That’s why redfish get so much fatter in Delacroix than at other places in Louisiana.”

Sarah Rodrigue, Bruno Prager and I joined Captain Jack on a trip to my old haunts, the first time I fished Delacroix since before Katrina hit. We stopped near Lake Cuatro Caballo, or Four Horse Lake, not far from where we experienced that amazing redfish run 35 years ago.

Where once I could almost navigate blindfolded at night in the fog, in the days before GPS help, I recognized few
landmarks. I did remember the fishing. On the first cast, I connected with a flounder that smashed an Egret Lures Bayou Spin spinnerbait tipped with a Stanley Wedgetail dragged across a point. We added several redfish and speckled trout to our catch before the day ended. Bruno even caught a bass, giving us a four-species Delacroix Slam.

Although disappearing, the marshes between Lake Borgne and the Mississippi River still offer anglers some of the best redfish habitat in North America. Just about any weedy shoreline might hold redfish. Some better places to toss baits include Lake Coquille, Lake Calabasse, Oak River, Lake Batola, Bakers Bay, Pointe Fienne Bay, Lake Fausan, Round Lake and Four-Horse Lake. As the season progresses, trout typically move out toward the bays. Some good places to catch bull reds and big trout include Lake Eloi, Black Bay, Lake Fortuna, Lake Campo, Bay Gardine, Lake Robin and Oak River Bay.

“The two best times to fish Delacroix are in the spring and fall,” Payne advised. “In May, we catch a bunch of 3- to 5-pound trout around islands in the bays. My biggest trout weighed about 6.5 pounds. From Sweetwater Marina to the bays, it’s a 20-mile run.”

A full-service facility with the emphasis on service, Sweetwater Marina opened in April 2010. Payne offers a backdown ramp, live bait, boat storage, lodging and even three meals a day for charter customers. He plans to open a deli so people won’t need to drive 18 miles up the road to eat.

“We pride ourselves on providing better service than other facilities in Louisiana,” Payne said. “I’ve been to many other marinas and I know how some of them treat their customers. When I opened this marina, I promised myself that I would go above and beyond what others do to treat our customers right. People really appreciate that extra effort. If customers request it, we help launch their boats. We back them down so they just need to get in their boats and head off into the marshes to fish while we park their vehicles.”

To book guided fishing trips with Payne or obtain more information about Sweetwater Marina, see www.Delacroixfishing. com or call (504) 342-2368.