By Rick Itami
Like many other sports fishermen in the Inland Northwest, I endured a disappointing year in 2017 with most steelhead and salmon runs much lower than average because of poor ocean conditions caused by El Nino and the dreaded “blob” of uncharacteristically warm water in the northern Pacific Ocean.
So I decided to look elsewhere to try new fishing experiences that were on my bucket list. The first venue that came to mind was inshore fishing for redfish, black drum and speckled trout in the Mississippi River estuary south of New Orleans often referred to as the Bayou.
I researched the internet and found what sounded like a good fit for my needs — Griffin Fishing Charters and Lodge (504-689-7588). Their rates were reasonable and their accommodations appeared to suit my preference of something comfortable and not luxury high-end, which frankly turns me off.
I called and talked with Colby Creppel, co-owner of the facility. The first thing I wanted to know was if the hurricane season was over since up to then, seemingly one hurricane after another had hit somewhere on the Gulf coast, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Colby quickly assured me that hurricane season was indeed over and that November was a good month to fish for reds. I told him to sign me up and was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t require a non-refundable deposit of half the cost of the chartered trip that most other charters require. He also said that he would not charge if the weather was too bad to fish.
Eagerly anticipating the trip for the next three weeks, I finally boarded a flight on November 13, 2017 in Spokane, Washington, and landed in New Orleans that afternoon. It was an easy one-hour drive from the airport to Griffin Fishing Charters and Lodge. I enjoyed viewing the features of this flat, watery world that was so different from the hills and mountains of the Northwest.
As I got within a few miles of the lodge, I crossed over the Inland Waterway and turned on to Jean Laffite Boulevard, named after the notorious privateer who is viewed as both a hero and an outlaw. Not surprisingly, the lodge is located on Privateer Boulevard. I parked at the lodge and found Colby at a fish cleaning station at water’s edge peeling a batch of freshly caught shrimp.
After a short, friendly chat, I told Colby that I hadn’t eaten all day and would like his recommendation as to where to get a good meal. He pointed me to Voleos Restaurant, about 7 miles down the road. When I arrived, I knew right away this would be a good place to eat because all of the others in the restaurant were local fishermen. I ordered the seafood platter with a side of seafood gumbo. It was all delicious, but the gumbo was something to die for.
The next morning, breakfast was served at 5:45 a.m. and all of the guests boarded their assigned boats at 6 a.m. I was assigned to guide Casey Rojas. I got to liking Casey right away. He is a soft-spoken and knowledgeable middle-aged man who has guided for 15 years. I appreciated the fact that Casey didn’t engage in constant chatter like some guides and answered my questions and explained things clearly and succinctly.
We headed out on the Inland Waterway and took a little less than a half-hour to run the 10 miles to the fishing areas, which are about 15 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The area is comprised of hundreds of small islands ranging in size from a few square feet to several acres. They were formed over millions of years from the sediment that flows out of the Mississippi River.
Casey first anchored in a small channel where the outgoing tide was moving the murky water into a larger channel where we hoped some redfish would be holding to ambush baitfish.
We started hearing a lot of shotgun blasts not far away and Casey informed me that duck season had just opened. I told him he should have brought his shotgun along to bag a few ducks while I was fishing. Any outdoorsman would love this area because of the many species of waterfowl. During the morning of fishing we saw ducks, pelicans, ibises, kingfishers, herons, terns and other species. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Casey set me up with a spinning rod and reel with a small fixed bobber about 2 feet above a weighted jig hook onto which he put a fresh shrimp. We both fished for about 20 minutes without any action. Casey pointed out an alligator cruising around about 80 yards from us. I wondered if that may have had a negative effect on our fishing.
Anyway, we picked up and moved to another spot about 5 minutes away. Casey baited my hook and told me to cast toward a point of a small island about 50 feet out. Within about 5 casts, I got my first good take-down and set the hook on my first redfish — a nice 3-pounder that Casey said was perfect eating size. I was impressed by the fight the fish put up. It stayed low and pulled hard like a Chinook salmon and didn’t jump.
The rest of the morning’s fishing was fabulous. I landed at least 10 redfish ranging from about 1-6 pounds, and an assortment of small black drum, sheepshead and channel catfish. The only other species that we could have caught were speckled trout, flounder and possibly even a largemouth bass, which remained elusive to us.
As usual, we had some quiet times when the fish were not biting during which I enjoyed talking with Casey about fishing and hunting experiences. At the end of the morning, I was thankful for being blessed with great fishing, 70-plus-degree weather and a great guide.
After taking a short nap after lunch, I took a walk around the town of Barataria. Known as the Town of Jean Laffite, it exudes a rich history of the days of yore. Laffite is known notoriously as a pirate and privateer who smuggled precious metals and other goods taken mostly from Spanish galleons and selling them in New Orleans. He was also known to profit from smuggling slaves into the United States.
If you don’t know the difference between a privateer and a pirate, I’ll save you the trouble of searching the internet and give you the definitions here.
A privateer is any individual granted license by their government to attack shipping belonging to an enemy government, usually during a war. A privateer operates legally so long as he has a Letter of Marque from the government.
A pirate robs or commits other acts of violence for private ends on the high seas outside the normal jurisdiction of any nation, and without authority from any government.
During the War of 1812, Laffite was recognized as a hero for leading his privateer group to help General Andrew Jackson fight the British in the Battle of New Orleans. General Jackson is quoted as saying Laffite was “one of the ablest men” of the battle. Laffite also supplied Jackson with flints and gun powder from his stolen stores in Barataria.
All of this won Laffite a full pardon for him and his men from President James Madison. But something in Laffite drew him back to privateering and pirating, which he spent much of the rest of his life doing.
One of the interesting features of many of the homes around Barataria is that they have been raised by special hydraulic jacks and placed on stilts, seemingly 12-15 feet high. This was in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Casey said that they have developed the technology to raise the homes so that there is virtually no damage to any part of the homes raised.
The second day of my trip started out the same, but for some reason we seemed to be able to catch only smaller fish regardless of whether they were reds, black drum, sheepshead or catfish. Casey moved us to several different island points to try to find the big ones.
Finally, at mid-morning, he anchored us off a small island where I landed two keeper reds along with a few other smaller fish. As we were moving to another location, Colby maneuvered his boat full of adults and children with one fellow holding a video camera next to our boat. To my surprise Casey handed one of my reds to Colby and they took off. Casey explained that Colby’s boat was filming a commercial for the Town of Jean Laffite and they needed a redfish as part of the filming. So he said my redfish would become famous. What a hoot!
We continued to another point where on my first cast, I saw my bobber disappear a second or two after it landed in the water and I managed to land my third keeper red. Then the bite completely shut off and we could not catch any fish of any size. I thought to myself that redfish were just like steelhead by inexplicably failing to bite. So we called it a day and I ended my trip with a great feeling of satisfaction.
Some things that Casey shared with me are worth keeping in mind when planning a trip to this area. For one thing, Casey said that a cold front will absolutely shut the bite off and he said that Griffin Fishing Charters tries to discourage fishermen from going out during such a front to keep them from being disappointed and wasting their money. Also, high winds will also make fishing very difficult.
For those of us who must reserve airline tickets well in advance, this makes it kind of a crap shoot. I was lucky to have blue bird weather the two days I fished. But you can look at some of the weather forecasting sites on the internet and view the forecasts up to 10 days in advance.
As far as when the best time to fish for reds goes, Casey says generally May through November is good fishing with the hottest months varying from year to year.
While we used shrimp under bobbers during my two days of fishing because of the murkiness of the water, Casey says that when the water is clearer in the summer, they often use lures such as spoons and swim baits to catch reds. He also said that a few of his clients choose to fly fish for reds, but that can be a little more of a challenge.
I tend to be more of a home body most of the time, but I am so happy I decided to break out of my mold and branch out to this great fishing venue. I now have good memories and a great appreciation for the fishing, cultural history and people of the Bayou.
If steelhead and salmon runs in the Inland Northwest continue to be at the low end of the scale, I will be looking for another fun destination to fish like the Louisiana Bayou somewhere else in the U.S.