DISCOVER One of Breton Island’s Offshore Floating Fishing Lodges of the Past
Dedicated to the late great floating fishing lodge The Chandeleur Discovery that once was located inside
Breton Island, La., before hurricane Katrina.
In New Orleans, the Jazz Festival was in full swing, generating an all time record crowd of a 1/2 million people from everywhere. In the immediate area, every plush hotel motel, and inn was inundated with bookings. I However, during this event, several Texans and two locals chose accommodations at one of Louisiana’s most recently constructed and obscure inns-The Chandeleur Discovery. Here they found located on the door of each room a caution to conserve water and not to enter restricted areas. From inside the dining room a monotonous noise emanated from a diesel generator which lay just outside the door. Rooms were no larger than that of a standard cruise ship, with bunks stacked compactly along the walls. To top it off, patrons had to share bathrooms with other guests. The price: $125.00 per person.
Comparably speaking, they could have chosen the prestigious downtown Marriot, overlooking New Orleans, but it never crossed their minds. “It’s very comfortable …everything you want is right off your porch,” Andy Gruffy enthusiastically said. Ironically Gruffy, a CPA from Houston, wasn’t alluding to Jazz or Bourbon Street entertainment, but to similar opinions expressed by other patrons of the inn.
strong advocate of topwater baits because of their patrons of the inn effectiveness and the exciting action they produce.
Gruffy, like his fellow lodgers, isn’t naive. Admittedly, there were some enhancing factors. Included in the daily package were three Creole gourmet meals, satellite TV, air conditioning, and host with true southern hospitality. But that wasn’t the best of it.
Not far from their backyard, the crew had access to some the best wadefishing grounds on the planet— the Breton/Chandeleur barrier island chain. This is the place where wadefishing legends are born; where from sunup to sunset one can battle hefty speckled trout and redfish in gin-clear water, adjacent to miles of sandy, pristine beaches, in the middle of nowhere.
Indisputably, as far as these fishermen were concerned, they had the best rooms and entertainment anywhere.
“There’s just something about it, you know, just fishing in the surf. It’s quiet. You don’t have to worry about traffic or crime,” Jim Munson said. Munson isn’t alone in his sentiments. Consequently, this is exactly what prompted him to construct the Chandelueur Discovery, a floating lodge nestled inside the northern interior of Breton Island.
Five years ago, Munson became interested in constructing such a barge after being invited to fish aboard a similar one that operates in that vicinity. It didn’t take him long to get hooked on the island’s serenity, let alone the fishing. “I figured if someone else could do it, I could do it too,” Munson explained.
The barge was initially purchased having only a single level quarters, but a top story was added so that it would accommodate a total of 28 people, Munson said. Equipped with ail the amenities to the one would expect to find in any first rate hotel, the barge goes beyond that. The Discovery, as evidenced by its bridge section, is self contained and can be moved if need arises under its own engine power. Additionally, the lower deck boasts a patio, complete with barbecue pit and fish cleaning facility.
In early spring, Munson moves the Discovery from its Venice based port to anchorage at Breton Island where it remains throughout the summer. From this outpost, anglers can come via their own boats to take advantage of overnight lodging, and from here make it to their favorite portion of the island chain.
Doubtlessly, the most advantageous aspect about the Discovery is the fact that you don’t have to own a boat or fishing equipment to enjoy the fabulous angling that can be had right outside its doors. Some patrons, for instance, choose to be flown in by floatplane, while others are brought in from port via the Discovery’s shuttle boat. Once arriving at the outpost, you don’t have to worry about anything else. Munson offers all the needed equipment and guide service to various parts of the broken island chain, which runs as northward as Chandeleur Island; approximately 21 miles from Breton Island. Included along the trek are the famous Grand Gosier Island, Little Gosier Island, and Curlew Island, all of which are renowned big speck and redfish haunts.
“When putting this thing together, there were three things that I wanted: One, was good Creole type cooking for the guests. Two, accommodations had to be clean and comfortable. Third, is catching fish. If they enjoy the food, they sleep good, the air conditioning is good, the TV is good, and then if they catch fish, that’s just extra,” Munson exclaimed.
Whether a wadefishing devotee or not, many are hard pressed to pinpoint what exactly makes these islands so mesmerizing. Set beyond the reach of most anglers, part of the island chain’s mysterious magnetism perhaps lies in its isolation. Others are intrigued by the island’s unusually firm, sandy sea bottom a direct result of silt deposits left behind by the Mississippi River’s path from millenniums ago.
Whatever the case, though, its reputation for producing good sized fish isn’t an exaggeration. A few days before my visit, Munson caught 7 speckled trout at Gosier Island in the 5 pound range, all on topwater lures. And, in case anyone doubted him, he didn’t hesitate to pull them from the freezer frozen whole and show them off.
Some people come just to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and to relax. One man came and slept for three days and didn’t even wet a line. He’d get up occasionally and sit on the patio, only to be engrossed by the soothing sounds of breaking waves issuing form the nearby beach, and he loved every minute of it. It was the best time he’d ever had, Munson recalled.
But for Munson and many others like him, the fishing is most difficult to resist. Each morning after an early breakfast, you won’t have to guess where Munson and his crew will be. Just peer outside the door, and he’ll be heading south down the backside of Breton Island. Therein he may decide to fish his backyard, or, depending on wind conditions, head through the island’s nearby opening and move northward to Gosier Island or beyond.
To define Munson as a decisive man is more than an understatement. Close runner-up to his infatuation for wadefishing is his entrenched passion for exclusively using topwater lures. As a matter of fact, Munson gives the impression that he’d just as soon not fish at all if he didn’t have access to topwater lures. But it’s safe to say that the chance of that occurring is beyond remote, since his tackle box stays over stuffed with them.
“It’s the adrenaline of just seeing `em come up in a big bolt of water. It’s an instant excitement. To me it’s a whole lot different than throwing a cocaho minnow (lure), you know, you’re just kind of cranking it along. With a topwater bait, you’re seein’ what’s fixin’ to happen! They’re just so aggressive on the topwater baits,” Munson explained.
Munson’s favorite lures for “seein’ what’s fixin’ to happen” are Storm’s Rattlin’ Chug Bug, and Rebel’s Jumpin’ Minnow. His favorite three color choices in order of preference are bone, blue and chrome, and gray mullet pattern. The Rattlin’ Chug Bug, like its name indicates, is a chug type lure that spits water, while the Jumpin’ Minnow is a streamlined darting lure. Both lures make rattling sounds when twitched, and are equipped with two sets of treble hooks.
“I tie right straight to the lure. Lot of times if you tie a swivel to it, what’ll happen, because of the motion, is the front hook will swing and get hung,” Munson said. The key is to tie directly to the lure, even if it means removing the split ring that sometimes is affixed to the eyelet. Munson feels that the best time to work topwater lures is from early morning to about 9 a.m., and then again starting at 5 p.m. until dark. During these prime times with good incoming tides, it’s not unusual for speckled trout to attack a topwater lure with reckless abandonment, particularly when worked through mullet schools where the big boys often lay in ambush. “Sometimes when you first throw it out and let the first ripple clear from it …they’re like underneath waiting for it just to move,” Munson said.
When it comes to fishing topwater lures, timing and patience are of the essence. According to Munson, when anglers first use topwater baits, they inevitably experience problems with hook setting and lure manipulation. The primary mistake most commonly made is prematurely setting the hook before the fish has a chance to bite the lure. Frequently, this results in the lure dangerously flying back toward the angler’s face, or others, hooks and all. He further advises that speckled trout, especially, don’t always bite these type lures on the first attempt, but, rather, taunts it before the final assault.
This is why Munson looks for what’s called a “blow up” near the lure, a signal that helps determine when to set the hook. The term “blow up” describes the water surface commotion caused by the pursuing fish investigating the lure, or as a result of the fish slapping it with its head or tail, prior to attack. When this occurs, instead of frantically setting the hook, Munson briefly stops working the lure. Then, he enticingly twitches it once or twice. This usually incites the fish to an all out assault on the lure, resulting in a hook up. However, Munson cautions that if the fish gets as much as pricked with any hooks on the “blow up,” it won’t attempt to strike the lure again.
Munson said there are three ways to work these lures: chug it, spit it, or walkthe dog. The technique is in the wrist; it’s like turning a light switch off and on. To accomplish this, the rod tip needs to be worked with short, deliberate twitches up and down while continuously reeling in, keeping a taut line.
The difference between chugging and spitting the lure, he said, lies in the speed of the rod tip motion and retrieve. Chugging is slower, and spitting is faster. Walking-the dog is more of a medium retrieve and rod tip action. In either case, when the lure is worked properly, it moves from side to side in opposite directions with each rod twitch. If not worked properly, the slacked line invariably becomes tangled around the front hooks, indicating too slow of retrieve to the ratio of twitch.
The method might seem troublesome at first. But make no mistake about it, Munson has converted more than his share of topwater fishing fanatics. On any given summer’s day along the island chain, his potential converts are easily identified; rod tips rhythmically tapping against the back drop of an early morning sunrise, until attention focuses in on one of them rod contrastingly arched and shuttering under a determined pull. Moments later the landing net emerges from his side, and a thrashing fat speckled trout lays in the flimsy net. Grinning in contentment, the angler threads the glimmering black spotted beauty onto his stringer, and another topwater wadefishing disciple is born!
To Munson, the medicinal gratification is all too familiar. He just grins and responds, “It’s cheaper than the doctor!”
Note: The Breton Island floating fishing lodges no longer occupy the area of Breton Island since hurricane Katrina. They are very much missed.
Jim Munson: Displays a stringer of Breton Island speckled trout on the porch of his floating fishing lodge The Chandeleur Discovery, caught on topwater plugs wadefishing.