Fishing Delacroix Island, Louisiana, with Captain Joe
|From New Orleans it is a mere 45 minute drive to the area known as Delacroix Island; a land and water zone considered by many to be one of the largest estuaries in the world. It is snuggled conspicuously between the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet waterway to the north and the Mississippi River to the south.
To newcomers who make the trek east down La. State Hwy 39 through St. Bernard Parish, to La. Hwy 46 at Reggio, and onto La. Hwy 300, it seems like you’ve traveled to the end of the world! In fact, the marina located therein is called just that: “End of the World Marina.”
Here you will find, if not already out on the water with a charter fishing trip or bird watching tour, a rather stocky gentleman the local residents call “Captain Joe.” His rather quaint marina would almost go unnoticed amidst the local residential dwellings and other inelegant marinas, if it weren’t for its dead-end location.
Despite his obscured location, in an area that once flourished with local commercial fishermen and trappers, Captain Joe is a sought -after man when it comes to saltwater fishing..
But his fishing skills aren’t limited to the latter. Captain Joe was also a freshwater fishing enthusiast, having competed in Florida bass tournaments, as well as providing guide service. He seems to have no regrets about his conversion, after fished the saltwater bays, lakes, bayous, and marshes of Delacroix Island for over 30 years.
And though some sections just north of Delacroix can at times yield freshwater species, it has not yet swayed his 21 ft. Sea Bird boat from heading southerly to the often higher salinity waters that the inside and bordering marshes of Black Bay and Breton Sound have to offer.And this is the exact direction we found ourselves heading in, as our prearranged plans began to unfold.
A change in strategy quickly went into affect, however, after making the 18-mile haul through Bayou Terre aux Boeufs, only to find dark clouds congregating over the eastern horizon and well out into Breton Sound.
When Captain Joe left the opening of the bayou, which empties into the northern section of Black Bay, he made it clear that the big trout would thus be out of reach for this particular trip. Adding to the concern, his head periodically turned toward the east, watching for any sudden shift in conditions, while cruising south toward one of the many wellheads that speckled the bay.
His attention was finally diverted, when I questioned him about a small patch of marsh grass and a few scattered marking poles that lay directly ahead. He confirmed what I already suspected, having not seen the area in several years. It was the only remains left of Snake Island, an island that several decades ago was at least a city block in size. It wouldn’t be the only evidence seen that day that would remind me of what hurricanes and man-made elements can do to such vulnerable terrain.
Lonesome Island and Stone Island are the other two famous islands that lay directly south of Snake Island and have just about seen the same fate. All three islands are prominent for their springtime and summertime speckled trout and redfish fishing action.
With the boat idling toward the dockside of a steel-framed wellhead, the aerator noise soon came to the fore, helping to divert our attention on fishing and not entirely on the weather.
“Hook it like this,” Captain Joe said, after fetching a live cocahoe minnow out of the bait well and placing the hook point through the bottom of its mouth, ahead of the eyes, and through the top side of its head.
“Throw it toward that rig over there,” Captain Joe pointed out in the distance to another wellhead to use as a reference point for casting. When the bait hit the water, he warned of the many snags that exist in the area from the network of underwater pipes that connect the rigs to the wellheads.
The water was relatively clear, with about 2 ft. visibility, and the tide was incoming. Captain Joe gave instructions to let the 1/4 oz. Carolina Rig to “go with the flow,” meaning to let the current work the bait on a slightly taut line, keeping it just off the bottom to prevent snagging.
School speckled trout are mostly caught in the Black Bay area in summer months, though Captain Joe says larger species can be caught, depending on the type of bait used, time of year, and prevailing conditions.
Captain Joe generally likes to venture toward the deeper waters, which lay east and southeast of Black Bay, to locate the larger speckled trout and sometimes redfish. These fish often frequent well-known places like The Wreck, The Dope Boat, Breton Sound rigs, The Black Tank, and Battledore Reef. Nevertheless, all of these places were out of the question this particular day, due to threatening weather. Even facing such odds, Captain Joe was optimistic, viewing it as a reason to give the “big ones” a breather once in awhile.
The Kahle horizontal hook is Captain Joe’s choice when using live bait fish, since it allows it to swim in a natural position with hook exposed for quicker penetration. I began to see the advantages when a speckled trout nailed the previously cast minnow and came to the surface, vigorously thrashing its head, trying to throw the deeply penetrated hook from its weak, yellow mouth.
Numerous islands lay to the west side of Black Bay, many projecting out as broken marsh peninsulas, run through by bayous and often surrounded by large oyster reefs─ some of which also lay to the east, unmarked and very prop hungry for the unwary boater.
Some of Captain Joe’s success lies in fishing with the wind to his back, anchoring up current from structures, scanning the waters for bait fish, and choosing to fish only the oldest structures.
When live croakers are available, usually during summertime, Joe will fish them at the famous Wreck, located southeast from the mouth of Bayou Terre aux Boeufs. This is a well-established, fish-attracting structure, consisting of a partially sunken crane boom and barge that suffered the tremendous pounding of the infamous hurricane Betsy.
Captain Joe claims he has fished The Wreck even in December and caught fish when “most people aren’t even thinking of going out there!”
Later that morning, after picking off a few more speckled trout at another wellhead just south of Snake Island, he ventured easterly toward the peninsula of Mozambique Point─ a favorite fishing and bird-watching spot.
“Look at those white and brown pelicans,” Captain Joe bellowed, gazing toward the near tip section of the peninsula. As the boat’s menacing motor noise approached, they began to arch and flap their wings, rushing to take flight.
Captain Joe is the only charter fisherman in the territory that has given interest to the many variety of birds to the area and has provided bird-watching trips for nature lovers. He has taken many enthusiasts as far as the Chandeleur Islands to observe a very long list of feathered species.
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