With the date of the BCKFC Minimalist Challenge out of Leeville just announced, and having spent the last few months fishing in St. Bernard Parish, it was pretty clear that it was time for a change of location. Josh Reppel and I struck out for Leeville this past Monday to start learning the area a little better. This would be my third trip there, including last year's Minimalist Challenge and one unsuccessful scouting trip before that tournament. To say that I didn't have super high hopes would be fairly accurate. I also did not have a lot of time to look at Google Earth, which may have turned out to be okay. I think sometimes it's possible to get way too caught up in maps BEFORE you have had a chance to see what conditions are like on the ground. In this case, I picked out a general area I wanted to check out on the East side of the bridge, and we asked a few locals on the way down if any trout were around. Boy, after the short drive to St. Bernard Parish, the trip to Leeville seemed like it took forever. Despite leaving my house at 4:40am, it was 7:30 by the time we were putting in. Current in the bayou in front of the launch was moving, but not dangerously strong, and we crossed, then headed right into the first canal. Despite lots of moving water, some shells on the bottom and deep(ish) water, there were no trout to be found in the canals or intersections there. Fished the bottom, topwater, and with a popping cork, trying to cover the bases and find them if they were there. We made the paddle across the bay, looking for any obvious signs - birds or slicks, and occasionally checking the bottom for oyster shells, but nothing presented itself. Once across the bay, we fished the marsh on the South side of the Southwest canal, where we started seeing some reds. Josh hooked up first, then I hooked my first not too long after. The water was a great opacity - clear enough to see fish pretty well, but not so clear that they were incredibly spooky, as has been my experience the past few trips in St. Bernard. My first fish was one of two that were swimming lazily in front of the kayak. I had decided to sight fish just with a jighead and paddletail instead of my usual spoon or spinnerbait, since I know that will be one of the lures in the Minimalist Challenge package, and I really need to get better at fishing that setup. It took three casts, but one of the pair nailed it hard. I was psyched, after fishing for trout and having little opportunity or success sight fishing reds, it was awesome to jump back in the saddle. Shortly thereafter, I saw a nice fish with his whole back out of the water, chasing around bait on a flat that was on the inside of a bend in a bayou. I must have been 400 feet away, and it was tough to patiently paddle quietly close enough to cast. This is one of those times where experience can really pay off; I knew that I might need more than one cast because he was swimming around a lot, so I took the time to paddle a little bit upwind/upcurrent, anchor, and position the anchor trolley so that I wouldn't drift away after one cast and risk spooking the fish. Once again, this one hit the paddltail with a vengeance, and I started feeling like it was going to be a pretty fun day.
By this time, we were close to the Southwest Canal, so we decided to check likely points/cuts/drains for signs of trouts. Once again, no sign, despite deeper water and good current. Who knows, trout are mysterious to me. At that point, we decided to abandon the trout and focus on what was obviously happening - sight fishing redfish. For the most part, the fish were suspended a few inches of the water, and cruising slowly back and forth in the broken marsh and canals. The sun was out, so we were able to see the whole body of the fish, or at least a good silhouette. A few of them spooked at the sight of the lure, but for the most part, they would stay in the area, and we both caught a few after they initially spooked and took off. Josh was using my older Cuda, and at one point he saw a beast of a bull red pushing a wake like a little submarine. After getting a good angle on it, he stuck his paddle in the mud, and promptly drifted away from his paddle. After I rescued his paddle, and taught him how to tie a proper knot in his makeshift paddle leash, he proceeded to chase fish through a couple of ponds before convincing it to hit his paddletail. It put up a hell of a fight in that shallow water. It wouldn't be any use on a tournament day, but it was pretty cool to see it pushing all that water around as it cruised.
That pattern proved to be the story for the rest of the day - slowly paddling the broken marsh and looking for reds. I had a frustrating run of a bunch of fish that I was able to see, but were in awkward positions to cast to, most often headed right at the boat, but in the end I hooked 6, and got 5 to the boat, with one coming off. Josh ended up landing 8, which of course annoyed me, but we'll see what happens on tournament day. A few things I noticed: they don't at all like it when a bait just appears out of nowhere - they seem to want to see it swim up from a decent distance. The couple of times that I just dropped it in front of the ones swimming right near the boat, they just took off. I also realized that I need to get back to using a baitcasting setup for sight fishing. There were quite a few times where I had literally seconds to cast, and lost some time messing with the bail and getting a little bit of line out (I always reel all the way up so I don't get line wrapped on my tip). Other than that, I'm feeling pretty good about my methodology: I have a rod holder on the front of the Cuda that keeps the rod within easy reach, and for a really quick cast, I can put the paddle in my belt clip, grab the rod and cast within seconds (if not fiddling with the daggone bail). If I were a more accurate caster, I'd guess I could have easily landed 10-12 fish. I like this kind of trip though, it leaves me with something obvious to work on, in this case accuracy.
As it turns out, the big story of the day wasn't even the fish, but rather Josh's inauguration into the illustrious Aquatics Club. He usually fishes out of his Native Slayer, and apparently doesn't have the catlike balance that I have which enables me to stand up and paddle/fish out of the Cuda. At some point I looked over and thought he was either wrestling an alligator or trying to take a number 2, but it turns out he was heaving himself back up onto the kayak. Having already joined the Aquatics Club, you can imagine my glee at this special occasion. It was worth the eye-watering stench of Leeville mud in my car on the ride home.
All in all, it was a great trip on an absolutely gorgeous day. Some confidence in throwing the jig head+paddltail combo was built, some sight-casting practice happened, and we found a few likely spots. Of course, that will all be out the window on the day of the tournament, but it's a great excuse to fish a new area. Had to paddle back pretty hard to beat the sun (no flashlights + big ships = no gooda), and my arms were hurting, having kept a bunch of fish this time out. I really, really want to figure out how to keep the fish up in the front of the Cuda to trim the weight out better.