It’s a well known fact that the speckled trout migrate to the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico to spawn, and that they begin to do so when water temps heat up in the late spring.
Local fishing reports have been boasting “trout slams” and “meat hauls” daily. Even so, I’ve never been one to follow the speckled trout out to the Gulf spawning waters just nine miles off the coast at various oil platforms and the barrier islands. Part of the reason is because I fish trout in the winter, closer to home, and the second reason is that my pontoon boat was way too slow.
Okay, I’ll admit nine miles doesn’t seem very far, but my pontoon boat only went about 18 miles an hour, and from the launch, the whole journey took close to two hours. Plus, the couple of times Termite and I made it to the edge of the Gulf, the waves were so high, my Tooner did an about face and ran in fear. (Of course, I wasn’t afraid.)
Now, in the 24-foot Carolina Skiff powered by a 115 HP engine, the trip time would be cut in half. And since this is the first spawning season I have owned said boat, it was high time I ventured out. My first try at reaching Raccoon Island was in May with Choupiquer and MuzicMan on board; but we were met with waves that forced us back inland. The kids call that “epic fail”.
This time, Termite, his friend Joe, and I were determined that we would make our way out to Raccoon Island and see what all the buzz was about. With wind predictions between zero and seven miles per hour half the day and only a 20% chance of rain, we decided Friday was the day.
On Our Way to Raccoon Island
Armed with a new Lowrance GPS (my old one died last December) and a Navionics map card, the price of which made me feel like I was being taken advantage of, my confidence was boosted that I could make this journey to an island I had viewed from a crew boat back in 1979, spent the night on in the summer of 1981, and photographed from a helicopter in 2007.
As we left the landing at the end of the road, the sun was breaking out of the clouds. It was a gorgeous morning for an island adventure, and I was in my element–wind in my face, hands on the wheel, and water passing quickly under the bow. My first challenge was to find the cut from Sister Lake into Bayou Grand Caillou, which the detailed map on the GPS screen made quite easy.
Once in the bayou, the going was easy all the way to the edge of the Gulf. As we gazed across the calm Gulf waters, shrimp boats of all kinds dotted the horizon, trawls down, butterfly nets extended, chugging along at a snail’s pace. Once into the Gulf, I couldn’t resist the urge to whoop and holler,
“WOO HOO! It’s the Gulf of Mexico! Come on boys, do the Gulf of Mexico Dance!”
Of course, being 15, they looked at each, shook their heads, and wrote me off as crazy. And crazy I was—crazy happy at the prospect of where this adventure would lead with just nine miles to our destination.
We were cruising along at about 28 miles per hour, halfway through the nine-mile jaunt, when my euphoria was rudely interrupted by the sounding of an alarm. Never having experienced an engine alarm before (in all of my 36 years of running boats), my knee-jerk reaction was to pull her out of gear and shut down the engine pronto. My next instinct was to raise the lower unit out of the water to see if there was an obstruction around the propeller or in the intake.
Seeing none, I lowered the engine back into the water while experiencing mental panic that I had failed to check the engine oil before leaving. I removed the engine cover and grabbed a towel to check the dipstick. (Termite and Joe grabbed their rods and started fishing. Boys!) I wiped the the hot metal stick and reinserted it, waited, and checked the level. The oil was sketchy on the stick, and my mental panic grew as to the ramifications.
Oh, no, I’ve burned up my engine. Mental calculations followed. It would cost around ten grand to buy a new one–might as well be a million. Next, thoughts raced through as to who I could call to bring me some engine oil without suffering too much criticism or ribbing. I know, Bayou Fabio.
Grabbing my phone, the incoming tide and SE winds pushing us along, another fear seized me as I gazed at the screen on my cell phone: NO SERVICE. Second mistake of the morning: I forgot to put the portable VHF in the boat. Now, what was I to do?
By now, one would think I had paid enough dues over the years to not make these mindless errors. Evidently, an engine overheating has never, not once, been an issue with one of my boats. Every fact I knew about the causes presented itself to my unsettled brain.
I tried calling Fabio, and as we drifted through a small pocket of cell signal, he answered–miracle number one. Worst case scenario was that he would bring it out to us, and if I had indeed burned up the engine, he would tow us in–a lengthy process. Best case scenario, according to him, would be that we had sucked up a some trash or a jelly fish and the engine would be fine.
After sitting for about fifteen minutes, debating what to do, I realized that when I tipped the engine up earlier, I had unsettled the oil. By letting it sit, the oil must have had time to settle back into the reservoir by now. I checked it again, and the oil level was good. So I cranked the engine up, but when a puff of smoke blew out the back, I shut it down quickly.
While Bayou Fabio got everything together for the rescue, the engine had had time to cool off. By that time, forty-five minutes had gone by since the sound of the first alarm. I turned the key again, and the alarm no longer sounded. She cranked right up–miracle number two.
After running in neutral for a couple of minutes, I was convinced it was the best case scenario–trash in the lower unit–maybe a piece of plastic got dislodged once I stopped the engine. Fortunately, I was able to contact Fabio and stop him from heading out to help us. Even though he suggested we head back in and fish closer to home, I was determined to reach Raccoon Island that day.
We Finally Reach Raccoon Island
And reach the island we did, with no more engine trouble, thank the good Lord of the high seas (and calm ones). As we got close to the western end, called Coon Point, we could see numerous sport boats anchored out away from the island. Getting closer, we noticed there were no people in those boats. And what were those small dots in the water?
We watched as several men hauled in keeper trout and plopped them in their floating fish baskets. Since I had no plans to wade fish, I lowered the trolling motor and eased up trying to find a spot close enough that we could cast into the sandbar where these men were fishing and where the trout were congregated.
We decided to put down anchor as close as we could get without disturbing these purists, but the bottom was hard sand and Termite could not make the Cajun anchor hold us against the wind and rising tide. Not giving up, he resorted to the Danforth anchor and finally got a purchase.
We cast for a while, and after a substantial amount of time and not a bite among us, we decided to troll off and explore the perimeter of the entire island. Another fishing friend told me weeks ago that he had caught nice trout off the east end of the island near some rocks. That is where we would try our luck next.
Along the way, we spied huge flocks of all sorts of birds flying and squawking at our presence. I idled as close to the bank as I could in the shallow water to get a closer look.
There appeared to be a rookery, with literally hundreds of birds roosting, flying, and loitering about. Among those were the pink ones you see in the bushes–roseate spoonbills–and brown pelicans on the rocks. I’ve heard some folks suggest that this island should be called “Pelican Poop Island”, though I did not get close enough to confirm that.
When we reached the east end, we edged our way into a line of boats already lined up fishing. The boat to our left was catching some big, fat trout right near the edge of the rocks. We strained our eyes to see what kind of lures they were using.
Catching Fish Off Raccoon Island
After throwing every color plastic bait in the box, I decided to try the bait that produced limits of trout for me and my customers this past winter. Termite reminded me that water temperature has a lot to do with why fish bite on the color they bite on, suggesting that a winter bait won’t work in the muggy waters of June.
After I reeled in the third fish, both boys promptly dug through the box for two more of the Berkley swim bait I was using.
The bite literally stopped for the men in the boat next to us, and then shortly after, the bite was off for us as well. Seems we were about an hour too late for the fishing frenzy, which was about how much time the little engine mishap cost us.
No matter, because the boys had an idea. If the fish weren’t biting on the east end, could they please go back to the west end where wade fishermen were catching earlier that morning and try their luck?
What else did I have to do? Where else did I need to be? Nothing and nowhere, but right then and right there.
So, overboard they went, about as happy as two teen-aged boys could possibly be. It did my heart good to see them frolicking in the shallow water, dropping their cool facades of I phones and rap music.
They didn’t get a bite, but they had a blast–wading, fishing, chasing tululu crabs, and writing H E L P in the sand.
At the end of the day and receiving advice from two sage boaters, I now know exactly what to do next time the engine alarm sounds. I also know that the early wade fishermen get the trout. But the one thing that eludes me is why in the world the west end of the island is called Coon Point, because we did not see one raccoon all day long. I think I will rename it “Bird Island”, if that’s okay with the map makers.
Raccoon Island adventure, anyone? I’m ready to go back.