Fishing Off Raccoon Island
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?
Upon closer inspection, we learned they were wade fishermen–and quite a few of them.
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.
The bait worked famously, and in short time, I had a couple of these beauties on ice.
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.
It wasn’t long before Termite snagged a beautiful trout of his own.
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.
You are Brave!! I would never even TRY to run a bay boat. My Hero!!! Eagerly awaiting more of this adventure story!
Hi Swampwitch! Oh, she’s not a bay boat, but a flat bottom skiff used mostly here for crabbing. However, I am noticing more and more of these vessels being purchased and rigged out for fishing. Because of the length, she handles a chop pretty well. I got a good deal on her at the end of last summer when a young entrepreneur from Alabama bought it, second hand, to put to use in the oil cleanup. He never got a contract, though, and rather than haul it back from Grand Isle to his home state, he settled for my offer. I’ve since retired the pontoon boat I’ve been using for tours and fishing since 2004, now BAB is the main boat. The speed increase alone was worth the investment. I’m back at my desk and hope to write more here in a minute. Are your friends still wanting a tour tomorrow? I sort of doubt it, since we never planned it 🙂
Would not expect anything less. My Vue has close to 220,000 miles on it I am starting to get nervous but I’ll bet it makes it to Loozy again. Got the GPS zero’d in?
On a side note, my new fave store owner’s husband takes pix then paints pictures.
Got nice bayou type pix but from Alabama and East Coast. OOPS is store name.I forget acronymic something it mens.
What is the web site URL for the store? Leaver earlier. Spoken like a marine. I guess GPS is zero’d in.
Not sure there is one URL.
BTW BW, I checked with resident teenage boys they said 4 thumbs up on frolicing.
I was thinking different out of their heads but…..
You’re one lucky woman! Usually if an alarm goes off …it’s too late! Which Winter bait were you using? We’ll be going to Grand Isle on the 20th. Maybe it will work there. Our last trip was a bust. Couldn’t even catch a “Hard Head”! Soooooooooo, did y’all at least catch enough for supper before they shut down?
Yes, we did, only because the trout we caught were a very nice size. But I think this trip was more of a learning experience for me . . . just goes to prove that we never stop learning!!!
Which Winter bait did you use? I need to make sure I have some.
I emailed you the very specifics!!!! Did you not get it?
Got it. I opened my email after going to your Blog. I’ve got that bait in another color. I’ll get yours. If it doesn’t work this Summer, I’ll be ready when we fish Decade next Winter.
Steffi – have you seen any news on whether or not river floodwaters (around Krotz Springs) have receded and if Morganza flood victims have been able to go home and assess the damage? I would like to do a follow up but can’t find much news on this.
One person’s “epic fail” is another person’s “live to fight another day”. The wind has been so bad here this spring there have been plenty of guides I listen to on the early a.m. outdoor show confessing to turning tail at the jetties – or not even starting. There have been some strong outgoing tides confronting much stronger than usual onshore winds – who needs it? They hate it – especially the loss of income – but caution beats getting beat to death every time.
Love the pic of your exuberant boys! Makes me want to head to the water – if it weren’t so danged hot. Still no rain, and none forecast for the next week.
We will go!!!! Coach wants to know what kind of fishing we will be doing and what is available from the banks so they know what to bring. Of course they have sorted through all of their gear, lined up coolers to bring home goodies but haven’t given a thought to clothes or travel details, lol.
Well, honestly, bank fishing might produce a red fish more likely catfish. We will probabaly be fishing reds from the boat, too. I was thinking about y’all today in regards to the island, but with a 2-year-old, the trip would be a rough one. It’s an hour out there and back. We’ll just have to see. That’s very different than staying inland and going to Lake Decade. Hey—those guys know what’s important and you get to deal with the peripherals! 🙂
Ok Coach et al, My experience is you can never have too few clothes. 2 changes and your good. Banks? Road fishing might be ok off La 1 but not sure this time of year. Travel details? Potty breaks last as long as gas is going in tank.
2 year old? I am flashing back to all those pix of me in cool places I do not remember. 5 days of rain here. House cleaning in earnest begins.
BW, I heard on the News that some families in the Butte LaRose, Sherburne, and Krotz Springs areas were allowed to go home. That’s all the info I have. You’d think there would have been more coverage. AND…being computer illiterate, I wouldn’t even know where to look for updates.
Oh, I had seen the same updates, but I dont’ get to watch a lot of TV news, so I was hoping you had seen some coverage. I haven’t searched today for online updates, though. Need to do that when I have time. Thanks! PS Trip to the island again yesterday . . . the bait did its damage once again.