Outdoor Corner: Surf's up

Lyle Johnson

Just in time for the peak surf fishing, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is preparing to open the beach shuttle at Elmer’s Island that will begin daily operations starting Memorial Day weekend, running from open to close (sunrise to sunset) every day through Labor Day. 

A sample of the gear that is needed to have a successful wade fishing trip.

The shuttle can transport up to five passengers and gear from the parking area at Elmer’s Island beach to two miles east, towards Caminada Pass. The parking area is located at the end of Elmer’s Island access road, 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 1. The shuttle is free of charge to the public.

Road repairs and several other projects have been completed to restore the area and to improve recreational access to the refuge. LDWF has installed culverts in four separate areas, built kayak launches off the access road, contracted trash removal services, and built an observation deck to provide a space for birding and other non-consumptive activities.

This will be a great assistance for those who like to surf fish, which has been one of my favorite ways to catch speckled trout without a boat. When I think back to my teen days, the words “surf’s up” first makes me think of folks on the west coast, especially California, heading to the beach to catch some waves.

One of my favorite animated movies from 2007 is “Surf’s Up” featuring Cody Maverick, a 17-year-old rock hopper penguin who has wanted to be a professional surfer ever since a visit from surf legend Zeke "Big Z" Topanga when he was a young teen.

But really, when I hear the word surf, it brings an instant photo to my mind of the beach down at Grand Isle or Elmer’s Island. Clear and calm waters teeming with speckled trout, redfish, white trout and lots of unexpected species lures the angler that is not faint of heart.

With a little preparation and information, one could enjoy a morning doing a little wade fishing, enjoying the outdoors and probably having the opportunity to catch a few fish for dinner.

Let’s talk preparation first. A fishing license is needed, so if you’re a resident or a visitor to Louisiana, log on to www.wlf.louisiana.gov and you can get what you need online. Your feet need protecting, so a good pair of beach shoes is a must. There are inherent dangers anywhere you wade so the shoes can keep you from a benign crab bite to a medical incident.

The beach is associated with swimsuits and shorts, but I prefer using long pants while wade fishing to protect my legs from incidental contact with ocean creatures. That is a personal preference. But pockets go a long way in bringing extra tackle with you. Too many trips back to the bank gets tiring and cuts down on fishing time.

A fishing shirt with pockets serves the same purpose as the pants; some protection and more storage in the pockets. Short sleeves are fine. Head cover is important as well so anything from a ball cap to a wide brim fishing hat will do.

An enterprising angler will hang a few top water baits on the hats to add to his or her tackle package. Sunscreen all exposed skin; the water magnifies the sun’s rays; no need to come out of the water cooked!

Wyatt, Lily, and Quin, grandkids of Paul Suir with some catfish and a white bass caught in the Atachafalaya River on April 12, using live crawfish.

A medium spinning rod and reel with 12- to 15-pound test monofilament line is a good choice for the novice or less-experienced angler. It’s easy to cast and will work in windy conditions. A bait caster is fine for the experienced angler and affords more accurate casts, although that’s not usually a factor while fishing in open water.

Live or natural bait seems like a good tactic and using it does offer some advantages to the range and amount of fish you catch. To me the pitfalls outweigh the advantages. Live bait must be kept alive. Floating bait buckets are readily available and reasonably priced but keeping the shrimp, minnows or croakers alive is not so easy. You end up with lots of dead bait and some of it jumps out of your hand, gets away and the fish get a free meal.

Natural bait or dead bait (bait shrimp is the most popular) attracts many trash fish. Among them are hard head catfish that has poison in their fins that usually end up in a hospital visit if you get stuck with one while trying to remove the fish and release it. The risk is just not worth it! So artificial bait is the way I like to go.

Top water is one of my favorite methods to catch any fish. If you’re making an early morning trip, there’s no better way to get started than trying them on top. Get there right at daybreak to start you fishing before you even step into the water. Big specks like to hug the shore before sunrise to feast on the bait fish that’s in the shallows.

The simplest rig that will be easy to cast, change lures and easy to remove the hook from the fish is a lead head jig. A 3/16- or ¼-ounce, unpainted head is the best size to use and the range of plastic baits that you can fish with in almost unending. Cocahoe minnows and sparkle beetles are the most popular.

Basic colors should be determined by water clarity. If the water is dingy, dark colors with a chartreuse tail will usually work the best. Black, purple or dark blue will work well under these conditions. As the water gets clearer change to a color that is a little more translucent (see through) like avocado, smoke or glow.

Okay; we’ve gotten the right tackle, made a cast and we got a feisty speckled trout on the end of the line. He’s shaking his head, trying to throw the hook. I’m in the water, he’s in the water…how am I going to land it and what will I do if I get it off the hook?

Holding the rod in one hand then grabbing the fish with the other (which I’ve tried) usually ends up with about a 98 percent loss rate. Invest in a reasonably priced trout net with a clip that attached to a belt loop and has a retractable lanyard. You can stretch it out, dip the fish and it returns to your side for the next victim. Pliers are a must as well; removal of the hook or hooks will be impossible without them 50 percent of the time.

Long stringers with a float on one end are an option to store the fish until a trip to the shore is needed to ice them down. The only problem with this is fish dangling in the water that a fish a little farther up the food chain can find them and try to eat them. My preference is a floating basket that has a long rope that can be attached to a belt loop. This results in less opportunity for other “stuff” to eat your catch.

So at the end of the day, beach anglers could head down to the State Park at the end of the road is Grand Isle. For a minimum fee, clean your fish at the station provided, wash off your equipment and take a shower, leaving the mess behind.

So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!