Borgne to be wild — How to catch specks and reds in the Lake Borgne area

Get your motor running to these Lake Borgne platforms and wells to load up on specks and reds. But don't forget about the redfish-choked Biloxi Marsh.

Posted July 1, 2017

 

Photo courtesy Louisiana Sportsman

By Rusty Tardo
Louisiana Sportsman Contributor

“Get your motor running, get out on the highway, looking for adventure, and whatever comes our way.” — Steppenwolf

Back in 1967, Steppenwolf recorded their hit song Born to be Wild. It is, to this day, considered by many to be a ground-breaking song, the first in what would become the “heavy metal” genre.

It also was the unofficial theme song for the disenfranchised; the non-conforming, wild “breakout” crowd; the bikers; and others who pursued life and sought adventure in ways out of the ordinary.

For some reason, it’s the song that came to mind as I boarded Capt. Mike Gallo’s bay boat at his dock on Highway 433.

For the trip, I invited my brother, Tony, along with one of his long-time friends, Don Moss, who grew up in New Orleans but now resides in Nashville.

The three of us were ready for some summer speckled trout action, and we counted on Gallo to put us into the middle of it.

Our plan of action was to fish Lake Borgne, which at over 280 square miles is not quite half the size of its crabby, fickle big sister, Lake Pontchartrain.

I like to think of Lake Borgne as Pontchartrain’s neglected, wild-child little sister.

Gallo said early summer action was great along the bridges on the east side of Lake Pontchartrain, and anglers were catching trout in good sizes and some great numbers.

“The action on the bridges started early this year, and it was definitely far better this year than its been over the past several years,” he said. “A whole lot of trout got pulled out of the lake along the Trestle, the Highway 11 Bridge and the I-10 spans, and the action lasted a good while longer than I expected.

“But once the summer heat really settles in, that trout action along the bridges gets spotty. You can use live bait and still put together a decent box of fish, but it’ll be sheepshead, drum, maybe a red or two and a few trout. Then we get a resurgence of action in the fall when things cool down.

That means he adjusts to keep filling coolers.

“So for now, in the dog days of summer, we have three options,” Gallo explained. “One, we fish the bridges over Rigolets Pass. I fish both the Highway 90 Bridge and the CSX train bridge, particularly on days with only slight tidal movement.”

“Forget fishing the passes on high tidal-range days because you can’t get your bait to the bottom. But if you have a day with only two-tenths (of a foot) tide, or you can hit the bridges when the tide is turning, you can catch trout there, and some reds, too.”

The other approaches to success means moving even farther away from Lake Pontchartrain.

“Two, we can head up into the Biloxi Marsh and hunt reds in the ponds and bayous, or, three, we try the various rigs and wellheads in Lake Borgne to see if we can pick up some trout,” Gallo said. “The bonus is we might also be able to try some sight fishing along the crab traps in the northern end of Lake Borgne for tripletail.”

If you launch or fish from other ports closer to areas like Black Bay or Breton Sound, those waters are also good July and August options — and perhaps even safer bets if for no other reason than those areas are so vast and options so numerous.

But this article is meant for those who march to the sound of a different drummer, the non-conformist Borgne to be Wild crowd.

You know, those who are ready to break out of the mold, get out on the highway and look for some adventure in some place out of the ordinary.

We arrived at the dock just after daybreak and Gallo already had the baitwell stocked with live shrimp. We quickly boarded, and he cranked up his outboard and pointed the bow toward Lake Pontchartrain.

From there we headed through Rigolets Pass toward the wells and platforms in Pontchartrain’s wild little sister.

The winds that morning were slight, but we could feel them building as we exited Rigolets Pass and entered Lake Borgne.

The ride immediately became bumpy as Gallo piloted the boat to a large platform about midway between Rigolets Pass and the Biloxi Marsh.

Rather than hook onto the platform with a rig hook, Gallo chose to anchor so the boat would settle slightly upcurrent of the rig, where we could almost reach it with a long cast.

“The key when fishing these structures is to be familiar with the (targeted) rig,” the captain explained. “Lake Borgne has about 25 rigs and wellheads, all of which can hold fish. Some I find more productive than others, but I’ve fished them all. And I use my depth finder to spot the shell pads around them, and to spot debris on the bottom that can steal your line.

“Anchor so you can fish over those shell pads and around structure, because that’s where the fish will be.”

How he works a well depends on water depth.

“If I’m in water over 6 feet deep, I’ll fish the bottom,” Gallo said. “If it’s under 6 feet deep, I use a popping cork, and if its exactly 6 feet deep I’ll try both.”

The water at this rig was 10 feet deep, according to his sonar, so we all grabbed bottom rigs.

Gallo had a few rods prerigged with his own take of a sliding-sinker rig.

It involved a 1-ounce bank sinker strung through the main line followed by a small bead, then the knot where the main line and about 12 to 14 inches of leader material were tied together.

The bank sinker is free to slide up and down the main line until the small bead stops it at the knot.

At the terminal end of the leader is a No. 2 Kahle hook.

Or if you prefer to fish plastic over the live stuff, Gallo used a TKO shrimp instead of a plain hook on his rig.

So, it’s a rig that works by the same principle as a Carolina rig, except it substitutes a knot and small bead for a swivel, and a bank sinker for a barrel sinker.

Gallo said he prefers the action of the bank sinker over the barrel sinker, and its a setup I’ve seen him use very successfully elsewhere (around the Great Wall in Chalmette, for instance).

I’m always curious about the rigs these captain’s employ to make their fishing trips more successful, and I was not at all surprised to see this setup work in Lake Borgne.

Meanwhile, Tony and Don got hits on their live bait almost immediately. It was a little bit of a learning curve for them to distinguish the occasional tug of the shell bottom from that of a speckled trout, but they both quickly got the hang of it and started reeling in some decent-sized trout.

And sometimes larger trout slam-dunked their baits so ferociously they had no doubt about the bite.

Fish were flying over the gunnel, and often they both slung fish in at once.

The action was irresistible, so I put down my camera and picked up a rod, and Gallo and I both joined the fray with plastics — he with bottom-rigged TKO shrimp, me with a shrimp creole Matrix on a 3/8-ounce jighead.

Most of what we caught was keeper size and over, but none were huge. These were, however, respectable fish mostly in the 13- to 15-inch size.

We did have quite a few throwbacks and an occasional hardhead or gafftop, but nary a redfish, sheepshead or drum on this day.

“You never know what you’ll find out here on any given day,” Gallo said. “I fished this rig yesterday and caught some big reds in the 15-pound range and some drum, but very few trout.

“Today we’ve caught no reds or drum here, but quite a few trout. That’s just how it is in Pontchartrain’s wild little sister.”

The trout of the day was, naturally, the one that got away. Don hooked a good one, fought it all the way to the boat and then swung it successfully into the boat.

But when he unhooked it and held the big trout up for me to take a picture, the thick fish did an Olympics-worthy double-somersault with a side twist and flung itself back overboard.

The look on Don’s face flashed from dumbfounded to horror to laughter, and Gallo and I razzed him the rest of the day about the one that got away.

“Get that fish in the boat,” was replaced by, “Don, in your case, we know getting them in the boat isn’t good enough, so get that fish in the ice chest, where we know it’ll be safe.”

But what fun is a fishing trip if you can’t razz each other?

The skies were overcast and the seas were building all morning, causing the anchor to slide along the bottom. Gradually we slid past the pilings we were fishing, but still we caught fish.

I changed to a live shrimp rig because the fish began ignoring my plastic, and we caught fish until the anchor broke loose entirely and forced us to move.

We had a good box of fish already and could easily have stayed and finished our limit, but I wanted to move, try another rig or two, and then hit the Biloxi Marsh for redfish.

Gallo said platforms and wellheads are found throughout Lake Borgne.

“Three by Rigolets Pass, one near Falsemouth Bayou, one off Bayou Grande, one at Bayou Biloxi, one at Unknown Pass, two near Shell Point, three near Alligator Point, a cluster of three in the mid-lake area, a second cluster of two, the barge, the helicopter pad — a couple more thrown in here and there, so roughly 25 or so,” he estimated.

And all worth trying. Also worth fishing is the underwater structure you don’t see, where platforms and wells used to be.

“I headed to one of my favorite wells early this season with Don Dubuc and his camera crew on board, and I couldn’t find it; it had been removed,” Gallo said. “Fortunately I had it plugged in on my GPS and I found the shell pad where it formerly stood on my depth sounder.

“I anchored so we could cast to the shell pad, and we caught over 60 trout right there. Remember, even when they pull up the rigs that heavy shell pad they laid down around it remains, and that bottom structure becomes a fish-holding habitat with or without the rig. But you’ll have to use your depth sounder to locate it, and you’ll need the coordinates for where those structures used to be.”

If you don’t have access to all those old locations, a perfect solution is Capt. Paul Titus’ Fishing Edge, available at www.4sportsman.com. The Lake Borgne package includes more than 160 waypoints, including those of subsurface hotspots in Lake Borgne.

A short stop at a couple more rigs produced a quick response from some undersized trout, but the now-heavy seas forced us into the Biloxi Marsh for calmer water and, hopefully, some redfish.

“On days with higher tides, I’ll fish ponds and washouts, around points, at cuts and coves,” Gallo said. “And live or dead shrimp under a cork is always the best bait, but Gulps under a cork will also produce.

“I have noticed that the subsurface grass is much thicker in the Biloxi Marsh this year, so you may have to fish the grassy areas with weedless spoons or weedless-rigged worms, like you’d use for bass. The reds will eat it, too.”

We worked our baits along the shorelines in several no-name ponds off of Bayou Biloxi, and then at a few points and cuts in the bayou itself.

The reds were extremely spooky in the ponds, and we weren’t exactly the quietest of fishermen.

“In this shallow water, these reds will spook and run quickly, so stealth and quiet is absolutely necessary,” Gallo said. “That means no slamming boat lids or making any other unnecessary noise.”

We spooked a half dozen or more decent-sized reds in the ponds before Gallo decided our noisy crew would fare better fishing the deeper bayous, and that’s where we managed to put some of the hard-fighting spottails on ice.

The skies were darkening and the winds continued to build, so we scratched any thought of searching along the crab traps up in the Half Moon Island area for a few tripletail.

But I figure I’ll tap Gallo for that trip next time. I’ll tell him he owes me.

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