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From the ancient tradition of Mardi Gras to the state’s rich French history, there are a lot of things the humid, charming, sweetly southern state is famous for, and fly fishing isn’t exactly one of them. There’s plenty of water for those who wish to engage in the sport however, and you might be surprised at just how active the bug chucking community is down in the Deep South. Unlike the northern states, trout is not the star of the show.
While there is some bass to be caught on the fly, notably at the Tangipahoa River, which runs through southeast Louisiana, finally emptying into Lake Pontchartrain, the main event lies even further south among the state’s famed marshes and bayous. This isn’t your average fly fishing – this is fly fishing on steroids. You see, the saltwater harbors monstrous creatures called Red Drum, which are a huge draw for anglers looking for an on-the-water challenge.
While Red Drum (or Redfish) can be caught in the deeper, colder salty waters of the bay, those that come up into the warmer, brackish marsh waters are more conducive to catching on the fly. The fish takes its name from the drumming sound it emits when trying to attract a mate, or when under duress. They can get truly huge, running up into the 50s and 60s of pounds (the record-holder weighed in at a whopping 94 pounds). The fishing is done from flats boats.
So, where does one go to get a look at – and possibly a chance at landing – these mammoth creatures?
The self-proclaimed fishing capital of the world, Venice is located way at the southern tip of the state and features two marinas – Venice, and Cypress Cove. Venice is just a couple of hours from New Orleans, making it a reasonable day trip for those who live further inland.
Just 45 minutes from the Big Easy, Breton Sound Marina at Hopedale is your starting point for a redfish adventure through the gorgeous Biloxi Marsh.
This more obscure location is just about the same distance from New Orleans as Hopedale, but in the opposite direction. The marshes here are swimming with fish, and because it’s less well-known, you may have a more secluded experience.
Situated between Hopedale and Venice, this lodge is good for the budget, good for the belly (with its top-notch food) and offers a great selection of guides for your fishing adventures.
Red Drum – or Sciaenops Ocellatus – is related to the Black Drum and is a spirited fighter. The bulls, which are those which have grown to at least 27 inches or 20 pounds and can be either male or female, are particularly aggressive and will put up a violent display before attempting to flee.
Distance is of little consequence with these suckers, but accuracy is everything. You want to get the fly right into their face as soon as you see the water lift. They can’t see very well so they’re not going to chase your bug down, so you want to put it within a very limited area right in front of them. Because this species’ diet of crabs rounds their teeth out, you will need to perform a number of strip sets to bury the hook...then…prepare for battle (and a battle there will be!). Resist the temptation to lift the rod before you feel the weight of the fish indicating that the hook is embedded.
For the fly fisherman who’s interested in honing their accuracy skills, Red Drum are the ideal way to test and tighten the cast. Because of their size, landing one is also a contest of physical strength and mental acumen, making a Louisiana fly fishing trip a nice change of pace from simple, relaxed trout fishing up north.
While the isolated backwaters of the Mississippi Delta will indeed yield 10-15 pounders and up during any season, if you really want to get your feet wet with redfish angling, the winter is the time to strike. The colder waters of the Gulf drive the larger specimens up toward the brackish waters, making it a field day for the bug chucker. What the chillier weather also does is create clearer water, giving you a better view of your prey – thus helping your aim when it comes time to cast.
Any time from September on into winter is great for landing a 20+ pounder. But from September to December is when the action is really ripe, particularly closer to December. Don’t sweat it if this timing doesn’t work for you – booking your trip anywhere between September and May will likely result in a fruitful experience. The weather can grow volatile from January on, so if you’re taking an expedition during the late winter/early spring, it’s a good idea to pad your itinerary with a day or two just in case you lose some time to the hands of Mother Nature.
The experts make no bones about the supplies you’ll want to have with you when you head out on your flats boat adventure. Try to stock your pack with as many of the following as possible:
For your rig, you’ll want a 9 weight rod, even though you may not technically need it for the smaller guys. You want to be ready for The Big One. Experts recommend investing in specialized redfish line – they work well, and prevent you from making the common error of using a leader that’s too long.
Your fly pattern isn’t absolutely critical because of the Red Drum’s poor vision, and because they’re so very aggressive and not picky at all. A woolly bugger will do, as will any substantial baitfish imitator in white, purple, or chartreuse. Remember – the Red Drum bites on an impulsive reaction from your casting up in his grill, not necessarily because he actually believes your fly is food.
You should also bring along a teamwork attitude – your guide and you will need to work together, particularly if you’re encountering larger, stronger fish. If you’re a first-timer to fly fishing, respect your guide’s advice and learn all you can by observing.
You will need a fishing license from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. A basic fishing license is $9.50, and saltwater is $13 (plus you also need the basic when you get the saltwater). For non-residents that price skyrockets to $60 for the basic, and an additional $30 for the saltwater. The good news is that if you are going on a guided trip, you can buy a Charter Passenger License for $10, whether you’re a resident or not. This license is good for three days of fishing. Minors under the age of 16 do not require a license.
Red Drum regulations in Louisiana dictate that you may keep fish of at least 16 inches in length, with a daily bag limit of five, and only one of those exceeding 27 inches.
Throughout the state’s many rivers, streams, lakes, and marshes there is also opportunity for catching bass, black drum, sheepshead, and more. Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers those in the northerly part of the state a chance to enjoy some casting for largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and the infamous bull bream. The 1600 acre lake is set in a 5300 acre wildlife haven, making for a serene and visually stunning Louisiana fly fishing experience.
Whether you just want to lazily cast a line along the banks of the Mississippi, or wrestle a behemoth Red Drum down in the mysterious, marshy swamps of the Gulf, you’re sure to find a fishing experience to match your mood and preferences. While Louisiana is much too warm for traditional trout fisheries that are the typical stomping grounds of fly fishermen (and fisherwomen!), the Pelican State gives sportsman something much more interesting – saltwater fly fishing that cannot be rivaled by anything you’d find north of the coast.
So when you’re trying to figure out where to go next winter, as the snow and ice moves in and you’re stuck in the house tying fly after fly, dreaming longingly of the day when you’ll be able to put them to use, consider booking a trip to the deep bayous of this historic state. You’ll enjoy good food, good company, good fishing, and you’ll come back home with incredible stories to share!