Learning to read slicks to find fish

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Associated Press

Posted on March 21, 2011 at 8:06 AM

DELACROIX, La. (AP) — They say even old dogs can learn new tricks. I was living proof recently

We had just made the turn on False River from Pintail Flats heading south across Pato Caballo Lake when Freddie Dietz suddenly lifted his head and focused his eyes like a Labrador spotting the first duck of the day.

"Oh, boy, we've got slicks up ahead in the pass to Lake Campo," he said while cutting the twin 150s to idle speed.

I looked through the windshield of the big catamaran and, sure enough, there was a ribbon of calmer water snaking down Campo Pass in the middle of the small waves being pushed by the southerly breeze.

My first thought was "feeding slick" — those calm patches of water created when schools of fish have been gorging on oily meals like menhaden, sardines or shrimp. So I went into my own Labrador act, putting my nose into the breeze to sniff out that telltale "watermelon" aroma feeding slicks often release.

No luck.

Dietz told me why.

"That's not a feeding slick — it's a current slick," the master and commander of Destination Delacroix Lodge explained. "You see those slicks, and they tell you right where to cast for the trout.

"You don't know about that?"

Well, no. So Dietz went into a role that has helped educate many anglers over the years: Professor of the Delacroix Marsh.

The major points of this lesson:

Beneath the surface of the lakes, bayous, bays and passes in the marsh is a latticework of deeper current channels carved by the action of the tides over the years. When the tide is changing at a powerful enough range, these channels tend to harness larger volumes of water moving at uniform speeds. This tends to create rivers of water inside the larger water bodies (lakes, bays, bayous, etc.) through which they flow.

The edges where these fast currents meet slower-moving water develop slick areas — much like the water on the outsides of turns in a river typically are slower and flatter than in the middle.

Those areas of slicker, slower water tend to attract bait fish because that environment requires less energy to navigate.

Fishing can be excellent in these current slicks because predators like speckled trout have been conditioned by experience to find those meals in the slower water on the edges of the faster currents.

Those narrow, faster tidal currents often do not stay in the ancient channels that help create them, but will jump out and snake across the water body. That's why the current slicks tend to swing back and forth as well.

Dietz proved his theories by anchoring just outside a long stretch of that slick in the pass, then tossing a chartreuse curly tail plastic under a popping cork right into its center.

He didn't have time to give the cork its first pop before it disappeared beneath the surface, resulting in a 14-inch speck added to the dinner menu.

"You want to anchor outside the slick, and cast right into the middle," Dietz explained. "Keep working up and down the slick, and pay attention to its edges, too. The trout will be there, feeding, but they'll be moving around some, too."

Dietz said the current slicks can be a more dependable telltale sign for anglers than the sight of birds diving in open water. Wednesday's trip proved that point.

Our trip had started as an outing to verify reports from the past few weeks that birds were already working in the open water on the northwest fringes of Black Bay. Even during the blustery weather of Mardi Gras week, anglers launching from Delacroix and Pointe a la Hache reported catching up to a limit of keeper specks under diving birds in Bay Lafourche, Bay Crabbe, Bay Gardene, Bay Long and even out to California Bay.

It was worth a look because the timing is unseasonably early; birds typically don't start signaling fish until large schools of shrimp move out of the marsh and into the bays, usually late April to early May. Yet shrimpers also were reporting finding a good crop of white shrimp in the same areas, so we gassed up and headed west from Delacroix.

But the only birds we saw working were dos gris gathering for their migration to northern breeding grounds. The reasons were obvious: The air temperature had dropped back into the 50s from the 70s of a week ago, and the big jump in the Mississippi River was pushing silty, cold river water into those bays.

Those shrimp were deep again, and the trout were probably pushed to more comfortable, and cleaner, water.

That's when the current slicks saved our trip.

"If conditions aren't right and the trout aren't finding those shrimp and pushing them to the surface, you won't have those birds acting as your spotters," Dietz said. "But if you have any kind of tidal flow, you'll probably have current slicks."

Take this from an old dog: it's a new trick worth learning.

___

Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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