Tom Quintini has a calculated and ordered approach to his fishing.
He also has a modus operandi for launching and loading boats and cutting his catch at the end of the day. What else would you expect from a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran?
“I hunted with this guy once and watched how meticulous he was with his calling, his gear, his approach.” Quintini said. “We got to the end of the day, and I said ‘You’re a Marine, aren’t you?’ ‘Yep,’ he told me. I just knew it by how he carried himself.”
I’m fishing with Quintini by some stroke of fortune and the power of a network of fishing diehards. A friend of mine fished with Quintini in the fall on a lark and a connection through family and friends.
He passed on the contact to me after I landed in New Orleans and found my planned trip busted by weather. Strong winds, thunderstorms, and nasty fog were affecting the bayous and marshes of the lower Mississippi River and Gulf, making a trip all but impossible.
The guide I was scheduled with had warned me about fishing Louisiana coastal marshes. The guide works 10 months of the year, with March and April off because of unpredictable weather, a problem in and of itself, and the effect the weather has on the bite.
“February and March can be tough,” Quintini said. “There’s unstable weather, plus flooding on the river.”
Knowing I was facing long odds, I did what every fisherman I know would do. I went.
The old saying of a bad day fishing beats a good day working applies here, but a chance to see a brackish tidal marsh and cast a line in an angler’s paradise were additional reason to give it a whirl.
In the predawn darkness, Tom and I took off from his suburban New Orleans home with his flat bottom boat in tow, headed down the Great River Road that follows the Mississippi to the Gulf, before launching at a private marina along a long canal that enters the maze of grass islands, bayous and waterways in the constantly aggrading and degrading alluvial islands and bays of the Mississippi River delta and Gulf Coastal waterways.
It’s a short boat ride as the sun rises, past elaborate vacation homes and boat houses built on pillars on berms to survive flooding and remade after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area. The scars of Katrina linger, 13 years later, with strewn debris, empty homes and bare lots where people have left.
Mother Nature takes away but she also gives; the marshes recovered quickly and the area continues to be a destination for anglers seeking sea trout and redfish.
Tom and I pitched clubtailed swimbaits rigged on 1/8-ounce weighted hooks to the edges of mudflats, abandoned crab pots and sedge and grass islands where the depth varies from just a few inches to a couple feet. Small fish jump on occasion, flinching reactions to the provocations of predators nearby. A few wakes on the water’s surface expose prowling fish.
The tide is scheduled to raise about a foot during the course of our morning trip. Tom landed a plump sea trout on our second stop. Tom told me that on good days out here during the peak of season, you can land a 25-fish limit in under an hour, although he only keeps a handful to eat.
Quintini moved us along slowly with his trolling motor, each of us casting from the bow and stern to shore. We started the morning with the whole area to ourselves, save for the many pelicans, cormorants, gulls and ducks trading back and forth through this patchwork habitat.
The familiar call of common loons and the quacks of mallards and teal steal my attention off and on throughout the morning.
I felt a tap-tap-tap, and I set the hook on my first fish, flipping another sea trout aboard. We spotted a commotion around the corner of a point, and a couple fish hit short and don’t stay on the hook. As quickly as they appeared, they are gone again.
Our search continues. We pull another fish while casting to deeper water and the mid-morning winds pick up. Bite detection becomes challenging and now strikes have become foreign and altogether gone.
We soldier on the final two hours of the morning, hopping from spot to spot, hoping a lone redfish may make an appearance or that a school of sea trout will fire up and provide an adrenal shot. Quintini has days where you can’t keep the trout off the hook and days when you can’t buy a bite. The latter days are too common in the month of March.
We don’t succeed, but not for lack of trying. We run back to the marina, load up the boat and gear, cut up our catch to an audience of brown pelicans, and make the drive back to New Orleans. I thanked Quintini for his time and his willingness to fish with a total stranger, begging for a morning on the water.
“I don’t need much of an excuse to go fishing,” he said.
With such a passion for fishing, I asked him why he doesn’t guide anglers on these familiar waters.
“I only fish with the jerks I know,” he quipped. “I don’t want to fish with the jerks I don’t know.”
Thanks Tom, for taking this jerk out to experience Louisiana’s coastal marshes, a true sportsman’s paradise.