VENICE, LA IN­SIDE & OUT

BULL REDFISH, GI­ANT RED SNAP­PER, WORLD-CLASS YELLOWFINS AND TRO­PHY WA­HOO ALL CRAMMED INTO THREE AMAZ­ING DAYS.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Top Shot - BY GARY CA­PUTI

ACOUPLE OF YEARS AGO, MY WORK SCHED­ULE TOOK ME TO NEW OR­LEANS IN THE LATE FALL, AND EX­PE­RI­ENCE DIC­TATES THAT NO TRIP TO LOUISIANA IS COM­PLETE WITH­OUT GET­TING IN SOME FISH­ING. I made a call to friend Bill But­ler, pro­pri­etor of Venice Sports­mans Ma­rina, and stepped into three days of some of the most amaz­ing fish­ing any an­gler could ever dream of.

Redfish Warm-up

I ar­rived on a warm fall af­ter­noon but awoke the next morn­ing to cloudy skies, gusty winds and tem­per­a­tures in the low 40s. I met Capt. Dan Sk­er­metta at the fuel dock at 6 a.m. and donned every piece of cloth­ing I had, plus a jacket he brought along. We were sup­posed to fish for gator trout, then hunt bull reds, but the weather change put a crimp in that plan.

“The tem­per­a­ture drop will put the trout off,” Sk­er­metta ex­plained, “but it won’t bother the reds at all.”

So I hopped aboard his sk­iff, and he took off for a breach­way off the main river with a steep rock wall to try for a few keeper-size, or “slot,” reds. Us­ing light spin­ning tackle, we started walk­ing jigs dressed with Gulp! shrimp down the rocks, and soon I got my first hit. A quick hook-set and line started dis­ap­pear­ing off the spool of the small reel at an alarm­ing rate.

“I thought th­ese were smaller fish,” I shouted as Sk­er­metta used the trolling mo­tor to fol­low the fish through the heavy cur­rent.

“Sorry,” he said. A while later, Sk­er­metta slipped the net un­der a 30-pound redfish the color of a bright penny.

We fished the area a lit­tle longer, catch­ing a few slot-size fish, and then ran a few miles to an ex­pan­sive shal­low bay. Sk­er­metta dropped the Power-pole to hold po­si­tion in the wind with a shore­line of tall marsh grass at our backs. Over the next few hours, a pa­rade of big reds made their way into cast­ing range, some fall­ing

for shrimp un­der a float, oth­ers smash­ing the plas­tics we sight­cast to them. I lost count of how many we caught, but it was a good cou­ple dozen, with my big­gest every bit of 40 pounds.

As the tide dropped, Sk­er­metta moved us into a chan­nel where we flipped jigs with soft plas­tics to the edge of the tall marsh grass in the lee of the wind. Ex­pect­ing slots, we were again sur­prised as a big red en­gulfed my jig and took off un­der the boat and down the chan­nel at warp speed. By day’s end, I had caught sev­eral reds that qual­i­fied as my big­gest ever, on a day that would have kept most fish­er­men back at the dock.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what the weather does around here,” said Sk­er­metta. “There is al­ways some­thing bit­ing. The reds are the most re­silient, but we can usu­ally get on a great bite of trout, find man­grove and lane snap­pers, triple­tail, even spin­ner sharks and tar­pon. If its bull reds you want, Au­gust through De­cem­ber is when you want to be here.”

Change Gears for Tuna

Sk­er­metta joined me off­shore the next day with Capt. Will Wall of Pe­lagic Char­ters, and we headed out Main Pass to a se­ries of oil plat­forms that Wall said would hold bait. He ex­plained that we should find wa­hoo as well as yellowfin tuna within 20 miles of the pass. The year be­fore, I fished three days in July, catch­ing yellowfins on pop­pers and spin­ning tackle, but this time we’d be trolling deep-div­ing plugs rigged with wire lead­ers for tooth pro­tec­tion.

The spread was sim­ple enough — four 50-pound stand-up rods with var­i­ous col­ored Rus­sell Lure plugs run straight off the rod tips. Wall cir­cled the plat­forms, look­ing for a wa­hoo, when he started mark­ing bait pods. Sud­denly, two of the rods went off as husky tuna burned line off the reels. Sk­er­metta jumped on one, and I grabbed the other for a spir­ited se­ries of “yours is over mine, now mine is over yours.” The fish seemed set on cross­ing the lines, but thanks to Wall’s boat han­dling, we brought first one and then the other to gaff. Both fish were well over 100 pounds, which set the mark for the morn­ing as we went back on the troll. A few more tuna later, one of the rods went off on a scorch­ing run that could only come from a wa­hoo. We de­ferred to Wall, who fought the fish skill­fully be­fore bring­ing it to gaff.

Mixed Bag

This was sup­posed to be an­other day off­shore, this time just Bill But­ler and me, but af­ter get­ting our butts kicked for the first 10 miles, we de­cided to go to Plan B. The best part about fish­ing here is there is al­ways a Plan B avail­able. We stopped back at the ma­rina, picked up some heavy spin­ning tackle and bait, and ran to the west out of Tiger Pass to tar­get snap­per. We started on shal­low struc­ture, where we caught a cou­ple of nice man­grove snap­per, and then But­ler moved us to the edge of a ship chan­nel, where we dropped our baits in 120 feet of wa­ter. The sinkers had barely hit the bot­tom when the rods dou­bled over with 20-pound red snap­per. Two in the boat, an­other drop, two more big ones in the boat, an­other drop, and we had limited out.

“It’s pretty calm on this side,” But­ler re­marked as he cranked up the en­gines. “See those two rigs out there?” he asked, point­ing to a pair of pro­duc­tion plat­forms about 5 miles away. “I’ve caught some pretty big wa­hoo off those, cuz. You wanna give it a try?”

Dumb ques­tion, huh? A few min­utes later, we were trolling div­ing plugs, do­ing a fig­ure eight around the rigs, and a half-hour af­ter that, a mon­ster wa­hoo de­voured one of them and tried to light up the twin drag on the Ac­cu­rate reels. Sorry, but that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. A short time later, I was hold­ing the big­gest wa­hoo I’d ever caught, up­ward of 95 pounds. Then it was time to head back, pack, and drive to the air­port in NOLA for my flight home, but I knew I would be back to Venice again soon — real soon.

FISH MAG­NETS: Gulf oil rigs at­tract nu­mer­ous pelag­ics and bot­tom­fish.

FAST FOOD: Wa­hoo and tuna love fast­trolled div­ing plugs, far left. BULL: Few places yield more tro­phy redfish than Venice, Louisiana, left. ALL IN ONE: Venice Ma­rina has ev­ery­thing vis­it­ing boat­ing an­glers need, right.

RED HANDED: An an­gler ad­mires a hefty Gulf red snap­per.

Chan­deleur Sound Venice

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