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