VENICE, La. – In Chattanooga I live about eight hours, give or take, from the nearest redfish – a saltwater species also known as red drum. I have fished for redfish a lot and as I have written before, if I lived near redfish I would be divorced and broke.
Every saltwater fish fights like it is possessed by demons, but redfish might be on the very top of the demonic list, especially since they can be caught on relatively light tackle. These fish literally will never give up. The nearest freshwater equivalent I know of is a smallmouth bass except redfish get much larger.
I have redfished a lot in my time – on both coasts of Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana. However until recently I had never been to “The Motherland.” That would be Venice, Louisiana known worldwide wide for its incredible fishing opportunities and especially redfish.
Venice is the furthest point south in Louisiana resting on the marshes created where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The productive water and massive marsh habitat turns the area into a redfish factory.
But know this. You do NOT go to Venice for anything other than fishing (or to work on the oil rigs). Unlike most coastal cities with an abundance of motels, restaurants and touristy things to do, there is virtually nothing in Venice with the exception of Venice Marina, the Lighthouse Lodge motel, a handful of mom & pop restaurants and just a couple of gas stations with very expensive gas. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive to civilization in New Orleans.
FISHING GUIDES RUN RAMPANT
Show up at Venice Marina before daylight and the dock is lined with dozens of fishing guides awaiting their clients. On our first day of two days of fishing, Sam Simons and I tracked down Capt. Paul Miller, a young man just getting his start as a professional guide. Simons and I had given Capt. Miller instructions that we were only after “bull reds.”
Bull reds are the big boys – redfish that have grown to maturity and exceed 27 inches long, although they grow much bigger. Smaller redfish are generally referred to as “slot fish.” Redfish are excellent table fare but to keep them in Louisiana they have to be between a slot limit of 16 to 27 inches long (although one of your five-redfish limit can exceed 27 inches).
Sam and I had caught slots before and hoped to find bulls on this trip to the Motherland. After a 30-minute run outside the marshes at the edge of open ocean, we started fishing a jetty line with little success for an hour. We didn’t say it out loud but I know Sam and I both were worried whether or not Capt. Miller would produce. He finally gave up on the jetty and said, “Let’s go look for the birds.”
Running open ocean outside the maze of marshes and inland canals, we soon spotted pelicans diving in the distance. Capt. Miller moved in close and backed the boat down in wide open seas saying, “Let’s see if they’re here.”
They were. On the first cast the popping cork disappeared and Simons found himself attached to his first bull red.
Several minutes into the battle Simons said, “This is a little different than freshwater. I’ve had him to the boat seven times now. My guide is telling me where to bring him [toward the net] and I can’t move the thing.”
As fun as it was, shooting video of Simon’s battle was frustrating as I was losing valuable fishing time, and told him so.
“I’m really trying,” said Simons with a wide grin. “I see why people like these things.”
The morning continued in similar vein. It certainly wasn’t a fish every cast but a dozen bull reds up to 40 inches long wound up in the net, with many more hookups that made their escape.
MICHAEL GREETS US ON DAY TWO
On Day Two Simons and I were scheduled to fish with Capt. Louis Rossignol with Venice Guide Service. The goal again was to go in search of bull reds but Hurricane Michael was nearing the Florida Coast to our East. As Capt. Rossignol rounded the point heading into open ocean we were met my massive ocean swells. The captain plowed ahead but the swells grew taller, threatening to break over the bow of his 24-foot Yellowfin.
“This isn’t going to happen I’m afraid,” said Capt. Rossignol as he expertly turned the vessel back toward the protected marsh. Neither Simons nor I questioned the wise decision and agreed we needed to spend this day in search of slot fish inside the marsh not affected by Michael’s harsh waves.
It was another 30-minute run before Capt. Rossignol backed the boat down on a point of reeds that, to me, looked exactly like hundreds of other points we’d already passed.
“I haven’t fished this spot in a couple of weeks,” the captain said. “But it can be a good spot in this kind of wind and current.”
“A good spot” turned out to be a gross understatement. Simons and I proceeded to hammer slot reds one after another on nearly every cast. With three licensed anglers aboard we were allowed to keep a limit of 15 redfish. Our limit was on ice in 40 minutes and that’s not counting the undersized fish we threw back during the melee. In fact, it was such a “feeding frenzy” that I watched (and videotaped) Capt. Rossignol hooking up a redfish on a bare hook.
The truth is such scenes are not unusual in Venice. Apparently based on lots of Facebook posts I’ve read from Venice guides, some parties simply want to catch a limit of reds for the freezer and then head back to the dock. The guides brag to each other about how early they can make it back to the marina. Capt. Rossignol said if we hadn’t taken a detour to try and run offshore, Simons and I may have broken a record.
Of course we had zero interest in heading in. We were going to continue our day of “catching and releasing” in spite of the frequent rain squalls that pounded us.
FRESH BLACKENED REDFISH
On both days, back at Venice Marina we filleted one of our slot reds, handed them off to a waitress and asked for them “blackened.” Fifteen minutes later we chowed down on what I truly believe was the best fish I’ve ever put in my mouth.
It is a year-round fishery but October is well known as the redfishing peak season in Venice. If you want an October date with a Venice guide, you better book it very early although September and November can be excellent as well. The downside is that it is also hurricane season. The day we left we met a couple that had flown all the way from Alaska to tuna fish out of Venice, only to have their trip cancelled due to the winds of Hurricane Michael.
And be advised, Venice guides do not come cheap. Their rates definitely come with some “sticker shock.” But if you want to check “Ultimate Redfishing Experience” off of your Bucket List, I highly recommend it.