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February 08, 2010

Six Top Yellowfin Spots

Six top spots to battle behemoth yellowfin tuna - and then some...

Venice, Louisiana

David Brown

"I don't know of any area that brings in the amount of yellowfin tuna that we get here," says Capt. Damon McKnight. The longtime local skipper cites location, location, location: "The north-central Gulf is a magnet for tuna, mainly due to the Mississippi River along with the Green Canyon and its depths." While the entire northern Gulf can be excellent for yellowfin, the best and most accessible action lies within an hour or two from the Venice Marina, the latter located a couple of hours south of the New Orleans airport.

Size: In prime seasons, it's common to find 100- to 150-pounders (average about 130), with a number weighing 200-plus taken every season. Most of the year, yellowfin typically run 70 to 100 pounds.

Odds: For action from good-sized yellowfin, excellent odds, with good chances for a 150-plus. (Seemingly better in recent years, but that's likely due to better/stronger tackle.)

Season: Winter - late January, February and March - is time for trophy-size 'fins. However, tuna are targeted and taken in good numbers throughout the year; yellowfin better than 200 pounds have been weighed in during April, July and August as well. October is a good second choice for big tuna.

Run to the Fish: Typically 45 miles, plus or minus. A good part of that includes running down the protected and scenic Mississippi River mouth; then from the mouth of Tiger Pass figure about 35 miles in open water. From Southwest Pass, you'll do just less than 20 open-water miles on a typical day. There may be more yellowfin farther out, but the bigger fish seem to feed closer to the coast.

Conditions: Varies widely; it's all about the fronts (frontal systems that pass through). Lots of decent days with three-foot seas in the winter, but just as many may be unfishable. One day may be cob-rough and the next surprisingly acceptable. Current velocity also factors into sea conditions, as does water color. The latter has to do with sediment carried in the water. A long run out amid brown, sediment-laden, river-water outflow will be noticeably calmer than the clean, blue or blue-green water beyond it. Also, moderate winds over the colder Mississippi River outflow often give way to stronger winds blowing over the clean water once offshore. Yet another factor may be the thick fogs when calm, warm air hits cold river water.

Charters: Roughly a dozen or so full-time, serious, offshore/tuna charters out of Louisiana fish these waters. Most know their stuff. Large center-consoles with multiple outboards are de rigueur. Figure on $1,300/day, give or take, plus fuel for the boat.

Methods: This is primarily a chunk or live-bait show. "More big tuna have been caught off a piece of cut pogey [menhaden] than anything else that swims in the Gulf," says McKnight. Live blue runners and mullet also score well, but in winter most skippers chunk with menhaden. Trolling plugs, especially for smaller fish, during other months, has long been a popular technique here.

Accommodations: Much more choice than in past years and a much wider range. You'll find lodges and hotels as well as various cabins and houseboats. Many skippers set up clients with accommodations. Some offer rooms in houseboats; if not, you can rent a houseboat at Venice Marina for a couple hundred bucks (that's fully furnished to sleep four to six) and enjoy the advantage of jumping onto the boat from your front door. Another convenient and modestly priced alternative: renting a trailer at the marina. In general, you'll find plenty of options at reasonable rates.

Other Opportunities: For anglers, where does one start? The waters here are some of the world's best for sport fishing. Offshore, right along with prime yellowfin time, comes some world-class wahoo action - and for big fish, more often than not in the 50- to 100-pound range. Like blackfin tuna? They're often thick as flies, with 15- to 20-pounders grabbing baits as fast as they hit the water. Add to that bottomfishing with truly spectacular red snapper during the increasing limited seasons. And inshore, fishing the marshes for big red drum as well as seatrout and flounder arguably has no equal anywhere. Toughest part is trying to bring all the tackle you might need if you want to broaden your fishing beyond tuna and wahoo.

As far as general tourism, well, uh, um, er ? Venice wouldn't rate high as a great place to bring the wife and kids - unless of course they want to fish.

Travel Costs: Flights run about $200 to $300 from Miami to New Orleans, about $400 from L.A. Also, unless driving in, you'll need to rent a vehicle from the New Orleans airport.

Source: Capt. Damon McKnight has fished these waters as a charter skipper for 12 years. He runs out of Venice on a 32-foot Twin Vee cat with twin 250 hp Evinrudes. For more information, visit