The early October news that NOAA had opened fertile tuna grounds off Venice, Louisiana, and had added a recreational Gulf red snapper season on weekends, threw my colleagues and I into full-fledged fish fever last week. We - a group of outdoor writers and industry pros - gathered for an annual event called Marsh Madness at the Lighthouse Lodge (www.lighthouselodgevenice.com) in Venice. Our timing was simply perfect.
As we arrived Saturday, Oct. 9, we saw pictures and heard reports of 200-plus-pound yellowfin tuna caught behind the shrimp boats now working the newly opened area 20 to 30 miles southwest of Venice. Sunday, I ventured offshore with Capt. Kevin Beach (www.mgfishing.com), Mustad sales manager and diehard tuna wrangler Jeff Pierce (www.mustad.no), and writer/photographer Joel Lucks (www.joellucks.com).
We quickly found a hoard of blackfin tuna following the trawlers. By noon, we located the mother lode of yellowfins. The pod showed as a thick set of colorful lines on the depth finder. The fish ranged in size from 30 to 100 pounds, and we took our fill using chunks of dead bait. We stopped at a rig on the way in and capped off the day with several legal red snapper taken on butterfly jigs.
Besides our haul, other boats in the fleet picked off some triple-digit yellowfin in the 150- to 220-pound range. Buzz back at the lodge changed the minds of some dedicated inshore fans as offshore boats loaded up for Monday and Tuesday.
But inshore fishing proved fire-brand hot, too. Fishing a bay off of Dennis Pass on Monday, Oct. 11, Skeeter Boats' Ben Jarrett and Ken Ratley (www.skeeterboats.com) and I tapped into some clear-water sightcasting to redfish. Working one long bank loaded with grass, we reeled spinner baits over and around thick vegetation. A red would erupt from the cover followed by two or three buddies. Quick casts resulted in double and triple hookups.
Looking into the grass, we saw mullet of all sizes, blue crabs and numerous sheepshead that followed our baits. Big jack crevalles swept by the bow on what seemed like periodic sniping runs. We lost count of our releases, but my best guess would be 30 to 35 reds from 3 to 25-plus pounds, one flounder and one 3 ½-pound largemouth bass.
My third day of fishing - this time at nearshore rigs for cobia - sustained the streak. We ran west out of Red Pass into the teeth of stiffening winds, but Eddie Permenter, captain of the 24 Skeeter bay boat, James Hall from Bassmaster, Gerry Bethge from Outdoor Life, and I could have cared less about the rough seas. Permenter and his fishing partner had returned to the lodge the day before with their limit of cobia to 45 pounds.
We began pitching 3-ounce jigs to the small rigs in 40 feet of water. On my second or third cast, a fish hit on the drop. Politely, it swam away from the rig and into open water. However, it rolled up in the line and I spent precious minutes pulling its body sideways through the water. The fifth or sixth time the fish came boat side, it succumbed to the gaff. We released three undersize cobia and kept five ling from 25 to 45 pounds.
Venice has always enjoyed a reputation as a special place to fish - an oasis seemingly at the end of the world. But with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and BP in 2010, fans of the region had reason to doubt its future. While no one can anticipate impending oil-spill fallout, it would seem - at least this fall - that Venice again rivals nirvana.