Red-Hot Summer Sport Fishing at Venice, Louisiana

Smokin' hot! When the sun sizzles and the fishing's on fire, it must be summer in Venice.

Monster of the Marsh

Venice, Louisiana, has earned an international reputation among serious anglers as one of the world’s great sport-fishing destinations. But midsummer in Venice is reputedly too hot, too many tropical weather systems make any plans dicey, plus the bigger redfish that left in spring won’t return until fall. During my visit to Venice with three fishing buddies in early August, we enjoyed marvelous weather, and apparently someone forgot to tell the bull reds they were supposed to have left the marshes. It was hot and humid, as we’d anticipated, and nothing could change that. But it wasn’t unbearable, particularly with the action proving as hot as the weather. Here, the author (left) and Hunter Cole with Penn/Berkley, share a moment of triumph before releasing one of the golden monsters of the marsh. (This gallery is based on the feature Smokin’ Hot that appeared in Sport Fishing magazine.) Capt. Brent Ballay
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Fishing “the Ponds”

We planned four fishing days, the first and last inshore, day two offshore in blue water, and day three nearshore in the delta. That way we would truly experience all the major fishery options Venice has to offer, and the remarkable variety of these waters and varied habitats. That meant our first day would be spent casting the seemingly endless labyrinth of semiclear, weedy shallows with warm, muddy bottoms. The four of us fished in two skiffs, with captains Brandon and Brent Ballay of Venice Outdoors, longtime guides here. Doug Olander
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Surprises in the Shallows

Being a longtime guide, I thought, is a really good thing here, as the two boats expertly raced through a daunting maze of long narrow channels that cut through shallow marsh ponds. Anyone without such years of local knowledge, even with GPS, would be navigating these waters at great risk. Along with Hunter Cole, I watched Brent Ballay strike first blood when he quickly put a red-and-white surface walker near a big swirl on the mirror-calm surface about 15 yards away. But it wasn’t a red drum, or anything similar. “Gar!” Ballay called out as the toothy 3- to 4-footer thrashed about. In fact, he said, it’s not unusual to see some pretty big alligator gar in these shallows. Doug Olander
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Aggressive Reds

Soon we began seeing our primary quarry. In fact, with none of us being color blind, it was tough to miss redfish. It seemed that the farther back in the shallow, weed-choked ponds we fished, the more brilliantly glowed the goldfish that were red drum. That color popped from the dark shallows as if lit from within. We caught some fish while blind-casting, but not surprisingly, we spent much of our day sight-casting. No matter where in the world or what the fish, casting to individual targets provides some of fishing’s most exciting moments, and it was a real kick here to watch big reds charge from under patches of vegetation to clobber a lure. Doug Olander
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Soft Lure Works Magic for Big Reds

Most often, the lure these reds went after would be a soft bait with a single hook, hidden to make it weedless. I threw a few crankbaits in open spots, but for the most part, this habitat was decidedly not treble-hook friendly. In fact, my go-to lure this day turned out to be a Sebile Magic Swimmer with almost no weight. That allowed me, with light braid, to make it dart and dance erratically but slowly, yet without falling into masses of weeds a few inches down. (Before casting, I would push the lure up on the hook as it is shown here, to cover the point and make it truly weedless.) Doug Olander
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Black Bushwhacker

Hunter and I were surprised not only by just how many shots at redfish we enjoyed that day, but also by the size of many of these fish, legitimately in the “bull” range. I cast my Magic Swimmer to a drum, but one definitely not red. Ballay had spotted a large black drum hanging out where a small feeder canal dumped into the pond we were fishing. I dropped the lure 10 feet beyond the fish and pulled it right in front of its nose, which was apparently more than the fish could resist, and suddenly the fight was on. Hunter Cole
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Obstacle Course

Many of our battles with redfish in these “ponds” proved tricky. With fairly light braid, the bigger bulls were able to scream off 100 feet or more with little effort, but unfortunately that was often beneath floating mats of grass and around tall beds of weeds. If the fish went straight away from the boat, we might land it. But fish that made sharp turns while running could, more than once, snap the braid from the weight of the weeds on the line. It all made for many exciting moments, though it also convinced me next time to bring reels spooled with at least 20-pound. Doug Olander
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Trout Beyond the Shallows

Meanwhile, on the other skiff with Capt. Brandon Ballay, Mike Nussman with the American Sportfishing Association, and Rob Wittman, U.S. representative from Virginia, were having a similar day, giving the four of us plenty to celebrate that evening. Larger trout were a bit farther out as Wittman, shown here, found. Doug Olander
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Weed-Choked Waters

Brent Ballay clears his trolling motor of weeds. Spotting huge bull reds hunkered down in the vegetation in these shallow, weed-choked waters was a real rush. Doug Olander
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Time to Hit the Offshore Rigs

On day two, we exercised the offshore option. Big cats, like that shown here fishing for tuna off a large floating rig, are locally popular. The four of us boarded Capt. Damon McKnight‘s 33-foot Freeman cat a couple of hours after sunup, having waited out the small but persistent squall cluster that lingered off the mouth of the Mississippi until close to 8 a.m. Doug Olander
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Poppers At the Ready

After that, we were off into sunny and calm waters — hoping to see some surface activity to throw some of the array of large poppers and twitch baits we’d brought; we had them rigged and ready for yellowfin, like the Sebile Splasher and Stick Shadd shown here. Summer can offer outstanding yellowfin action for fish of various sizes, though 150- to 200-pound monsters are less likely in the middle of summer than in spring. Doug Olander
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Hardtail Heaven

Loving to throw lures but also being realistic, we stopped at a couple of oil platforms on the way out (as this photo shows, with a few squalls still lingering) to put a fair number of small hardtails (blue runners) in the baitwell. Hard to beat liveys! Then we headed out to the Who Dat rig, about 50 miles offshore from South Pass. With the yellowfin mostly staying deeper, we ended up throwing lures only occasionally, and at that we had to be fast, since the yellowfin tended to appear and disappear quickly. Doug Olander
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Slow-Troll Takes a Tuna

With the yellowfin hanging well below us, McKnight started slowly moving the boat around the rig with live-bait rigs down off two rods. Pretty quickly Wittman (shown here as McKnight applies the gaff) was on; he muscled in a nice 80-pounder. (Though the congressman was clearly delighted with that yellowfin, I knew he’d caught larger — having seen a replica mount in his D.C. office of the 308 he took off Mexico on stand-up gear.) Doug Olander
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Twitch-Bait Tuna

Not long before lines-out time, I tossed a fast-sinking Stick Shadd into a small commotion barely within casting range. Just as I started an erratic hard-twitch retrieve, it was nailed, and I ended up with a lure-caught tuna, though far smaller than Wittman’s. Rob Wittman
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The Ubiquitous Red Snapper

Our third day out — again with McKnight but this time in his 32-foot Twin Vee — produced excitement of a very different kind, as we fished around nearshore rigs and other structure for various species. Inevitably, we caught red snapper, which are pretty much everywhere offshore and nearshore these days, though we didn’t want to target snapper since it remained (during most of 2013 and again in 2014, in fact) illegal to keep them. Mike Nussman
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Where Kings Roam the Rigs

King mackerel, no stranger to the delta in the summer, left us with several snipped rigs, but we also hooked several. The larger fish, like this one hefted by the ASA’s Mike Nussman, put on a good show, screaming away in this or that direction, often taking the angler around the boat in a hurry. Doug Olander
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Monster Jacks

Always up for a challenge, Penn’s Hunter Cole put his Torque to the test against 30 pounds of jack crevalle, one of several we hooked that morning. Doug Olander
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Gulf Potpourri

It’s tough to guess what game fish will hit a lure in the fish-rich delta. Cole expected another big jack when he cast a Stick Shadd to a single-pole platform but ended up with a cobia of moderate size. Doug Olander
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Day’s Best Cobia

Wittman caught the best cobia of the day, a beast that grabbed a metal jig and gave the congressman one heck of a fight on his small Penn Battle spinner with light braid. Doug Olander
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Best Angler? The Congressman Has My Vote.

Wittman outfished his fellow anglers not only in terms of quality but also quantity, his mixed bag including bluefish, some good-size trout and other species. Doug Olander
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To paraphrase a favorite saying of Harry Truman, if you can’t stand the summer heat, stay out of the delta — or come back in fall. Otherwise, if you like your fishing fast and varied, the dog days are a great time to fish Venice. Doug Olander
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Visiting Venice

It’s become almost clichéd to say in a fishing magazine that there’s not a lot of tourist appeal here, at the end of the highway that runs south out of New Orleans for a couple of hours. But for serious fishing, few places can beat it. You’ll need to drive down; if you fly, plan to rent a car in the Big Easy. There’s good fishing year-round for most of the species mentioned above. Winter fronts can make a trip at that time of year a dicey proposition, but there are always calm days — and there can be outstanding fishing for wahoo as well as tuna, with some big mako sharks thrown in. Of course, most guides have tackle, but many anglers like to bring their own. If you plan to fish all habitats, as we did, you’ll need a pretty good range of gear. For inshore action, we brought light tackle and lots of various lures. If you simply want to crank in fish, you can rely on the standby of popping corks and soft baits — “Some days, we’ll catch 200 to 300 reds, one right after the other, that way,” says Brent Ballay — but we were after a different sort of experience. You’ll find numerous offshore charters and inshore guide services in and around Venice. We certainly had a great time with Capt. Damon McKnight and with the Ballays. A quick Google search will reveal several lodging options. Also most skippers here will suggest or set you up with accommodations. For general information, visit Louisiana Tourism. Doug Olander

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