Sometimes when you're expecting a high fastball, Mother Nature throws you a changeup instead.

That’s what happened Wednesday in Venice when a mangrove snapper outing evolved into a rain-delayed red snapper trip on the rigs in East Bay.

Eddie Permenter, Gerry Benedicto and I finally headed out with guide Mitchell Rogers about noon after a line of unexpected storms blew through Venice starting around 9 a.m. 

Our group was part of Marsh Madness, an annual four-day event held for fishing industry media from across the country.

The plan was to free-line live croakers and dead bait mixed in with chum to entice the eagle-eyed mangroves to bite, said Rogers, with Louisiana Offshore Adventures out of Venice.

“I like to cut the bait in pieces just big enough to hide the hook, then throw it out with about three other pieces and let it drift,” Rogers said. “The line will start peeling off, and all you have to do is close the bail on the spinning reel and hold on, because the circle hook will set itself. You’re not setting the hook.”

Rogers usually uses 80- to 100-pound braid, along with a 20-foot, 40- to 60-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader and a 5/0 Mustad Demon circle hook, depending on water conditions.

He likes to target mangroves in 60 to 200-feet of water.

“Decent water is key,” Rogers said. “I’ve caught in (brownish) river water before, but murky water is good because you don’t have to go down to a really small leader. They’re extremely leader-shy.

“Fluorocarbon is a must.”

The first rig we stopped at, southwest of the Port Eads Marina facility on South Pass, produced a couple of ferocious, rod-bending hits that broke off when the fish went into the rigs.

We didn’t find any mangroves at the next rig we stopped at, but Benedicto, the general manager for Seaguar, reeled in his first-ever red snapper. 

“It was great,” Benedicto said. “It fought a lot harder than I thought it would.”

Permenter, from Hattiesburg, Miss., reeled in a keeper as well, fishing with Z-Man plastics on a ¾-ounce jighead, and I caught an undersized red snapper, but no mangroves were to be found.

An ominous storm building to our west forced us cut the trip short after only a couple hours fishing at two more rigs, and we started back on the one-hour journey to Venice Marina. 

“We just couldn’t get where we wanted to go because of the storms,” Rogers said afterward. “We needed to bounce, bounce, bounce to each rig until we found them (mangroves), but it was hard to do today.

“The red snapper were up high, and we started chumming them out. We probably could have scratched out a limit if the weather had cooperated. Today, they didn’t want the croakers — they wanted the dead bait.”

For targeting red snapper, Rogers suggested fishing rigs in at least 40 feet of water the same way he goes after mangroves: Free-lining dead bait or live croakers mixed in with chum.

“The southernmost rigs in East Bay all qualify,” he said. “And sometimes I’ll heavy-up the leader because the (red) snapper aren’t as particular.”

If possible, he likes to fish the up-current side of a rig near the walkway where crew boats and supply vessels dock.

“I like the up-current side because it drifts the bait right into the rig,” he said. “But it’s easier to fish the down-current side because you can just throw the rope on the rig from there.”