At the time, I thought it was hilarious. But real friends don't just contact you with needs. They also occasionally call with offers. And when one calls with an offer you can't refuse, well, you graciously accept.
That's precisely what I did when an old friend called offering a night's stay at one of the south's premier fishing lodges, free food and to top it all off, a fishing excursion into Venice's Blind Bay.
How could I say no to a friend?
I arrived at Capt. Ryan Lambert's lodge in Buras (985-657-8717) just before dark, and after introductions, Lambert gave me the grand tour of his impressive facility. He had just returned from a late-afternoon foray, and had an ice chest full of speckled trout to show for it, all caught within sight of Joshua's Marina.
One of his guides made short work of cleaning the fish that would soon become our supper. My friend, Howard Hammonds from Old Bayside Lure Co., showed up just in time for dinner, and we laid out the plan for the following morning's trip.
Howard and I arrived at Venice Marina just as day was breaking, but a thick blanket of fog greeted us and prevented the sun from peeking through. The weatherman had predicted foggy conditions over water, and for once he was right.
Fortunately, the winds kicked up more than the weathermen expected, and the fog gradually dispersed enough for us to get under way.
Capt. Eric Nicotri (504-453-7136) loaded our gear into his 24-foot Champion Bay Boat, and his 225 Yamaha pushed us quickly toward Blind Bay.
Sandwiched between Pass a Loutre on the north and Southeast Pass on the south, Blind Bay was at one time two separate bays. The northwest side was once called Jackass Bay, but erosion washed away its borders, and it all gradually merged together into the single body of water now entirely known as Blind Bay.
It's a unique bay, averaging about 6 feet deep, with a shoreline comprised almost entirely of cane. And it's the home to some really big fish.
Juvenile redfish roam the shorelines, darting in and out of the canes, but there are some real monster reds here also. Thirty-five-pound fish are commonplace, and brutes of 40 pounds and more are not unusual.
Trout sizes similarly run the gamut, with fish ranging anywhere from legal size to 7 and 8 pounds. And being so intimate with the Gulf, one could catch almost anything in Blind Bay.
The problem is in getting there. Any route you take has its own inherent dangers. Besides the potential for fog, there's the ever-crowded river, teeming with marine traffic of all shapes and sizes, and those treacherous sandbars that lurk barely above and, in some cases, just beneath the surface.
After running for the better part of an hour, we motored into Blind Bay, and Nicotri headed the boat toward a spot the locals have nicknamed "Million Trout Point."
"I like that name," I quipped. "It makes me see visions of speckled trout "
"They'll be there," Nicotri interrupted. "But I can't guarantee a million of them. Besides, that'd be way over our limit."
Nicotri killed the outboard long before we reached casting distance of the shoreline, and dropped the trolling motor over the bow. I appreciated the fact that he didn't want to spook and scatter the fish by a noisy approach to the Million Trout Point. After all our effort to get there, it would be a shame to chase off half-a-million of them before we even wet a line.
From that distance, we began fishing as the trolling motor quietly and steadily pulled us closer to the point. Nicotri said this stealth approach was far more productive than roaring up to the point and throwing out an anchor.
Besides, the fish aren't always right up against the shoreline, he said, but are often holding 40 to 50 yards out from the bank, and sometimes even farther.
I was eager to try Ryan Lambert's favorite fish-slaying lure. You remember those trout he caught the night before? Well, he boasted all evening over dinner on the performance of the bait he caught them on: a brown Old Bayside shrimp, tied under a thin, weightless Cajun rattling cork (not the round or oval shaped cork that I like, but the thin, pencil looking one), using, and here's the kicker, a weighted hook instead of a jig head.
Lambert's theory is that when you attach a jighead to an artificial shrimp, it causes the lure to take a nose-dive, which makes it appear unnatural to predators. Shrimp never nose dive. On the other hand, a weighted hook causes the shrimp to suspend more naturally under a cork, making it seem more lifelike, and increasing the likelihood of a strike. It made sense.
Lambert said they caught all 40 trout on that lure and it was the only thing he used under a cork. So I tied one on with one of the two weighted hooks I managed to scrounge from Hammonds, and started casting.
Nicotri was up on the bow casting a 5-inch chartreuse Old Bayside Shadlyn, and had instant success. Obviously, the fish were scattered because he put a couple of nice trout in the boat almost immediately, and then we drifted and trolled awhile before we got into a few more.
Hammonds was in constant motion, changing baits, casting, talking and pretty regularly, catching nice-sized specks.
My little brown shrimp was doing its job also, and we all managed to put our share of fish in the box before the action dwindled down to nothing. From there, Nicotri motored over to "Big Trout Point."
"Don't bother searching for these points on any map," he said, "because they're not named on the charts. All you have to know is to fish the points in Blind Bay. Move from point to point until you find them. And don't neglect the pockets, either."
Nicotri killed the outboard, and began trolling toward the point, when I picked up the distinct scent of watermelon.
"Do you smell that?" Nicotri asked. Obviously, he caught the scent also.
"Watermelon. That's the scent of feeding trout," he said. "Y'all look on the surface for a slick over there," he pointed.
Sure enough, a small slick had appeared on the surface some 50 to 75 feet away, and we trolled toward it.
I had often heard that feeding trout could put off a watermelon scent, but this was the very first time I actually experienced it. And it really did smell like watermelon. It was a strong scent, not really faint or subtle, which indicated the school of trout was nearby, and the slick was fresh.
As soon as we were within casting distance of the slick, I tossed my bait into the middle of it. Nicotri tossed his lure on the other side of the slick and had an instant hookup.
"Usually, by the time you get to these slicks, they've drifted off from the trout," Nicotri explained. "It's best to cast on one side or the other, and widen your casts until you find where they are. If the slick is older, the fish might have moved off it completely."
I made another cast, this one on the opposite side of the slick, and my cork disappeared almost as soon as it hit the water.
We put a quick 10 or 12 trout in the boat before the action subsided, and we decided to move up close to the bank and fish along the canes.
Nicotri says the canes hold an abundance of redfish, most in the 27-inch-and-under category.
"Fish right up against the canes for the smaller, keeper-size redfish," he advised, "but keep in mind that the big monster reds are always nearby. We frequently catch 35- to 40-pound redfish in this bay."
Nicotri said spinnerbaits, topwaters, gold spoons and soft plastics under a cork tipped with a piece of shrimp would all prove irresistible to the reds if they were anywhere near our vicinity.
They were, and he was right! The redfish mauled our baits, pouncing on just about everything we threw. Several were under 27 inches, but the bulls were running, and 30- to 35-pound redfish eventually chased us away. We just got tired of catching them.
Nicotri says the huge fish are most often found in the middle of Blind Bay, but these were all caught within casting distance of the shoreline.
I asked Nicotri about flounder in the bay, and he said the flatfish show a definite preference for sandy bottoms. Since much of Blind Bay has cane stubble all over the bottom, the flounder mostly hang out in the passes.
"They'll pile up at the end of Northeast Pass and Southeast Pass on the south end of Blind Bay," he said. "Soft plastics or spinnerbaits bounced off the bottom are my favorite baits. Not many people use this technique, but flounder love the flash and flutter of a spinner-bait, especially when you bump it off the bottom."
Blind Bay is turned on right now, and the action should be excellent throughout the remainder of the summer. Nicotri says reds are roaming the canes, huddled around points and pockets, and over reefs, and even bigger fish are holding farther off from the bank.
Specks are all over, some within casting distance of the shore and others schooling out in the middle of the bay. Look for slicks, baitfish activity and diving birds, Nicotri said.
Other hotspots are very nearby.
"There is a huge sandbar just offshore from Blind Bay that provides outstanding summer-time speckled trout action," Nicotri said. "Fish it with soft plastics under a popping cork, or tightlined, or toss crankbaits. My favorite way to fish it is with topwater baits."
Any way you choose to fish it, this is one destination you don't want to ignore.