Bottleneck Buzz

Many anglers pass up Venice’s spillways this time of year. They’re making a big mistake.

One of the old adages in fishing is that it really doesn’t matter if you tell other anglers where you were fishing or what you caught them on because, more than likely, they aren’t going to be able to go back and duplicate the same pattern. I’ve also heard countless anglers over the years explain exactly where they were and what they were doing to their fishing competition. When pressed on the issue, every one of them responded with, “It don’t matter if I tell them exactly what I’m doing because they ain’t ever going to believe me anyway.”

Take fishing holes for instance. Some of the best fishing holes along the entire South Louisiana coast are also some of the most obvious, like the first and second spillways in Southwest Pass below Venice.

The spillways are the kinds of areas that scream, “Stop here and drop you’re anchor for a while.”

It’s funny, though. The last time I fished the first spillway with one of my guide buddies, we lost count of the number of boats that motored past us without even a cursory glance toward the giant hole in the rocks.

Perhaps they were being polite and didn’t want to encroach on fellow anglers who were obviously there before them. Seeing as how this was saltwater fishing in South Louisiana on a weekend, though, I really doubt their oversight had anything to do with their desire to be gentlemanly.

More likely, they were doing what way too many anglers do — passing up a great fishing spot because it’s perceived to be a community hole that is for novices or for anglers who don’t want to put in the time to find fish somewhere else.

If that’s your line of thinking, then fill up your gas tank and run yourself silly. But if you’d rather catch fish than run around the mouth of the Mississippi River all day long looking for fish, make sure to drop an anchor behind the first and second spillways.

Like Capts. Brandon Carter and John L. Taylor, you just might discover that some of the best fishing is also some of the most obvious.

“There are quite a few spillways up and down the passes if you really look at what a spillway is,” Carter explained. “A spillway is basically just a cut in the river where the river water blows through into the bays.

The West Bay Diversion down Southwest Pass is an example of another one, and there’s a big drain down South Pass that drains into East Bay.

“Technically, they are all spillways, but when somebody mentions fishing the spillways at Venice, it’s the first and second that they’re talking about.”

While the first and second spillways are some of the hottest fishing holes below Venice, they are also a product of the river itself, and thus they are unfishable for much of the year. The key is the river level. If it’s high, there will be way too much muddy river water blowing through the spillways and way too little salt water.

If the river is low, though, anglers can expect to haul in redfish and flounder near the rocks. As they move farther back into the maze of canals and bayous, they can expect to start catching trout.

“The normal scenario is that the spillways start turning on about the end of July,” said Carter. “That’s when the river generally gets low enough to allow them to get hot. Of course, it could sometimes start as early as late June, but August through October is mainly when I’m thinking about fishing the spillways.”

Taylor explained that another way anglers could know when it’s time to fish the spillways is whenever the river water is clean. In fact, he said clean water is a must.

“It’s so muddy when the river is up that the fish go elsewhere because fish are going to find the clean water,” Taylor said. “You also have so much current coming through there when the river is high that the fish can’t hold there. I start thinking about the spillways when the water starts getting under 5 feet (at New Orleans’ Carrollton gauge).”

Carter explained that while he also starts checking the spillway at 5 feet, he believes them to be best when the water is below 3 feet.

“The lower the better,” he insisted.

The reason the spillways get so hot when the water gets low is because fish that had been in the bays while the river was high start migrating back to the river. Flounder and redfish move first, followed by the trout a little later.

“The spillways become a travel corridor once the river level gets down,” said Carter. “They are natural spots for fish to enter the river, but it isn’t just the easy access that attracts them. Bait moves into the river through those cuts, too, and the fish are coming after the bait. It’s mainly a lot of mullet, pogies and river shad, but we had shrimp moving through them last year.”

Many anglers would consider this kind of place to be a bottleneck. And as anybody who’s ever drank a Coke from a glass bottle knows, a bottleneck is where something is forced through a small area because it’s the only way to go. All the fish that travel to the river from the bays are forced to move through an area that is only about 30 yards wide. This concentration of bait and fish should make the spillways jump to the top of every angler’s must-fish list.

Another characteristic of the spillways that makes them such great fishing holes is the proximity of deep water close to shallow feeding flats. Many years of water running through the cuts has washed out an extremely deep hole on the west side of the spillways. The water shoots to the bottom of the deep holes then rolls to the surface. From that point, it pushes back toward the canes, and fans out and slows down.

“I think it’s important to point out that when you hear somebody say they are fishing the spillways that it doesn’t necessarily mean they are fishing the front section near the rocks,” said Carter. “The water running through the cuts has made deposits through the years, and it has pushed out into a maze of canals. The open area near the rocks is a good starting point, and there are a lot of fish there, but the fishing is also excellent back in the canals.”

Taylor especially likes to fish the canals behind the spillways, and he pays particular attention to the corners of the canes and any little drains running into the canals.

“I’m constantly looking for clean water back there,” he said. “One of my main keys is fishing the tiny drains that aren’t big enough to get a boat in — they’re only 5 or 6 feet wide. Those drains will have good water coming out of them on a falling tide, and the fish will stack up in front of them.”

And speaking of tides, both guides pointed out that, even though fish in the spillways set up according to the current, it is still important to fish the tides to maximize your catch. Don’t assume that the fish bite only according to the current. Reds, flounder and trout will still bite according to the tidal movement.

“I don’t think it matters as much on the redfish as it does the trout,” Taylor explained. “The trout, though, are still going to bite on the tail ends of the tides even with all that current.”

Even though there is very little difference between the first and second spillways, Carter said that once the fish move into the spillways, he rarely has reason to fish the second one. His reason doesn’t have anything to do with tougher fishing, though.

“I would say you have an equal chance of catching fish at either of them,” he said, “but once they get going in the first one, I never really have to travel that other 10 miles down Southwest Pass to finish out a trip. If I can catch fish in the first one, I just stay put.”

How anglers approach fishing the spillways is largely determined by what they want to catch. While reds, flounder and trout can be caught on the same bait in the same places, there are things anglers can do to increase their chances of catching a particular kind of fish.

Reds, for example, tend to hang out on the rocks or on the canes back in the canals. Flounder can be caught in the canals, but they are most often found in the front section on edges of the shallow flats right at the drops. Trout can be a little tricky in the spillways.

Carter likes to target trout by fishing where the current starts to fan out over the feeding flats. Trout like to hold in this area so they can feed on bait being washed out of the deep hole. These flats aren’t really totally flat, though. This area has bottom changes like trenches, ridges and humps that congregate fish.

“Normally, when I’m putting my anchor down, I’m putting it so I can fish a specific place,” said Carter. “And most of these spots are in 14 to 20 feet. I would say that I catch about 95 percent of the fish I catch at that depth — reds, flounder or trout.”

Whatever he wants to catch, Carter typically rigs up with either a Deadly Dudley Terror Tail or a straight tail or an Old Bayside Shadlyn. He likes purple/chartreuse, purple/white and opening night.

When fishing near the front, he threads these plastics on a 3/8-ounce jighead, and fishes with a tightline presentation. However, when he moves back into the canals, he typically rigs them under an Old Bayside Paradise Popping Cork. Sometimes, he also tries fishing a Carolina rig with live bait on the bottom.

“I think it’s important to throw your plastics with a baitcasting outfit,” said Carter. “I use a Shimano Curado on a G-Loomis rod, and this set-up gives me all the feel I need to maintain constant contact with what my plastic is doing. If I’m throwing the Carolina rig, I switch over to spinning tackle for that.”

While the redfish and trout typically bite the same hopping presentation off the bottom, Carter explained that anglers after flounder should do everything they can to keep their bait on bottom. Rather than popping it a foot or two at a time like you would for reds or trout, try dragging it on bottom only 2 or 3 inches at a time. It also helps to tip your soft plastic with a piece of market shrimp for the flounder.

Taylor prefers working the spillways with either a purple/chartreuse or black/chartreuse Bayou Chub minnow. He typically moves into the first spillway from the river and tries the shelf to his right after moving through the rocks.

“The flat from the rocks to the first cut that goes out northbound out of there can get really good,” he said. “I try to set up in 8 feet of water and throw into 3 feet. I come off that drop for the trout. If it’s real early, and I can see bait moving farther back on the flat, I’ll get in a little closer, but they usually hold on the drop.”

Both guides mentioned the importance of using the right anchor and being aware of where you are dropping it. The bottom can go from 20 feet deep to 90 feet deep within a 10-foot range. Anglers should also pay attention to where the current will pull their boat so they don’t cross anchors with other boats and cause a potential hazard.

“And leave your marsh anchors at home,” Taylor added. “Bring either a Danforth or a Cabin Cruiser heavy enough to hold your boat.”

Fishing the spillways isn’t too difficult to master. In fact, they are “no-brainer” places because of the concentration of bait and fish. And when you do get into them and whack them really well, tell everybody about the trip — they probably won’t believe you anyway.

For more information, contact Capt. Brandon Carter at 985-969-0810 and Capt. John Taylor at 985-397-4383.

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About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at chrisginn.com.

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