Climb the Wall

A wedge of water will pour into Venice from more northern climes. Either it will defeat you as an angler, or you’ll use it to your advantage.

Whoever is in charge of fishing at Venice this year must be the same guy who schedules the holidays.Just like staring at Valentine’s Day only weeks after Christmas, Venice guides haven’t had much time in between a series of unfortunate events.

Just as soon as the river started settling down after what wound up being one of the highest rivers in several years, an oil tanker accident in New Orleans sent many gallons of oil flowing directly toward Venice.

Not very long after boats were finally allowed to run to the east side of the river, Venice guides were staring down the barrel of Hurricane Gustav … then Ike … then, well, the eventual winter rise in the river level.

It’s been one thing after another this year at Venice.

Fortunately, the short time between these events has produced some awesome fishing for trout and redfish. But it will, indeed, prove to be a short time. January is here, and that means the river will rise — another event in this seemingly endless dream.

Although this is the kind of event with which many Venice anglers are familiar and for which they are prepared, the fact is that it’s an event that comes around just as they were beginning to get over the affects of their last adversity.

But like Michael Jordan once said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.”

Or as Capt. Donnie Thomas with Cripple Creek Charters might say, “fish around it.”

Thomas has been guiding out of Venice for the last 22 years, and he has seen enough months of January come and go to know that the muddy Mississippi River historically begins to rise around the first of each new year.

It’s also after the first of each new year that Thomas begins to see the line at the Venice Marina boat launch get shorter and shorter until it is almost nonexistent. Many Venice anglers simply pack it in and wait for better days to come.

“It takes a different kind of mindset to keep fishing down here in January,” said Thomas. “A lot of people give up too easy, and I can’t say that I really blame them because it does get tough. But there are always fish to catch down here if you just know which fish to look for and where to look for them.”

Thomas suggested that even he might stay home if the weather turned super cold and super windy. Even though he and his son, Capt. Cade Thomas, know places to go to catch fish in most any condition, this is a combination that can shut down even their Venice bite.

“Even if you have clean water,” Thomas said, “the cold will push out the baitfish and the wind will churn the bays enough to make them look like chocolate milk. Then you have to run so far to get to where you need to fish during January — 18 to 20 miles — and get back that it just gets to be too much. But, otherwise, there’s no reason not to fish Venice during January.”

Given their druthers, the Thomases say their No. 1 target becomes redfish during January. It’s not that they can’t catch trout — they can — it’s just that the redfish bite is much more consistent than the trout bite, which has to basically set up perfectly for them to even try the trout.

“The Mississippi River dictates that redfish are our staple down here this time of year,” said Donnie Thomas. “All that fresh water pushes the bait, the trout and the reds down the passes, but the reds can adapt to what the river is doing better than the trout.

“Redfish will stay a lot closer to the mouths of the cuts, but the trout move somewhere offshore, where they can find warmer water with the right salinity. You’ve got to keep in mind that while a low river will bring everything into the river, a high river pushes everything back out.”

While anglers might get scared off when they hear that the river is high, it’s important to understand that a high river at the New Orleans gauge doesn’t mean that the river is high at Venice. Once the river flows past the end of the protection levees, it spreads out in such a way that a 10-foot river in New Orleans will only show as a few inches high at Venice.

“Rather than the high water, it’s the cold water and the muddy water that messes everything up,” said Cade Thomas. “The marsh is so spread out that it all kind of equals out down here. With a 17-foot river and a 2 1/2-foot tide, you’ll still see the muddy marsh in the delta at low tide.”

Since high water isn’t the problem at Venice during January with a high river, successful anglers adjust with the cold and mud. Although redfish probably couldn’t care less about cold or muddy water, their food sources do.

In other words, if the cold, muddy water pushes bait to the points at the mouths of the passes, the redfish are going to push to the points at the mouths of the passes. Following the food is also important to the trout, but to a far lesser extent.

While there are times the trout can be found at the points and bays near the mouths of the passes, the fresh water pouring down the Mississippi River does more to dictate the location of the trout than any of the other factors.

“I’ve talked to biologists who tell me that the trout go into deeper water offshore,” Donnie Thomas said. “They just kind of wait out there until we get an influx of warmer water and bait to come back. To be honest, I don’t know if they really know.

“We kind of feel as guides that they move off to some of the deeper rigs, but that’s outside our parameter, so for us, trout fishing is almost nonexistent except for when we catch everything just right with the tide, river and weather.”

Donnie and Cade Thomas both recalled times when they were able to fish Venice during January without the river being high, cold and muddy. So it’s not a given that the river is going to rise just because it’s January. However, the odds are that it will be more ornery than affable.

“You can gauge how the fishing is going to be by how high the river is in New Orleans,” Cade Thomas said. “If the river is over 10 feet, that’s when it gets harder because it will start blowing over the banks in the passes and it inundates the ponds and bays.

“Between 6 and 8 feet, the river will be muddy, but you have a lot better chance of finding cleaner and warmer water. Used to be that everybody said that 7 or 8 feet was a high river, but since Katrina that’s come down to about 4 or 5 feet. That’s when the river makes its big push and sends all the bait and fish back toward the Gulf of Mexico.”

The Thomases guide out of Venice because they believe there is no better place in the world to fish. You don’t have to have years of experience to do what they do during January, though. Just follow their suggestions for catching reds and specks, and you’ll be a stronger angler because of it.

You just have to let the river dictate what you do down here this month. The marsh is at the mercy of the river, and you are at the mercy of this marsh. Take what it gives you rather than trying to force your own will, and you can knock down that wall.

Contact Capt. Cade Thomas at 985-515-0687 or Contact Capt. Donnie Thomas at 985-515-2454.

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

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