Go West, Young Man

When winds at the mouth of the river are calm or out of the east, point the bow of your boat to the rigs and sandbars in West Bay.

It’s difficult to keep a positive attitude about a fishing trip when certain things take place on the long, predawn drive from New Orleans to Venice.

A breeze so slight that direction is indiscernible on the west bank of New Orleans makes its presence known in Belle Chasse. South of Myrtle Grove, it picks up a little more, and so on until the giant American flag at Buras reaches the “iffy” level.

But it’s much worse when one’s hopes are again buoyed by a lack of wind closer to the target. Trips for speckled trout at the shallow oil rigs surrounding the Mississippi River delta are very much dependent on velocity and direction of cantankerous summer breezes.

The cylindrical orange wind socks at the heliports lay flat and flags on the towers of the large sportfishers at Venice Marina kicked only occasionally. After a quick loading of gear and passengers, we were off to the area where Capt. Brent Roy’s intelligence briefing had indicated a speckled trout haul the day before.

The constant boat traffic in and around Venice — especially early in the morning as oil-patch workers and commercial anglers begin their day — keeps many boaters from making much more than an educated guess about wind strength. Tall stands of roseau canes shield banks from ripples, and boat wakes keep the same canes rolling back and forth in times of heavy traffic. The ride in even a slow boat can blur vision to where the limbs on the tree lined bank of The Jump are inconclusive.

There was no mistaking the breeze as we came across a patch of open marsh in Tiger Pass. The breeze came stiff from the left, disrupting the straight-on 40 m.p.h. flow provided by the 24-foot Skeeter bay boat.

“Wouldn’t want to be on the east side today,” said Roy as he pointed out the short-cut coming up.

The option to work a particular side of an area is just one of dozens of reasons Venice has to be considered one of the top destinations for inshore species in the nation. The delta spreads out like a bird’s foot and provides a number of choices when targeting the summer-run speckled trout. Even compared to other marsh systems, the roseau-cane dominant landscape buffers the wind a bit more.

“We generally select the side to fish based on the direction of the wind and the side where the storms are,” said Roy. “The great thing about Venice is that — even in summer when we’re fishing mostly open water — you can find some relatively protected water.”

The farther we moved from land, the choppier it got. I was thinking the same thing when Roy made the comment that we would take our medicine on the way back.

Obviously, the eight-year veteran guide and owner of Venice Charters Unlimited wasn’t the only one with the previous day’s tip. Four boats containing a veritable who’s who of Venice inshore guides had braved the chop — which had leveled off adequately — and surrounded the rig, which bellowed a disagreeable noise from the machinery above. One vessel took two nice trout in the short time we were there.

“That’s the spot you want to be in,” said Roy, pointing to the inside pocket of the L-shaped structure. “Right in the middle of the structure in all that noise.”

Four casts were all we made before Roy made the hand signal — almost by necessity — to reel ’em up.

“There’s another rig down the way that usually holds some bigger fish,” said Roy.

The next platform greeted us pleasantly with the sounds of an 18-inch chop slapping a mixture of steel and wood. The breeze made casting the 3/8 ounce jigheads — a grade higher than I was used to — easy, but with some inaccuracy, which is quite usually no problem for this type of fishing.

The first upcurrent side of the rig proved empty of fish, and Roy swung the boat hard to the left as I loosed a long cast toward the other side, trying to get ahead of the pro with trolling motor duty and feeding the competitive desire to be the one to put the first fish in the boat.

The purple/chartreuse Bass Assassin Sea Shad sailed true with its hefty lead accompaniment, right off the side of a tin shed on the platform, careening off of it and looping once around a stray pipe 15 feet above the water.

With the lure hanging 3 feet under the pipe, I quickly judged the swing of the lure and the ignominy of the situation in the face of two young ladies simultaneously. Of course, there’s only one way to go here, right?

“Let’s see if I can get this one out,” I said casually.

Of course, looking back, no one aboard even knew the situation, much less cared what I was doing as Roy concentrated on positioning the boat and the girls chatted and tended to their own business in the back of the boat.

Nobody saw the perfect, gentle pendulum swing which placed the lure a few yards from the corner piling. But everybody heard the “There he is!” grunt and the splashy greeting from the first speckled trout of the morning as I reacted on the solid whack just as I took up the slack.

“All right, I think we might have something here,” said Roy as he leaned into a fish of his own seconds after mine was stuck.

Roy quickly caught up with the 15-inch fish and kicked the trolling motor away from the fish. Almost any kind of wind can blow one’s boat onto a school of fish, and Roy is adamant about staying off fish and proper boat positioning.

“On a lot of days, you need every bit of the trolling motor power you’ve got. Thirty-six volts is a must for these boats,” said Roy.

Though he’s a big believer in the homemade cylindrical spear-type fashioned from PVC pipe, Roy uses a standard anchor when working the depths of the near-shore platforms.

I began a string of long casts with a hook up. The ladies began demanding attention. It took several times, but eventually we found the right position, and the haul began. Roy chatted about these and other rigs as he tended to net and slime duty.

“These rigs are much farther than the Sandy Point rigs (just a few miles out of Red Pass), which are also good this time of year,” he said. “You can see we’re almost all the way to Southwest Pass. It takes a good boat ride to get here, but the fishing can be outstanding.”

A few of the boats from the first rig had enough of the noise and the lack of action, and joined in the fun. As summer trout are want to do, these fish were mobile. The school seemed to move up and down the structure, first holding tight to the pilings, then moving out to the open water. At one point, three boats had fast action together.

The fish would visit our side sporadically, but the other boats seemed to take their toll on the attention of the school. We figured there were 50 or 60 fish from 14-18 inches in the box, a catch highlighted by 15 minutes of “fast as you can throw it out there” action.

Bigger fish can be caught in and around the wellheads surrounding the birdfoot delta, but often a change in tactics and expectations is in order.

“I like to pull a little 8-foot test trawl for croakers and fish them around some deeper rigs,” said Roy. “Around the time before the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo is good for big trout in and around the rigs.”

Fellow charter captain Larry Averitt also counts on the oil and gas wells for many of his customers’ favorite species.

“The rigs are less likely to hold big schools of smaller reds,” said Averitt about the fish that can take over a good-looking point or cut. “The platforms are more likely to hold the big bull reds, which aren’t as numerous.”

When a few more rigs gave up few fish and a current that not even our 1/2-ounce jigheads could withstand, Roy pointed the bow north for a change in venue.

“There’s a stretch of beach along there that not many people know about,” he said.

The old lighthouse on Southwest Pass stood as an obvious landmark to the east as Roy pulled back the throttle and examined the scene ahead. Hundreds of birds flitted about, and scattered pogies flipped in the marginally fishable water.

The Venice area is infamous for its constantly changing landscape, and Roy remarked that this stretch is no different. Boaters choosing to try this area should be careful of sandbars on calm days when breaking waves don’t give away their location.

Dreams of slick-calm summer days are what many anglers use to get them through the tough winter and spring periods of constant gales. But a little breeze or even a slight current can be invaluable to those unfamiliar to a beach area.

“A good depthfinder is almost a must,” said Averitt. “You’ve generally got a gradual slope as you get closer to the beach, and there are signs like the small ripples when the surf is flat.

“When you do have surf and you get on some fish, it’s best to get on anchor. It’s real easy to get washed up on the beach when you’re busy with taking fish off and other things.”

“If this water would just clean up a little bit…” said Roy, as his voice trailed off in the breeze. “A lot of times if you do a 360 (degree turn), you’ll be surprised at the clear water underneath the top layer from you prop wash.”

Fishermen should be cognizant of the sensitivity of the fish in shallow water by slowly idling into a shallow area such as a beach. Roy’s new Yamaha 225 four-stroke barely murmured as we searched for an anomaly in the acres of open water spread before us.

“There, you see that breakwater? That’s the bar I’m looking for. We’ll give it a try here. There’s plenty of bait in the water,” he said.

Roy switched rods to a spinning outfit to throw the jighead and small, lemon-shaped clip-on cork to work the dingy, shallow water. It had cleared enough to warrant a try.

“I’ll use spinning tackle when I’m throwing a cork,” said Roy. “Without one, I’ll go with casting tackle every time, but I can get the wind behind me and cover a lot of water with spinning gear.”

The action was slow here as well, save for a few scattered trout and a 9-pound redfish. It was a fish that usually satisfies customers, but which guides secretly scorn. It’s not that they dislike redfish. It’s just that the rambunctious battlers are known for bullying other species out of the way when the mood strikes.

As the wind continued to blow steadily and the midday sun beat down, the girls waved the white flag. Storms had popped up throughout the morning comfortably out of reach, but a monster was working up the east side.

Though it’s easy to be lured into heading out to the area where your buddy killed ’em last week, fishing Venice can be as easy as checking the wind direction, checking your map and letting common sense be your guide.

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