The rigs just out of Main Pass draw Venice’s ample trout and redfish populations to their rusty legs during the hot summer.
A jolt of energy shot up my line and transferred to my rod tip. Some unseen fish had just struck my silver Croakertail bait; there was no doubt about it.
But unfortunately, it did so at the end of a slow drag upward with my rod. The graphite blank was pointed skyward, and I had nowhere to go to set the hook.
So I lowered the rod, reeling like a circus monkey to take in the slack, and held my breath as I prepared to set the hook.
Would the fish still be there? Did it hit it and spit it all in one motion? Was that, in fact, a fish that I felt?
The questions all raced through my head in the nano-seconds it took for me to drop the rod, and reel in the slack, just as they have for every angler who has been in a similar predicament — and every angler who has fished for more than a day or two has been in a similar predicament.
I yanked back on the rod, and the resistance — that sweet resistance — on the other end answered all my questions. Yes, the fish was still there. No, it didn’t hit it and spit it. And, most importantly, it was, in fact, a fish that hit.
The fervor with which the fish hit the bait gave every indication that it was a trout. A redfish will lumber along like a bloodhound, and if it happens to come across a baitfish, it’ll eat it. But a trout hides in the shadows like a wolf. When a hapless baitfish moseys along, the trout darts from its hiding place, inhales its dinner, and instantly doubles back to its lair.
If that baitfish — or lure — happens to be attached to a lucky angler’s rod, the resulting impact is unmistakable. It can be felt by the rough hands of a construction worker, and seen on the end of a rod by the dim eyes of a life-long welder. A trout can’t fight with the brute force or stamina of a redfish, but it hits like Lennox Lewis compared to a redfish’s Tonya Harding.
As if the hit weren’t evidence enough of the fish’s species, the fooled prey began a fast rise to the surface. This was a trout. Had to be.
With speed gained from a 20-foot trek up the water column, the fish shot through the surface, exposing its full frame and shaking its mighty maw a full 2 feet above the waterline. Gravity protested, and yanked the fat fish down on its spotted side. Almost immediately, it erupted through the surface again, but this time not as high.
It was the fish of the day, no doubt about it.
Obviously realizing it couldn’t regain its freedom by jumping, the fish decided to try pulling. It ran to the rig, then away from the rig, toward the front of the boat, then again toward the back. My Curado reel gave up line in smooth bursts when the fish was frisky, and I regained it during lulls in the battle.
Finally, the fish was at boatside. It was an easy 5-pounder. Probably a 6-pounder. Actually, I think it may have been a 7- or 8-pounder.
Though exhausted, the fish knew it had one last shot to guarantee its freedom, so it dove back under the boat. Right on cue, the Curado gave out more line, but midway through its run, the trout would no longer need it. The hook had become dislodged from its jaw, and my 9-pounder swam back to the rig to regain its strength and wait for the next bumbling baitfish to happen along.
“Awww, that was the fish of the day,” Capt. Shane Mayfield said. “I can’t believe it came unhooked.”
Neither could I.
I would have let the 10-pounder go anyway, but it would have been nice to hold it, get pictures of it and maybe even give it a Jimmy Houston-style kiss before sending it on its way.
But I was far from distraught. If you lose one fish at the Main Pass rigs this time of year, there’s always another one holding on the next rig leg just waiting for you to bump a bait in front of its nose.
The jungle of twisted metal and creosoted wood draws fish from the downriver shorelines just as soon as the water gets warmer than a 15-minute-old cafe latte.
“This area gets really good in mid-June, and it stays good through the end of August or early September,” Mayfield said. “The fish come here for comfort because the shorelines just get too hot.”
But it’s not comfort that Mayfield and other anglers are looking to give them. He and the rest of the Venice guide fleet make their livings at these rigs during the summertime reeling in trout after trout after trout.
“There’s so much structure out here to fish,” Mayfield said. “If you bounce around enough, you’re going to find the fish.”
The open sea of metal between Main Pass and Pass a Loutre can be intimidating for first-timers to the area, but really, fishing there isn’t all that complicated, Mayfield said.
Like most guides, he has favorite rigs in the area, but a rig that’s hot one day won’t necessarily be hot the next.
“Everybody seems to gravitate to the big rigs,” he said. “And I’ll fish the big rigs too, but I like to hit all the little wellheads. When you find a school at a little wellhead, you can have them all to yourself — at least for a while.”
Mayfield explained that the bigger rigs have a lot more bottom structure, so they tend to hold bigger schools of fish.
But since they draw more attention from anglers, the competition on the bigger rigs can be fierce. On uncrowded weekdays, he’ll fish the big rigs, but on weekends or holidays, he jumps from wellhead to wellhead.
“You’ll fish a structure you’ve never fished before, and — boom! — they’re there,” he said.
But even with all that pressure, the area seldom fails to deliver the goods.
“With a good tide in the summer, you can limit in no time,” Mayfield said. “There will be numerous people out here catching limits of fish.”
Not just limits of fish, but limits of good fish. Mayfield said 5-pounders are common, and trout up to 8 pounds are not unheard of.
And unlike trout at other destinations this time of year, those that inhabit the Main Pass rigs don’t turn up their noses at plastics while waiting for you to throw them something that breathes water.
Mayfield fishes all summer long with Deadly Dudleys and Deadly Dudley Terror Tails, and he seldom has trouble catching fish.
“Now don’t get me wrong; live shrimp is deadly out here,” Mayfield said. “I’ve seen days where I’ll be catching trout one after another, and a boat will pull up to the rig throwing live shrimp. They’ll pull every fish on the rig to that spot. But most days, (the fish) will hit artificials with no problem, and I just like fishing (artificials) better.”
Mayfield always motors to the upwind side of the rig and kills his outboard about three cast-lengths away from the rig. He uses his trolling motor in conjunction with the wind to push him toward the rig as he fan-casts the area.
“Sometimes those fish are a good distance away from the rig,” he said. “When the tide’s really ripping, they’ll hold downcurrent from the rig.”
After he gets within a cast-length of the rig, he’ll throw his Dudley as close to the rig legs as possible and strip line off his reel with his hand to allow the bait to free-fall.
“I want that bait to be on the bottom right near that rig leg, so by stripping line off the reel I reduce the friction on the line,” he said.
After it’s obvious the bait is on the bottom, Mayfield engages the reel and begins to retrieve the bait while snapping his rod tip periodically.
“I want that bait to be fluttering off the bottom,” he said.
If he still doesn’t get bit, Mayfield will move in close to the structure and actually cast inside of the exterior rig legs.
“A lot of times, those fish will hold in real tight to the structure, and that’s the only place you can catch them,” he said.
If he still doesn’t get bit, Mayfield will abandon the rig, and move on to the next one.
“Fifteen minutes is the most time you should give any rig without catching a fish,” he said. “Really, if you don’t get a bite within 15 or 20 casts, the fish probably aren’t there. When the fish are in, you’re going to find them somewhere, so you don’t want to waste too much time at a rig that’s not producing.”
The only exception to that, Mayfield said, is if the tide isn’t moving. In those conditions, an angler is better off working a rig more thoroughly before heading elsewhere.
Often, Mayfield said, anglers will abandon a rig where they’re catching fish in hopes of finding faster action. He cautions against this.
“I’m a big believer in not moving if you’re catching a few fish,” he said. “Don’t go looking for that 100-fish rig because if you’re catching fish at a rig, there’s probably more there, and you just need to wait until they decide to bite.”
At the very least, you should be able to bide your time between trout bites by catching the other species that swarm at these rigs, like redfish, white trout, Spanish mackerel and even cobia and king mackerel.
“I had a trip two years ago, and I had three guys with me. They caught 75 trout that overflowed a 172-quart ice chest, and one of them caught a 40-pound king mackerel. At first I thought it was a red, then I thought it was a jack, but it was a king. He had it hooked right in the corner of its mouth, or he would have never gotten it in,” Mayfield said.
But newcomers to the area — whether they’re looking for trout or other species — shouldn’t expect to see a bunch of bait on the surface. Unlike at the closer-in rigs up and down the coast, baitfish schools are tough to find at the Main Pass rigs, Mayfield said. But they are gems for anglers who do locate them.
“You won’t see a whole lot of bait out here. You’ll see slicks pop up and pogies flipping here and there on the surface. But if you see bait or slicks close to a rig, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to catch trout,” he said.
In such situations, Mayfield has even seen trout hit topwaters at the rigs, but more typically, the fish are either on the bottom or suspended somewhere near it.
To get down where the fish live, Mayfield teams his Dudleys and Terror Tails with 3/8- to 1/2-ounce unpainted jigheads.
“I want something that’s going to get to the bottom, but not be like an anchor down there, so 3/8-ounce is a good all-around weight. You need 1/2-ounce if the tide’s really rolling,” he said.
But if the tide’s so strong that even a 1/2-ounce weight won’t quickly fall to the bottom, it’s time to abandon the rigs and fish the shorelines.
“A 1-foot tidal range is about perfect,” Mayfield said. “If you get too little tide, the fish won’t bite, and if the tide’s too strong, you can’t really fish them.”
In such cases, Mayfield will work the cuts and points from Octave Pass to Lonesome Bayou and also Blind Bay in search of redfish and school trout.
“In the heat of summer, you work a piece of shrimp under a cork in that area, you’ll kill the redfish,” he said.
A trolling motor is a must, however.
“You might fish for 200 yards and not get a bite, then you find 50 (reds) in a 5-foot stretch,” he said. “You want to troll. Don’t just do the Delacroix anchor toss.”
But when the tides are moderate, Mayfield will be at the Main Pass rigs this time of year. So if you go, be sure to tell him hello.
And if you catch a 22-pound trout with a hole in its lip, call me. It’s mine.
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