Surprise Amberjacks

You don’t need to run very far out in July to get into all the amberjack action you can handle.

We were halfway to Venice on a fun Friday night, and the reminiscing about a previous life in Tigerland was kicking into high gear (stopping at a Daiquiri shop helped).

The stories circulating in Doc Fontaine’s Suburban on that festive ride made Casanova himself seem a sorry chump. They made Don Juan, and even Brad Pitt, seem like hopeless geeks.

During the glorious disco era, our conquests in amour — in both passion and frequency — shamed them all.

As luck would have it, Rod Stewart’s classic was booming from the speakers: “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy, come on sugar let me know!”

Anyway, that’s how we remembered it on the way to Venice. Perhaps our wives back home — who met us under those conditions — recall it differently?

The BS was piling up heavily when Doc suddenly turned his Suburban into a gravel parking lot with a sharp squeal of the tires and a loud crunch of rock. We all went sprawling. Thank goodness for seat belts, or we’d all have been crippled.

With one hand, I was trying to brush away Eddie’s daiquiri, which was soaking into my lap. With the other, I rubbed my forehead, which had hit the window with a loud THUMP!

“You brainless bozo!! There goes my whole…” from the front seat Pelayo raved and cursed the loss of his own daiquiri — till he caught sight of the flashing sign a few feet away through the booze-spattered window. The sign riveted us all, and shut down the complaints instantly.

“Lingerie Show” it said in bold lettering. Doc snapped off the ignition, and a Stones tune booming from inside the lounge quickly replaced the Stones tune that had just clicked on Doc’s CD player.

“You pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty girl…” from the lounge speakers replaced the “I can’t get no…” just starting from Doc’s speakers. This seemed very fitting for the setting, a lingerie show, after all.

“Man I been passing this sign for years,” Doc said as he took off his cap and looked in the rear-view, combing his hair. “Always told myself I wanted to check it out. But we always pass it early in the morning or in the afternoon, on the way back. So I never had a chance.”

It was Friday night, and we were heading to Doc’s houseboat in Venice. Next morning, some serious red and trout fishing along the roseaus in the Redfish Bay area around Southeast Pass. Point is, this time we passed the sign with perfect timing.

Eddie was the first out, hurrying toward the door.

“Place looks crowded!” he yelled over his shoulder.

Then he bumped into a potbellied fellow just coming out the door, followed by two chums.

“Nice!” croaked the potbellied one as he caught his balance and did a thumbs up in our direction. “Real nice in there!”

His face was the color of a redfish caught in root-beer water, whether from the sun or something else was hard to say.

We were a good 50 feet away, but in seconds we heard Eddie’s crazed whoops coming from inside.

“Here we go,” Doc said with an eye-roll. “Eddie was half lit-up when Pelayo and I picked him up. He was actually at his neighbor’s, watching ESPN and chugging beer.”

“Whoo-hoo!” came another outburst from inside. “Nice Nightie!’’

Beast of Burden was winding down, and Eddie’s whoops were drowning out Mick’s crooning: “Nighty-nite, baby! Come tuck me in!’’

Pelayo looked over with a grimace, and we quickened the pace.

We entered and saw Eddie at the bar with a demented grin, raving at the people around him and still holding his daiquiri. A skinny waitress in a Harley Davidson T-shirt and wearing about 15 ear-rings was leaning over the bar saying something to Eddie while pointing at his drink.

“Aw, come on!” Eddie yelled as he reeled away from the bar. “It’s half finished — here!” and he started sucking furiously on the straw.

Pelayo hurried over, and yanked the drink from Eddie’s grasp.

“No problem, ma’am,” he said with a quick smile to the waitress. “And three drafts please, while I bring this drink outside.”

“Good move,” Doc nodded at Pelayo as he walked outside.

“That was close,” I was thinking.

I looked around and noticed that the place held an interesting cross section of society. Some looked like us, city fishermen on the way down or on the way up. Others wore oilfield jumpsuits. The roustabout element was definitely here. The tanned and weather-beaten faces of shrimpers rounded out the picture. The place was definitely cranking.

The nightie then being displayed on the local version of a catwalk was right out of a Victoria’s Secret ad, but the model wasn’t. She was actually BETTER looking. This woman had more meat on her bones. She had an earthy, accessible look to her, a sassy strut, a personality. Heck, she was even smiling, a rarity for a model.

“Over here, Momma!” Eddie suddenly yelled from behind me.

Then he put his fingers to his mouth and let fly with an ear-piercing whistle that jerked every head in the place toward us.

But these faces weren’t smiling, especially the one on the waitress who was just serving our beers, much less the one on the guy sitting at the corner of the bar. He wore a battered welder cap and a denim shirt ripped off at the sleeves, the better to display his tanned, muscled and heavily tattooed arms.

Watching him, it occurred to me that these models’ boyfriends, or even husbands, could be in this crowd. Heck, why not? Pretty good money in this modeling business, I hear. Sure beats working at the pogie plant.

Eddie turned to the waitress, and I thought he might be coming to his senses. Instead he whipped out a $20 dollar bill, started waving it at the model and cranked up his whistling and whooping.

“These AIN’T pole dancers!” Doc yelled in Eddie’s ear while grabbing his arm. “Cool it, will ya!”

I jerked my head around and saw the tattooed one slam his fist on the bar and erupt from his stool. Heaven help us, I thought. Pelayo saw him too.

Poor Eddie was out of form. After LSU and his law degree, he went north to seek his fortune. One bankruptcy, three disbarments and two divorces later, he came back. Louisiana’s siren song had proved irresistible. Now he looked on the verge of getting his head divorced from his body, or a few teeth disbarred from his mouth.

Pelayo smiled broadly, and had both hands out in front as he approached the tattooed one.

“It’s our buddy’s bachelor party!” Pelayo said nodding and smiling sheepishly at the guy. “He’s been in the French Quarter all afternoon doing Jello shots and groping lap dancers.You know how that goes.”

Pelayo shrugged and looked at his shoes.

“Poor guy thinks we PLANNED this for him, just like the stuff in the Quarter. But don’t worry, we’ll set him straight. Now, can I buy ya a brewskie, amigo?”

“I gotcha!” the guy laughed. “And sure! Make it a Bud — better yet, make it a double Crown on the rocks.”

“You GOT it, podnuh!” Pelayo laughed as they shook hands and slapped shoulders.

I looked at Doc, and we both exhaled slowly and loudly, while rolling our eyes. That was close.

The next morning, we were all in foul moods. The coffee maker had exploded in flames when Doc plugged it in. Then Pelayo was in charge of the sausage and bacon. He had to run to the bathroom midway through his cooking. He returned quickly. But not quickly enough. His bacon resembled charred shoe leather, and the sausage tasted like burnt twigs.

Doc’s biscuits might have taken up the slack, but they tasted like wet cement. The butter in his houseboat’s refrigerator was milky and rancid. The cheese for the omelets was covered in green mold. Then the Advils ran out.

After the long haul to Redfish Bay, Doc opened the baitwell.

“Look at this!” and he held up a dead shrimp. They were ALL dead. Thirty bucks worth. The pump had worked no better than the coffee maker.

Plastic beetles and cocahoes under corks sweetened with dead live shrimp produced three nice trout and one keeper red in an hour of frantic casting. The wall of roseau cane in this area acted as a wall against the wind, and the sun was getting brutal. We were all covered in sweat and getting more cranky and miserable by the minute.

“To hell with this!” groaned Pelayo as he flipped off a huge sailcat that slimed his leader and then his arms and legs when he flipped it off. “Let’s try those little well jackets out there.” And he pointed east. “Might get into some bull reds out there.”

We agreed, and headed on over.

Eddie cast first a with shrimp-tipped beetle, and something whacked it.

“WOW!” Eddie whooped as he grimaced and reared back on the rod.

“Told ya!” Pelayo whooped as Eddie’s line shrieked out on a powerful run. “Bull red for sure!”

I cast out and — WHAM! — ditto for me.

“Another Red here!” I yelled as my pole bowed and the fish blazed off toward Cuba.

Both Eddie and I soon landed our shovel-nosed sharks.

“Nice reds,” Doc snorted as the hideous creatures flopped around his deck, bloodying everything.

“This one ain’t fighting much,” Pelayo said as he reeled something in.

“Then it’s probably a trout,” I quipped. “A GOOD fish!”

I tried to laugh but it came out a snort.

“Check it out,” Pelayo said and I turned around to see him holding up a lively channel mullet.

“Save it!” I blurted. “Great live bait.”

I’d been eyeing the South Pass blocks off in the distance. You get into deep water close off the coast around here.

“Maybe we oughta head out a bit farther. Take some live bait with us. Probably get into some cobia.”

And I pointed toward the rigs south of us.

“Maybe even some AJs,” Pelayo seconded.

“Naw man,” Doc said. “We ain’t rigged up for that kinda fishing. Left all our heavy tackle back at the camp. Just got that one heavy spinning outfit,” Doc said pointing with his chin. “And that one snapper rod. No leaders even — but I think I got a couple of them bull-red leaders we bought at Bridgeside Marina last Redfish Rodeo.

“Only got 2-ounce sinkers on ’em. We’ll never get the bait down to amberjack. You know AJs. Gotta get it down to 100-150 feet for ’em with those chunky 8- to 12-ounce sinkers. Ain’t got nothing like that on board.

“And those South Pass rigs always have a ripping current too. We’ll never make it down for AJs”

“So what?” I said, my mood brightening. “I’ll settle for cobia.”

“Yeah,” Pelayo said. “We got all we need for cobia. They ain’t deep. But hey, let’s get some more live bait.”

“Fine with me!” Eddie croaked. “Beats the hell outta sharks and gafftops!”

We put on shad-rigs (for the small hooks) tipped them with shrimp, and soon had 7 more channel mullet on board.

“If we run out, we can try hardtails,” Doc said as he cranked the engine.

Many people swear by hardtails for AJs and they’re indeed dynamite — when you can get them. But just about ANY live fish will do. Grand Isle Capt. Rene Rice prefers pinfish. Many Venice guides cast-net for mullet before heading out for AJs. So don’t get hung up on hardtails. They can be hard to find, especially when you most need them.

Barely 10 miles over the calm Gulf, we were circling a rig in 300 feet of water. Sure enough, the current was ripping. You could see it swirling around the pilings.

“Just back up, Doc!” Pelayo yelled over the rig’s racket as he hooked a wiggling channel mullet. “You know the routine.”

As always for this type of fishing, we were on the upcurrent side of the rig, where most fish congregate. We know this from years of scuba diving.

Pelayo dropped in the mullet, and handed the rod to Eddie. Doc was motoring slowly away when Eddie erupted: “WHOA! WHOA!”

I jerked my head around, and Eddie was jamming the butt of the snapper rod between his legs and holding on for dear life.

“Don’t take long out here, amigos!” Pelayo roared as he and Doc high-fived. “That mullet wasn’t down 30 feet! Told ya dem cobia are shallow!”

Then Doc inched up the throttle, getting the fish away from the rig.

In seconds, Eddie’s face was bright red and soaked with sweat. He was huffing and puffing and whooping and groaning — having the time of his life.

“That’s it Ed!’ Doc yelled. “Raise that rod! Pump that reel! You’re gaining on him!”

Then the fish went on another berserk run and gained it all back. After five brutal minutes, Eddie hadn’t gained much. “Sure is staying deep for a cobia?” I said, peering down into the blue water.

Then I saw a flash of silver.

“Man, ya know WHAT?!”

“I’m thinking the same thing!” Pelayo said as he looked down. “Looks like an AJ!”

“No way,” Doc blurted. “That fish hit the bait too close to the surface.”

But now Eddie really was gaining on him. And all doubt vanished.

“An amberjack indeed!” Doc roared as Pelayo jerked in the gaff.

Five channel mullet and 40 minutes later, we had our limit of AJs on board — not monsters now. They ranged from 20-35 pounds. But plenty fun enough. And every one was caught within 50 feet of the surface. Unreal. Glad I saw it, or I wouldn’t have believed it.

Head to the deep Main Pass/South Pass blocks, and you’ll run into amberjack this month. It’s that simple. Generally speaking, the deeper the better.

On the west side of the river, it’s a different story. For whatever reason, the West Delta and Grand isle blocks — even the deeper rigs — generally hold few AJs. Over on the west side, the Mississippi Canyon rigs consistently hold the most AJs.

Moving west from the GI blocks — for whatever reason — you start finding AJs in much-shallower water. The South Timbalier and Ship Shoals rigs standing in 100-150 feet will hold AJs pretty regularly.

The open-water boat ride for AJs is definitely shorter to the east of the mouth of the river. Out this way, you hit 400-foot depths barely 8 miles from shore. Hence it’s appeal to small-boaters like us.

Especially on days like this one.


Humberto Fontova is author of The Hellpig Hunt (discounted copies available on and the newly released Fidel; Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, described as “Absolutely devastating! An enlightening read you’ll never forget,” by David Limbaugh.