Take Home Angler: Gary Manzella

Hurricane Katrina blew this angler to a landlocked state, but that doesn’t keep him from fishing the marshes of Louisiana.

Not even halfway between Breton Island and the mouth of Baptiste Collette, Capt. Larry Averitt eased back on his throttle. As his custom aluminum bay boat settled into the chop, he turned around to inform his customers that he was going to have to go to plan B.

“We’ve got to make a change, Mr. Richard, and turn around,” he bemoaned. “Wind’s gonna be too bad to make it to Breton Island, and it would be too hard to fish even if we could make it.

“We’ll head downriver to see what we can find.”

Wringing the salt water out of the left side of his shirt, Richard Manzella cast an eye on his dry son, Gary, who was operating on no sleep.

“Your turn to get wet,” he wisecracked.

Gary Manzella took it all in stride. This wasn’t the first time he had turned around on this fishing trip. Only hours earlier, during his drive down from Chattanooga, Tenn., to his dad’s house in Bedico, Gary Manzella came to the sudden realization that he might have left his cell phone at a gas station 40 miles behind him in Wildwood, Ga.

He turned around to go back and get it, couldn’t find it, and turned right back around toward Louisiana. The 120 extra miles put him in Bedico about 1 a.m. with the understanding that he had to be at Venice Marina with his dad and son at 5:30. One more turn around wasn’t going to unsettle him.

Manzella, a chaplain for Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, lived in the New Orleans area through Hurricane Katrina. Like many folks from Southeast Louisiana, he wound up in Tennessee with his family.

Spoiled by Louisiana saltwater fishing, Manzella just never could get too excited about fishing in Tennessee. He cut his teeth fishing out of Delacroix with his grandpa and dad, and he just couldn’t get saltwater fishing out of his blood.

“If you do fish up there,” he told me as we headed back toward Baptiste Collette, “you catch stuff like 4-inch bluegill. Nothing wrong with that. I like catching bluegill, but it just doesn’t measure up to what you can catch in the marshes around New Orleans.”

And we were right in the middle of one of the biggest and most productive marshes in all the world. Fishing with his family in places like Venice and Delacroix is what brings Manzella home once a month.

The long run back to the Mississippi River and down to Pilottown allowed negative thoughts to percolate. Manzella was really hoping to get in on the good trout bite at Breton Island, and now he was on his way down Raphael Pass and into Customhouse Bay.

Averitt settled his boat near one of the many points jutting out into Customhouse Bay and announced that we would be targeting redfish. Since he had rigged all his rods with Carolina rigs for bottom fishing around Breton Island, he had to change them to popping corks before we could continue.

Gary Manzella got on the board first in what quickly shaped into what Averitt dubbed the battle between the North and the South. Gary Manzella and his son Nathan being from Chattanooga made up the North, and Richard Manzella, being from Bedico, and I made up the South.

Leader of the northern team wasn’t a title that Gary Manzella really relished, but his argument about Chattanooga being in the South fell on deaf ears. The North was up one redfish to none, but Richard Manzella and I didn’t expect their lead to hold up very long.

We might not have gotten on the fast trout bite out at Breton Island, but Gary Manzella’s quick redfish gave us hope that we would at least have something tugging on our lines. Unfortunately, that redfish must have been the only one that was home on this first point.

“Looks like we’re going to have to jump from point to point,” Averitt speculated. “The tide ought to start falling out here in a little while, and maybe we can get more than one fish per point then.”

The North took a commanding lead at the next point when Gary Manzella reeled in his second redfish. Just before his cork went down, Nathan Manzella had lost what would have been their third redfish.

“You southern boys better buck up,” Averitt cracked. “Y’all giving us a bad name.”

Well, with only one redfish per point, and with the North getting first crack at every point, Richard Manzella and I had us a really good excuse even if we didn’t have any fish.

With the score North 3 and South 1, I lucked into a small redfish on our third point, and Nathan Manzella managed to pull one out of a backwater pond, but an invasion of hardheads and gafftops had us scratching our heads.

Averitt started talking to a couple other guides who were also on the water in the same area, and a group decision was made to run all the way to the other side of Plaquemines Parish and try some thick redfish that one of them had caught at the mouth of Red Pass the day before.

Although he was running on no sleep and had already been traveling for more miles than he cared to count, one more turn around wasn’t going to stop Gary Manzella dead in his tracks. Years of fishing the Louisiana marshes had taught him that sometimes you’ve got to take a risk if you want a reward.

We weren’t too sure what to expect as we headed west in Red Pass because Hurricane Irene was moving up the East Coast, and she was apparently having more of an effect on South Louisiana than anybody had imagined. Based on the wind direction and the open water to which we were headed, we weren’t even sure we would be able to fish.

Surprisingly, the water to the north of Red Pass around Sandy Point Bay was relatively protected.

“Any spot’s as good as the next,” one of the other guides said as we all idled toward the bank. “We’ll find out soon enough if these fish are still here.”

Averitt had apparently picked the wrong spot because the other two charter boats got a jump on us as they boated a couple nice redfish. But that’s when it happened.

Packed wouldn’t be a strong enough adjective to describe the redfish in the small spot we stumbled onto. Neither would thick. The 30-yard-by-5-yard stretch of bank was choked with redfish. It was jam-packed with redfish. It was chockablock with redfish.

The redfish were so shallow that we had to adjust our leader lengths beneath our popping corks from feet to mere inches, and we had to cast right to the bases of the canes in order to get a bite.

“This is a really weird bite,” Gary Manzella noted. “The fish don’t have enough room to pull your cork down, so they have to pull it to the side.

“Just about every fish I’ve caught just jerked the cork sideways right after I popped it. I guess they’re trying to get their food away from all the other fish in there.”

And there were other fish. Ladyfish were prevalent, and we even caught a puppy drum or two. But before very long at all, our three fish had turned into 20, and everybody had so much fun that we even forgot about the battle between the North and the South.

“I was disappointed we didn’t get into the trout bite,” Gary Manzella told me later in the restaurant at Venice Marina, “but that’s one of the things that you deal with when you’re going outside the protective boundaries of the marsh. You’ve got to deal with the wind and the waves.

“And coming from out of state, you’re sort of at the will of the weather. You can’t really pick and choose because you’ve got one day, and you’ve got to make it happen no matter what the weather is doing. You don’t know if you’re going to catch fish or not, so this was not an unusual day, but it sure ended well.”

Getting onto the redfish turned what looked like it was going to be a disappointing day into a great day on the water. When Gary Manzella landed two right off the bat at the end of Red Pass, he know we were onto something and that there were more there.

“We went from Breton Sound to Customhouse to the end of Red Pass,” Gary Manzella observed as he paid his check and got ready to go back down to pick up his redfish fillets. “We could have failed, but that’s the way it is.

“I could stay out there until midnight because I don’t know when to quit. And I don’t mind taking a ride until we find the fish.”

In fact, that’s why Manzella makes the ride from Chattanooga to Bedico as much as he can, to find fish that he’s comfortable catching. He grew up with speckled trout and redfish, so no matter where life takes him, he’s always going to be willing to turn around and head back home.

JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month

Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.

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.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply