High, muddy water makes trout fishing a challenge during the winter at Venice, but there are ways to use the elements to your advantage.
It was a typical winter day in South Louisiana. Forecasters called for 20-mph-plus winds as another front pushed through the state.
And, typically, the meterologists missed the call.
What greeted Capt. Andy Mnichowski at the dock was a stiff, but not ferocious, breeze, moderate temperatures and fog so thick you could lose your way walking from the truck to the boat.
There were plenty of trout to be caught south of Venice, but the guide decided against making that run.
“We’re going to head up past Hospital Bay,” Mnichowski said. “We’re not going to risk running downriver.”
The water was filthy as the captain banked the Pathfinder out of the harbor and into Tante Phine, but Mnichowski wasn’t phased.
“We’ll find some clean water up there,” he said with an air of confidence.
While clean water is really a necessity for trout fishing anywhere, it’s especially important in the Venice area during the late winter.
After all, the Mississippi River didn’t get the moniker of “Big Muddy” for nothing, and the high river stages prevalent during winter guarantee that much of the area around its mouth will resemble chocolate milk.
Also, the river water is cold, putting trout in less than a hungry mood.
But again, Mnichowski was upbeat, knowing what his passengers didn’t — it was only a matter of knowing where to look to find clean, salty, warm water.
“You’ve got to find clean water away from the river water,” Mnichowski said. “The water’s going to be warmer in those areas.”
Anglers used to fishing gin-clear water for specks probably will have a hard time maintaining confidence, but Mnichowski said it’s just a matter of adjusting your expectations.
“Even though I say clean water, it’s not going to be clear like most people talk about,” he said. “You can catch fish downriver, but you’ve got to have at least 2 to 3 inches of visibility.”
He’d rather 6 to 7 inches of visibility, though.
Clarity is important not only so fish can see baits: It also allows water to heat up faster.
“Any water under 40- degree temperatures, it’s hard to catch trout and reds. It has to be at least in the mid 40s and above to feel confident,” Mnichowski said. “If you have a couple of days of 60-degree weather, that cleaner water will warm up faster and attract bait.”
Many veterans of Venice might scoff at the idea of finding 6 or 7 inches of clarity anywhere during the winter, but Mnichowski said a turn north to waters stretching from Yellow Cotton Bay to the fertile area south of Buras will reveal plenty of fishable areas.
“You’ll find some pretty clear water up there,” Mnichowski said.
This might seem strange to those who understand the Gulf currents. After all, the currents swirl southeast to northwest along the mouth of the river, pushing muddy, fresh water northward along the Venice peninsula and into Barataria Bay.
A couple of factors work together, however, to negate the effects of the river.
“You have a lot of grass in the outskirt marshes that filter the water,” Mnichowski said. “The north winds also blow from the levees out, and that doesn’t allow that dirty water to push up in there.”
It’s still not the kind of clear water many trout anglers find in the summer, but it’s very fishable.
Downriver is another matter altogether. To say Mnichowski searches for “clean water” in these areas might be a stretch.
“You might see your bait 4 inches or less,” he said. “When I say ‘clean,’ it’s not really that clear. It’s just cleaner than the rest of the water.
Finding clean water south of Venice is a matter of ducking in and out of the fringe marshes along certain stretches of the area.
“They’re going to be along the edges of the marsh,” Mnichowski said. “The water in the passes is going to be dirty, but you can find some cleaner water in the ponds along the edges of the marsh.
Prime trout haunts include the eastern-most ponds in the Delta Duck area and the marshes skirting Redfish Bay south of Southeast Pass.
“There is a little more salinity along the edges of the marsh, even though the river is high,” Mnichowski said. “Even when we’re catching fish downriver when the river is low, when you get on the edge of the cane (marshes) you can’t taste much salt in the water.
“It doesn’t take much for them to survive.”
Mnichowski advised focusing on ponds with grass and/or canes to filter some of the mud out of the water.
He also said that shallow water is even more important off the river and its passes.
“You want to stay in water 5 feet deep or less,” Mnichowski said.
That allows the isolated waters to heat up quicker (shallow water heats up faster than deep water), and it also makes it easier for vegetation to filter out some of the muck.
Narrowing down the possibilities in both upriver and downriver areas is pretty important, since there can often be a lot of clean water from which to choose.
“There are certain shallow areas where they move up onto,” he said.
Mnichowski said it’s all just a matter of knowing where the fish retreat when water temperatures plummet during sustained cold spells.
“If you catch fish in deep water, that’s where they’re going to be,” he said. “They’re not going to take off and move half a mile; they’re going to stay close to that deep water.”
What he looks for are flats near these known deep-water retreats.
“When it’s cold, if you get two days of 60-plus-degree weather, the fish will come up from the holes and move up to those shallows,” Mnichowski said.
He said the trouts and reds prowling these flats will be in feeding mode, making them prime targets.
“When the shallow water warms up, the bait moves out of the deeper holes, and the fish just follow the bait,” Mnichowski said. “It’s a lot easier for them to feed in shallow water than in deep water.”
Upriver holes are scattered from Venice to Buras, with some plummeting to 50 or 60 feet but most being less than that.
“There are a lot of 20-foot holes,” Mnichowski said.
So, while he doesn’t particularly enjoy fishing deep holes, Mnichowski acknowledges the necessity of learning which of the holes hold fish and which don’t.
“You can fish deep points and holes all day and not catch a fish, but if you find the fish in a hole, you want to look around for the shallows around it,” he said.
Downriver deep-water haunts are mainly confined to the murky waters of the passes, so fish are most likely to be found in the ponds within a reasonable distance from these depths.
Unlike the productive upriver flats, however, trout and reds are known to move from pond to pond south of Venice.
That’s because the location of clear water is more likely to move about because of the influence of the river.
“It’s hard to find, but you can find it,” Mnichowski said. “You’ve just got to look for it, and it changes day to day.”
There are, however, a couple more caveats to fishing downriver: river stage and fog.
“If the river gets over 8 or 9 feet, it’s almost impossible to find clean water downriver,” he said. “That’s why 90 percent of the time you’re going to be back of Buras.”
That wasn’t the problem on this winter day. Instead, the fog made running the river hairy at best and downright dangerous at worst.
So Mnichowski was making the twisting run around the Wagon Wheel and through Yellow Cotton Bay toward the northern shore of Hospital Bay.
As the Pathfinder broke out of the Wheel and into Yellow Cotton, the water indeed began to make a noticeable change.
By the time Mnichowski let off the throttle and hopped on the front deck, we were surrounded by beautiful, clean water with about 6 inches of visibility
A 2-pound trout was being hauled onto the front deck less than five minutes after the trolling motor was dropped.
“See what I told you?” the beaming angler said.
The other anglers in the boat grinned and began working their lures with the enthusiasm only success can spawn.
Mnichowski kept the boat in water ranging from 2 to 3 feet on the northern shore of the large pond just off the main bay.
“You always want to fish the lee side of a pond,” he said.
Again, it all comes back to water temperature. Wind-swept waters take much longer to warm up than calm waters.
And the anglers found much more success than they anticipated on this blustery winter day.
Of course, this wasn’t fast and furious fishing. It would take several casts to provoke a strike, and hanging on the lines a foot above the plastic lures were popping corks.
A cork is critical to success, no matter if the fishing is north of Venice or downriver.
“Most of the time when you find any fish in the ponds that time of year, you’ll have to have that cork on,” Mnichowski said.
The reason is simple.
“I think when it’s cold everything slows down,” he explained. “Your bait doesn’t move fast, and if they see something come by fast, they’re going to wait for something that moves slow.
“It’s just like bass fishing: The trout and reds get lethargic.”
The lure on the business end of Mnichowski’s rig was a Samurai Shad.
“I don’t downsize or anything. Any bait that’s 3 to 3 1/2 inches is fine,” he said.
There’s another secret to his winter success, however.
Mnichowski is an avid believer in spraying his plastics with YUM fish attractant.
“From January through the end of March, I use scent every day,” he said.
The guide said he believes the product doesn’t simply make fish hold on for a few more seconds. Instead, he believes it provokes strikes.
“To be honest, my customers two years ago put me on that pattern,” he said.
That experience came on a day when Mnichowski seemed incapable of hooking a fish.
“They were throwing their baits out and letting them sit — you know, while they sat around talking — and their corks would disappear,” he said. “I couldn’t catch a fish, and they were.”
The only difference was the use of fish attractant.
Numerous succeeding trips have proven the worth of the scent.
“You throw it out, pop it and don’t pop it for another 30 seconds,” Mnichowski said. “It seems like 20 seconds into it, the cork just goes under.
“You’re not even moving the bait, and I’m talking about 3- to 5-pound fish.”
While most of the fishing is going to be confined to slow-popping a plastic cocaho, some days the waters warm enough to make topwater action possible.
That was the case on this day, when Mnichowski finally snatched a black/gold Zara Spook from his box and quickly tied it on.
“The water is so pretty; I’ve just got to try it,” he mumbled.
It wasn’t long before the first explosion erupted just behind the lure.
“The fish are slow; I’ll have to slow it way down,” Mnichowski said.
Soon the hungry trout caught up with the bait, and angry white water enveloped the lure.
This fish was no guppy, weighing in at 2 1/2 to 3 pounds.
Several more fish slapped at the lure, and a few even snagged the sharp hooks.
But most of the fish still came off the plastics.
The day ended with about 20 beautiful trout, and Mnichowski said that was par for the course during the winter.
“This time of year you’re not going to go out and catch those 100 trout by 8 o’clock,” he said. “It just isn’t going to happen, but you can catch 20 to 30, and it’s better than sitting at home watching the tube.”
Capt. Andy Mnichowski can be reached at (504) 415-4099.