Even small boats can load their fish boxes fishing in this Venice hotspot.
It flashed like a silver dish flipping underwater. The lane snapper shot one way and then another.
Then it did nothing, and that made it even worse. The butt of my 7-foot Berkley was digging into my stomach as I tried to haul up the dead weight.
Earlier I had shed most of my extraneous clothing, so only my simple white undershirt, soaked through with sweat, was affording me protection from the friction. The snapper made one more run, then turned belly up, and I finally dragged it the last 10 feet to the net.
Into the ice chest it went, atop of a few of its brethren and a mix of triggerfish, one nice redfish and a bunch of empty Aquafina water bottles. I loved seeing the growing pile of fish, but I was getting alarmed by the number of empty water bottles. The weather was beautiful, but it was stifling out on East Bay. We drank water like it was going out of style, gulped large quarts of Powerade and sneered at the canned ales sunken at the bottom of the ice chest. We were wasted away from the heat and needed no alternative assistance.
Early that morning when I walked out of the Big Easy Sunrise Lodge in Venice, the morning heat fell on me like a hot, waterlogged sleeping bag. The good-ol’ South Louisiana haze and heat swallowed everything, making it hard to breathe. There was no wind, and visibility was only slightly hindered by the haze.
Conditions like these make for great fishing, but Lucifer himself, it seems, is a guest on board with the fishermen. A couple days of that can wear a body down quick.
Sweet relief came for Spencer Bienvenu and me when Robbie Juul fired up his Boston Whaler and pulled out of the landing. Juul, an old college football buddy of mine, swore that East Bay would be the ticket that morning for a good haul. With Venice at our back, we booked it on down the Mighty Mississippi to the big bay at the end of the delta.
East Bay is a large expanse of water, a triangular body that lies between South and Southwest passes. The bay is full of oil platforms, some large and some small. Most of the wells are lined up in rows running east to west, and a look at a topographic map shows what looks to be a sort of linear grid of platforms. The depth of the bay ranges from shallow (approximately 3 feet) to deep (400 feet plus). Even in the hot summer months, a great variety of fish can be caught without a tremendous amount of effort.
The ride to East Bay was an adventure in itself, a relief in one way to the already relentless heat of a Venice summer morning. The weather was right, and we felt like taking advantage of the calm winds to sample East Bay’s offerings.
Still, there’s something disturbing about being in a little Whaler and seeing those big offshore tankers coming at us. It’s the wakes they make that does something to the innards. I felt like we didn’t belong. Add to that the stories behind the guy driving the boat, and we damn near had a horror story unfolding.
But Juul, a former football standout for the UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, was as fearless behind the console of his ancient Whaler as he was breaking kickoff wedges back in the mid-1990s. East Bay was an easy trip, he insisted, and not out of reach for his tiny Whaler.
As the big ocean cruisers approached, I had flashbacks of playing with Juul for the Cajuns because more than once I took a wicked lick from him, and I saw him give and take his share of nasty hits. Little Whalers don’t exactly slice through oil-tanker wakes, but Juul aimed the bow right at them.
Something about that smirk he had and his steely eyes made me more than nervous as we approached the incoming ships. I braced for a massive impact, another spine-jarring blow from Juul. Somewhere in the back of that rock head of his I think he saw the wakes as fast approaching kickoff teams and the river as a giant stadium with thousands of eyes watching him. He clicked back and slowed to idle before impact. I said a brief prayer of thanks to the Good Lord.
We made it to the bay, and it wasn’t long before we were believing in East Bay.
Juul motored up to one of the platforms, slung the anchoring hook around a leg and let the current pull us back into casting position. As sweat poured down from our pores, we made casts upcurrent from the boat and let the 1/2-ounce sinkers pull heavyweight leaders and stainless-steel circle hooks mounted with market shrimp down to the bottom.
We let a few seconds pass before giving a slight upward draw, and then it was on! All three rods seemed to bend instantaneously, and the three of us, tired, sunburnt and dehydrated, bent at the knees and leaned back against the powerful pull of some unknown stallions below.
There we were, ice-cold towels draped over our heads, bodies bent, squatting, grunting. We looked and sounded like constipated gypsies.
One line broke, and it sounded like a .22 caliber round had been fired. The others fought on for what seemed like eternity with that light tackle, but finally two lane snapper surrendered, and we heaved them overboard with the net.
According to Juul, East Bay is a treasured battleground for him and his family.
“East Bay is a place where we always go to redeem ourselves after fishing around our home,” said the Mandeville native. “After we get skunked a few times, we head on down to East Bay. They’ve always got fish in East Bay.”
Lots of fish.
“You never know what you’re going to catch,” added Juul. “Lane snapper, mangrove snapper, the occasional red snapper. Giant redfish! A lot of the time, they’re too big to keep, but they’re still fun to catch.
“You’re probably not going to catch many trophy fish, although every now and then we hook something that we assume is a giant mangrove snapper that we just can’t budge.
“You’re going to fill the box every time you go. As long as you have a little water moving.”
The water was indeed moving on our trip. Juul motored over a short distance from the first spot to an almost duplicate rig. We dropped lines again, counted to five and then slowly pulled up on the rods. The tell-tale stop of the draw signaled go-time.
Per Juul’s request, we used the same rods and reels that we had earlier used for reds and specks in the interior. Each of us pulled back and began an exciting game of tug of war. Reeling in a three-pound snapper from 40 feet deep with light tackle is fun.
We all used a mix of Shimano spinning combos and Ambassadeur Torno baitcast reels on 7-foot Berkley Series One rods. We could have used heavier tackle, but we went to Venice to be versatile. That meant a smaller boat and tackle that can deliver a broader spectrum of baits and handle a similarly diverse mix of sport fish.
“Whatever you do,” said Juul, “make sure you don’t let them get wrapped around the legs of the platform.”
That was easier said than done. With light tackle more suited for redfish, the baits we presented were almost immediately engulfed, and the rod tips bent under the strain. I brought in a keeper-sized redfish while my mates both reeled in a pair of triggerfish.
A few more casts yielded a few more triggerfish. Then the hard heads showed up, and it was time to move. We didn’t have to go far.
The next stop offered up a few nice lane snapper, more triggerfish and even a few small red snapper. Sweat continued to pour out of us as the day wore on. Juul moved us from platform to platform (which was the only time we ever felt a breeze), and we continued to land a mixed bag of fish.
When asked about how he knew where to go, Juul simply said that water depth dictated his choice.
“We normally go to the rigs that are in about 30 to 40 feet of water,” he said. “That’s where we have our best luck. There may be more fish farther out, but we catch so many right when we get into East Bay that we never go any farther than that.”
Capt. Dan Dix, owner of MLC Fishing Charters (225-262-1082), echoed Juul’s sentiments on the variety of fish available to East Bay anglers and the way to bring them in.
“East Bay is an easy place to fish,” said Dix. “You never know what you’re going to catch when you’re out there.
“When it’s dead calm during the summertime you can load up on redfish, red snapper and mangroves in the deeper water, lane snapper and even bluefish. If you go at night you can even catch trout.
“If you run way outside, you may catch a king mackerel and even tarpon when they start moving around in the late season. There’s just a plethora of fish.”
Dix made note that the fishing in East Bay actually begins to turn on in February. Before the spring winds, he can get his boat out there to fill the ice chest for his clients.
Speckled trout, white trout, redfish and sheepshead are plentiful as are the aforementioned species like snapper and triggerfish.
“There’s just a ton of really nice fish out there at that time,” added Dix.
“What makes this a unique area is the drop in water depth — it’s rapid but steady,” he said. “I like to pull up at the little gas wells, drop some lines and check them real quick.
“When I go out there, I use speck rods and reels. Some people take the heavy rods and reels, but I don’t. I use Power Pro line because if they go up under the rigs, you want to be able to pull them out. I tie on a 25-pound leader and make it Carolina-rigged — khale hook at the bottom, a swivel in between and a sliding weight on top. You can use a ½-ounce weight or heavier, depending on the tide. If the tide is pulling too hard, you’re just wasting your time.
“Squid is the best bet for a bite. Dead shrimp is really good for white trout when they’re around. One problem you have to deal with during the summer is that you’re going to catch a lot of sailcats and hardheads.”
Wind is a factor too. On our trip, it was irrelevant. It was a good thing too. Even a moderate south wind can wreak havoc for small fishing outfits testing East Bay. Your best bet is to monitor the weather, and fish when things are calm.
“The one bad thing about East Bay is that you’re probably not going to fish much on a south wind,” Dix said. “Anything with south in it is bad, especially if it’s over 15 knots.”
Early in the afternoon, we detached from the last platform. Our water and sports drink supply was nearly gone.
Right then, a popcorn shower hit us and the sudden downpour felt incredible as we headed back to Venice Marina with an ice chest full of an East Bay mix. What we lost in fluids we gained in pounds of fish, and we loved it. A scorching summer day on the water never felt so good.
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