November’s cool temperatures force Venice reds to move every day. Follow them, and you’ll spend the day in line – stretching fun.
It didn’t take long for Capt. Cade Thomas and me to get tired of hauling water at the Jump at Venice. Our ice chest, void of any speckled trout, reminded me of a sign I saw leaving a lake one day that read, “Cuz, you should have been here yesterday.” Thomas had been there yesterday, and he had whacked the specks. That was the entire reason I had made the three-hour drive with him the next morning. I began to wish I were in a duck blind rather than on the deck of this boat.
“Got any other great ideas, hotshot?” I cracked. The words hung in my hands, defrosting them — at least for a little while.
Seemingly taking it as a personal challenge, Thomas cranked up the motor and made a move, and another, then another. I had hoped we could fish one spot all day long since I had told him I’d help him with gas. I might as well been tossing my money into a fire.
“To heck with the trout,” Thomas said as he cranked the motor again. “Let’s go look for some reds.”
We eventually wound up in the middle of an open bay. If I had to guess by looking at the gas needle, I would have said we were a lot closer to the Gulf than we were when we started.
A quick peep out from under my hood indicated this water showed some promise. This water had some signs of life unlike all the other water I stared at that morning. A pelican or two were dipping for a snack, a few mullet flipped around at the edge of the bay. Maybe our luck was about to change.
I began tossing a popping cork with a soft plastic to the edges of some cane. My cork disappeared about half way back on the third cast.
“My gosh, what a speckled trout,” Thomas said beginning a series of commands that would make a drill sergeant proud. “Don’t horse him. Keep your rod up. Take it easy. Watch the trolling motor.”
“So, that’s what a redfish looks like,” I quipped after finally landing the speckled trout.
Thomas shot back while tossing the trout into the box: “Shut up, smart-aleck, and get your bait back in the water.”
Thomas caught the next fish — another trout. I was so worked up for the reds that the trout seemed a little disappointing. A quick mental calculation gave me an estimate of $32.50 for each trout fillet considering I had put $130 worth of gas in Thomas’s truck and boat.
What happened next could only be called a redfish free-for-all. We began dropping our jigs to the bottom of Freshwater Bayou, and the reds bit with a vengeance. With my nephew along for the ride, we wound up with a three-man limit of reds anywhere from 25 to 29 inches.
“I know you’re a bass guy,” Thomas told me as we idled into Venice Marina later that evening. “Well, these reds aren’t much different than a bass. The real key to catching them down here during the winter is to think like a bass fisherman. You can catch some big fish if you master the variables and fish baits that make them bite.”
Thomas has a saying that a redfish is nothing more than a bass on steroids. This bass mentality has allowed him to gain a reputation as being able to catch Venice reds during the toughest of winter conditions.
He asks himself what a bass would do in a certain situation, and knows that a redfish will do pretty much the same thing.
“The situation at Venice is just like it would be at a lake like Toledo Bend,” he said. “Bass are going to be feeding on the flats during the fall just like the reds do down here. Both are up there to eat, and they can be caught on easy baits like spinnerbaits. However, once the cold hits, bass and redfish are going to back off into stable, deep water.”
Redfish that had been feeding lazily on the little crabs in the duck potato find the food gets a little scarce once the cold weather arrives. The cold water pushes everything down, and if their food source goes down, you can bet the redfish won’t be too far behind.
Thomas has found it isn’t one magical temperature that moves the reds off the flats all at once. Rather, the movement to deep water is a gradual one triggered by the passing of five or six good cold fronts one after another.
“If I had to pick a water temperature,” he said, “I’d go with 56 to 58 degrees. But whether it’s the passing of the fronts or a specific temperature, the reds usually begin moving deep about the end of November at Venice.”
Mind the Mississippi
Cold weather isn’t the only variable that can move the redfish during the winter at Venice. According to Capt. Ryan Lambert of Cajun Fishing Adventures, the redfish bite depends heavily on the attitude of the Mississippi River.
“Any level above 3 feet will bring down enough fresh water to move the majority of the action closer to the Gulf,” he said. “Anything less than 3 feet, however, and the fish will spread out around the passes. The basic concept is that the fishing is best in the river if it’s low and best downriver at the passes and in the bays if it’s high.”
Thomas agreed that the river level is the No. 1 variable affecting winter redfish at Venice. He says the river can hurt the fishing really badly when it gets up to the 7-foot mark at the Carrollton gage.
“The river will blow through all the ponds and fill them with muddy water when the river gets up to 7,” he said. “Between 4 and 6 makes the river muddy, but you can find clear water in the ponds. And 3 or under means that the river and all the backwaters are pretty clean.”
Watch the Wind
If you didn’t have enough stuff to worry about with the cold and the river, Thomas said you should add one more variable to the mix — the wind. Its direction has a lot to do with where you should fish.
“If we have any kind of west wind, the east side of the river is best,” he said. “And if we have an east wind, the west side is better. The river acts like a barricade of sorts, and any water being blown out of the west on a west wind, or the east on an east wind, will hit the river and be pushed back into the surrounding cuts, thus making them rise.”
Thomas said all this extra water would be bringing a lot of mud from the bays with it as well. The water being pushed toward the river rolls through all the bays and churns up the mud. The combination of high and muddy water makes the opposite side of the river the better choice.
Master the Variables
As noted, the three variables that affect winter reds at Venice are temperature, the rise and fall of the river, and wind. Throw in the year-round variable of the tide, and you can see that anglers targeting winter reds have a lot to think about. Those who master the variables and use them to their advantage are the ones who take home limits of fish.
The cold variable is the easiest to deal with. Just look for some deep water with shallow water close by. The reasoning behind this is that you can catch the reds in the deep water early in the day and have a flat to move on to after the sun comes up and warms the water.
According to Thomas, the easiest way to find a good deepwater hole with shallow water nearby is to look at the vegetation growing near the shore.
“You can get off the main passes and follow the cane for a while and find 5 or 6 feet of water off the front of it,” he said. “Keep moving until you find some duck potato. That duck potato will reveal any little flats because you’re looking at 2 to 3 feet of water in front of it. In fact, that’s the primary thing I key on during the winter. A lot of folks fish the points, but the shallow/deep combination works best for me.”
Another great way to find a deep hole is to get on the corners of the passes and drains. These points typically have deep water near them where fish can move up and down to get something to eat or to rest. Just like bass stacking up on a point in relation to current or wind, redfish will gang up and feed around the points when water is flowing by on an outgoing tide.
“The other key to the points is that they are part of an intersection,” said Thomas. “Bait is going to be moving in and out all day long, and the reds will stack up on the corners to eat.”
One of the most consistent places to deal with high water is at the rock jetties at the mouth of Southwest Pass. Those rocks produce fish all year long, but they are extremely productive during the winter. They are subject to holding anything from 18-inch rat reds to 45- or 50-inch bulls.
“The rocks at Southwest Pass are popular because they are easy to get to and they hold fish,” said Thomas. “It’s a place where a novice could go and catch fish. We go there when the river comes up to around 7 at the Carrollton gauge because it gets tough everywhere else.”
Thomas indicated you could also combat high water by fishing the drains on an outgoing tide because they tend to bleed clear water out of the ponds, which haven’t been affected by the muddy water yet. This typically only works until the river gets above 7 and messes up the entire system.
“You can also find fish when the water is high by heading south,” Thomas said. “Get down there where the passes come out into the Gulf, and you can find some reds during the winter when the river gets high. Fish the points and the pockets on the outside of the passes. Look for clear Gulf water to pull in and get sandwiched behind the points on the passes on an incoming tide.”
Lambert broke it down so that anybody could understand how to find redfish at Venice during the winter months.
“The fishing is great in the river if it’s low,” he said. “If it comes up, it’s going to push them down the river and into the bays.”
One of Thomas’ favorite places to find winter reds is Freshwater Bayou just to the east of South Pass. He described this little gem as a perfect spot to fish during tough conditions.
“It’s a bottleneck,” he said. “You’ve got the big pond in back and a big bay in front. All the water from the pond comes through the bayou, and it funnels everything through there. The reds stack up in Freshwater Bayou to feed during the winter. There’s a 15-foot channel and a 3-foot flat on either side. It’s a perfect spot because they can move deep and pull up shallow to eat.”
Another of Thomas’s favorite winter holes is Octave Pass just off Main Pass. He described the area as having lots of deep banks — perfect for winter reds.
Some of Lambert’s best winter holes when the river is below 3 feet are Main Pass, South Pass and Baptiste Collette. However, if the river comes up, he said these areas would become difficult to fish.
Thomas never leaves the dock without dead shrimp during the winter if he’s planning on targeting reds. He prefers tipping a plastic with the shrimp, but added that threading a dead shrimp on a jig-head can be just as deadly.
“I’d rather put it on a soft plastic because you still have a chance of catching a fish if the shrimp falls off,” he said. “If you have it on a jighead by itself and it falls off, you’re going to be reeling in a bare hook with no chance of catching a fish.”
As far as his plastics go, Thomas prefers to keep it simple by fishing a black/chartreuse or purple/chartreuse ReAction Bayou Chub minnow on a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jighead. He believes the chartreuse flash and the shrimp smell combine to make an awesome bait for triggering strikes from redfish.
“Any bass angler will tell you that you can force a bass to bite even when he doesn’t want to by fishing lures that trigger a reaction strike,” he said. “And just like bass fishing during the winter, if you can find the redfish and fish lures that make them bite, you stand to catch some of the largest fish you’re going to catch all year no matter what the conditions are.”
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