Twice as Nice

Specks and reds are thick throughout the summer at Venice’s Double Bayou.

Traveling south along Highway 23 in lower Plaquemines Parish, numerous signs of recovery from the devastating hurricanes of 2005 are evident. The Cajun Kitchen, a much loved eatery and haven for hot and hungry fishermen, has just reopened in a trailer in Port Sulphur. The smell of grilled onions and hamburgers wafts through the air. Two dozen thirsty construction workers are already in line waiting to grab a hot lunch as we pull into the parking lot. A quick to-go order of the Cajun Kitchen’s famous fried okra and a cheeseburger are handed through the window, although their trademark soft-serve ice cream is not being served.

“They won’t deliver my mix this far,” says the owner of the business.

We continue south, and see even more signs of recovery. Delta Outboards in Empire is up and running, albeit in the shell of a metal building. Owner Byron Prest says he has purchased another building just to the north, and has plans of rebuilding there after taking on 13 feet of water during Katrina.

As we turn onto the shell road that leads to Venice Marina, we see boat trailers lining both sides of the narrow access road, reaffirming the statement, “If you build it, they will come.”

Brothers and co-owners Mike and Bill Butler sure hope so. They have spent countless hours restoring and improving the marina, not to mention a great sum of money, and all without the promise of inclusion in the Corps of Engineers Advisory Base Flood Elevation plan.

“We are just going ahead with reconstruction and following our land plan that was developed by Rick Ryan of the Ryan Companies,” said Mike Butler, the elder of the two brothers.

Our accommodations for the evening consist of a room at the plush Venice Marina Sportsman’s Lodge. This floating oasis offers an all-inclusive package for fishermen including lodging, meals and a fully stocked open bar. Charter boats can be arranged to pick up guests at the back door of the lodge for a day on the water.

After a quick breakfast the next morning, a dozen anglers head out to the dock for boat assignments. In addition to numerous media personnel from around the state, Donna Duhe, director of tourism for Plaquemines Parish, will join us for a day of inshore fishing. Duhe, who grew up near Luling, is about to experience first hand what she often pitches to potential visitors — world-class Venice fishing.

Our guide this day is Capt. Jeff Fuscia, who operates Delta Dawn Fishing. Fuscia prefers to get an early start, so he was fueled and ready when Duhe pulled up to the marina.

After gathering her soft-sided cooler, designer sunglasses and a hat, she was welcomed aboard Fuscia’s 24-foot Skeeter. Fuscia went through a safety briefing as we idled out of the marina telling us where the life jackets were stowed.

“Hang onto your hats ladies,” he said as he put the boat on plane and headed down Grand Pass.

“We’ve got a pretty stiff southeast wind, so we’re going to make the run all the way down the river today,” he announced.

The banks of Grand Pass were alive with birds, some of which waded along the grassy shoreline looking for a meal.

“This is so beautiful, exclaimed Duhe as a large blue heron took flight in the morning sun.

We continued our trek southward and through a shortcut near the Second Spillway in which a dredge barge was working.

“You have to be really careful in some of these passes as they have silted in,” Fuscia warned as he slowly idled by the barge, which spewed black mud onto an eroded shoreline.

As the boat popped from behind the canes, a vast area of shorelines known as Dixon Bay soon appeared. Fuscia shut down the engine in the northern end of the bay, which is separated from the mighty Mississippi River by sandy river spoil and held together by canes and marsh grasses.

“We caught a few fish here the other day, so we’re going to try this spot first,” said Fuscia as he quietly lowered the trolling motor.

“I have NO fishing ability whatsoever,” Duhe confessed.

“Don’t worry, you’ll do fine,” Fuscia said calmly, as he proceeded to give Duhe some basic instruction on the use of her spinning reel.

Several mullet jumped nearby, causing Duhe to turn and cast in their direction and distracting her momentarily from her lesson.

“We’re not looking for those,” laughed Fuscia.

After a couple of practice casts, Duhe was soon accurately placing her cork near the shoreline and popping it as Fuscia had instructed. Just as Duhe was getting the hang of popping the cork, Fuscia announced that a move was in order.

He put the boat on plane, and headed farther south to Double Bayou, which he says is one of his go-to spots.

“One of the great things about Double Bayou is that it is fishable in a hard southeast wind like the 15-knot wind we have today,” he said. “Our predominant summer wind patterns are south and southeast in June, July and August, so we’ll fish here quite a bit that time of year.”

Fuscia stopped the boat, and set up to drift by a small eroded island. A barrage of Old Bayside Paradise Poppers found their marks on a point where the current formed a small eddy. Almost immediately, Duhe’s cork went down and she pulled back instinctively on the fish as it stripped line from her reel.

“Let him have it, just keep your rod up and reel when he stops pulling drag,” Fuscia instructed as he quickly set the PVC pipe he uses as an anchor pole.

Fuscia grabbed his landing net, and scooped the fish. After posing for a photo with her first speckled trout, Duhe went back to fishing as Fuscia cleaned the deck and boxed the fish.

“What did you do with that fish?” inquired Duhe.

Sensing her uneasiness and not wanting to upset his newest client, the fast-thinking captain replied, “I put him in the ice chest so he could go to sleep.”

Duhe explained that she felt sorry for the fish since it had made it through both hurricanes and then was put in the ice bin. A few minutes later, though, her attitude changed as the action picked up and trout were steadily being swung over the gunnels into the boat.

“Ooh, this is REALLY fun,” she cooed as she reeled in yet another fat 2-pound speckled trout.

Two dozen speckled trout were quickly boated, falling to Deadly Dudley Terror Tail Jrs. in blue moon.

Fuscia was pleased with Duhe’s enthusiasm.

“For someone who started out as a real ‘girly girl,’ you sure did turn into a fishing machine,” he said.

“I can’t believe how much fun it is to catch fish. Once I started reeling them in, I didn’t worry too much about them going to sleep in the ice anymore,” Duhe admitted.

Double Bayou, located on the edge of West Bay and just slightly north of the Second Spillway, consists of numerous small washed-out islands and broken marsh. To the south near the mouth of the spillway is a large area of sandbars that attract schools of bull reds during the summer.

“That’s the river over there,” Fuscia said, pointing to a giant ship that loomed just over the horizon to our east as it steamed up Southwest Pass. “You can come out here and see the big bull reds surfing in the waves on the sandbar, and work your way all the way down to Southwest Pass catching fish.

“The amount of bait we have here in the summer makes it a great choice for fishing this time of year.

“In May and June, we do really well with artificial baits in this area, but as the temperature rises in July and August, live bait becomes more of a necessity.

“We try to get live bait, which makes it much easier on some of our less-experienced customers.

“To a customer, live bait is sort of like insurance, and makes them feel that the guide has done everything possible to make sure they have a day to remember.”

Fuscia likes to come prepared in the event live bait is not available for purchase. He always keeps a castnet stowed in his boat to catch bait while on the water. Often he will catch finger mullet, pogies and occasionally shrimp.

“Anyone operating a boat who doesn’t carry a cast net is making a big mistake and missing out on an opportunity to load the boat with fresh, lively bait — and they’ll save money to boot,” Fuscia said.

The day was still young, and our ice chest was getting heavy.

“We’ve got our limit of speckled trout, so let’s make a move and look for redfish,” Fuscia said as he eased the anchor pole from the muddy bottom.

“Can we take these fish back to the dock and go catch some more?” Duhe asked.

Jeff and I looked at each other, and then realized that she was clueless about creel limits and the law. We took time to explain that there were limits on what size and how many each person could keep in a day.

“This is so much fun. I am actually catching instead of fishing for the first time in my life. I just don’t want it to end,” said Duhe taking a swig from her Diet Coke.

Fuscia made a move to an area laden with roseau canes, and instructed us to cast along the canes. Duhe did as she was told, and soon had something a little bigger ripping her 12-pound-test from the reel.

“What is it?” she asked as she reeled against the drag trying to slow the fish.

“I think you’ve got yourself a redfish, and it’s a keeper too,” said Fuscia.

The guide netted the fish, as I explained to Duhe the tradition of kissing her first redfish. She complied, and then asked “It’s so beautiful, can I let it go?”

“Sure, whatever you want,” said Fuscia as he worked the fish back and forth to revive it before releasing it into the emerald green water.

Southwest Pass

Southwest Pass holds a smorgasbord of fish in all conditions including large redfish, flounder, speckled trout, jacks, black drum and sheepshead. Occasionally anglers will catch various groupers and snappers, but most are undersized, so they must be released.

“When you come down to Southwest Pass, the best bait is dead shrimp threaded on a jighead,” explained Fuscia.

The area that is approximately 7 to 10 feet deep on the west side always has plenty of river current and tidal current, so bring along a good supply of ½-ounce jigheads. It is suggested that anglers pack along egg sinkers in various weights as they may be necessary to get baits down.

“This is a dangerous area with lots of ship and crewboat traffic, so be careful if you anchor or you may get sucked into the rocks,” said Fuscia.

“Also, be very cautious around the jetties as the rocks that lined the pass on both sides were scattered everywhere by Katrina,” he warned.

That day was an experience that Fuscia and I will long remember. We had the pleasure of seeing both an avid angler and conservationist develop with just one great “catching trip” upon the magical waters of Venice.

Capt. Jeff Fuscia can be reached at 504-382-5488 or deltadawnfishing@yahoo.com.

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