Venice Shocker

Bass anglers just knew the famed bass fishery at the mouth of the river had been wiped out by August’s salty surge, but to their delight, they’ve discovered that’s not the case at all.

It was a shocking sight: Grass was matted on the point of the little trenasse north of Main Pass. That was unexpected in Venice, after reports that Hurricane Katrina had ripped up any vestiges of submerged vegetation. Water pulling out of the ditch was beautiful and green. Just looking at it made my mouth water as Chris Wilson eased into the cut. However, I was still a little doubtful that the water would hold bass.

“This is a little cut we used to fish all the time,” Wilson said. “If there are any bass, they’ll be in here.”

We began pitching soft-plastic lures into the nooks and crannies of the roseau cane lining the banks, and soon got the first bite.

“There’s one,” Wilson said as he set the hook.

The bass wasn’t a beast, probably pushing only 1 1/2 pounds. But it was a welcome sight. If there was one bass, there should be more.

That canal produced a handful of bass, all about the same size as Wilson’s first fish. However, we each missed several bites.

And I saw a larger fish swim right by the boat as we moved farther into the dead-end cut. The bass would have gone 3 to 3 ½ pounds, and seemed unaffected by our presence. Of course, it also refused to bite my lure that was expertly placed right in front of it several times before it disappeared.

It was nine months after Katrina blasted Venice, with the eye of the killer storm passing right over the mouth of the Mississippi River.

However, I had seen little change since leaving the destruction of the port. The roseau looked healthy, and everything seemed pretty normal.

Finally, Wilson decided it was time to move.

“I want to go look down Southwest Pass,” he said. “I want to see what the spillways and Joseph Bayou look like.”

Wilson, a full-time guide for Superior Energy, has fished often since the hurricane, but most of that time has been targeting saltwater species. He was still feeling out the effects of the storm.

“The fringe of the marsh seems to be pushed back, but a lot of what I’ve seen hasn’t changed much,” he said.

Indeed, nothing seemed changed when we shot through the first spillway off Southwest Pass. Sure, willow trees had been pushed over, and it was evident from the debris line that water had covered every speck of high ground. But the canals and bayous were pretty much unchanged.

“There are a few areas that were silted up during the storm, but most of it’s OK,” Wilson said.

We fished through the area, but the water was filthy. So he soon called for lines to be pulled in for another move. We didn’t go far, slipping across the pass and into Joseph Bayou.

Again, the area looked amazingly unscathed. The water was beautiful, and grass was plentiful.

“I’ve caught a lot of fish back here,” Wilson said. “They’ll hold to the grass, and hit anything that comes along.”

The area produced another handful of bass, cementing the fact that Venice bass have survived.

That’s something Marrerro’s Frank Cacioppo knew long before Wilson and I made our trek to the river. The angler made his first trip to Venice four weeks after Katrina, and didn’t know what to expect.

“Honestly, I expected absolutely nothing,” Cacioppo said. “I was expecting the fishery to be totally wiped out.”

Instead, he and a friend smashed the bass.

“We probably boated over 100 fish that day to our amazement,” Cacioppo said. “Nothing over 3 pounds, but all healthy, quality fish.

“Any type of wood you could find, the fish were stuck like glue on it. The hyacinths were devastated, the grass was gone, and that was the only cover they had.”

And he’s continued to land numbers of bass throughout the spring and summer.

The key to the bass’ survival, Cacioppo believes, was the timing of the storm.

“The fish were already getting ready to move out of the ponds and into the passes,” he said. “They were already in that migration, and they were close enough to deep water.

“For Hurricane Georges, it was the exact opposite: The fish were in the ponds, and when the water started pulling out all of that bad water, it just killed everything.”

Georges swiped the river’s mouth in late September, after the waters had cooled and bass had scattered out of the passes.

Department of Wildlife & Fisheries sampling has been very limited in the area due to logistics and issues such as difficulties with finding fuel in the area, biologist Tim Ruth said.

Ruth and other DWF workers did make a gill-net sampling trip in late June, and found there were plenty of fish in the area. No bass were caught, however.

“We sampled Sawdust Bend, and it was slap full of redfish,” he said. “We didn’t catch any bass, but it’s hard to catch them with a gill net because that’s an open-water thing, and those bass hold to those clumps of grass.”

The encouraging discovery was that submergent vegetation was plentiful.

“The grass is there, and the salinities are low,” Ruth said.

Such comebacks to the habitat have provided bass the opportunity to thrive, and in many areas Cacioppo has found good fishing.

Areas surrounding Southwest, Grand, Tiger and even Red passes are holding bass, but Cacioppo said he hasn’t found many way back in the ponds.

“Most of the fish, I find, are still in the main stem of the river,” he said. “I think that they just never migrated back into the interior ponds, especially since the river didn’t rise much this year.

“If I get a mile away from the main river or passes, I feel like I’m too far.”

Limits of bass have been nabbed by working the ledges along the main passes during falling tidal ranges.

“I’m looking for steeper banks — any type of steeper bank or points or undercut bank,” Cacioppo said.

“They’ll get under that bank and sit there.”

Cacioppo said he works watermelon-colored Zoom UltraVibe Speed Worms with the current, with the goal of letting the current pull his lure into the little pockets cut into the banks.

“I think the key to that bait is the abundance of shrimp,” he said. “Every bass we caught has been regurgitating shrimp. I personally think all the crawfish got wiped out, and shrimp came in like crazy.”

Any current break also can produce bites, he said.

“I like to find right where the current is hitting a point or something else and splitting,” Cacioppo said. “It could be a bulkhead.”

Wilson agreed, saying that bass hold to trees, rocks and anything else that provides a break from the current.

“You could cruise the Mississippi River and fish the points in the rocks and cuts coming into the river right now,” he said. “In Grand Pass and Tiger Pass, I’m looking for structure. Before the storm in Tiger, there were willow trees in about 18 feet of water on a sharp drop, and they were guaranteed to hold fish.”

Although the current could be fairly stiff in these areas, Cacioppo said he doesn’t load his lure down with a heavy weight.

“I try to get away with the lightest weight possible,” he said. “I usually use a 1/8-ounce Mega-Weights tungsten weight. I just want to try to keep contact with the lure.”

Others might find that difficult with such a small weight, so Cacioppo suggested less-experienced anglers use ¼- or 3/8-ounce weights to provide adequate feel.

However, he said the bass haven’t been very shy about how they hit a lure.

“There’s no doubt when they hit it,” he said.

Wilson takes the opposite approach, using heavier weights when fishing his preferred lures of jigs and tubes. His primary choice is 1/2-ounce weights.

“A lot to times you want it to fall to the target you’re throwing at,” he said. “That current will take it and sweep it away.”

However, he does keep lighter terminal tackle handy.

“I always keep four rods out: one with a light jig, one with a heavy jig, one with a light tube and one with a heavy tube,” Wilson said. “The structure changes as you cruise down the bank. You might look over and see something that is shallow and doesn’t need that heavy weight, and you don’t have time to retie for two casts.”

If the water is high enough to provide 2- to 3-foot depths on the flats near the passes, Cacioppo will ease back and work the grass beds with the plastic frogs, spinnerbaits and crankbaits.

“In the morning, I’ll throw a frog on the grass or fish a spinnerbait,” he said. “But as the day heats up, I usually go to a crankbait like that (Mann’s) Minus 1.

“I just tick that over the top of the grass, and they’ll usually come out and nail it.”

But he doesn’t go very far away from that deeper water of the pass, until the weather starts cooling down.

“They’re going to be closer to that deeper water through about the first of November,” Cacioppo said.

While some fish can be caught any time the water is moving, Cacioppo said ideal conditions are found on an outgoing tide.

“That’s going to pull that pretty water out of the roseaus,” he said.

However, he doesn’t like a tide that is too drastic.

“A tidal range of ½ to 1 ½ feet is ideal,” Cacioppo said. “Any time we encounter a stronger tide, I think the fish get lockjaw and wait for the current to slow down some.”

He said he also works the wind to his best advantage.

“If the wind is out of the east, which is the predominant wind in the summer, I fish the west side of the river,” Cacioppo said. “If you find a cut that the wind’s blowing clean water through, you’ll catch fish.”

While Cacioppo has been ecstatic to find bass, he said anglers shouldn’t expect to nail them every trip.

“I made a trip into the second spillway on Southwest Pass one day, and caught two better than 5 pounds,” he said. “I went back the next day, and couldn’t get a bite.

“I just find the fish are moving around a lot.”

And those he catches aren’t whales by any means.

“Most of the fish have been small,” he said. “I don’t think the big fish can take the stress like those smaller fish can.”

There also are some areas he has avoided.

Delta Duck is one such spot.

“All of that’s still pretty much intact, but you only catch a fish here and there,” Cacioppo said. “They don’t seem to be in there.”

The fringes of Delta Duck were damaged, but he said there’s no comparison to the devastation of the marsh between Dennis Pass and Redfish Bay.

“All along that stretch of coast, we lost two to five miles of marsh,” he said. “It’s just all open water now.”

The worst damage seems to be from Wright Pass east.

“That’s knocked all the way back to almost the 3X’s,” Cacioppo said.

Biologist Ruth said that’s not great news for the long-term recovery of the area.

“That’s really limiting their habitat,” he said. “Bass orient to cover, whether it’s roseau canes or grass, and open water just doesn’t have any of that. Open areas are also going to see higher salinities.”

While Ruth said he hoped the area would reform, Cacioppo was pessimistic.

“From my experience, I don’t think it will come back,” he said. “After Georges, I had some duck ponds I used to fish that were two miles from the edge of the marsh now, and they never came back.”

The newly opened marshes present a real danger to anglers because those shallows are littered with storm debris.

“I was down there when the water was real low, and there were things sticking just above the water,” Cacioppo said. “If you don’t know where those obstructions are, they could be a real problem.

“You’re a long way from the launch if you tear the motor off the boat.”

He said the danger is compounded by the lack of cell service downriver.

“There’s no phone service if you get much south of Grand Pass,” he said. “You’d better have a marine radio.”

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.

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