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April 27, 2010
The region south of New Orleans, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, is legendary among anglers. The delta towns--particularly Venice--cater to fishermen looking to land lunkers. Whether inshore or offshore, there's no shortage of action; the area possesses some of the best fishing on Earth.
Sunrise over the fertile, marshy land of southern Louisiana. Here, you're never far from water. The Mississippi River is the underpinning of the region's entire fishing industry. The river provides nutrients for myriad small fish, which means larger fish--particularly offshore--can arrive in spades and eat like kings.
Highway 23, which is 75 miles long and known to locals as the Belle Chasse Highway, travels like a vein through southern Louisiana and past fishing hotspots in Plaquemines Parish and Jefferson Parish. In fact, Venice is the final town reachable by car, which gives the entire landscape an uncanny remoteness. It is, essentially, ideal isolation and solitude for devoted anglers willing to make the southern trek.
The land and water are incredibly diverse in Venice. Offshore, the water can be surprisingly deep--reaching depths of 1,000 feet or more in a matter of a few miles. But, in the nearby wetlands and bogs of the Mississippi, it's classic Bayou swampland.
Woodland Plantation, a bed-and-breakfast north of Venice in West Point a La Hache, was a comfortable and historic outpost for a springtime fishing adventure. Interestingly, it's the only original plantation south of New Orleans that's still in existence.
Woodland Plantation was built in the 1830s. It has endured several hurricanes over the years and was greatly renovated and refurbished in the late 1990s. However, sociable anglers might recognize it for a very specific reason that has nothing to do with hurricanes or refurbishing…
It is also the plantation that appears on a label of Southern Comfort whiskey liqueur. Tell that to the next bartender you see--who knows, it might get you a free drink.
"Southern comfort" is also the vibe that Woodland Plantation provides. There's a "spirits hall" on the grounds for sharing drinks and tales of big fish, and, of course, all the relaxation and good ol' hospitality you'd expect from a Southern bed and breakfast.
Of course, minor detail: The place is supposedly haunted. Seriously. "Ghost hunters" travel from all over the country to stay at the plantation that is supposedly occupied by evil spirits, and television shows documenting such things have also profiled the place. NOTE: That sort of thing may or may not tickle your fancy, and it should be noted that the alleged haunted nature of the place should not deter anyone from renting a room for a night. This author's experience did not, at any point, involve spooks, spirits, specters, ghosts, clairvoyance, full trance mediums or, ya know, crazy UFOs or anything.
Still, there's an eerie, old-timey nature to the decor. Nice blouse, lady. Let's do some fishing…
Venice is famous for its abundance of species. It's a hotspot for yellowfin and marlin, but this was primarily a redfish (red drum) trip. Redfish like the soft, sandy bottoms of the coast. Characteristically, they chomp the bait hard and take off with amazing strength and speed.
Anglers should be advised to keep the drag set light on the reel, as they might be fighting a redfish for a while.
Redfish are extremely catchable and a lot of the enjoyment lies in varying your fishing technique depending on the seascape. They tended to be somewhat tense--even, occasionally, hesitant--in shallower, grassy flats, and aggressive in the surf and deeper realms.
The largest redfish on record weighed nearly 100 pounds--a behemoth compared to this youngling.
I had particular success popping corks near the surf in the early morning and early afternoon.
John Burgman's quick and tasty recipe for Louisiana redfish on the half shell: Coat a fish fillet with a mixture of oil, butter and lemon pepper (and, in this case, Cajun seasoning). Cook over a hot grill (with the scale-side of the fillet directly on a cooking pan) until the meat-side of the fillet is fairly solid and flaky. Don't ever flip the fillet--just continue cooking with the scale side of the fillet against the pan. The fish will cook fast--it will be done in about the same amount of time as it takes you to finish your first cocktail.
Grubs, spinnerbait, spoons--redfish will pounce on a variety of lures.
While I fished entirely with artificial bait, natural (live) bait is a popular option as well; Mullet, shrimp and blue crab are irresistible to redfish.
The paddle tail grub with chartreuse ends might not look like much, but I caught well over a dozen fish in the morning with it.
A quick glance at the captain's helm shows the many assorted lures that will be attractive to a redfish.
As the day progressed, the sun got more intense, and the fish got bigger and more assertive.
Venturing into the marshy grasses for some sight casting can be a fun adventure if the water is clear, and the sky above is cloudless. (Cloud cover will block the sunlight and make it difficult to see below the water's surface). The proper sight casting technique entails casting past the fish (and not spooking it in the process), and then reeling in and drawing the lure right into the fish's field of vision.
Of course, fishing in the marshy grasses brings about a whole host of worries that wouldn't occur to you if it weren't for signs like this.
As with any travel or adventure, it's always nice to meet the locals.
The fact of the matter is that gators are abundant in the Louisiana bayou, and they're an important part of the food chain. In fact, the largest gator on record, which measured nearly 20-feet, hailed from Louisiana.
Back to the sight casting…
We were able to snag a few modest-sized reds before the clouds rolled in and made water visibility lousy. Here, Captain Nash Roberts of Fishhunter Guide Service poses with his catch.
It took me about 10 minutes to tire this one out and bring him into the boat.
Captain Keith Kennedy poses with his nice red.
The evening's dinner, fresh from the cooler.
Venice has been in the news these past few days because of the oil spill. There are thousands of oil rigs in the region, and the oil industry is a big part of this particular section of the Gulf.
The section of the Gulf is also known for its shrimping. Whether in jambalaya or gumbo, Louisiana shrimp are delicious, and the tradition of catching them, selling them and eating them goes back hundreds of years. Still, much like the fishing of the region, shrimping is threatened by the erosion of the coast and the subsequent decrease of wetlands. Coastal erosion is a significant problem in Louisiana, and active, well-planned and long-term restoration efforts are essential.
A classic Louisiana fishing pose--the redfish are so abundant, you have to call your friends!
The region from New Orleans to Venice is also known, to much of the United States, as the epicenter of Hurricane Katrina's destruction. Despite the fact that the hurricane happened nearly half a decade ago, much of the demolition and damage looks very recent.
In certain sections, the hurricane's path was so destructive, it was easier to abandon the property permanently than to return and rebuild.
Still, the area--and the area's industries--get a boost from tourism in the warm months. And when dinner entails redfish, shrimp and fresh oysters like these plucked right from the Gulf, southern Louisiana is appealing for die-hard anglers and easy-going tourists alike.
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