Reds Ain't Dead: Fishing Louisiana After the Oil Spill

They call Venice the "End of the World" because it's the southernmost town that's accessible by vehicle along the Mississippi River. And for a few months this summer, it felt like it was in fact the end of the world for this small fishing town. As oil continued to creep toward Louisiana's fragile costal marshes, scientists scrambled to measure the effects of the spill, the media declared the fishery (and the region for that matter) all but deceased and anglers feared for the worst.
This photo was taken on November 2 just outside of Venice half a year after Obama's visit.
At this point, the national media is mostly gone, shrimpers and business owners are working to collect the business they lost from B.P. and experts say the majority of the spilled oil has been collected, burned off or evaporated. And as you can see here, the fish are healthy.
If that last photo wasn't evidence enough, check out the the bend in pro angler, Jon Culpepper's rod. At the end of his line is one very fat, very angry, very healthy Louisiana redfish.
This week I got a first-hand look at Gulf fishing post-spill. Myself and three other writers hit the Louisiana marsh with a group of pro redfish anglers and the good folks from Pure Fishing.
Even the writers got into fish.
We spent our time pitching Berkley Gulp! on jigs, spinners and on rigs called poping corks -- it's basically a jig suspended below a bobber and the idea is to pop the bobber to imitate a redfish feeding on baitfish. The commotion attracts attention to the area and entices a real red into hitting the jig.
Redfish are known for being brutal fighters. The hit like a largemouth bass on steroids and fight like oversized smallmouth bass. They love to go on long, drag burning runs.
Here's Jon Culpepper releasing a redfish after a well-fought battle.
The fishing was great, but knowing that the fragile Mississippi delta was not destroyed was almost as exciting as fighting a big red.
So far the oil has not really damaged fishing in the Gulf, but bad publicity has.
"The media after the spill hurt us worse than Katrina did," says Louisiana redfish guide Billy Wallbaum.
Wallbaum has guided in the Venice area for 10 years. His story is similar to that of many local guides.
After being hit hard by Katrina, he rebuilt his business and his life from the ground up. "It was six months after Katrina until I even had power in my house again," Wallabaum says.
This is a post-Katrina shot of the lodge we stayed in. All of that grey stuff you see is water. The photo now sits in a scrap book in the fully rebuilt lodge.
Doomsday predictions about the oil spill scared clients out of trips even though the fishing was still good, Wallbaum says. "The oil did not come in as hard as they said it was going to," he says. "If we could get clients down here we could show them."
Kicking up some Mississippi mud. Most our fishing was done in just a few feet (sometimes inches) of water.
We released all of the fish we caught, but some other anglers at the lodge kept theirs. Yes we ate them, yes they tasted great and no we didn't get poisoned from oil toxins.
The marsh is a maze of cane and water. It seems to go on forever and changes as easily as the tides.
Cruising through marsh canals at 40 miles per hour over five feet of water is really fun, as long as you have an experienced boat captain.

More than half a year after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana inshore fishing is as good as ever. The redfish are just as big and just as angry.