For me, southern Louisiana has become like an old friend that I like to visit periodically, if for no other reason, it’s just to catch up on what’s going on and reminisce about old times. It’s very hard for me to believe that it’s been almost 30 years since I first laid eyes on the Louisiana marsh and the best fishing Louisiana has to offer. Running down the Mississippi and diving into the marsh by boat is like entering another world for me; a world mixed with the timeless beauty of the marsh and the always present invasion of the ones who may eventually destroy it.
I‘m not sure how many times I’ve made the trip from the Atlanta area to Venice, but I can assure you that there has never been a faster trip down to Venice to my recollection. I’m not saying that because my friend Jimmy Sanders is a fast driver, which he is, but it’s because we were never lacking in laughs and conversation, so the miles just flew by at Mach speed. Our last meal before checking into the lodge was a lunch stop at Salvo’s seafood in Belle Chase. Salvo’s Po’boys has always been the gateway to a trip down highway 23 and some of the best red fishing in the world.
After a good lunch and about 9 hours on the road we were finally at our destination for the next few days. It was Wednesday and me, Jimmy Harmon, Jimmy Sanders and Jimmy Meadows were staying at the lodge through Friday night and leaving out very early on Saturday morning so Jimmy Meadows could make a 5pm wedding back in the Atlanta area on the day of our return.
The lodge itself is located in the Buras area and is just off highway 23. We checked in mid-afternoon and just after the fishermen staying at the lodge had returned from a day of fishing. When we parked the truck, I could see a shovel on the front of a small tractor sitting by the fish cleaning station and the shovel held several redfish, sheepshead and trout carcasses. That was a good sign to start the trip. We were welcomed by the staff right away and we were shown to our rooms for the next 2 days and 3 nights. The lodge was good sized and spread out with a very large kitchen/dining area and the was also plenty of room to relax on the lower floor. The 4 of us split 2 rooms and our rooms were located upstairs. After we unpacked, we went back downstairs and sat in the kitchen/dining area and talked with our chef, Casey while she was preparing the evening meal. Casey cooked our lunch and dinner while miss Kim prepared our breakfast for the morning. There was a group of about 10 other fishermen from a manufacturing company up north that were on a team building/appreciation fishing trip and they kinda occupied the billiard room area. I went into the billiard room and started chatting with the group who had been there for 2 days prior to our arrival. I introduced myself and told the group that we were all named Jimmy or Jim so it would be easy to remember our names. During our conversation I found out that 2 of the guys were from Kansas so that struck up a whole new conversation on growing up in Kansas. I got the 411 from the group as far as the fishing went and it sounded like it was going to be another popping cork trip.
Years back, when I lived in Belle Chase and fished the marsh, after the first year or so of fishing the marsh, I started using more and more artificial baits instead of live, fresh or frozen shrimp. For speckled trout, it was usually a sparkle beetle under a popping cork, or I was beating the banks with a jig head/ plastic cockahoe minnow combination. After many trips back to the Venice area and using different guides for inshore fishing, I see more and more guides just using shrimp under popping corks for their clients. It seems that the shrimp under popping corks is effective and fairly easy to use for the novice and there is usually plenty of action from a variety of local fish. Personally, I’d rather take my chances beating the banks with a plastic minnow than slinging a popping cork around but on this trip, I was able to compromise with a big Gulp plastic shrimp under my popping cork which yielded our largest redfish for the day.
We settled into our new surroundings and after dinner and some evening chatting we all hit the sack for a early morning wake-up.
After a 5:30am wakeup call consisting of a knock at the door from Miss Kim the cook, “breakfast time-fishing time”, we quickly got dressed and headed downstairs. Scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and a biscuit were on the morning menu and the guides for the guests were waiting around the kitchen area. One of the other guests from the guys up north let me in on a little secret and told me that the quicker you got on the road the better chance you had of getting live shrimp at the bait shop. If you were one of the last ones leaving the lodge, chances are that the bait would be gone by the time you got to the bait shop. The guys from up north were the first ones to leave followed my Jimmy Meadows and Jimmy Sanders. I was paired up with LJ and when the dust settled from all the guide boats and the clients headed down the road to Venice from the lodge, myself and our guide, a 6’6″ -280lb local behemoth named Rodger were left standing in the driveway waiting for LJ to finish his business in the toilet. Rodger wasn’t happy about the delay, and I assured big Rodger that we were just getting started and LJ usually provided the entertainment for the day, one way or another. When LJ finally came out and we got underway, we hadn’t gone 5 miles and LJ realized that he left his cellphone in the toilet. That was the final sign that it was going to be one of those special LJ kinda days. I gotta say in LJ’s defense though, he redeemed himself when he fixed Rodger’s electronics after we blew a fuse while running down the Mississippi and hitting a large wake from a barge. Our skiff slammed down hard, and all of our electronics just died. LJ had us back up and running in record time.
LJ put us in the books with his first redfish of the trip on shrimp and I jacked a few more on the Gulp shrimp before we both started throwing the big Gulp shrimp under the popping corks. Using the Gulp shrimp cut down on the hardhead action and if something hit it, it was probably going to be a big redfish.
Here’s a few fishing pictures from the first day of fishing.
We returned to the lodge, which is about 15 miles from the Venice Marina around 1-2pm and the guides promptly went to work on cleaning the fish. We grabbed a cold drink and some hot gumbo from the kitchen, and we met our new friends and new guests to the lodge, Angie and Girard. They were from Pheonix and a treat to chat with. We quickly made friends with Angie and Girard and before you knew it, we were all joking and cracking up.
Angie is a divorce attorney and Girard….well Girard did a lot of things over the years. Girard was born in Morocco and eventually made his way to the United States. Girard is 81 years old and he has led a very interesting life full of adventure and success as a businessman. He spoke 3 languages fluently and a total of 7 languages, not so fluently. I took the opportunity to chat with Girard about his life and growing up in a foreign country so long ago. Girard rubbed shoulders with some very important leadership in our country and the fact that he could speak so many different languages opened a lot of doors for him over the years. Angie shared the story of how her and Girard had met at Girard’s restaurant and we all shared stories from our lives as the time flew by on a Thursday afternoon. Both Angie and Girard were fascinating people, and we were so glad we crossed paths. Angie actually has some relatives that own a house on Lake Lanier and they visit periodically so I’m pretty sure our paths will cross again someday in the future.
Angie gave the 4 Jim’s a title while we were all chatting, and Jimmy Sanders was dubbed “The Elder”, which I thought was appropriate. LJ was given the title “The Mayor” which made his head swell to an enormous size during our conversation. Angie gave Jimmy Meadows the title of “The Gentle One” which was a good description of Meadows, and I was named “The Storyteller”. I have a lot of stories, so Angie hit the nail on the head with that title. On Thursday evening we all had dinner and hung out till time to turn in. A storm was on the way.
At 2am on Friday morning I was awakened to the sound of thunder. I knew that there was a cold front on the way, and it was scheduled to hit the area around dawn according to Accuweather. The 2am arrival was a little early but nonetheless, the earlier it got through the area, the better. The thunder I heard was followed by some lightning flashes and over the next few minutes I could tell that the storm was quickly approaching. A few minutes later the rain started pelting the window next to my bed and my mind was taken back 25 years ago and the rain beating against the window by my bed at our old Man Camp. Thought about my old Navy friends and our trips out to Man Camp and all the fun we had over the years, fishing the marsh. I laid in the bed and thought back to our drive over the big bridge at Empire and looking out at the Empire rock jetty, in the summer of 1993 it was the location of my first redfish catch while sitting out on those big rocks with a pound of fresh shrimp for bait.
The wind and rain passed over the lodge and before we knew it, there was a knock on the door and miss Kim’s voice outside the door around 5:30, “breakfast time, fishing time”. We all knew that the quicker we got downstairs and had breakfast, the quicker we could get bait and get on the water. None of us was dilly-dallying around the room and Jimmy Meadow’s and I were paired up for fishing the second morning. It was going to be a rough morning on the back side of the front. They were calling for heavy winds out of the northwest. For that reason, our guide decided to fish the east side of the river where the winds would be a bit calmer. It made sense and I was all for the calmer winds in the marsh. After getting bait we launched out of an old broken-down ramp right on the Mississippi and we were running down the big river in record time. The wind was blowing when we went into the marsh for our first fishing stop. It didn’t take long, and Jimmy Meadows put the first nice redfish in the boat but then it got bad. I noticed a lot of the water was changing colors and the wind was howling over the reeds. The heavy winds were pushing the river water into the marsh where we were fishing, and the water was quickly becoming very stained from the river and the wind pushing currents. At that point the fish shut down and we were just going from canal to canal trying to find cleaner water and a better bite. At the same time Sanders and LJ weren’t doing much better and by lunchtime we were ready to call it a day. The wind was just too brutal to fish a lot of areas in the marsh and a lot of the guides were heading in for the day. One thing I liked about our guides is that they all talked over the radio, and they helped each other while we were fishing. Here’s a few pictures from Friday morning including a sunrise looking back up the Mississippi river to the east and some approaching storms out over the gulf to the west. We had to dodge the storms, wind and lightning most of the morning on Friday, but the front moved through and by mid afternoon the sun was back out.
When we got back to the camp, I was greeted by an old friend and tuna boat Captain from about 15 years ago, when I used to come down to Venice to go offshore tuna fishing. His name was Hooper but everyone in the area knew him as “Hoop”. He was a Captain on one of the boats I went out on and he was the co-captain of another tuna boat I went out on, so we got to know each other pretty well after a few long-range tuna trips. Hoop iss an inshore guide now, and he was the guide for Angie and Girard. When Angie asked Hoop how old he was, he said that he was so old that he played in the sandbox with Jesus. LOL…He is 80 years old and still going strong. We had a chance to chat for a while and it was great to see Hoop still kicking butt at 80. I hope that I’m in that kind of shape at 80.
After a quick lunch back at the lodge we got cleaned up and sat out back of the lodge under a gazebo and chatted the afternoon away. We played a little cornhole and had a few drinks before dinner, knowing it was our last evening at the lodge as we would be leaving out a 3:30am. Each person from all the fishermen donated a fish for the chef and Casey made us all blackened redfish for dinner and it was delicious. The meals we had during our stay at the lodge were to notch and very well prepared. We ate well the whole time we were there and there were always coolers with drinks available. They had an icemaker which supplied us with all the ice we needed for our filets. Jimmy Sanders and I loaded up and iced down all of our fish filet for the trip back home and we had quite a few filets for the cooler. After getting cleaned up and packed up we chatted for a bit longer and called it a night.
We were up by 3:15 in the morning and pulling out of the lodge by 3:45am. Jimmy Sanders laid the hammer down and the big Dodge Ram was headed back to Georgia so Jimmy Meadows could make a 5pm wedding. I think I wore a hole in Jimmy’s floorboard in the back seat, but Jimmy got us all back safely and in record time. Jimmy Meadows made his wedding by 5pm and I was prepping our catch for the freezer.