My buddy Tony Caira and I met several years back fishing offshore on the New Lo An. Although we were both not too far along in our fishing journey, we knew enough to know we wanted to stay away from the crowd at the stern and mostly fished together on the bow. We got to be friendly on that trip and have since gone on several trips together.
Every year, Tony takes out his best clients on hunting and fishing trips. It’s a way to bond beyond the typical business relationship. One of his annual trips is Venice, Louisiana. Tony has told me about these trips. I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve heard the stories. He’s always said, “I gotta get you out there one of these times.” People always say stuff like that to me and usually it’s just fun conversation. I don’t have any expectation that it will ever actually happen. A month back or so though, Tony said this trip was coming up and that maybe one of his clients might back out. If that happened, all I’d have to do is fly out to join him. Hmmm…definitely more tangible.
I have several bucket list fishing destinations, and Venice, Louisiana is one of them. Years back, I met a guy on twitter that used to work on one of the oil rigs offshore from Venice. He used to send me pictures of all the great fish he’d catch down here. Venice bills itself as the fishing capital of the world. With the vast fishing opportunities both inshore and offshore, and despite my regional bias toward San Diego…
They have a legitimate case to make on that claim!
Well as fate would have it, the other guy backed out, and I was in. Tony, myself, and his best buddy since childhood, Jimmy Allegretti, would be spending the next 3 days (May 24-26) chasing trophy redfish down here in Southeast Lousiana.
TRIP REPORT – Chasing Trophy Reds With Capt. Jeff Motes
Tony met Capt. Jeff Motes when Jeff was working for one of the big lodges down here. Jeff has a business servicing the oil and gas industry, but his passion is fishing. Jeff and his wife Connie own a 3-bedroom/3 bathroom place (with full kitchen and laundry) at Cypress Cove Marina, called the Cypress House Camp. The site offers quick access to Venice Marina by boat or car, but fuel and bait are readily available there. Guests can book luxury accommodations to stay at Cypress House Camp while fishing with Jeff on his fully loaded Blackjack 265 center console.
Day 1, my hope was just to not strike out and catch a redfish.
Fishing Syndicate sent out their 2 Bays & Lakes spinning models for me to use on the trip. The FSG Bass 800SP ML (rated 6#-12#) and the FSG Bass 800SP M (rated 10#-20#). Tony told me that Jeff has put clients on up to 40-pound bull redfish, so I was surprised to find that Jeff chose to rig up the lighter rod. He paired it with a Penn Clash II 3000, spooled with 30# braid. The braid tied off to a popping cork floater on a pre-made beaded/wired contraption. Below the popping cork thingamajig, a short leader of 60# mono was tied off to a 3/8-ounce ball jighead. We used live shrimp to bait the jighead.
How it works is you cast out your bait in close proximity to the roseau cane growing at the water’s edge. A quick jerk of your line makes the popper splash and make noise. That noise attracts the fish to the bait. When it takes the bait, the popper bobber drops, you set the hook, and then hopefully it sets off on a nice run…indicating it’s a redfish and not some bycatch. It reminds me a lot of fishing the heavy kelp off Point Loma in San Diego. A well placed cast near the vegetation, without getting hung up, dramatically increases your chances that you get bit. You fish the drags tight because you don’t want any give when you set, and because you want to pull the fish away from the vegetation to avoid getting hung up.
Now Tony fishes and he’s been here several times so he knows what he’s doing. Jimmy on the other hand doesn’t fish at all. Over the course of the day, they’ve both caught a couple redfish and I’m blanking. The day was winding down. Honestly, I was getting a little frustrated with how it was going. Then it happens. The boat is pointed facing the cane. I place a beautiful cast into the middle of a pocket of it. Pop. Pop. The bobber goes down. I set. Game on.
I’m already deep in the weeds and of course the fish gets wrapped up in it. I manage to get it out. It shoots to the right of the boat, ripping out line despite the tight drag. I get it close, and then it makes another long run behind the boat. I follow it to the stern. It’s probably 50 yards off the back of the boat, and I’m feeling good. The hook set must be solid if it’s still on. And now I have it in open water where it can’t get hung up on anything. I manage to bring it to color and we can all see it’s a HUGE bull red. Tony said it was 40+ inches easy. I think it’s ready for the net, when it finds another burst. Only this time, it manages to sneak itself under the Power Pole shallow water anchoring system.
The line rubs on the Power Pole and POP. See ya later.
I had to really pick myself up to get back in the game after the heartbreaking loss. Jeff came through though and got us into a nice little honey hole that turned on at the end of the day. I had a strong finish and caught 6 fish, including this 30+ incher. It almost made up for losing the big one.
The next day was a grinder. We went from spot to spot, never really finding the cleaner green water and water movement that Jeff said were the right conditions to get them on the chew. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, we would pick off one or two per spot. Mixed in were a lot of sheephead…not anything like our California sheephead, but the silver and black striped version found on the Gulf Coast (right). When it was all said and done, we had managed to put together a nice box of fish. Most of the reds were of comfortably legal size (16-inches), except one nicer one that Tony caught (below).
For Day 3, it was only Tony and I with Capt. Jeff. Jimmy got sunburned on Day 2 (this is why I’m a big fan of AFTCO’s sun protection gear), and decided to stay inside.
The original plan for the day was to get up early to beat the crowd to the speckled sea trout spot. They were biting really well, but they don’t put up a big fight like the reds do. We decided to sleep in the extra hour, and try a jetty spot on the bigger water where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. There, Tony and I caught one each in that comfortably legal class. I caught a bunch of saltwater catfish and got stuck in the finger by one trying to release it. It stung for the next hour plus, similar to how it feels getting stuck by a sculpin. We were over it and moved on.
We moved back upriver and Jeff took us into this little inlet. There we found a small patch of that cleaner green water tucked into a corner of the roseau cane. For about a 20 minute stretch, if you put a cast into the right spot, past the little shoots of cane in front, but in front of the big weeds behind, it was automatic. Again, nothing huge, but it was really fun fishing. I reached my 5 fish limit there and Tony was only one short when that bite ended.
Time was running out on our day and we hit one last spot before calling it a trip.
It was a point where Jeff explained that it is a long stretch of flat that used to be cane last year. Jeff said that stretch had eroded in a storm, but that there was still some good cover just below the water’s surface there that might hold some fish. Sure enough, Tony casted into the flat and managed to get one to go. We continued to try after that initial hookup, but it just wasn’t happening.
The whole time we were there, there was an alligator checking us out. Jeff had managed to get one to snap at his popper the previous day. He wanted to see if he could hook this one and get it close to the boat to get a good picture. He casted in front of it and started popping. We were all excited when the gator made a move on it. It snapped at the cork, briefly held it, but promptly released it.
I took a go at it and guess what…I hooked him!
It had a lot of energy when I first hooked up and took a good run. I gotta say…that little 6-12 Fishing Syndicate rod with the Penn Clash II combo performed remarkably well. Obviously, Jeff helped and followed him, but I put a big bend on the rod fighting the fish…I mean gator…and the combo held up despite being vastly overmatched.
Tony started to shoot some video on his phone, but I told him to go grab my GoPro. He did and we thought we got the whole thing on camera…every time the gator got tired, surfaced to take a breath, got his energy back and took another run; to the point where he surfaced next to the boat for the last time and Jeff cut the line. Unfortunately, the GoPro wasn’t on. Shame me. I deserve it. Luckily, I at least got this screen grab from Tony’s phone video where you can see the gator running from me.
That was really fun and I have two witnesses to back me up!
That was the trip. I accompanied Jeff to Venice Marina to drop off our fish for processing. Despite having a bunch of it the first night for dinner (Jeff had it done up breaded and fried, and blackened which was off the charts amazing!), we dropped off 130-pounds of fish! Thanks so much to Jeff and Connie for being amazing ambassadors to us for this fishing paradise. HUGE thanks to Tony for the invite and Jimmy for keeping us laughing throughout the trip. I’m already planning a return visit.
Good luck if you get out there!