One can not help but be excited at the chance to visit any part of Louisiana, coined the Sportsman’s Paradise, because it is just that. Louisiana is a unique destination in that it offers access to a pinnacle of both offshore and inshore fishing in one location within our own borders.
Easy access and no passport required.
If you fly, your first stop will be New Orleans, but soaring over the Delta will amaze you with its labyrinth of marsh and a lifetime’s worth of places to fish. This is where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico and affects all aspects of life in the marsh and even well offshore depending on the flow. The flow of the river can be a blessing or a curse depending on how much water is draining down through the rest of the country.
The occasion for this trip was the second annual Cajun Fishing Adventures Buras Marsh Media Event and I was very appreciative to be attending again this year. Last year’s kick off was a great success and this year proved to only get better. The premise of the event is to gather a group of companies in the fishing world and mix them up with a group of outdoor writers from various mediums and hometowns. It gives everyone a chance to learn about and use the latest gear from these premier companies.
Well practice must make perfect because this year’s trip was even better and the weather was great.
Cajun Fishing Adventures offers fishing and hunting trips and lodging to a great number of visitors each year. They excel in making you feel at home and running a smooth, professional operation. One of the keys to this success is the careful planning and implementation of Ray Stansberry, the manager of Cajun Fishing Adventures. That coupled with the passion for hunting and fishing that is evident in lodge-owner Capt. Ryan Lambert and his attention to the customer’s needs.
The lodge specializes in inshore fishing for many different species, but the main focus is redfish, speckled trout, black drum and flounder. They have a solid group of 18 guides, 12 of which are full time with the lodge. All of the guides maintain their equipment and boats very well and have great skills and attitudes. They ensure that you stay safe, have fun and if Mother Nature allows catch a bunch of fish.
Cajun Fishing Adventures also works with other companies and captains who offer offshore trips for and even wider array of saltwater species. Tuna, marlin, dolphin, wahoo, grouper, snapper and amberjack are just some of the possibilities fishing the offshore oilrigs out of Venice.
This is how I started off the three-day fishing sampler platter and what a way to start.
Our captain, Capt. Wade Wells of the Mexican Gulf Fishing Company, picked our group up at the lodge after coffee and a hot breakfast. Fifteen miles south of the lodge is Venice Marina, the hub of Louisiana’s offshore scene.
The early morning hustle of crews preparing for the day and clients amped up at the possibilities made for an elixir of pre-dawn excitement.
We were fishing aboard Capt. Wade’s 39-foot Contender with triple 300 Yamahas. We blazed down the muddy river headed for the narrow openings to the Gulf known as the Pass.
As we sped offshore, nestled in beanbags, we began to pass our first signs of oilrigs and the myriad of associated structures and pumping stations. The scale of that industry is mind boggling, but nothing compared to the complexity of the offshore rigs that hover over the wellhead, thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface.
There are thousands of rigs in the Gulf, but not all hold fish all the time.
The key is to find the ones that have escaped the plume of muddy water from the river. Of course this factor is constantly in flux so having a group of buddies is essential to locating the fish. The Mexican Gulf Fishing Company has a network of boats under their umbrella and the captains work together to locate and home in on the fish.
Our goal was to catch the yellowfin tuna that frequent the rigs, but our first chore was to sabiki live blue runners. Mustad has come out with a ton of new sabiki designs this year and of course they rise above the rest because of the quality Mustad hooks they are built around. It took very little time to fill the well with 5 to 7-inch hard tails as they call them.
With a well full of gumdrops, we blasted still further offshore in search of tuna.
Fishing for tuna here does not have to be complicated, but your rigging has to be right. The potential for big fish is always present and a tuna’s eyesight is crazily keen. Capt. Wade and his deckhand Capt. Chris Fotta had Talica 25’s rigged up with a braid backing, mono topshot and a length of Seaguar’s Fluoro Premier Fluorocarbon leader. This premier version of Seaguar’s already great fluorocarbon offers smaller diameters and 42% better knot strength. It was much softer than traditional leaders and snelled nicely to the 7/0 Mustad Demon Perfect Circle hooks in the 3x strong.
This simple yet deadly combination was impaled into the back of the hard tail and let out behind the boat.
On this day, Capt. Wells put out two hardtails on the outriggers with a fairly light clip. The hard tail is a very hardy bait with a mind of its own. Nothing would make a hard tail happier than to run your line back into your own props, so care must be taken to get them beyond their sight of the boat. An occasional thrust of the engines on deployment helps in keeping them from that goal.
Occasionally a few freebies (baits without hooks) were launched via the bait bat. This modified whiffle bat launches baits with minimal effort. The idea being that the freebies get the tuna fired up in your spread where they also eat the not-so-free baits.
Before long, the sweet sound of popping clips and crinkling drags filled the air and the first tuna was making its run back to the depths. Brian Evans of Seaguar strapped in for the long haul and did an excellent job of give and take. After a battle that lasted almost two hours, the deep color of a black back and giant yellow fins came into view.
Minutes later we breathed the collective sigh of relief as the Aftco gaffs secured Brian’s 104-pound prize alongside the boat.
Moral was high as we set back out for another.
This time, Jay Harris of Mustad, took the privilege as angler and also applied all the pressure one can dare against such a powerful fish. Persistence pays and before too long, a second yellowfin came to gaff, this one weighing in at 102-pounds.
It still amazes me how consistently a circle hook finds its place in the corner of the jaw. Mustad has been making hooks of all kinds for 182 years, so its know wonder they have a hook made for just about any fishery you can think of. These 3x strong hooks can take the pressure of big tuna without weighing down your live baits.
A bit later in the day, Reid McKinstry from Mustad put the icing on the cake with a quick 80-pounder and the day was chalked up a success.
The 80+-mile ride home was a breeze with 900-horsepower taking us to the barn. We were protected from the harsh rays of the sun by HUK’s new line of performance shirts, shorts and gaiters. Made just for anglers with comfort, ease of movement and temperature reduction in mind.
The muddy waters of the Mississippi were a welcome sight as we blazed through South Pass on our way to the marina.
Once there, the crew expertly knocked the loins off of the tuna and we packed some up for dinner for everyone at the lodge.
Some of the guys had some packed and shipped home via the shipping service at Venice Marina. That is a great option for the traveling angler.
Arriving back at the lodge, guest can clean up, re-hydrate, nibble appetizers and swap fishing stories until dinnertime. The crew at the lodge creates excellent meals and the entire group eats in the dining hall together.
After dinner, the participating companies took turns giving a brief presentation on their new products and fielded questions or heard testimonials from the day’s fishing. It is awesome to test products in such a productive area and get to talk about their creation or tweaking with the people who make them.
Everyone involved is very passionate about making their products perform well for anglers.
Plano introduced their latest prototype tackle bag, the Z-Series, that was heavily influenced by user comments at last year’s event. The bag features no zippers, which always seem to fail in saltwater and it holds a variety of Plano’s StowAway Boxes for the ultimate in tackle organization and protection. It also features a hard bottom to keep the box up out of the water. Accessory hangers and mesh pouches give quick access to frequently used items and tools.
The next morning, we would be fishing from the lodge’s fleet of Skeeter bay boats. The captains prefer the Skeeter for many reasons, one being the ability to cover big water to get to the fishing grounds, while still being able to fish skinny water, all the while carrying multiple anglers and their gear.
I fished with Robert Shamblin, the Vice-President of Power-Pole. Capt. Curtis laid out our options and we chose to chase slot-sized redfish in the backwaters of the marsh.
We fished a variety of backwater creeks and ponds where the stained waters disguised the deep color of the rooting redfish.
A key tool used by so many fishermen is the Power-Pole. Every boat in the fleet had a pair mounted on the transom. The ability to quickly and quietly stop the boat and freeze its present position is priceless. Having two poles maintains your orientation and eliminates the big swing of using one. All of this is done with a simple remote around your neck or wireless controls on the dash.
I put a micro-anchor on my flats skiff at home and it transformed my ability to fish. I’m saving up for a second one for the aforementioned reason. Power-Poles are a must have for any shallow water fishing rig be it a high-dollar flats skiff or a simple kayak or paddleboard.
It did not take long before we were hooked up on redfish of all sizes. We were throwing a variety of artificials on the new rods and reels from 13 Fishing, a new tackle brand that is coming on strong. We can now see why, because 13 Fishing is making really good gear at an amazing price point. I fished their 2000 Creed GT spinning reel on their Omen Green rod. The balance, weight and feel of this outfit gave it a custom feel and I was genuinely surprised when they told me what it cost. Ricky Teschendorf, of 13 Fishing said, “We want to redefine our approach to the tackle business and bring great products to market in a new way.” With their focus on innovation, comfort and value, I don’t doubt they will.
The reels were filled with Seaguar’s Smackdown braided line. I’ve been fishing Smackdown all summer at home in Florida and I’ve been really impressed with its consistency and ease of use. Switching to Smackdown Braid has virtually eliminated the frustration of wind knots and crazy tangles that are the downside to fishing braid. Smackdown has a thinner diameter for its strength and is very quiet while your fishing. Some lines drive you crazy as you listen to them rub the guides all day.
We tipped the Smackdown with a 2-foot piece of Seaguar’s Fluoro Premier in a 20-pound class. To this we tied a variety of lures throughout the day. A deadly combo was the Mustad Elite Jigheads delivering Z-Man’s new Swimming Trout Trick made of the amazingly durable Elaztech soft plastic.
Robert was not afraid to pitch over solid grass banks to test little side ponds for roaming reds. One time he pitched the Live Target Mullet topwater bait into one of these little puddles. Capt. Curtis and I were not looking, but we all knew that sound; the violent suction-slurp of a redfish sloppily trying to eat a surface bait. Robert skillfully fought him with 15-feet of solid grass between him and the fish. In the end, he skipped the fish across the grass for a quick picture and release. It was awesome to watch.
Live Target lures are the spitting image of the real thing and have the actions to match.
Capt Curtis fired out the Z-Man DieZel Spin a few times and connected quickly with a nice slot redfish. The spinning blade gives off a great vibration and helps fish living in stained water track the lure. The ElazTech bodies are so durable, that they had a little contest going to see who could catch the most fish on one body during the event. The winner came as a result of the epic trout bite that several boats enjoyed. They caught over 40 fish on one lure before they had to change it out. ElazTech is a space-age proprietary material developed by Z-Man and its up to 10 times stronger than conventional plastics.
The one twist to know is that ElazTech plastic and regular plastic baits will rapidly melt each other. Keeping your ElazTech supply separate is imperative and both Z-man and Plano have worked together to create Z-Man friendly organizers. Z-Man has produced a storage binder that clips to the pre-punched holes in the Z-Man packaging.
Plano gave us a sneak peak at new Stow-Away boxes designed to hold Z-Man bags as well. They have a two-sided design with optional clips for the top of the bag so that you can maximize the storage of your soft plastic options.
Sorry, I got side tracked, but it is exciting to see how our sport is so quickly evolving to make it better.
So we were sight fishing these shallow creeks. We could not always see the fish, but often the push of water where a single or pair of reds were working to chase small baitfish and crabs gave them away. We would flip to the area and bounce our jigs back down the edge of the creek.
One time as we were pulling back out of a creek, Curtis and I saw a big push of water in front of the boat. At home in Florida, when a fish spooks from the boat, you have almost no chance of catching his interest, but luckily this is Louisiana and that fish picked up the jig I threw in his path like nothing ever happened.
The fight was on and he charged down the narrow path and into a wider pond. After an energetic fight, the redfish slid into the waiting landing net from Frabil. The rubber-coated mesh protects the fish by preserving slime and not shredding fins. The telescopic handle makes it manageable in the boat too.The color of these fish in the dark water was stunning too, so much darker than what I’m seeing at home. What a great contrast to fishing so far offshore the day before but equally as fun.
But early the next morning, Capt. Ross Montet made our day by asking if we had any interest in fishing the inshore rigs for snapper. He must have read my mind because that is one of my favorites. I love the hands on aspect of bottom fishing and I’ve always heard about the abundant mangrove and red snapper on the inshore wrecks.
We trailered Capt. Ross’s Skeeter and launched in Venice, the southern most access point on the Delta. We ran down the muddy river in a convoy of two other boats from the lodge until we popped out into the Gulf and continued running in a 2-foot chop until we reached the first round of rigs in this area.
This is a true testament to the versatility of the Skeeter bay boats that these guys fish. One day you are in a foot of water in the back of a tiny creek and the next day you can run offshore a moderate distance in equal comfort, safety and ability. Capt. Ross used his GPS enabled trolling motor to position the boat up current of the rig structure. Everyone else had to hang off the backside on the rig. We suspended our snapper rigs about one third of the way to the bottom, but just above the structure of the rig. Any deeper and we could feel our rig bouncing off hard metal and in the danger zone of being cut off.
I had the pleasure of fishing with Jeff Slater from Seaguar and we continued to probe the depths with our offerings. Eventually the telltale thump of a snapper bite was transferred up the line and into our hands.
Once again we were letting the Mustad Demon circle hooks work their magic. Upon feeling the bite, we simply reeled down until the rod doubled over and the tug of war began.
In bottom fishing you generally have two options; torque the fish out of the structure or get cut off. At first you must use a super tight (locked down) drag and all the might you can muster to force the fish away from the structure. The higher I get the fish in the water column, the more I back off of the drag and bend towards the fish to absorb any sudden surges. The danger of being cut off is over and now you need to keep from pulling the hook or breaking a potentially frayed line.
The nice snapper that slid into Frabill’s new Meshgard net was a genuine red snapper and a welcome sight for all of us. With the recent extension of Louisiana’s State waters to 9-miles to match other Gulf states, the red snapper can now be kept under State regulations instead of the much more restrictive Federal rules. (Don’t get me started)
We continued to pick away at really nice sized reds and some of the biggest vermillion snapper I had seen a while. We also released a mixed bag of amberjack, triggerfish and assorted small sharks.
A key factor to getting the bite was to use the 80# Seaguar Pink Fluorocarbon leader that Capt. Ross prefers. Despite what I would call fairly dirty water, the fluorocarbon made a definite difference in getting the bite.
Circle hooks are amazing and Mustad makes them strong and sharp, just like we like it.
Where else can you partake of such a wide variety of world-class fisheries all within a few miles of each other? Of course it helps to have the hospitality and knowledge of the great folks at Cajun Fishing Adventures to make it all happen. A big thanks to all who were involved in making this event possible and sharing the adventures of a Louisiana Sampler Platter.
Louisiana is such an incredible place to fish and hunt, but like so many other wild places, the effects of man and commerce are taking a huge toll. Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, gives a passionate plea on behalf of the marsh and the Louisiana he remembers as a kid and young man.
“The marsh and the fishing we have now is still great, but it is a mere shadow of itself compared to how it used to be”, said Lambert. “Louisiana loses a football field of land and marsh every 38-minutes. We’ve lost an area greater than the area of the Grand Canyon if you can imagine that. I’ve grown tired of waiting on more studies and delays, I’m starting the next phase of some projects that we’ve proven to re-create the land that we’ve lost.”
Capt. Ryan is referring to the killing of the marsh due to the diversion of vital freshwater that historically kept the marsh grass alive and in turn held the sediments deposited by the Mississippi River. Now the river has been channeled and the saltwater encroaches and kills the marsh grass. When the grass and their roots die, they release their hold on the soil and the tide takes it all away.
The natural formative process of the Delta has been reversed by man’s funneling of the water. Capt. Ryan has fought for years to educate people on this eminent issue and he offers solutions to the problem.
He asks for our help in three forms; Learn, Support, and Donate.
He has worked with the National Wildlife Federation to create the Vanishing Paradise Program. You can help with all three aspects at VanishingParadise.org or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. One of our Nation’s greatest treasures is washing away with the tide, but it can be reversed.