As one soars across the marshes and the mighty, muddy Mississippi River at 500 knots, you can’t help but feel a sense of history and nature mashed together with modern technology. Incredible natural surroundings meshed with mind-blowing feats of man, have created one of the best places to fish in North America.
Of course I’m referring to the incredible fishery in Louisiana, U.S.A.
Each year for the past four years, BD Outdoors has run it’s most popular Race to Somewhere Contest. We spent the first three taking unsuspecting winners to do battle with giant bluefin tuna in PEI, Canada with Capt. Tony’s Tuna Fishing. We enjoyed three incredible years of blowing the winner’s mind at the sheer power of these giants and the amazing overall experience of the area.
Last year we decided to try something different, though it was hard not to return to the hospitality of Capt. Tony and his crew.
We were lucky to arrange a trip to Venice, Louisiana, the home of Journey South Outfitters whose hospitality and operation were equally inviting. Our contest winner was chosen, Andrew Spangler of Southern California, and arrangements were made to fish early December 2015. But as can happen to all man-made plans, Mother Nature waved us away with steady high winds and huge seas. We delayed the mission until we could regroup and rebook for late April.
This time the weather was better and the final call was given. Our team and our winner converged on New Orleans from our various parts of the country we call home. A new twist to this year’s adventure was the addition of our amazingly talented camera crew who would be filming this trip for an episode of our new fishing TV show Local Knowledge.
The drive to Venice takes about two hours from New Orleans and the visual is more of that unique mix of nature and industry. The scope of the oil industry is mind boggling, yet the most impressive aspect was yet to come.
We pulled into the Journey South Lodge and were welcomed by Captains Eric and Moe Newman. A husband and wife team, both are experienced captains and well versed in Southern hospitality and every aspect of the fisheries that surround them. They have used that experience to create Journey South Outfitters and have assembled all of the necessary fleet of boats and tools to tap this great offshore and inshore fishery.
We spent the evening swapping stories and assembling our Okuma gear. We would be using Okuma Makaira 30’s for tuna fishing, Metaloid reels for jigging and popping. Inshore we would use Okuma’s new Inspira spinning reels and Komodo baitcasters. Each on Okuma’s matching rod series.
We spooled them with a variety of Seaguar braid. For the heavier reels we used Seaguar Kanzen braid and inshore we filled up with Seaguar Smackdown. Both are very “user-friendly” when it comes to reducing knots and tangles while still maintaining the amazing small diameter to strength properties that make braid so essential to modern day fishing.
The plan was made to focus on fishing the rigs for tuna the next morning, so we added a generous shot of Seaguar’s Blue Label fluorocarbon leader to ensure the confidence of our quarry to inhale our bait tethered with a Mustad circle hook.
We awoke to the smell of a fresh pot of coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
How is it so much easier to get up for fishing than work? A short drive to the marina found us assembling our gear at the private dock used by Journey South. We would be using their brand new 37’ SeaVee as the fishing boat while the camera crew would film from another brand new Twin Vee run by Capt. Larry Aleman and Chris Fotto who also work with Eric and Moe at Journey South.
Andrew our winner was excited to experience this new fishery and also at the chance to be featured on Local Knowledge as the guest of hosts Ali Hussainy and Captain Rush Maltz. It was also Captain Rush’s first trip to fish Louisiana so excitement filled the air.
It is always a surprise when the cold air off the Mississippi hits you on the ride towards the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine the incredible downhill journey this water has made from mountain top snowmelt to marsh-land brackish flow. Very often a fog forms on the river as this cold water chills the moist warm air of the Gulf.
A sharp eye is key, as floating logs are also making this journey. Of course we were wearing our Costas, which do a great job at cutting the glare off muddy water too.
A quick stop to sling the cast net over pogies, the local favorite tuna bait, and then off to find the ever shifting blue water. That is the key to finding concentrations of offshore gamefish around the oilrigs. It still takes local knowledge to know where they are amongst the thousands of rigs offshore. That is where Capt. Eric and Capt. Moe shine tapping into vast experience and connections.
As the SeaVee pulled it back at our intended rig, the sheer magnitude of an oilrig hits you. How does man create such a massive, intricate, web of pipes, gears and engines all working in unison to withdraw the residual liquid of the past from tens of thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean and the Earth’s crust. Despite the marvels of man, the magic of Mother Nature converts our efforts into vertical living reefs. Each rig becomes encrusted with life and creating its own biosphere where there was nothing but water before.
From the smallest coral polyp and algae cell to the roaming swarms of yellowfin tuna, whaoo, dolphin, grouper, snapper and so much more, the rigs become home or a feeding station depending on one’s place in the pecking order.
Let me tell you, the pogies we were using for bait were pretty low on the list, so it didn’t take long for our slow-trolled offerings to be inhaled by packs of 30 to 40-pound yellowfins. Andrew got his first taste of Gulf fishing and though he fishes at home in California, he checked off some firsts here.
A big part of the draw to this fishery is the variety of species in close proximity to each other.
Capt. Eric said, “We really try to listen to what our clients want to do and cater the trip to satisfy those wants. We focus on catching fish in more technical ways like jigging and popping or fly-fishing. It is more about the overall experience than just a box full of fish. Now don’t get me wrong, I like to catch fish, but we have such a great fishery here in Louisiana that we can do both. We can be catching yellowfin tuna and have a blue marlin swim up or move over to the rig and catch grouper, snapper and amberjack right next to each other. It is truly awesome.”
Andrew and the boys did battle with yellowfin tuna and dolphin, while feeding pogies to a pack of fired-up hammerheads cutting the water with their dorsal fins. Our fearless cameraman, Ben Sampson jumped right in and captured the moment the tunas joined the hammerheads for some freebie pogies.
Veterans of the camera, James Massey and Michael Torbisco, BD’s video guru and lead on the production of Local Knowledge, captured all of the topside excitement. I can’t begin to tell you about the talent, dedication and experience it takes to produce a quality show like Local Knowledge while also dealing with fishermen, equipment and Mother Nature.
Day two we ran back to the same rig to continue the pursuit of tuna, but this time on the way home we stopped on a rig in 300-feet of water and dropped bait and butterfly jigs. Red snapper and amberjack slurped up our offering as well as some mystery fish that cut us off in the massive structure of the rig. We dropped our remaining live pogies on super-strong Mustad Demon circle hooks which still amazes me at how they hook a fish in the corner of the mouth.
Each night we enjoyed the bounty of the sea as Capt. Eric drew upon his background in the restaurant business to whip up blackened shrimp and grits, fresh seared tuna and my favorite the classic Louisiana signature crawfish boil.
Eric and Moe threw down a boat-load of crawfish (literally) and we had a feast. I ate a modest amount and then politely stopped….NOT. Actually I ate a bunch and only stopped out of fear of gastric repercussion, which luckily, I dodged.
Day three, Andrew hit the bayou in the lodge’s tricked out flats boat with the camera crew in tow. During our short inshore adventure, Andrew caught his first redfish using the classic popping cork and the realistic yet durable Savage 3D TPE Shrimp.
Like all lures from Savage, the TPE Shrimp is so realistic, it can fool you and the fish. The legs and antennae wiggle with the slightest movement making them truly look alive. The popping cork method is tried and true in the turbid waters of the marsh. Redfish and speckled seatrout home in on the sound and the 3D shrimp dangling below takes care of the rest.
Running home, we had time to reflect on the many things we had just witnessed and experienced in our quick tour of Louisiana’s bounty. Andrew said, “I’m amazed at the variety of fishing opportunities all in one place. The whole experience has been phenomenal and the hospitality and knowledge of Eric and Moe have been the best. I really can’t believe I won, but am very thankful that I did.”
The only thing a trip to Journey South leaves you wanting is more time in this iron-clad paradise.