Dorothy had Oz, Cinderella had a glass slipper and bass anglers have Venice, Louisiana.
When the river falls, like it has in July, bass fishing in the Mississippi Delta is like going over the rainbow to a place where bass fishing dreams come true. Barring one or more hurricanes, the next few months in Venice will be a 'must do' for any Louisiana bass anglers.
Ryan Lambert, the top man at Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, has spent years chasing speckled trout and redfish from his base in Buras and farther south at the end of La. 23 from Venice. But when he takes a rare day away from guiding customers from across the U.S. -- even several from foreign countries -- he picks up a bass rod and heads to Delta Duck or Loomis Pass to relive his days as a bass tournament angler.
"The bass have really bounced back the last few years," said Lambert, who spent a few years on the Bass Federation State Team. "The bass are getting bigger and easier to find."
That's because the Mississippi River acts like a conveyor belt, providing bass and their forage to the passes and ponds each year as the river rises and falls.
"Anglers who know know how and where to fish, catch bass all year long in the delta," Lambert said. "For the weekend angler, they should wait until the river falls below five feet on the New Orleans gauge. The water usually falls below five feet in late August."
This year that fall below the five-foot mark came in July. Reports began hitting the grapevines about the same times as the river fell to the magic level. Anglers should always check the river levels before scheduling a trip.
"Delta Duck, Loomis Pass, and even around Venice are places bass have made a strong comeback," Lambert said, adding he can easily split his time between jerking perch in the Delta and going after hefty largemouths.
"(Roseau) Canes, hydrilla patches and drains are part of the equation to finding bass," Lambert said. "With a maze of canals, natural bayous, and ponds, it takes some time to narrow down an area with fish."
With a massive population of bass, the time it takes to find a strong pattern for catching fish may take stopping at only one spot and a only take cast or two. Anglers should pay attention to the direction of the tide and whether the river is rising or on a fall, too.
"If the tide is falling, check drains next to ponds or look for clean water against the canes with a few feet of water on them," Lambert said. "An incoming tide is good, but it will position fish in the deeper cover like isolated grass patches or off a point with current."
A 30-yard stretch of prime bank is hard to find, but more common than not, fishermen can catch 30 or more bass in a grass bed or off a point when the conditions are right.
One of the great things about Venice bass is the wide variety of lures bass will respond to during a trip. There was a standing joke among Venice veterans to advise rookies that "Venice bass would hit anything but a redshad worm," but it didn't take the newbies too long to figure out that they could take redshad- or tequila sunrise-colored worms and catch fish all day, and just about anywhere in the Delta.
Fred King and Roy Laborde, owners of Delta Lures, know bass, at times, are as finicky and fussy as an old cat. Their lure company makes a wide assortment of bass lures for south Louisiana and across the Gulf coast, and they've refined their buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and jigs from their experiences in winning bass tournaments.
"Last fall, our Thunder Jig was hot in the Venice area," King said.
It was King who helped design some of the baits, ones with slight improvements of once-popular lures from the past that simply vanished from tackle stores.
"We fished the Thunder Jig without a skirt but added a crawfish like a V&M Wild Thang Craw," King said. "While other anglers were flipping the canes, we would throw the vibrating jig down the middle of the canal."
Many anglers go to Venice with one rod: a flipping stick. That can be a mistake. Flipping a heavy sinker in heavy cover is arguably the most fun way to catch big Mississippi River fish, but if anglers back away from the shoreline and concentrate on grass in the middle to edges of the canals and points, it really changes the ballgame.
"Some trips last fall were unbelievable," King said. "The number of bass we caught were triple digit on a few occasions. By bumping the Thunder Jig against the submerged grass, the bass reacted."
Another great tip is to try a Power Bait worm on a light Texas rig. The slow presentation on deeper grass beds is another way to stretch the line in the hot summer months. The worm works well on the edge of mats and canes, too.
It is always better to schedule a trip down river when the tide is falling, but when tides switch around or there is not much tidal range, the bite can fall off. Still, anglers can change tactics to find active fish.
"We throw buzzbaits and spinnerbaits for fun, too," King said. "If the action is slow because the tide is not moving, we try moving baits for a reaction bite. Bumping the lure against a stalk of grass or over a submerged grass bed usually gets a response."
Venice may not have a yellow brick road but when the magic happens, the fishing is unbelievable. After several years without hurricanes, the bass population has exploded. Anglers are seeing more four-pound fish these days, and two-pounders are common.
One note for anglers is to pay attention to the rules for fishing the numerous wildlife management areas. When the first duck season kicks off, many popular spots become off limits. Know before you go. With miles of canes and acres of ponds, Venice has plenty of spots to wet a line.
Bring the flipping stick, but add a few other baits to the list. The next few months is the time of year to plan a trip. The right tide combined with a river stage below five feet makes Venice a place over the rainbow where bass fishing dreams come true.