With limited exceptions, anglers across the coast are complaining about enough fresh water to turn the Sahara into a rain forest.
But, imagine being a fishing guide at Venice. That’s the port closest to the terminus of the Mississippi River, the ultimate destination of all that muddy sweet stuff.
You might think your favorite port is awash in fresh water, but you ain’t seen nothing if you ain’t fishing Venice.
Actually, that perpetual high water has made the fishing immeasurably better and dependably predictable, according to an angler who has made his living guiding there for more than two decades.
Charter skipper Ron Price said the high river certainly can cause some navigational problems, but it has concentrated the redfish along the edge of the coast.
“Everything is on the outside,” Price said. “Nothing really wants to move into any ponds anywhere because everything’s so filled with fresh water. So it’s all on the outside, and not even slightly to the inside. Once you get out of the passes and into the pockets, you can’t be anywhere close to any river water.”
Not only are the fish concentrated in those areas, but they seem to be thriving by vacuuming up all the bait that’s flushing from the river, Price said.
“Venice redfishing is stronger than it’s ever been,” he said. “The redfish action the last few years has been just unbelievable. And you’re talking about guys targeting redfish every single day, and keeping them every day. I don’t know how the fishery keeps up with it, but it does.”
Anglers who are artificial-lure diehards can certainly catch these fish with their favorite plastics and spoons, but Price said that’s not the most efficient way to target them. The clarity of the water — or more precisely, the lack thereof — makes lures tough to see, so the reds are feeding with their noses.
“I only throw dead (shrimp),” Price said. “I can’t believe people actually buy live (shrimp) to fish redfish.”
But Price doesn’t throw just any dead shrimp. He’s particular about his bait.
“I always love fresh (shrimp) when I can get my hands on it,” he said. “Half the guys are throwing live shrimp, so you never want to get out there with old, nasty shrimp and try to compete with those guys. You always want to get the odds in your favor as much as possible. Sometimes you can’t get your hands on the really fresh stuff, unless you buy it live, and I’m not going to do it.
“If we have the option to pass up one place because another place has fresh shrimp, we’ll do it,” he said. “We network to find out who has the good shrimp because it makes a big difference.”
Using whole dead shrimp is fine for anglers with deep pockets, but Price said it’s overkill.
“Typically, I’ll cut it into a nugget,” he said. “I’ll use a pair of scissors and cut it into about an inch-sized piece. I call them little Snickers bars. Sometimes you don’t want a meal; you just want a snack.”
Price fishes his “Snickers bars” on 3/8-ounce jigheads suspended about 18 inches under popping corks.
Precisely where he throws them depends on timing.
“The main thing is trying to find water that’s not chocolate milk from top to bottom,” he said. “There are areas all over the outside that look bad at first, but you’ve got to read what’s going on with the water.
“Typically, if it’s in the first half of the rise of the tide, even the good areas aren’t good then because there’s still too much river water in the area. But later on, once you get a good tide coming up, you’ll still have muddy water on top but it will be green underneath.
“What’s been working best, if you can pick and choose, you want the second half of the incoming (tide) all the way through the first half of the falling (tide),” he said. “That’s particularly important with all the river water right now. The tide is not only pushing that better water in, but it’s also pushing the bait in. The redfish get really happy.”
Size of the redfish they’re catching depends on conditions, Price said.
“There’s a ton of small ones everywhere you go, but on days when you get the better water, you start seeing the better fish,” he said. “But, every day, there are just a bunch of 16- to 17-inch redfish, and an occasional 8-pounder. You don’t have a whole lot in between.”
Price said they’re also bumping into freshwater catfish and sheepshead.
“The sheepshead are either there, or they’re not, but when they’re there, they’re piled up,” he said. “You can catch all you want. The same thing with black drum. Sometimes we’ll pull up to a spot, and for whatever reason, the black drum will be there.”
Bull redfish are also available but only on days with great conditions.
“The bulls will be way off the bank when it’s calm,” Price said. “If you see some mullet, you can go to them and pop really hard with a cork and some plastic. Once you get their attention, they’ll hit anything. That’s been the best way to get the bull reds. You have to shift gears. You can’t catch many bulls while meat fishing.”
The high river means long runs to the edge of the coast, but with action this good, who cares? For Price and other Venice anglers, certain success is well worth the higher fuel bill.