Angler of Two Faces
Venice Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta Fishing With
Captain Paul Gipson
“For the Coast Guard, he’s an asset that we
would have a hard time doing without.
His area knowledge is invaluable to me.”
–Senior Chief Ernest Mellow of
the Venice, Louisiana, Coast Guard
Take a trip with Captain Paul Gipson, the angler with two interesting faces.
To call someone two-faced is generally an insult—unless you happen to be Captain Paul Gipson.His personification, contrary to the suggestion, is more like that of Clark Kent transforming into Superman.The only difference is Gipson’s transformation is one of which takes him from distinguished professional guide fisherman to heroic Coast Guard Auxiliarist,and not necessarily in that order.Like his counterpart, Gipson’s reputation precedes him. Mention his name to any of his colleagues,and stand back and listen to an earful of commendations. “For the Coast Guard, he’s an asset that we would have a hard time doing without. His area knowledge is invaluable to me,” Senior Chief Ernest Mellow of the Venice(Louisiana) Coast Guard affirmed.But Mellow has had the privilege of seeing the other face of Gipson as well. “He’s the angler of anglers. Before coming here, I never caught fish. Now, since I’ve been with him, I’m catching fish for the first time,” Mellow affirmed.Gipson’s two-faced love affair started over two decades ago when he decided to forego New Orleans city life for residency near Venice. Before long, Gipson had to learn the waterways out of necessity, after going into the crewboat business. Over the years, he eventually became an expert navigator of the countless watercourses that intertwine throughout the Mississippi River Delta complex.Consequently, this knowledge has aided Gipson in satisfying two unquenchable desires: fishing and rescuing people. “I live to go out there to look for somebody,” the energetic retiree confessed. “I guess I’m on the water four days a week, either fishing or rescuing someone.”Gipson not only knows the waters like the back of his hand, he knows where to fish them on any given tide or weather condition. That in itself is a real accomplishment, given the fact that fresh water intrusion affects delta fishing throughout the year, even for the best of anglers.For instance, two of the most difficult challenges facing delta anglers are finding areas less affected by strong river currents and locating clean, fishable water. Gipson is one of the few anglers who has honed both of these skills to a fine science.In the main spillway of Southwest Pass, located about 11 miles south of the Head of Passes, Gipson demonstrated how to overcome the first of the two objections. To appreciate his strategy, however, you must first be made aware that the delta’s spillways are areas typically riddled with currents strong enough to sweep an adrift vessel out to sea or perhaps onto a coastal sandbar. Yet these areas are considered fishing hot spots because these same stirring currents also displace bait fish and crustaceans for feeding predator species that hang in ambush just off the dominate stream flow.
Proceeding to illustrate, Gipson steered his boat through the piling dam entrance of the main spillway, where forcefully twisting eddies tugged at his hull. “Drop the anchor over here,” Gipson commanded. Just off the sandy shore and directly behind the bulkhead dam where water laid tranquilly still like a patient under sedation.
The two-faced angler went to work, routinely threading a 1/4-oz. bullet-type sliding sinker up his line, then tying on a 3/8-oz. white shrimp tail jig. For added enticement, he skewered a shrimp piece onto the hook.
“You wanna thump the bottom,” Gipson said as he knocked on the side of the boat in simulation, “because every time it goes on the bottom, it’s knocking on the door for the fish.
The fish are naturally enticed by the thumping sound produced by the weights hitting together as the rig is jigged up and down on the bottom.
All the more interesting was Gipson’s humble rod and reel combo: a bait casting rod–customized by breakage to the stubby length of four feet–armed with a spinning reel. Even for those least acquainted with Gipson , itbecomes apparent that his concern isn’t with the showy display of fancy gear, just results.
Surprisingly, after the “knocking on the door for the fish,”results came quickly. The inflexible combo effectively pulled in one fish after the other, including a mess of fat speckled trout, redfish and a boat load of flounders. Ironically, all during the escapade, anglers fishing turbulent, midstream currents weren’t catching a thing–and most of them came and went, not even noticing the goings-on.
Airboat rescue missions, which take Gipson deep into the secluded marsh,contribute to his vast knowledge of the delta complex and its unique functions. “The only way you can get to people left stranded in the shallow marsh,” Gipson testified, “is by airboat or helicopter. In an airboat you can basically go anywhere you want. There’s almost no limit as to where you can go and what you can do, especially with the modern airboats with the Teflon bottoms. You don’t even need water with them.
“Rescue missions on the delta can be a very dangerous task even for experts like Gipson, and he has seen his share of catastrophes. “One man who was stranded on a shallow, radioed us for help,” he related while on the way to another favorite fishing spot. “But before we could get to him, he became anxious and tried to maneuver his boat off of the sandbar by himself. While pushing the boat from behind with his friend at the helm, the man slipped and the churning prop cut off his arm.
“Fortunately,” Gipson continued, “a Coast Guard helicopter and an auxiliarist with an airboat managed to assist him so that he could be airlifted to the hospital before he bled to death.”
Gipson continued telling stories as he turned and weaved through the marsh and soon approached the entrance to Grants Pass, situated on the east side of Main Pass, near its mouth. Here a dense wall of canebrakes interrupted the scenery as.
In a new twist, he decided to fish while allowing only the current to propel his vessel down the narrow pass. “We’re going to try fishing over here. Cast all around each side… might pick up a few reds near the edges of these canebrakes,” Gipson instructed as the boat aimlessly bounced off the banksides, snapping off protruding canebrakes like dried macaroni sticks. Twenty minutes later, still no fish – much worse, the storytelling stopped.
Annoyed, yet composed, he broke silence, “There’s nothing here!” After firing up the twin engines, he scurried the boat farther down the pass. As we drifted out of the mouth into open water, Gipson stood poised, head moving side to side, scanning the prevailing surface. “Let the anchor down right here,” he confidently bellowed. Astoundingly, the water on either side of the opening, behind the dense wall of canebrakes, was a lot clearer than the water running through the pass.
With the speed and grace of an old-time movie, Gipson rigged his rod with a weighted popping cork, two-feet of mono leader and fresh shrimp before all else aboard could open their tackle boxes.
“This is all you’re gonna need here,” he casually muttered as he cast his cork near a broken bank of canebrakes. After the cork slapped the water and settled down, Gipson whipped the rod tip upward and his cork made a walloping gulp. But before he could repeat the procedure, the cork darted below the surface, viciously arching his rod.
“I got him,” he retorted in an undertone. Without the assistance of a landing net, he manhandled the nine-pound, golden redfish onto the deck, where it garnished itself in remnants of broken canebrake leaves scattered about the deck.. Thirty minutes later, the 98-quart ice chest flaunted a limit of arm-length reds. Not a bad way to silence skepticism.
Gipson’s strategy is simple: Clean water equals fish. The key, though, is knowing where to look. “Those Roseau canes, sandbars, and water lilies,” he explained, “filter the muddy sand out of the water so by the time it reaches the Gulf it’s pretty much clean. It acts like a big filter. And, if you can find a place that has one-and-a-half foot to four-feet of water, you are going to find redfish. They’ll just be all up in there.
” On the way back to Main Pass, Gipson noticed a cluster of anglers sitting bored and fishless. Idling slowly past them, he inquisitively inquired, “Y’all doing any good?”
Without uttering a word, they all shook their heads to the negative.
“Got our limit of reds back on the other side of the canebrakes …left them biting,” Gipson replied, pointing over his shoulder to the place we had just left. As if miraculously resurrected, some proceeded to pull up anchor to check it out. Gipson smirked and shook his head, seeing only one or two making the move. It was as if the others though he was bluffing. But their reaction didn’t surprise Gipson, he’s witnessed the scenario many times before –anglers unproductively fishing dirty water.
No matter how preoccupied with storytelling or catching fish, one thing you can bank on, Gipson keeps one ear glued to his VHF radio. Case in point: The next day, while battling arm breaking redfish at the mouth of Southwest Pass, Gipson responded to an emergency call from the Venice Coast Guard for assistance with a heart attack victim aboard a nearby shrimp boat. The angler of two faces went swiftly into action, from expert fisherman to Coast Guard auxiliarist –the transition comes easy.
In no time, Gipson was on the scene where a twin-rigger sat anchored with panic-stricken Vietnamese fishermen aboard. In the near distance a bright-red Coast Guard helicopter sped toward the location. Tension was running high as Gipson radioed the copter and arranged for the Coast Guard paramedic to be lowered to his boat and transferred to the shrimp boat.
The operation was tricky, as the helicopter pursued Gipson’s boat while still slowly underway. During its menacing descent, tempestuous winds instigated by the swirling blades turned stillness into havoc, sucking up Gulf water and spraying it aboard. Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts to lower the paramedic to Gipson’s boat, a Coast Guard cutter arrived and successfully intervened.
For Gipson, such challenges are all in a day’s work; and he’s always ready to handle them the only way he knows–like an angler with two faces.
Captain Paul Gipson: Catches a mess of flounder with his unusual- yet effective- fishing method inside the opening of the main spillway dam of SW Pass, Venice, Louisiana.
Captain Paul Gipson: Shows off a large redfish caught at SW Pass of the Mississippi River.
Helicopter and Coast Guard Cutter:Align up for the lowering of a paramedic for a rescue of a heart attack victim in East Bay, Venice, Louisiana.
Captain Paul Gipson: (R) Docks his boat at the US Coast Guard station, Venice, Louisiana, after a life-threatening rescue mission.