Just like Venice, Italy, the homeland of Marco Polo, where winding canals are streets, so it is with Venice, Louisiana. Well, perhaps it isn’t as romantic as the Italian counterpart, due to the industrialization of the oil and commercial fishing industry.
Nevertheless, this southeastern Louisiana town is but a small area gone unnoticed by most people, other than sportfishing fanatics and those connected with the oil industry.
Venice, located 75 miles southeast of New Orleans at the end of Highway 23, sits right at the edge of the famous Mississippi River Delta and its network of surrounding tributaries. This area has received worldwide acclaim as one of the most fertile zones that nature has ever created on the face of the earth. To the locals, “fertile” is in direct connection with sportfishing fishing— like no other place! Its only rival is nearby Grand Isle.
There’s something about Venice that sets it apart from other wetland. Some say it’s the pristine passes, like that of the familiar Tiger Pass, boasting scattered grass stands and canebrakes along certain runs, while other runs are lined with water hyacinth and elephant ear vegetation. It’s like someone hand planted an Amazon garden along the route.
What makes this region so unique is the fact that both freshwater and saltwater converge on the territory like two struggling armies staking out claims. As a result, the productive waters and marshland are nursery grounds for an endless array of aquatic species.
For example, while other regions along the coast offer blue water sportfishing, it is generally only accessible to larger, offshore vessels able to travel 40-70 miles out from the coast. That’s not the case with Venice, which is a gateway to relatively short routes to the blue water zone and the 100 fathom curve.
Take South Pass sea buoy, for example, located approximately 25 miles south of the “Jump” — the waterway connecting point to the river, west bank side of Venice. Heading south from the South Pass buoy, the 100 fathom curve is only 9 miles out.
Here, along the edge of the continental shelf are deep water oil production platforms which hold blue marlin, wahoo, tuna and dauphin.
If that’s not your bag, try the tarpon grounds of the West Delta Blocks, such as 58 or 61. These are located just ten miles southwest of Tiger Pass.
And, if bottom fishing for snapper, grouper, cobia, king mackerel and amberjack is more in line, move further southwest to blocks 79, 90 and 104. All these platforms also offer an array of bottom species like croaker and white trout.
If you’re one who doesn’t like fishing open water, the areas of Tante Phine Pass, the Wagonwheel, Red Pass, Grand Pass, Southwest Pass and the Mississippi River and surrounding marsh, to name a few, team with speckled trout, redfish, founder and striped bass; specifically during the low river stages of fall season.
Just across the river and a few blocks north of the Jump on the east bank of the river is Baptiste Collette waterway, which runs northeast to two very productive fishing grounds: Breton Sound and the Main Pass Blocks. It is this same route that many choose to take to get to the Chandeleur chain of which Breton and Gosier Islands form the southern most part. Here are numerous shallow water rigs which make for ideal catches of Spanish mackerel, flounder, specks, reds and cobia. The surf areas of the islands offer excellent wadefishing for trout, reds and flounder as well, mostly capitalized on during the warmer and moderate months.
To define Venice is to understand the truest meaning of the word “versatile.” This is an area that has it all, and the easiest access to each species. Just ask Dave Ballay, a 35 year veteran guide fisherman with a wealth of knowledge and information of the area and former owner of Venice Marina,”Where’s the best fishing in the continental U.S.?”
“Venice!” he readily replies. “There’s just no place that you can fish as many different species in one area. And, I would love for somebody to try and tell me that there’s a better spot … I’ll argue the point,” he emphatically stated. Dave and his wife, Debbie, are both tarpon fishing enthusiasts and were the original owners of the Venice Marina several years prior to hurricane Katrina which devastated the area.
This marina is a fully equipped marina, with bait, ice, back-down ramps, boat slips and groceries. There are mooring slips for overnight and long-term docking.
Venice is actually host to two marinas. Besides the aforesaid marina, Cypress Cove Marina, located within a couple of miles from Venice Marina off of Tidewater Rd., also has all the need amenities much like its counterpart.
These marinas are perhaps the most secure marinas in the area, with 24 hr. security guards on duty for after hour safety. At present, since hurricane Katrina the hoists are not in operation at either marinas but may become operational in the near future.
Prior to hurricane Katrina, Port Eads Marina, located near the southern end of South Pass on the west bank side of the waterway, was a famous outpost for offshore sportfishing vessels and home to the New Orleans Big Game Fishing Club (NBGFC). Port Eads Marina is only accessible by boat and has since been totally devastated by hurricane Katrina, including the NBGFC facility. The only structure remaining at this writing is the South Pass lighthouse which now lists to one side.(More information on the NBGFC can be found here, click.)
The NOBGFC is currently working on plans for a new clubhouse in Cypress Cove Marina, according to Samuel Sanders IV, President of the club. And Sanders indicated that when and if the Port Eads Marina reopens, another clubhouse facility will be rebuilt.
Longtime fishing veteran Ronnie Granier also appreciates the versatility and the productivity of the area, having fished it for over 35 years. He offers one of a number of guide services available to the area. Ronnie caters to the many interested in redfish and speckled trout fishing and other inside species and near shore.
The jetties at the passes of Southwest Pass, South Pass and Tiger Pass are some of Ronnie’s favorite places for fishing speckled trout and redfish, but he admits there are other species he runs into. “There’s a lot of white trout, croakers, sheepsheads, drum and occasionally pompano and things like that,” Ronnie said. “Down by the passes,” he chuckled, “well, you know, you’re liable to catch anything down there.”
Ronnie knows that firsthand, for he’s the only fisherman in Louisiana to catch a snook, a species never before caught anywhere in Louisiana‘s waters. “I use the plastic cocahos (swim-tail minnow lure). That’s about all I use. And sometimes I touch `em up with shrimp and I use 1/2 oz. – 3/4 oz. heads.”
Ronnie said, “redfish can be caught at the passes, weather permitting, 365 days a year.” And he added, “I don’t know of another place you can say that.”
Brandon Ballay, son of former Venice Marina owner Dave Ballay, has similar sentiments. He, like his dad, is also an avid tarpon buff that runs a charter service out of Venice to an array of different species aboard the charter boat `Aw Heck.’
While Brandon admits many species like wahoo, tuna and king mackerel can be caught year-round, he has learned from experience the seasonal patterns that reap the best catches of each. It’s this type of reputation, as with other charter services to the area, that keeps people coming from near and far to fish Venice. Brandon says one can expect to catch the best production of tuna in the fall, wahoo in the spring, and tarpon, marlin and bull dauphin in the summer.
“Venice is definitely number one as far as tuna, wahoo and tarpon,” Brandon said. “And, as far as tarpon,” he continued, “you may catch more tarpon in Florida, but we catch the big ones here. Our average fish is 130 to 140 lbs. In Florida, it might be 100 lbs.”
“There’s no place in the world, that I know of, that you can go out and catch a 120 lb. yellowfin, stop on the way in and fish the mouth of the rock jetty and catch redfish, speckled trout, croakers – and all of that in the same trip, on the same boat,” Brandon added.
There’s even certain areas during low river stages that produce both saltwater and freshwater species in the same spot. It’s not unusual to catching Spanish mackerel, trout, reds, flounder and a variety of freshwater bass in such places like the Wagonwheel, the Wildlife Refuge Wall and the passes off of Pass A Loutre.
It’s no wonder why some have referred to Venice as the cornucopia of the fishing world.
|Southwest Pass Lighthouse: Aerial view of Southwest Pass lighthouse at East Bay rock jetty. Note the interior wing dams inside the pass that keep the river naturally dredged via increased centralized flowing.
|South Pass Lighthouse (prior to hurricane Katrina): Situated on the west bank side of South Pass near its southern most part is the famous South Pass lighthouses (Port Eads lighthouse), home to the New Orleans Big Game Fishing Club. At present, the only facility remaining in the aftermath is the lighthouse and it now lists to one side.
|Bull Redfish: Bull red drum (redfish), like this one, are often caught at all of the passes throughout the Mississippi Delta region.