- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Up until about a decade ago, Venice was the place idiots went to catch speckled trout in the springtime.

Guys who couldn’t even catch a speckled trout if they were fishing in Dudley Vandenborre’s ice chest would go to Venice and mop up. The place was that easy.

The bays on the east side of the delta — with names like Blind, Redfish and Garden Island — would stack up with trout. Venice regulars called them school trout, but anglers from other ports would have honored them as trophies.

We’re in a school of 3-pounders? Yawn. Wake me up when we’re in the 5-pounders.

But something happened to Venice right around the time Hurricanes Katrina and Rita turned the region’s roseau cane into bagasse.

The storms were followed by an epically good autumn that is still revered among Venice’s guides and regulars, but the spring action has never gotten close to what it was before that awful summer of 2005.

The absolute nadir of the spring speckled-trout drought was the period from 2010-2012. In April of 2010, just as the spring season was getting rolling, BP spilled crude oil all over the coast, hitting Venice harder than any place in the Gulf.

Fishing was closed throughout the spring run, and when it reopened, few anglers had the stomach to fish around oiled roseau canes.

Then in 2011, the Mississippi River experienced a once-in-a-lifetime flood, forcing the opening of the Bonnet Carre and Morganza spillways farther upstream. Venice’s normal spring hotspots were muddy messes, loaded with fresh water — not exactly what speckled trout are looking for during the spawning season.

In 2012, the fish simply didn’t show in the spring, and in the summer, they were tougher to find than cool concrete.

After three straight ultra-lean years, Venice regulars began to wonder if the area’s springtime bite was something that would live on forever only in history books.

But then in 2013, the fish returned. It wasn’t the silly action of the past — far from it — but when conditions were right, anglers were putting together nice boxes of speckled trout. Some were even returning to the docks with limits.

The action this year has been a little late in beginning, thanks to a winter that seems intent on sticking around right through the next three seasons, but it’s showing hints of the Venice of old.

“Up until two weeks ago, we weren’t catching many — at most maybe 10,” said Venice guide Rene Dandry. “But then the weekend before last, it started up, and last week was awesome.

“That water finally warmed up enough to get (the trout) going.”

Last Thursday, Venice Marina was sold out of live shrimp, so Dandry headed downriver with nothing but soft-plastics. He and his clients still caught 50 fish.

On Saturday, he loaded up on live shrimp, and the fish simply couldn’t get enough of it. The anglers reached their 75-fish limit by 9 a.m., and then had trouble getting out of the fish.

“When we were done catching trout, we switched to redfish, and we were throwing some shrimp-tipped plastics and other just straight shrimp on a jighead, and we caught (and released) another 50 trout like that while we were trying to catch reds,” he said. “The trout kept hitting us on the edge of the canes.”

When he has to rely on soft-plastics, Dandry has been throwing green hornet- and avocado-colored Matrix Shads as well as chicken-on-a-chain-colored H&H; Baby Bull Minnows. The live shrimp have been producing more fish, but the soft-plastics are delivering the picture fish. On Thursday’s trip, Dandry caught one that weighed 4.2 pounds. That’s not a giant by Venice standards, but it’s a good sign of things to come.

Everywhere downriver is loaded with mullet, Dandry said, but the key to finding the specks has been locating the right water.

“Right now, anywhere we can find clean pockets of water, that’s where we’re catching trout,” he said. “We’re fishing pockets and ponds. When we first stopped Saturday to fish, we were out in the middle of a pond. We made one stop, and caught our limit.”

Dandry said the hottest ponds have 3 to 4 feet of water.

The only limiting factor has been Mother Nature.

“The hardest thing right now has been the damned wind,” Dandry said. “It blows its butt off a couple of days, and the water will get a little dirty, but if the wind is right, you can find clean water pretty much anywhere.

“Saturday, it wasn’t gorgeous; it was still stained, but the fish ate pretty good.”

The redfish have also been eating well. Dandry and his clients have been catching them from 16 inches all the way up to bull-sized. Though the trout have been out in the middle of the ponds and pockets, the reds are holding tight to the shorelines.

The fish aren’t tough to find in any situation, but Dandry prefers a falling tide.

“I have a lot of areas I fish that are cuts coming out of the marsh,” he said. “On a falling tide, those fish will school up at the mouths of those cuts, waiting for bait.”

The fish can’t resist dead shrimp, but soon Andry will be targeting them with some hard-plastics to add to the fun factor.

“As soon as it starts getting warmer, the topwater action is going to get really good,” he said. “Last year, we had a great time throwing topwater baits right when it was warming up.”

Once the topwater bite starts, he turns to MirrOlure Top Dogs and Top Dog Jrs.

The fish will also soon start hitting subsurface hard-plastic plugs, as well. Dandry’s favorite is the Egret Kick-A-Mullet.

“Last year, we found a lot of areas that had mullet and shad, and that’s where I found the Kick-A-Mullet worked best,” he said.

The options abound. Venice is back, baby!


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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