When Wes Higgins invited me to “Marsh Madness” a month ago, a cheap flight to New Orleans was booked within the hour.

This unofficial event has been bringing rabid fishers from across the deep South to Venice, Louisiana for the past 21 years, in search of “bull” redfish.

Fishing the tidal marshes of Louisiana is always an adventure, especially when large redfish, known as “bulls” migrate into the flats to feed on crabs, cacahoe minnows—and anything else which comes within five feet on a falling tide.

Sight fishing from an elevated platform in a shallow draft bayou boat for these aggressive, impressive fish is the definition of high adventure. Bull reds lie in ambush in small niches in the cordgrass and current edges generated by the falling tide.

Any redfish more than 27 inches is considered a bull. Using anything less than 50-pound superbraid line is simply throwing your lure away when these fish attack in just 10-30 inches of water. Even with extremely heavy line and substantial baitcast gear bull reds are unstoppable—until they decide to stop and rocket off in another direction.

Higgins and I experienced incredible action in the gin clear waters of Bayou Vacherie, fishing out of Chris Schieble’s bayou boat. Schieble is the chief marine biologist for the Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries Department and a major player in federal fisheries management on the entire gulf coast.

Last Wednesday was kickoff of the Redfish World Series, with many of the 48 teams to make the championship cut converging on Venice—even though tournament water stretches from Texas to Florida.

None of the fishers at our camp made the cut, but the camaraderie, fishing and good times on the bayou has made this an annual rendezvous for most of this crew for more than a decade. Cajun food served outside was a culinary and social event.

Mountains of shrimp, gallons of gumbo, crab, Cajun battered triple-tail fish, hot wings, hush puppies, ribs, southern smoked brisket, hog, and a bubbling cauldron of “pastafalaya” were chowtime focal points. Pastafalaya is like jambalaya—only with spaghetti noodles instead of rice.

Conversation centered on fishing success and snafus of the day, with hearty laughter booming above southern rock and zydeco. Bayou country’s unofficial motto “let the good times roll” permeated this event in spades.

Some anglers had bayou boats ferry their pirogues and kakaks to nether reaches of the marsh, while others went offshore to the blue water in search of pelagic species like tuna and swordfish.

Fishing in 300 feet of water

I had the opportunity to do this one day, catching mahi mahi, bonito, and amberjack on topwater lures fishing over 300 feet of water, before heading 11 miles offshore looking for swordfish cruising near the bottom in water over 1,300 feet deep.

Six of us went on this adventure. The captain set just one line, using an electric reel with a price tag of more than $5,000. Lures were large squid rigged on huge hooks with tinsel and flashing LED lights which cost $24 per bait.

We had two serious bites, but never hooked up. By swordfishing standards it was a cheap trip—$100 each to pay for baits, ice and 120 gallons of gas.

Seas were calm. Gentle five-foot swells. The sky was the deepest blue. There were a few snowy cumulus clouds, with a brutal sun finally smiling on us as it began to sink behind us on the horizon back to shore providing a vista beyond words with a sense of liberation and gratitude that is tough to explain.

No shark bites

The boys said this year’s drama and trauma was at a minimum—just two devastated lower units and a few stitches. Nothing like last year when Jesse Simpkins had a shark chomp down on his foot.

Venice is the end of the road, beckoning with adventure far beyond outdoor life experiences in southern Wisconsin.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him a tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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