NEW ORLEANS — In late August, the Mississippi River got low and green, perfect habitat for marauding packs of redfish to turn mullet, shrimp and crabs into fuel and fat for the winter.
But then the river jumped, and the reds realized they may have overstayed their welcome. They abandoned the river and passes in favor of the more hospitable ponds and bays along the cleaner, saltier coast.
Ever since, guides and weekend anglers have been forced to burn more fuel to let limits of reds beat up the insides of their ice chests.
But there is one area close to Venice that's still holding a big number of fish: the world-famous Wagon Wheel.
Ben Jarrett, director of sales and marketing for Skeeter Boats, fished the Wheel Friday during an annual event at the mouth of the river called Marsh Madness. He and James Hall, editor of Bassmaster magazine, found plenty of reds in water so clear, they were able to sight-cast to many of them.
They also found some fish out in the eroded middle of the Wagon Wheel that tattooed their MirrOlure She Dogs.
Jarrett returned with Steve Tagami of Mustad Hooks on Saturday after the passage of the first significant cold front of this season, and found very different conditions. Winds were blowing a sustained 30 mph, and water in the area was leaving like it had just gotten word of a local Ebola outbreak.
On top of that, it was the color of the coffee milk your grandmother made for you when you were eight.
But Jarrett used the conditions to his advantage, and put a surprising number of fish in the boat. A resident of Kilgore, Texas, Jarrett regularly makes the run down to the Louisiana coast to do some 'field research' on new boat models, so he's quite familiar with how to fish local marshes.
Rather than heading for the hills when he saw the conditions, Jarrett idled over impossibly shallow flats, and tucked in behind stands of roseau cane that had cleaner water than the rest of the Wagon Wheel. He reasoned that the fish would concentrate in the few spots with prettier water.
He couldn't have been more correct.
Jarrett and Tagami used gold spoons and gold-bladed spinnerbaits to pull redfish after redfish over the gunwale, despite truly horrible conditions.
Jarrett also caught three fish on separate occasions when he saw them scooting along just in front of the trolling motor. Given the lack of clarity of the water, none of the fish spooked, and each slammed his spinner when it was dropped practically on its head.
The fish aren't going anywhere anytime soon, and conditions will be much better throughout this week. One word of caution if you intend to go: The Wagon Wheel used to be deep enough to hold speckled trout in the cold months, but it's now treacherously shallow in certain areas, particularly along the spokes of the 'wheel.'
If you're uncertain about an area, be sure to idle through it.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com