|Billy Helveston and Luke Landry show off a 60-pound yellowfin Landry bested on spinning gear in the super-fertile waters off the Louisiana Delta.|
Luke Landry pushed the throttle down and the Skeeter bay boat leaped across the water like a dolphin chasing mullet. We roared over the grass flats, cut down creeks and wound through narrow canals so fast that in ten minutes I was completely lost. The labyrinth of waterways near Port Sulphur, Louisiana, at the mouth of the Mississippi River in Barataria Bay, looks more like largemouth-bass country than redfish heaven. In fact, when Luke finally shut down and lowered his bow-mounted electric motor, I noticed that the clear water around us was jammed with weeds that looked like something you’d see in a fresh water pond.
“Hey, are we bass fishing or red fishing?” I smiled as schools of mullet and sheepshead darted ahead of the boat.
“Actually, there are largemouths in here sometimes,” Luke replied. “But we need a lot of rain to freshen the water for that to happen. Right now it’s salty and great for redfish – like that one right there.”
In the clear water, the red’s spotted tail was easy to see, and Luke dropped his single-blade spinnerbait just beyond and in front of the cruising fish. He started a slow retrieve and the red darted forward and grabbed the lure.While the red was only a five-pounder, it took Luke several minutes to bring it alongside the boat.
Keith Goodin hoists a 30-pound red taken on a popping-cork-and-jig rig.|
For a moment I thought we might have gotten lucky, but I quickly spotted a trio of cruising reds as Luke guided the boat closer. I cast to the left of the fish while Luke cast right, and moments later we scored a double-header.
That’s the way things continued until about 10:00 a.m., when Luke announced that we needed to head back to the launch ramp, moments after I’d just caught my second red on a streamer fly. “If we’re going to run offshore tonight for tuna, we’d better get back,” he explained. “We got ten redfish anyway, and the tuna bite has been red hot. It’s an all-night deal, and it takes a while to get the boat and gear ready to run offshore.”
So we left the redfish biting and headed back to the ramp, hauled the boat and drove five minutes to our base camp, Cajun Adventures Lodge. Owned and operated by Ryan Lambert, Cajun Adventures is a well-run operation resulting from Lambert’s 18 years of guiding in the area. The lodge has great food, a pool, outstanding accommodations and full-time guides. Furthermore, its location allows anglers to sample a wide array of fishing venues and species, making it one of the most unique lodges I’ve visited, especially in the U.S.
When Luke and I got back to the lodge, Chris Helveston and his brother, Billy, were waiting for us with their 29-foot center-console catamaran in tow. Powered by twin Hondas, the boat is perfect for running far offshore for night tuna action. We were joined by Jeff Moore of Quantum Tackle, who wanted to try out some new rods and reels on heavyweight tuna.
Casting to Yellowfins
School seatrout run to decent size in the Barataria Bay area, and will hit a variety of soft-plastics.|
We loaded the boat with tackle, ice and all manner of gear for an overnight excursion, then drove 30 minutes south to the town of Venice. There we launched the boat, and by late afternoon we were skimming over the Gulf toward our destination, a floating oil platform 85 miles offshore in 3,000 feet of water.
“The tuna bite has been incredible all summer,” Chris explained as we raced along. “We’ll get there just about sundown, perfect for getting our bearings and rigging up for an all-night tuna extravaganza.”
And that’s just the way it worked out. We arrived at the rig about an hour before sunset, allowing plenty of time to get our tackle in order and prepare for the after-hours show.
A pair of huge workboats were connected to the floating oil rig to help maintain its position in the current. Initially, I thought the boats would impair our ability to fish around the platform, but when darkness fell and they turned on their many bright lights, it became obvious where the best fishing was going to be.
I expected trolling to be the order of the night, but Chris and Billy had other ideas. “The tuna and dolphin come up and chase flying fish, and we cast large, plastic flying-fish imitations to them,” Billy explained. “We use 80-pound braided line and heavy fluorocarbon shock leaders, and it’s some kind of tough action. You’ll see.”
A pair of happy Barataria Bay anglers admire a huge bull red just prior to release.|
Shortly after dark, flying fish began breaking the surface around workboat lights. Billy or Chris would hold the catamaran between the two larger vessels, then idle over to an area where the tuna popped up. Once within casting range, we’d lob our flying-fish lures, start a surface retrieve and hook a big, mean yellowfin.
If you’ve never felt an 80-pound yellowfin slam a surface lure on no-stretch braided line, you haven’t really experienced a bone-jarring strike. We were into yellowfins all night, with sporadic action provided by large blackfin tuna and dolphin. The yellowfins weighed from 20 pounds to well over 100, and many of the bigger fish could simply not be stopped. We had roughly 50 strikes on the cast lures, missing many of the fish, but catching a lot too. The best fish landed was an 80-pounder caught by Jeff Moore. It was a long, rugged, fish-filled night, and by dawn everyone was tired and aching from fighting fish.
A Trout Spot
We got back to lodge by mid-morning, whereupon everyone collapsed from exhaustion. By early afternoon, however, Jeff was raring to go again, so he, guide Davey Miles and I decided to make a short afternoon trip for seatrout. We launched in Barataria Bay and ran 15 minutes to a spot near the open Gulf.
(top) The Helvestons’ 29-foot center console cat makes a great platform for offshore fishing. (bottom) Casting plastic flying fish to feeding tuna and dolphin brings fast action after dark.|
Davey positioned the boat near a small cut between a pair of grass islands, where he said the trout would be dining on bait swept in with clear Gulf water. Sure enough, Jeff’s first cast with a grub-tailed jig resulted in a two-pound seatrout, and Davey hooked one immediately afterward. I finally got a jig to the spot and we had a triple-header.
We worked the area for two hours, catching about 40 seatrout. None topped four pounds, but few weighed less than a pound – average school trout, which Davey said are common in the area from spring through fall.
As the summer sun settled into the Gulf of Mexico, Davey pointed the bow toward the ramp. We hauled the boat and got back to Cajun Adventures Lodge just as dinner was being served – redfish fillets with a shrimp and crab sauce. It’s Ryan Lambert’s recipe, and redfish never tasted better!
I was slated to leave the next day, but Keith Goodin, a visiting guide from Mississippi who also works with the Skeeter boat company, said he had located some bull redfish just a short run from the Venice ramp.
“The fish were thick today in some sheltered bays. We caught ten or 12, and they wore us out,” he explained. “We left them biting because we couldn’t physically catch any more. Don’t think we had a red under 25 pounds, and some were well over 40 pounds. It’s all casting, mostly jigs below popping corks in water just a few feet deep. I think we could get on ’em at dawn and be back by late morning if you wanna go.”
This tuna was brought to gaff by Luke Landry after falling for the plastic flying fish visible on the line.|
It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Pop a Giant Red
By 7:00 a.m. the next day I was casting a popping cork with a 1/4-ounce jig dangling three feet below it. The bay opened onto the open Gulf, and we could see big oil rigs in the distance. “I don’t know why big reds are here, and only big reds,” Keith said as he lobbed a cast with a heavy plug rod. “They’re either here for spawning or getting ready to spawn. There’s a lot of bait here, and the reds are aggressive.
“The popping cork attracts the fish,” Keith said as he worked his rod to make the cork chug across the surface. “Then you stop the retrieve a moment to let the jig settle, then pop it again.” At that moment, Keith’s cork disappeared in a swirl the size of a basketball backboard.
Keith hung on as the heavy redfish pulled line against his baitcasting gear. He worked the fish close to the boat several times, only to have it muscle away on another run. After 20 minutes he was able to net the exhausted red and held it high for a few photos before releasing it. We guessed its weight at 35 pounds.
|### Cajun Trip Information * Cajun Adventures Lodge, (985) 785-9833, is located in Port Sulphur, Louisiana, about an hour’s drive south of New Orleans on Highway 23. ¿ * Captain Chris Helveston runs Due South Fishing Charters, (337) 256-1299.|
Later, I scored a similar-sized red and Keith caught another, while the anglers in the half dozen boats around us all caught big fish, too. I hated to leave such great fishing, but by mid-morning the sun was getting hot and I had a long drive ahead of me.
“What do you say we head in?” I asked Keith, feeling guilty for dragging him away from such a hot bite. “Sure,” he replied. “These fish will be here tomorrow when I come back, or next week for that matter. Seems like there’s always plenty of reds, seatrout or something biting in Cajun country.”
After my trip to Cajun Adventures Lodge, I can’t argue with that!
|### Cajun Cuisine#### Redfish Ryan|
|* 4 redfish fillets * 1 onion * 1 bell pepper * 2 bunches shallots * 1 pound shrimp * 1 pound crab meat * 1 stick butter||* 2 lemons * 1 tomato * 1 pint half & half * 3 slices bread * Italian bread crumbs * Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning|
|STUFFING ¿ ¿To make stuffing, melt 1/2 stick of butter in pan. Chop onion, bell pepper and one bunch shallots and saut¿ in butter. Add 1/2 pound shrimp and 1/2 pound crab meat and saut¿ until shrimp are pink. Add juice from 1/2 lemon. Chop bread slices and add to stuffing and season with Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning to taste. Thicken with Italian bread crumbs.FILLETS ¿ ¿Put two redfish fillets on baking sheet and cover with stuffing, then place two more fillets on top of the stuffing. Slice lemon and tomato and place on redfish. Season with Tony Chachere’s Seasoning to taste. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.FISH SAUCE ¿ ¿Melt 1/2 stick butter in pan. Add 1/2 bunch chopped shallots and 1/2 pound shrimp and 1/2 pound crab meat, saut¿ to soften shallots. Add juice from 1/2 lemon, pour in half & half and allow to boil to reduce liquid. Season with Tony’s to taste. Add milk to thin, cornstarch to thicken. Pour over stuffed redfish to serve.|