WOW: Surprisingly Successful Winter Fishing in New Orleans


That’s the only word I can come up with to describe the last three months in Venice, Louisiana. We catch lots of fish every year down here, but Mother Nature blessed us this year with a low river, and the fish responded in a big way.

The river dropped in late June and stayed down longer than I can remember. The reds came into the river system in July, and for a month it was “gangbusters.” Then they disappeared.

I figure they went upriver to New Orleans. The Corps Of Engineers built a berm under the river north of Pointe à la Hache to stop the saltwater wedge. The reds moved back south to Venice and then the waters cooled about a week before Thanksgiving, and the trout moved in -- lots of trout!

That paragraph was a whole lot of stuff to understand, so let me explain exactly, as best I can, what happened:

Every year in late summer, our big river drops to low levels. This usually happens around August. If the river gets below four feet on the New Orleans gage, she will begin to clear up and turn green. This usually triggers a good bass bite, and the reds will move into the passes to feed on the abundant bait fish in the river.

This year, the river dropped in late June and got to the two-foot range in New Orleans. This means that it is two feet above sea level, one hundred miles from the mouth. By the time the now-clear “Big Muddy” gets to Venice, the level is at or near sea level. Salt water from the gulf can now move up the river.

Salt water is heavier than fresh water, so the salt water stays on the bottom as it moves north. This is known as the Salt Water Wedge. This year, the river was low for a long time and by September, the Salt Water Wedge was moving towards New Orleans. The red fish in turn moved north with the salt water and bait fish. This salt water, also, started to threaten the drinking water system.

It was then decided to build an underwater “berm” or dam across and on the bottom of the river to slow down the northward movement of the Salt Water Wedge. Once this berm was completed, it moved the salt water back down to lower Plaquemines Parish. The red fish moved back down with the salt, and our river fishing for reds exploded overnight.

The speckled trout are a little different. From May through August, they are in the outer bays and open waters spawning. They will start to migrate to the inside as soon as the spawn ends and the waters cool. Every year, they will move into the river system if the river is low and salty. This usually occurs around Thanksgiving.

As I stated earlier in this article, our river was at two feet in N.O. in June and stayed there right on through the fall. At Thanksgiving, it was at 1.8 on the N.O. gage and salty. The temperature started cooling with the November fronts, and the trout started moving into the river by the thousands. Bait fishes were everywhere, and so were the predator fish looking for an easy meal.

We are catching trout and red fish all over the lower river system. This has been the best winter bite I can remember in Venice in probably 15 years. I feel that a lot of the trout that were displaced to other areas due to the oil spill have moved back in. Hopefully, they will stay close to home even after our spring rise.

How do we catch these fish in the river in the winter? Easy.

Remember I said that salt water is heavier than fresh and is always on the bottom? This means that you have to get on the bottom to catch trout. I normally look for “humps” or rises on the floor of the river. If the river bottom jumps from 25 feet to 15 feet, you are in business.

Anchor as close to the rise as possible, then bounce your favorite offering along the bottom. Make sure you use enough weight to get it to stay on the bottom. You are fishing in a river with a lot of current. My normal rule of thumb is that if I’m fishing water that’s 10 feet or less, I’ll use one 3/8 or 1/2 jig head. If the water is over 10 feet, I’ll use 2-3/8’s in tandem. I’ll tie one to the end of my line and the other about 15 inches above the first. This is enough weight to get to the bottom in 30 feet of water.

My plastic of choice is a purple and gold (LSU) Cocahoe minnow. I also like gulp, and I will sometimes use live bait. It’s important to use braided line.

In the river current, monofilament will stretch so much that at 20 feet, it’s very hard to feel the bite. Braid has no stretch, and so I can feel the “tap-tap” a lot easier.

Redfish can be caught in the same spots as the trout, but usually I’ll move closer to the shoreline and fish the cuts and points along the rocks. I’ll use the same LSU cocahoe, but I’ll tip it with a little bit of shrimp. This adds a little “smell” to your bait, and reds can really pick up on the smell of fresh shrimp.

This past spring and summer, I caught fish, but I had to travel long distances and fish in areas I was not real familiar. This fall and winter, Mother Nature gave us a blessing with a beautiful clear river and numbers of fish in our Sportsman’s Paradise that I haven’t seen in years. All I can say is “WOW!”

by Capt. Owen Langridge
Big “O” Charters L.L.C.
225 978 1136