Southeast Louisiana, home to spicy Cajun cuisine, jazz music, and the
occasional hurricane has become one of the hottest saltwater fly-fishing
destinations. While Louisiana does have generous fish limits, it’s the bull
redfish—the large specimens exceeding the state’s allowed 16- to 27-inch slot
size—prowling the marshes between Venice and Hopedale that attract anglers
from around the globe. From late summer through the fall and winter, bull reds
commonly weighing north of 30 pounds swim in water ranging from a few feet to
just a few inches, presenting fly anglers with exceptional catch-and-release
Just hoisting up a Southeast Louisiana bull red for
a snap shot is a workout in itself.
Driving down Highway 23 on the west bank of the Mississippi River until you
hit the end of the road takes you to the small-town of Venice, the “Redfish
Capital of the World.” Hurricane Ida, a category 4 storm, ravaged the area in
August 2021, making landfall with maximum sustained winds of 159 mph and
causing severe flooding. Many homes and businesses fell victim to the storm,
and the coastline was badly beaten. Residents were without power for many
weeks but they still managed to slowly rebuild. And the fishing remains as
good as ever.
When patrolling the shallows, bull redfish often
push a wake and break the surface with their tails. Photo by Tosh Brown
However, with each major storm comes shifting landscapes and lost marshland,
and not knowing if the last storm silted in a bayou or if debris from the
hurricane hides below the surface can make running the passes in a flats skiff
a bit challenging. But the constantly evolving coastline adds a unique element
to the hunt for trophy-size redfish, even for the skilled angler.
While their low-slung mouth is best suited for
feeding on the bottom, big redfish can still engulf prey on the surface and in
midwater. Photo by Jessica Haydahl
Between the passes connecting the river with the Gulf of Mexico is a maze of
canals, bayous, and duck ponds (named appropriately since waterfowl congregate
in these areas during the colder months), each with the potential to be the
redfish heaven so many fly fishers dream of. As the Mississippi River’s water
level steadily drops during the summer, aquatic grasses such as hyacinth,
duckweed, and Roseau cane act as a filter, creating prime sight-fishing
conditions. High-salinity water creeps up the river during these low stages,
pushing reds deep into the marshes, where fish as copper and shiny as a new penny
float high in the brackish water, waiting for an unsuspecting crab or shrimp
for their next meal.
The mouths of the passes can become feeding hotspots on tide changes as
baitfish, crabs, and shrimp get sucked out of the lagoons during a falling
tide. And on the outside beaches, redfish congregate during warm days and feast
on schooling menhaden, called pogies by the locals.
Bull reds on surface flies are a blast. They tend to
miss often, but it’s so much fun to watch the fireworks. Photo by Greg Dini
Bull reds move from deep-cut bayous to shallow, open-water bays and marsh
edges during warm fall and winter days, so poling a broad, shallow flat laden
with oyster bars can be very productive. But weather in the fall, and
especially in winter, can be unpredictable. Temperatures some days can be in
the 80s, then a cold front could send temperatures plummeting to below
As the weather cools down and water temperatures drop, bull reds will find
dark mud bottom to warm up. Windy days accompany cold fronts, but the slick-calm conditions that follow make for epic
sight fishing. Light winds let the
water clear, making the search for those giant redfish significantly easier.
It’s not uncommon, in fact, to spot 30-pounders belly-crawling in less than a
foot of water looking for shrimp.
Their broad tails and muscular bodies make bull
redfish powerful adversaries. Photo by Jessica Haydahl
Other areas to explore near Venice include Buras, Port Sulphur, and Myrtle
Grove. And to the northeast of Venice, in St. Bernard Parish, lie the small
fishing villages of Delacroix and Hopedale, each only a quick 45-minute drive
from the French Quarter in New Orleans. While only a few miles apart as the
crow flies, the two locations offer very different fishing opportunities.
Delacroix sits to the west of Hopedale at the end of the road on Highway 300.
Shallow duck ponds filled with aquatic grass are the setting for the game of
redfish hide-and-seek in the summertime. Big bulls and slot-size specimens are
both plentiful in this area, which produces the most beautiful, golden-hued
redfish one will ever lay eyes on. The brackish marshes around these parts are
a topwater fly angler’s dream. Redfish here will just crush poppers and
gurglers with reckless abandon.
Even when a big red seems tired after a tough
battle, it’s still likely to muster one last dash or two, so stay on your
Photo by Greg Dini
During the winter months, running some 10 miles to places like Lake Fortuna
and Black Bay may be necessary for consistent bull action. The best water
clarity is usually found along the outside marshes on calm days, and poling
along edges and around points frequently results in multiple catches of fish
exceeding 20 pounds.
Oyster and shrimp boats line the road as you reach Hopedale at the end of
Highway 624. The waters surrounding this small commercial-fishing town are
home to some of Louisiana’s largest bull redfish, which find plenty of chow in
the expansive Biloxi Marsh nearby and the area’s countless duck ponds,
bayous, outer sandbars and islands, including the famed Chandeleurs. And
during late summer, interior marsh areas like Stump Lagoon and Pete’s Lagoon
constantly host huge fish with a hankering for shrimp or crab.
Reviving bull reds after a fight is imperative,
especially during winter and summer, when extreme temperatures can rob them of
their usual stamina.
In fall and winter, the bulls in the area make a move to the outer islands and
oyster bars near Smack Bay and Skiff Lake. Water clarity there is also
dependent on wind conditions, and while a strong north wind will empty the
water from the duck ponds and create a barren mud pit, this place can be
redfish Mecca when you hit the right weather window. Then, poling along
outside edges, anglers can cast at giant tailers and belly crawlers to their
The Sandbar Mullet and other colorful baitfish
patterns designed to ride with hook point facing up are effective for bull
reds in a range of situations.
Weedless spoon imitations such as the Waldner Spoon fly tied by Louisiana
fly-fishing guide Rich Waldner, and the Sandbar Mullet, a baitfish pattern I
came up with, work very well in the marshes, where flies that sink with the
hook point up are preferred to prevent snagging oysters and grass. Double
Barrel Poppers and Pole Dancers, both of which push a lot of water and make
noise to get the attention of any bulls feeding on or near the surface, are
also excellent choices.
Surface poppers like these create enough splash and
noise to draw the attention of bull reds and trigger savage strikes.
Colors should be based on water clarity and cloud cover. Black and purple are
standards on dreary, overcast days or murky water. On blue-sky days with clear
water, chartreuse is hard to beat, but gold is also a great color for
Prolonged tussles with dogged bull reds can test
your tackle to its limits, so come prepared with rods and reels that will
withstand the abuse. Photo by Tosh Brown
The Best Gear For Bull Redfish
An 8-weight fly outfit is pretty standard for redfish, but when pursuing
powerful, 30-pound bulls, you’ll want the added muscle of a 10-weight rod and
a matching large-arbor reel with a couple of hundred yards of backing. A
floating, weight-forward fly line is all you’ll need. And since Louisiana reds
are not particularly skittish, leaders should be no more than 9 feet long for
easier casting, ending on a 20-pound tippet to withstand the chaffing of a
Sportsmans Lodge: This large, full-service houseboat is
located right in Venice Marina on the edge of the Mississippi River Delta, a
90-minute drive south of New Orleans. It offers seven staterooms and a suite,
all with private or semi-private baths and features a large lounge area with
wide-screen TV and a complimentary bar. Rates start at $240 per night for
double occupancy with meals.
Dogwood Lodge: Located just past the marina in Hopedale, a
45-minute drive southeast of New Orleans, this historical U.S. Coast Guard buoy
tender was converted into a deluxe, floating lodge that caters to anglers. It
features a lounge area with wide-screen TV, a complimentary bar, and six
private rooms with baths. Rates start at $225 per night for double occupancy
Pelican's Roost: This luxurious, all-inclusive, floating lodge
in Delacroix is only 45 minutes from New Orleans. It offers every possible
convenience, gourmet meals and a top-shelf, open bar. And aside from its three
berthing quarters (sleeps up to 12 guests), it also incorporates two roomy and
well-appointed 40-foot cabins with full baths located directly across the
street. Rates start at $200 per night.
Woodland Plantation: Located in West Pointe à la Hache off
Highway 23 and featuring two houses with a total of 12 guest rooms to choose
from, this gorgeous property sits on 50 acres of land bordering the
Mississippi River. Rates start at $1,400 for 2 nights and include all meals,
guided fishing and tackle.