1) What was the purpose of the trip to Venice this time?
We were mixing business with pleasure on this trip. We were wrapping two 36’ Contenders for Michael Pittman and Eddie Burger with Fish Venice Charters, and we’d taken an installer with us to inspect the wraps before we headed offshore. We also brought some good friends and photographers with us to get some drone footage and some shots of the boats. Bradley Cole was our installer, and he is a fantastic inshore fisherman from Charleston. Joey Taylor, who owns Redfish District in Charleston and is an avid inshore/offshore angler, came with us for extra muscle, and good friends Justin Hodge and Chase Chauvin joined us to shoot the action and reel in some tuna themselves.
2) Why Venice? Why is this the first location you chose in wrapping charter boats?
Great question! Tuna Town!!! We’re from South Carolina, but Venice has become an annual destination trip for us as of 5 or 6 years ago. Sometimes we make two or three trips a year. It’s one of those locations that’s somewhat off the grid. You have two marinas, some refineries, some houseboats, and that’s about it. If you’re not grilling out at your houseboat rental, then you’re eating at the local marina restaurant, Crawgators, with all the mates and captains who have come in that afternoon. We’ve gotten to know several different charter captains and mates over the years, and it’s a place that feels like home to us. Not to mention all these guys are crazy about our watches. I think we’ve got at least a dozen captains and mates in Venice from five or six different charter groups wearing our watches. These guys fish 200+ days a year and put our watches through the ringer like no one else. They are the ultimate field testers, and their feedback has been invaluable as we create new designs and continue to improve on our product.
3) Tell us about Fish Venice Charters and why the partnership is a good fit for Hook + Gaff?
First off, reputation means everything to me. A good name is to be valued more than great riches. I believe that. So when we choose field guides and put our stamp of approval on them, it means we’ve asked others in the industry about them and we’ve done our homework. There are plenty of excellent captains in Venice who have been fishing offshore for a long time, but Captain Pittman and Captain Burger are about as good as it gets — gentlemen who treat their charters to the trip of a lifetime, and two guys who know how to get it done on the water. Furthermore, you won’t find two guys who are more respected by the other charter outfits than these two with Fish Venice — a sure sign that we made an excellent decision in choosing to partner with them. Eddie has about as much experience fishing offshore as anyone, and Michael is a younger guy making a name and setting some records in the gulf — he currently has the 3rd largest yellowfin tuna on record and the largest snowy grouper.
4) Well tell us about the trip! How was it?
Anyone who has fished Venice in the early spring knows that the run out of the Mississippi River in the morning is a cold one! The cold-water runoff from upriver keeps the water temperature down in the 40s or 50s well out to sea, so until we get out into the blue water, we have our thick coats on. When we got out of the pass this time, we hit big swells in short intervals — it was special, to say the least. They were 6- to 8-foot swells with the occasional 10-foot swell, but we were committed. We also knew the forecast called for 2- to 4-foot swells later in the afternoon, so we pushed through.
We made two or three trolling passes around the first rig and hooked up with two wahoo and broke off a third. We were off to a great start with two fish already in the box. Then we headed to the hump for some yellowfin tuna fishing, which is what Venice is known for. The seas had calmed a bit by this time, and we showed up at the hump, which is where these guys fish in the winter and spring. The fish are congregated around an underwater sea mount, and free-lining cut bait is the method all the guys are using.
As we cruised in, we put out some lines and caught some bonito to cut up for bait. We also caught an amberjack trolling, which was a first for me, and Bradley Cole reeled that one in and added another fish to the box. And then this is where Michael Pittman’s experience on the water kicked in. He noticed the entire Venice fleet, about 35 boats that day, congregated toward the northeast side of the hump. We’d been listening to the radio all morning, and nobody was catching a thing. We were a little nervous we were going to have a tough day. Pittman said, “I don’t know why everyone is all on one side of the hump, because nobody is catching anything. Let’s start on the south side and drift.”
Within 5 minutes, I’d hooked up with a yellowfin that felt like a 100-pound fish. We got it up to about 30 feet after a 20-minute fight and pulled the hook on it. We were ticked, but there’s nothing anyone could’ve done differently. Pulled hooks are part of the game. We put out three more lines and started again. Within another 5 minutes, we’d hooked two monsters at the same time. This was the start of an epic battle that I’ll never forget.
Joey Taylor’s line went off first, and the fish went straight down off the bow. He was on the lighter 30 wide, and he was in for a heck of a fight. Right about the time his line stopped screaming, Justin Hodge’s 80 wide went off on the stern. His fish went wide, screaming and headed as far away from the boat as he could get. We knew it was a monster. The fight on both these fish lasted over an hour. They nearly spooled both reels on multiple runs because we could not chase either fish to gain back line. Justin handed the rod to me so he could get some shots with the camera, and we watched line peel off like it was nothing after the handoff. It was a sight to see!
Luckily, the fish stopped with 30 yards left, and we were able to regain a bit before he did it again. Pittman was a machine in handling the rods, keeping the fish off the motor and getting the fish untangled as we got them near the boat and they started to maneuver. We could’ve easily lost both fish, but he managed the rods incredibly well. We kept Joey’s tuna away from the boat and stuck two gaffs in the one I was reeling on, and we finally had a yellowfin in the boat!
Within 10 minutes, we landed the other one — now two huge 150-pound-plus yellowfin tuna were in the box. And we’d just gotten started! Before the day was over, we’d landed a few more and headed back in to get some drone footage of the boats headed back into the marina at sunset.
We’ve had a lot of successful trips to Louisiana, but I’ll remember this doubled-up tuna battle with my buddies and with Fish Venice Charters forever. It was just an incredible day led by a captain who let his experience and his feel for the tuna grounds take over.
5) If someone wants to know more about how to hook up with Fish Venice, or how to book a trip and arrange lodging, how should they go about it?
Call me or email me personally! First off, I’ve fished in January, February, March, April, June and October in Venice. I’ve also fished west of Venice inshore for redfish and trout with another of our sponsored charter guides, Rob Dupont with Impulse Fishing Charters in Theriot. I’d love to talk fishing with anyone who is interested, and I can make recommendations for lodging and check the calendar with Pittman and Burger to see when they are available. I will say that you need to book several months in advance. The spring and summer schedules book fairly quickly. Early spring is prime time for big yellowfin, and as you get further into spring/summer, the tuna get smaller but you start to see numbers and see both blackfin and yellowfin — and if you’re a fan of red snapper, they can also put you on those, depending on the season. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 803-542-3086.