Story by Frank Wilem. Photos courtesy of Tom Shubert and Wes Martin.
For many years, I had heard of Saltgrass Outdoors in Buras, Louisiana. I had even driven by on offshore trips out of Venice. So, when I was invited there to shoot a fishing episode of our show, Find Your Outdoors, I jumped at the opportunity. We rolled up to the lodge to find what appeared to be a stately old Southern mansion. It had originally been built by a couple just before Katrina gutted it. The Schmitt brothers bought it and restored it to its former glory. Chris and Raymond Schmitt run the lodge today with a goal of providing an exceptional experience to every guest. And they are quite successful, based on my experience.
I had already heard about the great fishing and the culinary skills of Chef Kevin, with five years under his belt at Commanders Palace and two at the New Orleans Yacht Club. So, we headed down on Thursday making certain to arrive in time for dinner and to shoot a segment of Hook It & Cook It.
His creation of sautéed redfish with a crabmeat-beurre blanc sauce served testament to his reputation. For desert, he served a bread pudding which was among the best I have ever had.
The lodge is located adjacent to the levee, which made for a very impressive view of the Carnival Glory as she saled down the Mississippi. It felt so close you could nearly touch it.
We were up before daybreak with the trucks already hitched to the boats. After a quick drive we crossed the levee and headed down a steep drive. Due to all the recent rain, the river was up and the parking log of the launch was flooded to the point that it wasn’t obvious where the ramp even was.
Chief, our fishing guide, instructed us to load up on the boat while still on the trailer. I then experienced a first – valet boat launching. An older man who works the launch on a freelance basis proceeded to back us through foot-deep water to where I imagined the ramp was located. Our captain then backed us off the trailer and we were on our way while our “valet” pulled out to park the truck and trailer. Pretty fancy! And all for five bucks!
We took a hard left after crossing the Mississippi and headed down a narrow ditch at full throttle. It was an exhilarating ride punctuated by several 90 degree turns and clouds of gnats hitting us in the face.
We ran through a series of bayous until we reached open water and crossed to an area where we began to work the marsh banks. On my third cast, I was hooked up with the first of many rat reds. A few fish later, I hooked a nice slot red and we began filling the box with decent-sized fish.
While initially focused on taking care of business, as the day progressed Chief warmed up and we began talking smack with each other as is typically the case with my regular fishing buddies. He had spent his career serving in the Navy doing things that probably would have killed me. I will say that the discipline and emphasis on excellence he learned in the service has served him well in becoming an outstanding fishing captain. Our team on the second boat found Captain Ike to be every bit as capable.
Chief had told me that with the dirty water they hadn’t seen many trout, which I fould difficult to believe. Yet in the entire time catching our three man limit of redfish, I caught one small sheepshead and neither of us hooked a single speckled or white trout. Not even a catfish, though I’m not complaining.
It was a great trip and am looking forward to the next of four planned for this year.