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Angling Report Editor Don Causey filed the following report on a newly rebuilt marina at the mouth of the Mississippi River. It sits at the epicenter of some of the best saltwater fishing in the country.
Unless you follow news developments in Louisiana pretty closely, you probably don’t know the federal government spent $12 million after Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in 2005 to restore a marina complex near the mouth of the Mississippi River that can handle 60 large yachts and comfortably accommodate up to 48 overnight guests. Built on the edge of the marsh, in sight of the open Gulf of Mexico, the marina is just five miles from the 100-fathom curve where, arguably, the best marlin and tuna fishing in America is to be had. Stuck way out in the gulf (it’s the southernmost marina in the entire gulf), the facility is not just a staging point for offshore anglers, but it also serves as a sort of filling station for mega-yachts moving between Texas and Florida. In that regard, the marina’s fuel tanks hold a whopping 20,000 gallons of diesel and 10,000 gallons of gasoline.
Just why the federal government spent that much money on a facility that serves mostly rich people is a mystery, but it certainly happened, at least in part, because of the persistence of Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish. He argued that the ruined facility—it’s called Port Eads Marina Complex—was important to lots of people in Plaquemines Parish, not just the rich, plus it was important from a historical and cultural point of view. That may be stretching the truth a bit, but in Louisiana one of the important ways local politicians stay in power is by landing big federal government projects. Viewed that way, the Port Eads project was a big win for Billy Nungesser. It created construction jobs, used local construction materials, and, best of all, it promised to generate profits that would be used to educate the youth of Plaquemines Parish.
The only problem with that rosy outlook was what happened when the marina was finished. Namely, nothing. No one wanted to operate the giant complex because it was just too big and too expensive. So it sat in the marsh. And sat some more. Soon, the net effect of the project locally was not zero. It was less than zero, because the parish had to hire a security company to protect the empty facility. There was talk of just abandoning the project or giving it back to the federal government.
Enter High Adventure Company, an international hunting and fishing outfitter-agency with a network of highend lodges and other facilities stretching from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Just when Port Eads Marina was about to become a major political and financial liability to Nungesser and his constituents, High Adventure stepped up to the plate with a far-reaching plan to bring its own wealthy clients to Port Eads, along with local yacht owners and, perhaps, eventually less-well-heeled anglers as well. The agreement High Adventure signed earmarks a portion of the profits (when they come) to the Plaquemines Parish School System. Additionally, it calls for High Adventure to sponsor school visits to the facility and internships for students interested in careers in tourism. High Adventure’s decision to operate the facility appears to be a win-win-win for the parish, for anglers, and maybe even for High Adventure.
My wife and I personally spent one night at the facility shortly after it opened this past Memorial Day. I got there in my own flats boat, carefully avoiding crew-boat wakes as I made my way from Venice down the main stem of the Mississippi River into South Pass. The facility had only been open a couple of weeks at that point. Though some 40 yachts showed up for opening weekend, my wife and I were the only guests. The manager of the facility is Katherine Hughes, who has a delightful southern manner that belies the organizational skills and grit needed to rise toward the top of an organization like High Adventure. Katherine joined my wife and me for dinner and sketched out some of High Adventure’s plans for the facility.
As before, Port Eads Marina will be a major staging point for New Orleans diesel heads headed out after marlin, tuna, and other species. It will also host a number of fishing tournaments throughout the year. Beyond that, the offerings will be whatever anglers ask for. High Adventure Company, Hughes pointed out, is famous for tailoring trips to customers’ desires. She says High Adventure is gearing up to have appropriate blue-water boats on-site for anglers who want to come in by boat or plane, spend a few nights at the marina, and make short runs offshore. There is a small dirt runway at Port Eades, she says. Alternately, they are gearing up to offer floatplane and helicopter service between Venice and Port Eads. She says she is quite confident some Venice skippers who specialize in oil-rig fishing trips will want to offer multi-day trips based at Port Eades. The same goes for redfish guides. The marina will not take a commission from operators who want to use the marina that way, she says.
As regards redfishing near Port Eads, my wife and I spent two days fishing just south of there on our own in connection with our stay at the marina. The weather was horrible and we had no idea, really, what we were doing, but we (she actually) still caught a couple of redfish that weighed in the high 20s, plus some smaller fish. For one memorable period, when the wind died down, we were able to stalk on foot sighted fish that were wallowing near the shore. I am not about to tell you exactly where it is, but there is a long, sandy shoreline not far from Port Eads. It’s perfect for wading, and the water there is often quite clear. One behemoth red I spotted along this shore, and waded toward, took my fly, and then promptly spit it out. It had to weigh over 30 pounds. He would have been a handful on foot with a 9 wt. rod!
One of the problems with fly fishing for reds around the mouth of the Mississippi is the muddiness of the water during much of the year. Still, there is a distinct possibility that some redfish guides will want to operate at least part of the year out of Port Eads. Hughes says they will make sure that kind of fishing is available if would-be guests express an interest in it. Interestingly, for a short time in the summer, there are tarpon in the gulf near Port Eads, too. Big ones, but they are notoriously hard to catch. To my knowledge, there are currently no guides who offer tarpon fishing in the area. Ditto ocean fly fishing. No one has seriously cracked the book on either of those stories around Port Eads.
The emergence of a company like High Adventure at the epicenter of saltwater fishing in Louisiana may be the catalyst this area has needed to emerge as a more diverse sportfishing center, encompassing ocean and inshore fly fishing and more. Interestingly, trips based at Port Eads will not be outlandishly expensive. In fact, it may be cheaper during the week to stay at Port Eads than in a hotel in Venice! The cost to rent a bed for the night at Port Eads is only $60 a night Sunday to Wednesday; $125 a night Thursday to Saturday. Room rates include breakfast, and the costs of the other two meals depend on what you order. Those are the costs if you use Port Eads as a hotel only, mind you, with your guide coming from Venice each morning to pick you up out front. A package trip that involves your guide staying at Port Eads and docking his boat there will be more expensive, of course. The docking fee alone is $3 a foot per day.
The role Port Eads Marina will play in the local sportfishing economy is a work in progress at this point but an interesting one. Katherine Hughes asked that I make it clear that she and the staff of High Adventure will work with anglers any way they want. If they have a particular guide they want to fish with, High Adventure will gladly be their lodging hosts. If they want High Adventure to find them a guide, they will do that, too. That’s true for blue-water fishing as well as inshore fishing around oil rigs and marsh fishing for redfish. A high-end agency that specializes in turnkey excursions, High Adventure will rise to any challenge, she says, from arranging space for private yachts to shuttling guests back and forth from Venice or New Orleans.
The one impediment to the marina’s acceptance by some anglers is the way the rooms are configured at Port Eads. All eight of them are set up to accommodate six persons.
To ensure privacy—say you have your wife with you or you just don’t want to sleep in the same room with strangers—you will have to rent an entire room for around $626 a night. Hughes says they are working on a plan that will allow privacy-seekers to sleep in rooms of their own at regular nightly rates unless all of the rooms already have guests in them. That would help in many cases, but what would one do if he came with his wife and found all of the rooms partly filled at the last minute? There is no apparent solution to this problem. “Six-person rooms are just part of Southern Louisiana culture,” Hughes said. “That’s the way the rooms in the old marina were configured, and the federal specs for the new one had to conform to that pattern. We are going to live with the limitation.”
As this is written, The High Adventure website does not have any information on the Port Eads facility. The best phone number to use at present to get more information is the one that rings at the marina, 504-308-1602. Ask for Katherine Hughes. If that is out of service, the next-best number is the general one for High Adventure Company, 800-843-0834. The company website (www.highadventurecompany.com) is worth a visit if you are interested in Port Eads, because it gives you a feel for the level and kind of service the company provides. There is no real equivalent in the angling field to High Adventure Company, because it is more rooted in high-end safaris and wing shooting excursions than it is in fishing. That’s not to say High Adventure isn’t into fishing, however, as it offers opportunities in New Zealand, Patagonia, Panama, Guatemala, and, now, Louisiana. It just does fishing a bit differently, Catherine explained.
I have not personally fished with High Adventure Company, unless you count my overnight stay at the marina as a fishing trip. But I suspect she is right. The dinner my wife and I enjoyed at the marina was way over the top, and neither of us could turn around at the marina without a responsive, friendly staff member asking us if we needed or wanted something. Nice….
If you are a little tired of cookiecutter fishing lodges and/or just looking for a new kind of adventure, you may want to book a Port Eads-based trip with High Adventure. I’d love to get reports from the first subscribers who do that anywhere in the world, but especially in Louisiana. Enjoy!—Don Causey.