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Division: 7 Venice, LA WEST DELTA KINGFISH INVITATIONAL August 1-3, 2014

West Delta Invitational Falls to Intense

By Sam White

Venice, Louisiana — Without a doubt the Mississippi Delta region is home to some of the world’s best fishing for king mackerel, both in terms of size and numbers. What would be considered a trophy king on the East Coast barely raises an eyebrow in the upper Gulf, so it was no surprise that outstanding fishing was a highlight of the West Delta Kingfish Invitational. 

The event was hosted by Bill and Mike Butler at Venice Marina in Venice, Louisiana. For those who have never visited this part of the Delta, it’s pretty easy: first, hit New Orleans (maybe with a quick pass through the French Quarter along the way) then jump on Highway 23 and head south. Venice is literally at the end of the road. It’s a fishing community in the truest sense and while most of the local charter operations target yellowfin tuna, the king mackerel angling can be truly spectacular. In this year’s tournament, it took a fish better than 40 pounds to even crack the top five in the tournament, and the locals considered that to be a relatively low score—usually it would take one better than 50 pounds to win, and 60-pounders are not all that uncommon. 

Fresh off a strong showing in the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, where his team scored second and third place in the kingfish division, Neal Foster and the Intense team were as tuned up as any on the water prior to the start of the West Delta Invitational. They prefished for one day to locate productive water so when the time came to put it all on the line, Neal aimed his Yamaha-powered Contender about 75 miles southwest of Venice. The flat calm seas enabled him to run at top speed to his destination so after catching bait they began the search for a nice fish. “We were in about 160 to 170 feet of water, which looked really pretty,” Foster reported. “There was a lot of bait in the area and we could have sunk the boat with 30-pounders but there weren’t really any big fish there.” Fortunately the team was able to pull a 45.56-pounder from the small fleet of other boats fishing nearby. And while not a huge fish by Gulf standards, it was enough to hold on for the big fish of Day One. Foster was certain a larger kingfish would come to the dock on Day Two and so he was understandably shocked when one failed to appear and his 45 would hold up to win. “We actually caught a 44 on the second day so we had the big fish each day of the tournament,” he said. The Intense team is in the hunt for a divisional title, needing a strong showing to round out the season but they’re one to not count out until the very end. They will also represent their home port of Mobile, Alabama in this year’s SKA National Championship. The Intense team is sponsored by Contender, Yamaha, Garmin, Ameratrail, Accurate, Rigid Industries, Ken’s Car Tunes, Ocean Tamer, Trailer Tires and Wheels, Tackle This Shoot That, and Saltwater Mafia. They invite everyone to Like them on Facebook as well. 

Finding second place was the Crazy D team of Donnie Connor, Dennis Pinckard, Tripp Connor, and Chris Ford, fishing a Yamaha-powered Cape Horn. On Day One they ran about 50 miles east to fish in 150 feet of water, where they also reported similar conditions: plenty of bait and plenty of hungry kings. “We probably had 30 to 40 fish both days,” Connor reported. Their big fish of the day was a 44.90 that fell for a toplined hardtail. Thirteen-year-old Tripp Connor did the angling honors. The team did have a larger fish on the second day that was part of a double-header. “We were fighting one and had another bite on a line we had left in the water,” Connor said. “The fish ran off and then kinda rolled up at the surface, which we thought was kind of odd, then a nine-foot bull shark bit it right in half.” Connor said that it was half the fun of fishing out of Venice though, never knowing what might happen on the water. “We love fishing here,” he said. “We come over and fun-fish all the time—you can catch wahoo, red snapper, tuna, marlin, cobia, grouper, you name it.” Tripp Connor was the Top Junior and Top SKA Junior Angler for the tournament. The Crazy D is home-ported in Milton, Florida, just outside Pensacola. 

Rounding out the top three was the Sea Cruiser team of Don Jackson, Sr, Donnie Jackson Jr, Joe Zada, and Russell Webb. They decked a 43.11-pound kingfish on the second day of the tournament. “The first day we ran about 75 miles from the scales and were in the fish all day,” Don Jackson Sr. reported. “We probably caught 30 to 40 fish, all about 25 pounds. The second day the water cleaned up a little closer and since it was a shorter day we were only about 30 miles from Venice when we caught that one.” In addition to the hot bite on the first day the team also caught a blue marlin and a sailfish, proof that you never can tell what will show up the spread in the Delta. Don Jackson Sr was the Top Senior Angler for the tournament. The Sea Cruiser team is planning to attend the SKA National Championships this year for a shot at the title. 

In fourth place was the Get Layed team, fishing another Yamaha-powered Contender. Butch Smith, Todd Gardner, and Susan Smith boated a 43.04-pound king mackerel. Susan was the Top Lady Angler for the tournament as well. And the fifth 40-pounder of the West Delta event was scaled by the Hot King team of Shawn, Hunter, Brittany, and Trisha Ryan fishing with Jay Cornelius, and Chase Hudson. They boated a 40.93-pounder to make the top five. Just over four and a half pounds separated first place from fifth, proof that tournament king mackerel fishing in the upper Gulf is incredibly competitive. 

Tournament Director Bill Butler said that despite the low turnout he was optimistic. “We always wish we could have more boats and I think a lot of people are taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude about things but I think the future looks very positive for us all. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes and helping where we can.” 

And if you’ve never had the chance to fish the upper Gulf, by all means make plans to do so. It’s an angling paradise for a variety of species. But if you’re addicted to light-tackle king mackerel fishing, it’s unbeatable.


Open Class

45.561. INTENSE
Contender / Yamaha
Neal Foster
Mark Collier
Josh Collier
Doug Mallonee
44.902. CRAZY D
Cape Horn / Yamaha
Donnie Connor
Dennis Pinckard
Tripp Connor
Chris Ford
Contender / Yamaha
Don Jackson Sr.
Donnie Jackson Jr.
Joe Zada
Russell Webb
43.044. GET LAYED
Contender / Yamaha
Butch Smith
Todd Gardner
Susan Smith
40.935. HOT KING
Contender / Yamaha
Shawn Ryan
Hunter Ryan
Brittany Ryan
Chase Hudson
Jay Cornelius
Trisha Ryan
Contender / Yamaha
Bennie Goldman Sr.
Jeremy Goldman
Bennie Goldman Jr.
Pam Goldman
Heather Marrs
38.747. STRIKE TWO
Onslow Bay / Mercury
Rob Lupola
Bobby Schoenfeld
Kelly Patton

Top Lady Anglers
43.041. Susan Smith

Top Senior Angler
43.11Don Jackson Sr.

Top Junior Angler
44.90Trip Conner

SKA Top Junior Anglers
44.901. Trip Conner

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