STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane Hurricane Ivan's unfortunate and devastating effects also yields massive tuna for fishermen When hurricanes pass, tuna fishing heats up off the coast near Venice, Louisiana. Here, John DeVries (right) poses with Captain Peace Marvel after landing one of the powerful yellowfins from these Gulf waters. (Keith Sutton photo) The encounter brutalized me. My skull cracked like a hard-boiled egg dropped on concrete. All my teeth jarred loose. My spine twisted. My muscles bruised. Internal organs hemorrhaged. At least, that’s what it felt like. I had just hooked up with a 50-pound yellowfin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico south of Venice, Louisiana, and despite the fact that I outweighed the fish four to one, the bully was kicking my butt. Tunas are like that. They fight big. Hook a 50-pounder and your mind will convince you it must weigh 300. That’s one reason big-game anglers love targeting these sleek, powerful denizens of the deep. And that’s why, when I learned I could try for them on my first trip to Venice, I decided I’d give it a go. Located near the southeastern tip of Louisiana, 70 miles south of New Orleans where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, Venice is the jumping-off point for some of the finest fishing adventures you could imagine. The nutrient-filled waters of the mighty Mississippi enrich the Gulf, creating an enormous food chain dominated by apex predators like tuna, swordfish, wahoo, dolphin, sailfish, sharks, tarpon and marlin. Nearby oil and gas rigs hold schools of snappers, groupers, cobia and other sportfish as well, and inshore fishing for redfish, specks and other denizens of the marsh equals that anywhere in the country. The population of Venice is only a few hundred people, but tens of thousands more visit each year to experience the extraordinary sportfishing at “The End of the World.” I had come to Venice at the invitation of Eric Cosby with Top Brass Tackle. The occasion was an annual gathering of fishing friends called Marsh Madness, then in its early years. The guests were mostly fishing writers, editors and folks in the tackle industry, including Konrad Krautland, Taka Nakagawa, Ken Blake and John DeVries who would join me for my day offshore. We’d been planning the September get-together for months, but one major hurdle stood between us and our intended destination as travel time neared—Hurricane Ivan. Ivan was called the storm that wouldn’t die. Developing from a tropical wave that moved off the west coast of Africa on Aug. 31, 2004, it moved west over the next two weeks. It struck the island of Grenada on Sept. 7 at Category 3 intensity, causing at least 39 deaths and damage to more than 85 percent of the structures there. It then continued across the Caribbean, reaching Category 5 intensity before passing close to the Jamaican coast and Grand Cayman and crossing the western tip of Cuba. Twenty deaths were reported in Jamaica, and damage to over 80 percent of the buildings was reported on Grand Cayman. Ivan then moved into the eastern Gulf of Mexico and weakened to a strong Category 3 storm. It continued on a track toward the north-northwest, making landfall in the U.S. near Gulf Shores, Alabama in the predawn hours of Sept. 16. Winds exceeded 120 miles per hour, and a 14-foot storm surge collapsed buildings and dumped mounds of sand into businesses and homes along the beaches. After moving across the eastern United States, leaving a path of destruction and dozens of spawned tornados in its wake, Ivan dumped into the Atlantic. But the remnants didn’t dissipate right away. On Sept. 22, the National Weather Service determined a low pressure system moving across the Gulf of Mexico was the result of Ivan. Named accordingly, the revived Ivan struck again on Sept. 23 as a tropical depression near Cameron, Louisiana. The next day, Ivan made landfall again over southwestern Louisiana and finally dissipated inland over east Texas. Twenty-five people died in the U.S. as a result of Ivan’s power, and damage was estimated to be near $14.2 billion, the third largest total on record. It was, to say the least, a horrible storm. While some coastal Louisiana residents unfortunately suffered significant property damage as a result of Ivan, the state as a whole was fortunate to have been spared a direct hit. No lives were lost to the storm, and damages were limited to $7.2 million, compared to the billions of dollars of destruction in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. And so, despite our apprehension, Marsh Madness was not cancelled, and just after Ivan had left, I found myself on a boat in the marshes surrounding Venice. Damage from the hurricane was still obvious, including old fishing camps destroyed by high winds and thousands of acres of rosseau cane flattened by the storm. The fishing certainly hadn’t suffered, however, as we caught scores of big bull reds during the first two days of our visit. It was our last of fishing I was anticipating most, though. That day John, Ken, Taka, Konrad and I would enjoy a trip offshore for yellowfin tuna with renowned Venice guide Peace Marvel. Which takes me back to the beginning of this story where you found me trying, with great difficulty, to land a small yellowfin on that last day of fishing. Which, despite the chances against it, I finally did. Captain Marvel laughed when he gaffed the tuna and brought it aboard. “That’s just a baby,” he said, chuckling. “Good thing our Arkansas boy didn’t hook one of the big boys. It might have killed him or pulled him in!” Which were my thoughts exactly. We were fishing around an oil rig called Ursa, 56 miles off the coast. It rose high above the Gulf like some sort of futuristic space sport. “When a hurricane comes through, the tuna always come here,” Marvel told us as we arrived that morning. And he was right. My 50-pounder was just a small sample of what lay ahead. Soon, everyone on board had a chance to experience the unbridled fury of a big tuna at the end of their line. And unlike yours truly, John, Ken, Taka and Konrad each put an ass whupping on a sizeable yellowfin instead of vice versa. John and Taka took big fish honors with tuna tipping the scales at around 150 pounds each. The action was nonstop. We’d drop a bait in, watch it sink and almost instantly, a monster tuna would strike. The pain was horrible. Bodies suffered. But we kept at it for hours, catching one leviathan after another until no one was willing to reel any more. We enjoyed the freshest, most delicious kind of sushi on the long trip back to Venice. And that night, we feasted on the fish of the day cooked by a chef at a local restaurant. Captain Marvel made a toast as we began our meal. “To Ivan’s tuna,” he said, raising his glass. “To Ivan’s tuna,” we answered. It was a fitting and memorable end to a trip I’ll never forget.