Bass photo for Thursday

Reid Rayborn, left, and Brock Bennett show off four of the bass, and got help from a 'phantom' arm for their fifth bass in their five-bass limit weighing 9.97 pounds to win the first High School Challenge tournament held Saturday from North Pass. Rayborn and Bennett, members of the Livingston Parish Bassmasters, topped 28 other two-angler high school teams from Capital City and north shore areas.

Guess we can mark the word “success” all over the first three days of the Coastal Zone duck season. Even in spots in the West Zone, mostly in watered-up agriculture fields, hunters took limits and near limits.

Now it’s up to Louisiana’s East Zone hunters to keep the opening weekend streak alive when their season opens Saturday.

It’s the first split of the 60-day duck season, and hunters got a giant boost from a cold front blowing through to the coast the middle of last week.

“Three days before the season, a big freeze hit the (Midwest) prairies and that brought a mass migration,” Buras guide and Cajun Fishing Adventures boss Ryan Lambert said Tuesday.

Lambert's primary spots are east of the Mississippi River, but not too far east. You can see freighters plying their way down the river from one of his blinds.

But when he looked up, what did he see Saturday, Sunday and Monday?

“Thought it was very unusual we saw divers (diving ducks) down already,” Lambert said. “We saw canvasbacks and redheads and it’s very early for them to be here. There were tons of pintails, gadwall and teal, but only a few shovelers … no mallards yet.”

That meant limits for every hunters all three days.

“There were lots of ducks, but 400 mudboats running around all day in the marshes is going to put a damper on that real quick,” Lambert said.

And he had other waterfowling news. Added to surprising number of canvasback and redhead ducks was a mass movement of lesser scaup, the migrant folks here call “dos gris,” into the marshes.

This bird is usually found rafting in open bays and lakes, but Lambert said he's seeing them in big numbers in the marshes is very rare.

And state Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds found the same thing on his opening weekend hunts in the Little Chenier area on the other side of the state in Cameron Parish.

“There was an unexpectedly high number of scaup in our marsh,” he said. “We took seven between the Saturday and Sunday hunts and that’s more in two days than in the 10 years on this lease, and we passed up shots on a lot of them. I heard the same thing about scaup covering up hunters in Delacroix and Reggio.”

But for his home base, Reynolds said bluewing and greenwing teal showed up in big numbers — lots of greenwing in the Grand Chenier area — and gray ducks (gadwall), and that Saturday’s opening day hunt were better than Sunday’s trips.

Two concerns

Lambert said he believes he and his guides, and most of the dedicated hunters from Buras south into the Pass a Loutre management area and Delta Refuge will have to concentrate their efforts on the first split.

“We have no SAVs,” he said, referring to submerged aquatic vegetation ducks rely on for food. “We had that hurricane push through, and 20 mph east winds for a long period in October and saltwater covered areas east of the river. It diminished the SAVs. There are some duck potatoes (bull tougue) and some (above-water) peas in the marshes, but overall very little food for ducks to last the whole season.”

That’s what Reynolds observed in last week’s preseason flyover survey of the coastal marshes.

“The late hurricanes hurt,” Reynolds said. “But we fared a lot better with Hurricane Nate (along the Mississippi River) compared to (2012’s Hurricane) Isaac. The SAVs at the mouth of the river are definitely down, and at Pointe-aux-Chenes, too, but there’s great SAVs in and south of Delacroix.”

Reynolds said Hurricane Harvey dropped as much as 20 inches of rain in the southwest marshes damaged SAVs there, too.

Lambert’s concerns also ran to the effect surface-drive and mudboats are having on ducks.

“Mudboats are running around all day, and there’s so much pressure on the ducks that they are going to start rafting up in the bays all day and come on the (high) tide and feed in the marshes at night,” Lambert said. “The ducks can’t rest anywhere during the day, and sooner or later we’re going to have to close (hunting) down at noon just to give the ducks a rest.

“But as long as the cold fronts keep coming and the ducks keep migrating, we should see ducks,” he said.

The weekend

Duck hunters, not fishermen, will welcome another cold front pushing into the state Saturday into Sunday with 15-20 knot west winds early Saturday, followed by a shift to the northwest at 20-25 knots later that day, and 25-30 knot north winds Sunday.

Expect choppy conditions in interior waters, so be sure to wear life jackets to and from blinds and to and from fishing locations, and anticipate a 12-15 degree drop in afternoon high temperatures between Saturday and Sunday.

Young anglers

Reid Rayborn and Brock Bennett teamed to catch a five-bass limit weighing 9.97 pounds to win the inaugural Livingston Parish Bassmasters High School Challenge held Saturday from the North Pass launches at Manchac.

Rayborn and Bennett, who had the a 2.54-pound big bass, are members of the LPBM, and led that team to an overall first place with a 15.3-pound total, a little more than four pounds better than the 10.94 pounds brought to the scales for runner-up Central High’s team. Zachary (5.92 pounds) finished third.

Second place in individual team scoring went to Central High’s Connor Rushing and Cayden Reily with four bass weighting 5.98 pounds. Ponchatoula’s Peyton Waller and Brock Harrison were third at 5.36 pounds.

The tournament was pushed back into November after Hurricane Nate moved through in October. Some 29 teams from 10 schools showed up on a cool, windy morning to fish the area from the east shore of Lake Pontchartrain west to Blind River.

LPBM organizer Keith Murray said four girls, Sarah Crawford, Emma Gautreau, Hannah Nix and Jenna Hopwood were in the field.

Reports were bass were taking small lures, spinnerbaits, Beetle Spins, worms and creature baits.

Hot spots

Waters south of Lafitte and the bays, canals and runouts along Bayou Terrebonne near Cocodrie continue to be the prime speckled trout and redfish places. Continuing falling water levels in the Mississippi River are making the east side of the river from Buras to Venice a good choice, too.