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File photo/JOHN BALLANCE Congressman Garret Graves, R-La., holds a 17-pound-plus red snapper he caught in early June on the final day of the three-day recreational red snapper season in federal waters. Congressional delegations from the five Gulf States worked on a one-year provision allowing 39 additional days to the 2017 recreational season, and also introduced, with Graves the lead author, the Modern Fish Act, which could pace the way for a more up-to-date approach to federal fisheries management in federal waters, labeled the Exclusive Economic Zone, waters from 9-200 miles off the coastlines of the five Gulf States.

John Ballance

On this last day of 2017, it’s easy to pick out the year’s top outdoors story.

In four words, The Modern Fish Act.

It’s the foot-in-the-door recreational fishermen across the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast have sought even since the continued restrictions on red snapper catches began nearly a generation ago, and certainly within the past seven years.

While this move has only cleared a U.S. House, and there’s work to do on the House floor and in the U.S. Senate, the path today appears to be straightened when it comes to addressing more accurate and immediate data collection both for stock assessment and recreational catch numbers, reallocation of the available stock via annual quotas and possible state management into federal waters.

This push by Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, and other congressmen from the Gulf states and Alaska, has its opponents, among them the Environmental Defense Fund and the Louisiana Restaurant Association, and should make for interesting discussion when the MFA moves through the legislative process.

More ducks

The recent pushes of cold fronts has helped waterfowl hunters taking to public areas in the coastal marshes, especially the Salvador Wildlife Management Area where duck-hunting success has been on the low side for several years.

The latest report, and the second during the season’s second split, from state Wildlife and Fisheries’ biologist Shane Granier identified 30 hunters (the most this season) went into the Salvador ponds and averaged 4.2 ducks per hunter, a significant increase over the less than one-duck-per during the season’s first split.

Lesser scaup — dos gris to south Louisiana hunters — made up more than 70 percent of the take with bluewing teal and ringnecks rounding out the take. That follows reports of huge numbers of the blue-billed dos gris invading the coastal marshes almost since the November start of the 60-day season.

The Atchafalaya Delta WMA, which came up short in the first split, too — showed a 3.8 ducks-per-hunter average with the bulk of take coming in the Wax Delta area and the expanded Wax Delta limited-access area. Bluewing and greenwing teal and gray ducks accounted for more than 60 percent of the birds taken. In addition to hunting success, the big news there came in seeing increasing numbers of mallards and canvasbacks.

Pass a Loutre WMA, usually the leader in hunter success, showed a modest 3.1 birds-per-hunter with gray ducks making up 42 percent of the bag, while dos gris made up 84 percent of the bag on an average of 2.5 ducks-per-hunter on the Pointe aux Chenes WMA.

And the news got even better toward the end of Christmas week. The Atchafalaya Basin loaded up with ducks pushed into the central swamps and marshes by the cold and now-frozen conditions well south into Arkansas.

With frigid conditions pushing into the state this week, waterfowl hunters can expect even more big ducks, like mallards, to move into the swamps and into the marshes.

Go deep

Cold rain, cloudy conditions and dropping overnight temperatures have brought a fishing report from across the coastal marshes that trout and redfish began moving to the deeper holes.

The best catches east of the Mississippi River have come from the Intracoastal Waterway and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet with mixed reports (one day good, next day bad) from the Chef area.

Canals in Cocodrie off Bayou Terrebonne and in the bayou where you can find deep oyster beds, and canals in the Theriot and Dulac areas are holding more fish than the marshes. Look for run-outs here, because trout and reds are feeding on the falling tides, then following baitfish into the run-outs on easterly and southerly winds.

The only open-water action report is from reefs and points north of Grand Isle well up into Barataria Bay.

Cloudy days are helping sac-a-lait fishermen find decent numbers in the Atchafalaya Spillway on black/chartreuse tubes. Bass catches are hit and miss throughout the Verret and Atchafalaya basins.

The best bass action during the last week has come from the marshes on the southwest end of Lake Pontchartrain west into the MRGO area.

Holiday weather

With snow in Tuesday's forecast and a warning of temperatures dipping into the low 20s, outdoorsmen across the state need to be aware to protect themselves against hypothermia.

Need more info, go to the following websites:

  • National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Forecasts: nws.noaa.gov. Find the “Coastal/Great Lakes Forecasts by Zones – Gulf – New Orleans, La.” and a map with 13 different nearshore, offshore and Lake Pontchartrain wind and waves predictions for the next five days.
  • Weather Underground: wunderground.com. Current conditions, a 10-day forecast, and hour-by-hour predicted temperatures, winds, precipitation and barometric pressure.
  • National Weather Service’s River Forecast Center: water.weather.gov for river stages.

Spring lottery hunts

Wildlife and Fisheries has set a Feb. 9 application deadline for 2018 turkey season lottery hunts on nine WMAs for the general public and on 11 WMAs for youth hunters.

Applications, hunting dates and locations can be found on the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/lottery-hunts.

The special statewide, private-lands-only youth and physically challenged hunter weekend is set March 30-April 1.