South Louisiana fishermen call them “storm minnows,” and the more technical among them argue about just what species they are.
No matter what those sometimes undecipherable Latin names label these small, striped fish, what south Louisiana fishermen know is they trigger a feeding spree like nothing else swimming in coastal marshes.
The “storm” part fits, because these minnows pour from marsh flats into ponds, then into run-outs when floodwaters recede.
Nothing fits that scenario better than what’s happening in south Louisiana marshes today: Since Thursday, folks venturing to the coast and near the coast to batten down the hatches and retrieve their boats ahead of Lee found water rising around them. By Saturday morning, places like Dulac, Theriot, Cocodrie, Leeville, Fourchon and all low-lying spots east of the Mississippi River, water was covering some roads and turning campsites into islands.
Lee, barely in the tropical storm category, was showing that even lightweight cyclones pack a punch.
So while folks are riding out torrents of rain and hoping funnels don’t materialize from Saturday’s constant parade of National Weather Service warning and watches, there are some marsh fishermen searching for the silver lining behind those squall lines.
And the “silver” is the storm minnow.
“When those minnows appear, the redfish, whatever (speckled) trout there are in the marsh and flounder stack up around run-outs and feast on storm minnows,” veteran Venice charter skipper Larry Averitt said.
Fellow charter captain Owen Langridge added an amen: “Whatever they are, the big fish love them. Storm minnows only come out after high tides that come from storms. The big fish gorge themselves on them. The minnows aren’t there for long, maybe three or four days, but when they’re out in open water reds, specks and flounder line up for a banquet.”
The most plausible explanation is that these minnows survive in the deepest holes in the marshes, possibly surviving in less than an inch of water, even in mud, and are washed out when storm-driven tides begin to fall. The sudden rush of water moves the minnows into larger ponds where predator fish are waiting, and when the water falls from those ponds, the minnows move and the big fish are more than willing to follow them.
When the falling water reaches places accessible to boats, that’s where the predator fish run into more-than-willing anglers.
It’s then when guys like Averitt and Langridge have to caution fellow fishermen.
That’s because it’s possible to sit in one spot and catch fish after fish for hour after hour. That makes it easy to lose track of the five redfish, 25 trout and 10 flounder limits.
What makes the next days along Louisiana’s coast different from past storms is that a cold front appears headed into the state by the middle of the week. That means a north wind combined with Lee’s predicted move to the north and east will make water levels fall even faster, which, in turn, could concentrate even more minnows in run-outs as early as Tuesday evening.
Minnow-like artificials worked on jigheads or under poppin’ corks will work.
Turkey change shelved
The biggest spring turkey hunting season change in 10 years has been shelved a month before the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission is scheduled to ratify dates, areas and bag limits.
In July, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries game managers proposed to divide the state into North and South zones with three areas each. The LDWF folks said that they were trying to give hunters in each zone the different opening-day dates they seemed to want.
“We had lots of comments that were positive when we first announced the zones, but it came to our attention two weeks ago that there was a good bit of dissent in north Louisiana,” state Turkey Study leader Jimmy Stafford said.
LDWF staff members decided to hold public hearings.
“We left that meeting with that message that folks would be moving to public areas and hunting beyond what those public areas could handle,” Stafford said.
So during Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting, Stafford proposed a return to statewide openings in the three zones hunters have been accustomed to hunting for most of the past two decades. Stafford said the turkey season framework will work around opening the statewide season on the fourth Saturday in March.
That means the proposal now is to have Area A’s season running from March 24 through April 22, Area B’s from March 24 through April 15 and Area C’s from March 24 through April 8. The youth-only and physically challenged-only hunting weekend will be March 17-18.
The LWFC will ratify those dates at its October meeting, and Stafford said public comment will be accepted through September.
Limited access in effect
Effective Sept. 1, six state-run wildlife management areas have limited access areas for operating a boat powered by an internal combustion engine.
The LAAs are designed to limit waterfowl-hunting areas to hunters using electric-motor powered boats or paddle-only watercraft.
LAAs were enforced on four WMAs last year: Atchafalaya Delta, Pass a Loutre, Pointe aux Chenes and Salvador-Timkin. Joyce and Manchac WMAs were added this year. Limited access on Joyce WMA will be enforced year-round. The other five are limited from Sept. 1 through Jan. 31.