Fish and ducks don’t belong in the same sentence during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, but with what happened last week, we don’t have to wait until November to mention them in the same breath.
Terrific action on trout, redfish, red and mangrove snapper, cobia, king mackerel, yellowfin tuna (although they are on the smallish side), blackfin tuna and billfish prove to the fishing world that Louisiana coast — at least in the short term — is back from last year’s BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
And Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its annual “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations” report and it looks like we’ll have another 60-day duck season and possibly more ducks winging into Louisiana for the September teal season and the November into January regular season.
First, remember the season on red snapper ends at 12:01 a.m. July 19 and the daily limit is two. Mangrove snapper has no season and a daily limit of 10.
Which do you want to try to catch first?
Veteran deep-water charter skipper Steve Tomeny said target mangroves first.
“You’re going to catch red snapper. There are so many in the Gulf (of Mexico) that you’re going to find them,” Tomeny said. “Find the mangroves and you’re going to find reds, so try to find the mangroves and catch them before you start catching so many red snapper that you wind up having to release them.”
Mangroves have become a target for so many offshore anglers that there’s a pattern you can follow. These guidelines are not set in stone, but will help you limit on mangroves and limit on red snapper without having to use venting tools on the reds to release the more-than-two-a-person that come into the boat.
Tomeny confirmed what most dedicated mangrove hunters know: Mangroves hang tight on oil platforms, usually shallower in the water column than red snapper. Toss chum — pieces of cut fish, shrimp heads, cut squid — next to the rig, then wait for the mangroves. If they’re around that rig, you’ll see them come from under the rig and take the cut bait.
Tomeny likes to use cigar minnows (run the circle hook through the minnow’s eyes) then drift the bait into the chum. After eating that hooked bait, mangrove make a strong, quick dash into the rig, a move that demands fishermen try to pull the fish away from the rig as quickly as possible.
“We’re using a lighter leader to catch mangroves — it helps increase bites — and that means you need to get the fish away from the rig or he’ll cut the line on the rig,” Tomeny said.
In the early days of the mangrove run off the Louisiana coast, most fishermen believed they had to hide the hook inside cut bait, the minnows or squid. Not so for live bait like small mullet or pinfish.
Tomeny said with more red snapper and other hungry fish, like king mackerel, cobia and triggerfish at the rigs, mangrove are more readily taking cut bait no matter how it’s hooked.
“We like to use brown hooks, too, because it’s not shiny like nickel (plated) hooks, and it seems mangrove have a harder time seeing the brown hooks,” Tomeny said.
Big numbers are coming from the USFWS’ May breeding-count survey, like 45.6 million ducks showing up in survey areas in Prairie Canada, eastern Montana and the Dakotas.
That’s up 11 percent from the 2010 estimate of 40.8 million birds and is 35 percent above the long-term (1995-2010) average.
The number federal and state waterfowl managers look for is the mallard count, a factor that determines season-date lengths and daily bag limits.
The estimated mallard count was 9.2 million, up 9 percent over last year and 22 percent above the long-term average.
That number indicates a 60-day, 6-duck-per-day season for Louisiana, one of 13 states in the Mississippi Flyway.
Another number factor is teal count. With the bluewing teal estimate at a record 8.9 million — 41 percent more than 2010 and 91 percent above the long-term average — it looks like another 16-day special September teal season for state hunters.
Other estimates of note are:
e_SBlt 4.4 million pintails, up 26 percent from 2010’s count and just about square with the long-term average.
e_SBltA drop of 14 percent in the wigeon count.
e_SBlt A count of 8.1 million ponds, up 22 percent from 2010 and 62 percent higher than the long-term average. An abundant pond count directly relates to abundant waterfowl numbers because it gives ducks more places to nest and raise broods.
Wednesday’s advisory about shoaling in South Pass, a caution from the Coast Guard that channel markers might not indicate a deep-water pass through that Mississippi River distributary, was followed Friday by an advisory of “severe shoaling and channel restriction” in Empire Pass.
The USCG warning stated boaters should, “observe and restrict movement through (Empire) pass at slow speed and observe all hazard buoys and markings of the channel.”