Speck action puzzling fishermen _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN BALLANCE Buggie Vegas, owner of Bridge Side Marina with "Bridge Side dynamite," baitfish-sized croakers. The croaker is the bait of choice for many people targeting big speckled trout, redfish and mangrove snapper. Vegas dog "Maui" is his constant companion and keeps a keen eye on the bait.

GRAND ISLE It’s about this time every summer when Buggie Vegas isn’t sure if he’s more social worker, psychologist or just a friend than he is marina owner.

If you’ve ever been to Bridge Side Marina — it’s the first building you get to after crossing the Caminada Pass bridge — you’ve seen Vegas.

In the early morning hours, he’s managing the fuel dock, or counting live shrimp and live croaker for only-too-eager fishermen, or provisioning boats for a day on the water.

It’s after those trips that his job description changes, and, this year, it’s been challenge.

Just say the words “speckled trout” around Grand Isle these days, and the first response is an audible groan, followed by a something resembling a litany of sorrows.

Fact is, this summer has been the worst speckled trout season in years, many years.

The inshore and nearshore charterboat captains search for words to describe their frustration, and ardent recreation fishermen scratch their heads trying to come up with the next can’t-miss spot to make their weekend trip something more than get-away journey down La. 1 to the state’s only inhabited barrier island.

“I talk to the charter guys every day and we see the recreational fishermen come in and they just don’t know what to do,” Vegas said. “One day they go out and catch 50 to 60 (trout) and the next day its four or five,” he said.

That’s a far cry from what, in a “normal” year, is Louisiana’s very liberal 25-per-day trout limit, a number that translates into 100 trout in an ice chest for a four-fisherman trip.

Vegas talked about a recent trip with Calmwater Charters’ Danny Wray. It was morning when Vegas found out first-hand what fishermen had been seeing as far back as early May.

“Danny told me that he has had to move constantly to catch enough trout for his trips. We pulled up on a spot and caught 10 (trout) then we moved,” Vegas said. “Then we pulled up to another spot and caught three right off the bat.

“I thought we should have dropped the anchor because we found the spot. Danny was taking care of something in the boat and I cast for the next 10 minutes and nothing,” Vegas said. “That’s when I knew what (charter captains) were taking about.”

Laid Back Charters’ Frank Dreher has been running to his favorite spots east of Grand Isle into the Four Bayous area and finding the same frustration.

“You have good bait, and know where the fish should be and you can fish all day for five trout,” Dreher said. “And, you know the fish have to be somewhere, so you go back to the same spots the next day and you catch fish. You just never know, and I think that’s the biggest problem.”

Veteran trout catchers have a laundry list of reasons. There’s a common strain that blames April, 2010’s BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster for low spawning rates in 2010 and, possibly 2011.

Maybe, but it’s a popular theory, and some fishermen figure it explains the lack of 2-3 pound trout in their catches.

There are other reasons, not the least of which was prolonged cold weather from late fall into the early spring months.

“We had cold fronts come through here in May,” Vegas said. “That pushed everything back.”

It’s Mother Nature’s timetable that, in normal years, has larval-sized brown shrimp pushing into the estuaries in late January and February. By March, a warming sun raises water temperatures and salinity levels increase and the brown shrimp grow to become a rich food source for the seafood market, and for trout that overwintered in the marshes.

Constant north winds, chilly temperatures and more-than usual rainfall broke that cycle this year.

“Cold front in April and May are not good for (brown) shrimp,” Vegas said, drawing on his years of shrimp trawling. “April is the time when the shrimp grow inside (in the estuaries) and you get cold fronts and they don’t grow, then the north wind pushes them out to the Gulf. That’s when the small boats (trawlers) miss a season.

“And that’s what happened this year,” Vegas said. “Right now we should be catching shrimp, and we’re not catching.”

The silver lining to trout summer 2014 is that Wray and Dreher mentioned seeing lots of small trout working under the birds, specks smaller than the 12-inch minimum “keeper” size that are feeding on small white shrimp and baitfish. To them, it’s an indication, and 2013’s spawn was good enough to give them hope that 2015 will be a better year.