Even though the Army Corps of Engineers decided against opening the Morganza Floodway, rising water in the Atchafalaya River forced the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to close deer hunting in portions of Iberville, Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes in Deer Area 9.
The move came when then river’s gauge at Butte LaRose hit the 18-foot mark Sunday, a level that mandates curtailing deer hunting in those areas inside the Atchafalaya Basin’s East and West Guide levees.
Tuesday’s latest reading at Butte LaRose was 18.99 feet and the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles Office predicted a Jan. 20 crest at 20 feet there. The river’s reading on the Morgan City gauge was 6 feet Tuesday with a predicted Jan. 23 crest at 8 feet.
While the closure does not mean the deer season is over in areas bounded by Interstate 10 on the north and U.S. 90 on the south between the guide levees, it appears the river’s level will not fall below the 18-foot closure benchmark before the Jan. 24 end of the Deer Area 9’s modern firearms season. A Jan. 25-31 primitive firearms season remains, and the archery season runs through Feb. 15.
The Corps’ decision not to open the Morganza Flood Control structure cancels a plan approved during last Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting to halt deer-hunting activity throughout the Atchafalaya Basin south from the Morganza Structure. That commission vote also included a “buffer zone” outside the Atchafalaya’s East Guide Levee from Morganza south to Ramah, which was also canceled by the Corps’ decision.
The Atchafalaya’s unusually high water forced Bass Anglers Sportsman Society officials to postpone the planned Feb. 18-20 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open.
The tournament was rescheduled for Oct. 27-29 and will become the final event in the Central Open’s three-tournament 2016 slate. B.A.S.S. tournament manager Chris Bowes said the tournament’s practice dates will be Oct. 24-26.
“After discussion with local authorities on the magnitude of this weather event, anglers’ safety and empathy for those affected by these flood waters were the primary factors in B.A.S.S.’s decision to move the event,” Bowes said.
Bowes said B.A.S.S. will offer anglers a refund for this event and the entire Central schedule if this change affects their ability to compete on this circuit.
Morgan City and the Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau are tournament hosts and local sponsors.
“It is in the best interest to reschedule the event to October,” Cajun Caost executive director Carrie Stansbury said in the B.A.S.S. release. “Everyone involved is very disappointed, but we look forward to rolling out the red carpet in October. The weather should be beautiful that time of year.”
While the local organizing committee continues to monitor the Atchafalaya River levels, another event in the Atchafalaya Basin, the Feb. 25-27 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Central Regional, remains on the schedule with headquarters and weigh-in set for Houma.
Flooding in the Avoyelles Parish has forced Wildlife and Fisheries to close North Bayou Natchitoches Road on the Grassy Lake Wildlife Management Area along with all remaining stretches of Bayou Natchitoches Road. Cas Cas Road on the Grassy Lake WMA was closed last week.
Coastal Zone’s last days
The State Waterfowl Study Team continues to crunch the numbers from its January survey — the final report of the year will be out Friday — but there’s no mistaking the word coming from team leader Larry Reynolds about the decline in the numbers of ducks between the early December aerial survey and January’s fly-overs.
“There’s about half the number of ringnecks from the large concentration of ringnecks we saw in the upper Terrebonne area in December,” Reynolds said. “And the numbers of gadwall (gray ducks) we saw in the Delta Farms area (near Lafitte) are gone.
“The guys flying our survey in the northeast parishes Monday called in and all they could say was, ‘Where have the ducks gone?’ And, they saw nothing on Catahoula Lake,” Reynolds said.
With floodwaters hampering hunters in the lower Atchafalaya, and with high water continuing to plague hunters in the southwestern marshes, Reynolds’ only bright spot in the initial report was the numbers of ducks in the Delacroix area.
The Coastal Zone season ends Sunday. The West Zone closes Jan. 24 and the East Zone on Jan. 31. Youth hunters have the second of their special two-day hunts allowed by federal rules on Jan. 30 in the West Zone and Feb. 6 in the East Zone.
One tip coming Tuesday from veteran waterfowler Warren White was about decoy spreads. White said they’re seeing fewer ducks in the Terrebonne area, and that ducks were shying away from large decoys spreads over the weekend. He said he thinned the five-dozen decoy spread down, paired them one drake to one hen — “I used 18, that’s all. Only four teal and the rest big decoys, and the ducks decoyed better,” he said — and took limits of ducks Monday and Tuesday.