More and more evidence is coming daily from Louisiana’s offshore charter-boat and recreational fleets about the abundance of red snapper at close-in and far-off oil and gas platforms, reefs and shipwrecks.
Since the June 1 opening of the recreational red snapper season - remember it closes down at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday - anglers have been trying to figure out how to maximize their trips, which means trying to add to the federal allocation of two red snappers per person per day.
Mangrove snapper’s daily limit of 10 is one way to do that, but finding the just-right tactic for the day ranges from extraordinarily simple - “We caught mangroves all day long,” Baton Rouge veteran San Jackson said last week - to the extraordinarily frustrating, as in the charter skipper Steve Tomeny’s Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo exploration two weeks ago.
“We were on them (mangroves) for a week here. Everybody caught them here, but we come in here today and find that king mackerel have moved in and cut lines and made themselves a pain in the neck,” Tomeny said.
The “here” was a bundle of oil platforms in 80 feet of water in the South Timbalier block south of Belle Pass. Still, there were enough mangroves in that day’s haul - 28 of them ranging from 4-9 pounds - to say that Tomeny’s crew gave it the old college try.
Tomeny insisted his fishermen try to stay shallow, maybe 10-14 pulls off the Penn 4/0 reels, anywhere from 15-25 feet under the gulf’s nearly flat surface that day, to “stay above” the red snapper.
“You’re going to catch (red) snapper. There’s no doubt about that. Just drop it down to the bottom then start reeling up and you’re going to find them. The trick is to catch as many mangroves as you can before you start trying to get the big reds,” Tomeny said.
Veteran outdoors communicator Don Dubuc added a solemn “amen” to that strategy.
“We were fishing over a wreck in about 90 feet of water Sunday, and the wreck came up to about 40 feet under the surface,” Dubuc said after an extra-productive trip with Baton Rouge area charter skipper Daryl Carpenter.
“If you fished to the top of the wreck, about 40 feet down, you caught mangroves,” Dubuc said. “If you went deeper than that, you caught red snapper. It was that defined a process.”
During the past 10 or so summers, hunting for and catching mangroves has become a key component for a greater and greater percentage of offshore anglers.
The explanation is simple: The daily limit is 10, the action is terrific - mangroves are great battlers - and they’re great table fare.
“I don’t think any fish, pound for pound, gives a fishermen a run for their money like a mangrove,” Gonzales’ “Goosie” Guice said. “That fish beats you up. Catch 10 of them and you’ve had a day.”
Since the resurgence in red snapper numbers during the past five years off the Louisiana coast - especially since Hurricane Gustav in 2008 - red snapper have moved in to cut anglers action on mangroves.
In places like Grand Isle and West Delta platforms, areas dominated by mangroves from the turn of the century into the years after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, catching mangroves simply was a matter of either using live bait or hiding a hook inside cut bait well enough to trick a mangrove into biting. Chum was tossed overboard to lure the fish from under the maze of platform rigging to the surface, where experienced fishermen could pitch a morsel to the fish he or she wanted to catch.
In short, using live bait - croaker, large shrimp, finger-sized mullet or pinfish - was sure to get a mangrove to charge. Cut bait - squid, cigar minnows, pogeys, etc. - meant you had to chum the water first, hide the hook in the bait second, then pitch it into a mass of rising mangroves and hope one fish wouldn’t notice there was any difference between food and your somewhat different offering.
“I think with more and more red snapper showing up at the rigs, mangroves can’t afford to turn down anything that’s food,” Carpenter said. “With more red snapper around, there’s more competition. The mangroves are definitely less wary than they were a couple of years ago.”
Tomeny said using lighter, near invisible fluorocarbon leaders - he likes 50-pound test - and using brownish-colored hooks instead of bright steel or chrome-plated hooks increases chances for a mangrove hook-up, too.
The reminder here is that mangrove and many other species are reef fish, which means anglers need to use non-stainless steel circle hooks and must have de-hooking and venting tools aboard their boat to facilitate catch-and-release of undersize and over-the-limit fish.
“It’s going to be a shame when we can’t catch red snapper for the rest of the year, but we have so many other fish out there to catch,” said Carpenter, who’s serving his second term as the head of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association.
“Mangroves are the top of the list, and we’re seeing more cobia, kings (mackerel), triggerfish and grouper. And they’re all good to eat.”
Hunting head start
For deer hunters who can’t wait for their seasons to start, the Wednesday, July 20, White-tailed Deer Summer Seminar might be the carryover they need through this torrid summer and into the fall.
The program begins at 6:30 p.m. and will run through 9 p.m. in the first-floor Louisiana Room of Department of Wildlife and Fisheries state headquarters on Quail Drive in Baton Rouge.
Though there is no registration fee, organizer Don Reed said there is limited space and asked anyone interested in attending to register to reserve a seat. Call Tammy Bosch (225) 291-7500 to register.
The program is sponsored by the LDWF, the LSU AgCenter and the South Louisiana Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association. A QDMA branch election of the board members is scheduled for 6:40 p.m.
Reed said he will moderate the presentation and discussion of newly established state Deer Management Assistance Program regulations; impacts of flooding on wildlife along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers; a shoot or don’t shoot method of taking deer to improve age structure in a deer herd; and a question-and-answer session.
A new face
By the barest of margins, Stephen F. Austin’s Andrew Upshaw outdueled teammate Ryan Watkins to claim a spot in February’s Bassmaster Classic on the Red River out of Shreveport.
The SFA team won a three-day (Thursday-Saturday) marathon against 35 other college teams, seven from Louisiana, in Little Rock, Ark., to win the overall title. Extra excitement came when the two squared off against one another for the lone Classic berth allowed among the college anglers.
Fishing on a private lake near Little Rock, Upshaw didn’t have a fish in the boat with barely 15 minutes left in Sunday’s competition. Upshaw used a Deep Little N to catch two fish in five minutes to weigh 3 pounds, 5 ounces to Watkins two bass weighing 2-10. The 24-year-old winner lives in Hemphill, Texas, on the banks of Toledo Bend Reservoir. He’s the first college qualifier for the Classic.
Louisiana-Lafayette was the top Louisiana school, finishing ninth. Northwestern State was 13th and LSU 15th.
A six-man team from LSU will compete in a one-day college tournament during the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
One day before Upshaw’s win, Kelly Pratt opened the three-tournament Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open event of the year held on the James River out of Richmond, Va.
The win puts Pratt, from Williamsburg, Va., into next year’s Classic field. He boated 42-6 over three days. Alabama’s Randall Tharp was a distant second at 37-1. Chris Daves was third (36-7) and Michael Iaconelli was fourth (35-1).