High rivers change fishing landscape _lowres

Advocate staff photo by GARY KROUSE Sumnmer's top photo Kirk Rhinehart was fishing nearshore platforms during the recreational red snapper season in early June and was catching red snapper and mangrove snapper and decided to have Advocate videographer Gary Krouse snap a photo on his cellphone to remember the catch. Krouse waited a few seconds, just enough time for a waterspout that was about a mile away to pass from starboard to port about a quarter-mile off the bow and make Rhinehart's photograph even more memorable.

The unusually long run of snow melt along with spring and summer rains pushing the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to abnormally high stages well into August left its mark on two of the country’s hottest freshwater fishing spots.

Most in-state anglers don’t put the Atchafalaya Spillway and Venice’s freshwater runs on the national bass-fishing map, but consider Mike Iaconelli won a Bassmaster Classic by making the near two-hour run from Bayou Segnette State Park to canals and cane-lined runs off the Mississippi near Venice. There’s a long-standing appreciation for the bounty — and the beauty — of the Atchafalaya Basin, our country’s largest overflow swamp.

The landscape always changes when the rivers run as high as they did for as long as they did this year. Several fishermen called last week to report the aftermath of nearly six months of taking the runoff from our country’s heartland.

Grand Lake, a “honey hole” for bass and sac-a-lait, has changed, mostly because of the continued opening of a canal on the south end of the lake, a canal that brings silt-laden water in from the Atchafalaya River. With water levels down to a fishable stage, the report is that the sandbar that’s been building for the past few years has grown to where it’s an easily recognizable feature in the lake. Continued growth could block access to the fish-rich waters in the southwest corner of the lake.

“It’s OK for now. You can reach places there by staying close to the (west) bank in the lake,” David Cavell said Friday. “There’s five feet of water on the other side (of the sandbar), but you have to be careful getting to that side of the lake.”

As for the Venice area, sand deposits have left sills across some of the natural runs the river creates in its delta. These cane-lined runs are accessible from places like Baptiste Collette and Main Pass on the east side of the river, and down the run to the Wagon Wheel and the marshes west of Venice lead to ponds and small lakes where topwaters, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and swimbaits are sure-fire bass and redfish lures. The runs hold bass, too, and “flipping the canes” with plastic worms and creature baits is a long-held, can’t-miss pattern for football-sized largemouths.

“The best plan is to be careful where you run now,” Cavell said. “The river changes these places every year, and this year it’s changed a lot of places.”

Erika in the Gulf

Whatever designation weather folks assign to Erika this week, the forecast for our part of the Gulf of Mexico is bumpy conditions east of the Mississippi River and calmer out west.

A high-pressure ridge over the western Gulf will keep this tropical system closer to Florida and eastern Gulf waters.

Let’s talk ducks

With the teal season two weeks away — and the recent cool snap that sent thousands of teal into the state — talk is heating up about waterfowl.

Deciding which of the three proposals will receive the near $300,000 from state hunting licenses is among the top agenda items for Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting in Baton Rouge. That money is statutorily dedicated in the Breeding Habitat Fund from state hunting licenses. In recent years, the bulk of that fund has gone to Ducks Unlimited.

Item No. 2 came in Friday: Zac Brown, Ducks Unlimited’s Louisiana representative in the southeastern parishes, was selected to receive the National Regional Director of the Year Award for DU’s Region 4, which takes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee. In the release, Brown, who lives in Livingston, thanked the volunteers in his area for raising more than $1.7 million during the past fiscal year.

Item No. 3 comes from Lafayette, where DU announced it has received $4 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Gulf Coast Conservation Grants Program. With DU and its partners adding $650,000, DU reported the money will be used “to support wetland restoration on private lands in southern Louisiana.”

“With nearly 90 percent of the land in Louisiana privately owned, private lands restoration work is critical to supporting desired waterfowl populations,” DU Southern Region’s Tom Moorman said, adding that plans for these funds will “restore, enhance and protect 86,000 acres of agricultural lands and coastal marsh in southwest Louisiana.”

Draw-downs

To continue plans to control invasive aquatic grass and other vegetation, Wildlife and Fisheries announced a Sept. 8 starts on draw-downs at Chicot Lake near Ville Platte and Cotile Lake in Rapides Parish. It’s likely that herbicides will be used on floating and emergent vegetation. The LDWF indicated the control structures on both lakes will be closed no later than Jan. 15 next year to allow the lakes to refill.

Neither lake will be closed to fishing, but use extra caution because boat lanes will not provide normal clearance over some underwater obstructions.

Rockefeller restrictions

Another popular from-the-bank fishing, crabbing and shrimping spot is the Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge. Beginning Sept. 2, the refuge will be closed until 10 a.m. each day to allow for the annual nuisance alligator take. In the announcement, Wildlife and Fisheries said access will be “in effect for seven days or until all alligator trappers have utilized their tags for this controlled harvest.”

Squirrel lottery

There’s a Sept. 4 application deadline for an Oct. 3-4 youth lottery hunt for squirrels on the Floy McElroy Wildlife Management Area. Young hunters must be between 10 and 17 years old on hunting days and must be hunter safety certified. Floy McElroy WMA is a 681-acre tract in Richland Parish.

A $5 fee must be submitted with each application, which can be found on the LDWF’s website: www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/lottery-hunts.

Need more info? Call Steve Smith (225) 765-2359/(318) 487-5885, Email: ssmith@wlf.la.gov.