During the past handful of years, any discussion among Louisiana hunters about ducks and geese came with a mix of good and bad news.
With the 16-day teal season coming Saturday, it’s time to share the good — and the bad.
There’s no way of getting around the news from this year’s Waterfowl Population Status. This product of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and their fellow Canadian Wildlife waterfowl biologists comes with the same sweet, and sour, tastes.
For the immediate future, the report shows a 16 percent decline in the number of bluewing teal on the breeding grounds. Even though the numbers of this early arriving duck — that’s why we have this early season — bluewing numbers are termed “similar to the long-term average,” which means there’s somewhere around 5 million bluewings in the breeding population.
As any special teal season hunter knows, it’s the bluewings that make up most of the hunts. If greenwing teal decide to make the move from up north — and very few do — their numbers are up by 14 percent from last year, and, at slightly more than 3 million birds, are 61 percent above their long-term average.
That’s the picture State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds painted during late week’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.
Overall, the status report indicated a 6 percent decline in the overall breeding duck numbers from 2018, but the total is 10 percent higher than the long-term, near 70-year average.
And, with the number of ponds where papa and mama ducks raise their broods about the same in 2019 as last year, and with mallard number about the same as 2018 (19 percent above the long-term average), Reynolds said proposed 2020-2021 “big duck” season will continue the run of 60-day seasons and a six-duck-per-day bag limit. Teal hunters should have another 16 days for the special September hunts.
Reynolds and his team were in the air this week, and while he said it appears there are more teal in the state than the past two years, “there’s still not a whole lot of teal here,” he said.
“We’re seeing small groups here and there, and there was a real nice group just north of Intracoastal City where the ag (rice fields) go into the fresh marsh,” Reynolds said. “And there were bluewings southwest of Gueydan in the second-crop rice fields.”
Aerial surveys shows small groups of teal “here and there” in the marshes, and the biggest flocks were in the flooded rice.
“Those are the numbers that make or break this survey,” Reynolds said.
He said the two teams flying Catahoula Lake counted as many as 5,000 teal, but he added he wouldn’t know the final estimate until he crunches the numbers.
“Overall,” he said, "it appears to be a fairly weak survey, but better than the last two years.”
How do you get a bunch of 60- and 70-year-old fishing buddies excited?
Let the bass start biting in the Atchafalaya Spillway — and Wayne Tucker and Dub Noel are putting icing on this cake.
After postponing the usual springtime Seniors Bass Tournament until the water could get down and “get right,” Tucker said the tournament is on for Friday, Sept. 20.
The gathering of older anglers began a few years ago and drew maybe 40 mostly retirees who had competed against each other back in the 1970's infancy of south Louisiana bass tournaments.
If the past two years are an indication, this year’s turnout will hit triple digits, and the Tucker-Noel consortium are in the-more-the-merrier mode.
That’s because Tucker said he can’t wait, “until the water get down to the three-foot mark and stabilizes,” on the Atchafalaya River’s Morgan City gauge.
“We’re catching fish and have been for more more than two weeks, but after that water gets down, and the fish stop moving, we’re in for a great October, November and December run on bass in the Spillway,” Tucker said.
So, after more than 10 months of high water in the Atchafalaya — yes the water started rising in October —Tucker said the conditions are near perfect for this year’s tournament.
Here are the particulars: show up near 5:30 a.m. Sept. 20 at Pisano’s on La. 70 south of Pierre Part. You have to be 55 or older, and the entry fee is $55 per man. You are allowed to fish alone or with a buddy.
This is more a sprint than a marathon. There’s a three-bass limit, and weigh-in is at noon at the Belle River Public Landing. Noel will prepare a jamabalaya lunch and furnish refreshments while this brain trust is figuring out the payout for the top stringers and the top three big bass.
Need more? Call Tucker at (337) 254-1300 or Noel at (225) 939-5483.
Tucker said the high water has altered many of the places where fishermen run to get to their Spillway “honey holes,” and advised caution in the coming months.
“Now that the water is down, there are places I’ve run in the past with sandbars jutting out, especially in the (Atchafalaya) river,” Tucker said. “It’s very important to pay attention. There are places with shallow water where there were deep runs just last year.”
Whoa! What tides
Ever notice how weird the coastal tides get approaching this month’s autumnal equinox and the first day of the fall season, and, hopefully, some relief from the heat.
The upcoming week’s tides are very strong, which means we can look for trout and redfish to react with increased, and longer, feeding periods especially with a push this hard to the beaches.
And, when the water goes in, it must come out, so the run-outs from ponds and lakes should produce a feeding frenzy for these species.
After this week’s strong tides, the usual cycle is for tidal strength to decrease substantially, but not during this period.
There will be days of the rare four-tide runs — two highs and two lows in the same 24 hours — and these tides are predicted to run much stronger than the usual four-tide day of previous months. This run often occurs right around the changes in seasons.
So, get ready, and know there will be a lot of water moving along our coast. Let’s just pray there’s not a tropical storm blowing up in the middle of this unusual event.
That goes for bass, too. Largemouth catches have increased in the marshes, especially in the eastern marshes in Orleans Parish, in St. Bernard and upper Plaquemines parishes. The in-the-know bass fishermen have documented extraordinary catches in the lower reaches of Plaquemines Parish after launching from Cypress Cove and Venice marinas.
Now that the Mississippi River is settling down, Old River, the “other” oxbow lake in Pointe Coupee Parish, provides first-rate fishing, too.
The water remains above what is considered "in the banks," and while the bass bite was slow, the largemouths blasting spinnerbaits on the Innis end were solid 3-4 pounders. Sac-a-lait action will increase along the buttonwoods before this species moves to the piers and the deeper brush.