Squirrel photo

The Wild Bunch

Proving it's not too late for a productive squirrel hunt, Mark Evans, center, joined cousins Evans Barber, left, and Johnny Barber to take a limit from the woods near St. Francisville. Evans, a founding member and standing board member of Hunters for the Hungry, said they decided to make the most of the days remaining in the season. A reminder to hunters the squirrel, rabbit, snipe and wild quail seasons end a week from Sunday, Feb. 28.

If there was such a thing as a moaning contest, it would be difficult to judge the south Louisiana winner.

See, the duck hunters were moaning as such high decibels that it drowned out the constant groans from speckled trout fishermen, but because fishing doesn’t have the 60-day season limitations as had the wild waterfowlers, fishermen are catching up fast.

“Maybe we’ll overtake them in the next couple of weeks,” marsh fisherman Billy Donovan said. “I’ve been to several places since early December, and the groaning and moaning is getting louder and louder.

“We just haven’t caught trout like we have in recent years. Don’t know what’s going on, and all I can look at are the conditions. We’ve had lots of cloudy days. Rain, too, but not too many days of heavy rain.”

Despite recent runs of afternoon highs at or higher than 70 degrees, most marsh-fishing folks you talk to these days say water temperatures remain on the cold side.

And that means those thin-skinned and small-scaled trout are going to find the deepest water possible, because that’s where the water tends to be a little more comfortable during long periods of cloudy conditions.

If you’ve read Todd Masson’s filings here, he’s dwelled on deep-water fishermen, mostly the guys working hard- and soft-plastics in the Intracoastal Canal and the MRGO in the eastern Orleans and St. Bernard parishes waters.

These are painstaking trips: counting-down casts of slow-sinking hard plastics takes patience — and you have to measure each cast to find the depth suspending trout are living in that particular day — and you have to have the touch of a safecracker (drawing on old movies for that line) to know the light pressure of a trout nipping at jighead-rigged soft plastics working along the bottom.

For those accomplished anglers among us, the rewards have been the equal to the best days duck hunters shared during the agonizing waterfowl season.

“We’ve had good days, sure,” Donovan said. “But there have been more not-so-good days than good ones. And the killer is no one day is like another. I’ve had decent catches, maybe 10 trout for each of us, on smoke with red glitter H&H Cocahoes, and go back the next day and they won’t touch anything but a pink and chartreuse. It’s been crazy like that, and a week later, it’s like we have to go looking for another color.”

Donovan said wind has played a role, too, because periods of south wind push water into the marshes. Then, on an approaching front, north winds push water out, and it’s trouble finding clear-enough water to fish.

The other hand

If nothing else, Donovan has adapted to the conditions. And like many others, he’s settled for fish more eager than speckled trout to take an offering.

“When I heard about guys putting aside trout baits and going to spinnerbaits and ‘jerk’ worms in the marshes, I asked them, ‘For what,’ and they said they wanted to catch fish, and it didn’t matter what kind,” he said.

So, he went back to his bass-fishing days, resurrected spinnerbaits and found out those “other guys” were talking about catching redfish and largemouth bass.

“It was easy to slip with the marshes, work the shallow water on the warmer days, and find a few bass and redfish,” Donovan said. “I found the best spots in the marshes between Fort Pike and The Wall over by Bayou Bienvenue and even in the MRGO.”

That was a severe departure from a die-hard troutman, and it took only one trip to find out some of his tackle didn’t stand up to the test.

“It’s one thing to catch bass on an old quarter-ounce spinnerbait, but when you latch onto a 3-, 4- or 5-pound red, your spinnerbait doesn’t came back the same way as when you tied it on,” Donovan said. “I have to find heavier wire for spinnerbaits, and I was surprised the bass hit those heavier baits, too.”

Like others, he found casting to areas near runouts, and working the runouts 20 to 30 yards from the edge of the marshes — depending on water levels — produced the best results.

“When the water was up, the fish tended to move us to the edges of the marsh banks and around grassbeds in the run-outs,” he said. “When the water got pushed out on the cold fronts, the bass and redfish moved out, too, and you needed to find out just whee they were. We found the fish didn’t really move all that far from the runout.

“What we found out was we could make the best of a bad situation,” Donovan said. “And what I’m hoping for is that when spring comes, all the moaning stops and we’re on speckled trout again.”