Make hay while the sun shines.
Old or young, you’ve probably heard that once in your life, and it’s likely you’ve never heard it applied to fishing.
Yet, that’s what Michael Matthews, his son Garrett, and young Thomas Engquist have done — “hay” in the form of speckled trout and “sun shines” in what turned out to be an unusual stretch of mild weather running from late March through April and into the first days of May.
Their target? The surf along Louisiana’s pearl-like stretch of the Chandeleur Islands, and came in a four-week span when the Matthews family decided to set up residence in his family’s get-away in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
“With the kids not in school, and me not working, we were able to get a (weather) window a half a dozen times and make it out to the islands,” Matthews said.
If you know his name, then you know it through The Backpacker, the Baton Rouge-based outdoors adventure shop more known for its paddlecraft, and the fishing spawned in the last 20 years from kayaks and canoes — no, he didn’t paddle to the Chandeleurs
“The kids were able to do schoolwork (remotely) and when we’d get a window, we went. I got some local advice and it was a chance to get outdoors and maintain all the social distancing rules,” Matthews said.
That’s only half of this story: Like most parents, March through May is dedicated to school, their children’s springtime extracurriculars and working to pay for all that.
“We’ve never had the chance to do this before, and we realized it was time to take advantage of this tragic situation,” Matthews said. “We just worked it out to study the weather and the times we could get out there, and back, safely.”
His old friend and Grand Isle charter fisherman Danny Ray joined in one day and “we had another great day. The water has been pretty, the not-so-clear green-colored water that’s great for speckled trout,” Matthews said.
The youngsters are older, fishing-wise, than their years. They’re 12, and were able to handle the tackle necessary to take limits of trout from these lightly fished waters.
Matthews said the top producer was a green hornet-colored Matrix Shad fitted onto a weighty three-quarters ounce jighead.
“You need the heavier jighead to cover lots of water,” he said, adding the bonus of springtime in the Chandeleurs is fewer sharks compared to what anglers find there in July through September.
“Oh, they’re definitely a few (sharks) out there, but I know there will be more as we get into the summer months,” Matthews said.
There was one scary moment. Even though several miles along this island chain have been spared the still-high Mississippi River’s discharge, the river produced a surprise.
“The high river’s flow send a lot of water hyacinths out into coastal waters. It’s something everybody sees at this time of year,” Matthews said. “So a big patch of hyacinth drifted between Danny and I and when I looked in it, a small water moccasin poked its head up. That’ll wake you up. Fast.”
That, along with spectacular trout catches, produced what Matthews called a “silver lining among a lot of gray skies.
“It’s been tough for a lot of small businesses,” he said. “I know a lot of other shops in our community, the ones who deal with the outdoors, will make it through, but it won’t be easy. Like them, we’re fighting to keep customers.
“We’ve been fortunate. We reopened May 1. Kayak fishing is incredibly popular and we decided to deliver kayaks and other items to customers who’ve decided to upgrade their kayaks or add other equipment to the kayaks they already own. A lot of the other (local outdoor) businesses have done the same thing and we’re thankful our customers have decided to stay local and not order off a website.
“While this time is about staying in business, it’s also been a great opportunity to put all that away and spend time in the outdoors with my children,” Matthews said. “It’ll be a long road to recovery for most businesses, but, for me, I’ll never forget the time we had to be a family.”
As much as three inches of rain Thursday throughout the Verret Basin has forced Larry Doiron to close both Stephensville landings. Rising water throughout the system, including Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou, means most piers are underwater. A no-wake mandate has been issued for the entire area.
Snapper season plus
The long-awaited red snapper season begins Friday with a four-day push through Memorial Day. After that, Louisiana’s offshore anglers will have Fridays-through-Sunday seasons for the rest of the summer. It’s possible there could be a four-day Labor Day weekend season, but only if the state’s quota lasts that long.
It’s the first year of state management for this species, but not much will change.
There’s a 16-inch minimum length rule with a daily limit of two per person.
There’s more. If you’re 16 or older you need basic and saltwater fishing licenses along with a no-fee Recreational Offshore Landing Permit to catch red snapper along with all tunas, billfish, swordfish, amberjack, all groupers, hinds, cobia, wahoo and dolphins (the fish). If you’re fishing on a charter, you do not need an ROLP because the charter skipper should have one to cover all aboard.
The bonus for Friday’s opener is a 10-day window to take red snapper along with greater amberjack, a species that’ll shut down come June 1 for two months in state and federal waters.
Remember the season is closed for gray triggerfish and a couple of grouper species.
Jeff Graschel, a hydrologist working in the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, issued a Mississippi River forecast late Friday that read, “Flooding should end on the lower Mississippi River by late May or early June.”
But don’t expect a significant drop in levels, because the prediction came with a 16-day outlook of “secondary rises on the lower Ohio and middle Mississippi Rivers” that will slow recessions for early June.
As of Friday, the Baton Rouge and New Orleans gauges were at 38.5 and 15 feet with falls to 27.1 and 11.2 feet by June 12.
The new breed
The folks at the Future Angler Foundation are charting a phenomenon arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today's teens are suddenly going fishing in record-breaking numbers,” the FAF said in a statement last Thursday.
Apparently the surge is coming from several states and pointed to Minnesota selling a record 13,369 fishing licenses in to residents ages 16 and 17 in one week. That’s a 99% increased from the same period in 2019, and sparked an increase of 110,000 more fishing licenses sold this spring than the spring of 2019.
Several other states reported fishing license increases between 15 and 62% and Tennessee reported selling 697,418 hunting-fishing licenses this year, up from 100,000 in 2019.
And if you have youngsters, search for FAF’s digital production partner “Into the Outdoors” Education Network and their popular “Getting Families Fishing” series. FAF’s website is futureangler.org.
A demain, mes amis
Most folks have heard down-home funny man Jeff Foxworthy, and “The Angler’s Book of Favorite Fishing Quotations” captured his two-liner: “Look at where Jesus went to pick people. He didn’t go to the colleges, he got guys off the fishing docks.”