There will be better hunting days, but not this year, at least for the folks in the southwestern parishes.

The full extent of the damage to waterfowl habitat won’t be known for some days, maybe weeks, but whatever it is it won’t match the struggles folks in Cameron, Vermilion and Calcasieu parishes face in the coming weeks and months.

Last week brought news of at least two major waterfowl operations which will cease operations for the coming teal and “big duck” seasons. This cessation isn’t because their structures have been compromised but with guides and service staff who lost homes and property to the tragedy that was, and remains, Hurricane Laura.

With teal season opening Saturday — a predicted cold front in the middle of the week should help push more teal into our state — the big question is whether there will be any human activity in the southwestern marshes. There will probably be some, but not as much as if this powerful storm hadn’t made her visit.

That’s not the case in places stretching from the Atchafalaya Delta east across the mouth of the Mississippi River and into the Pontchartrain Basin marshes. Yes, those areas had some wind and some storm surge, but very little compared to their neighbors to the west.

Still, the advisory from veteran wild waterfowlers is to be careful running a boat anywhere affected by Laura’s powerful winds and storm surge.

If anyone believes those effects were limited to our southwestern parishes, then consider the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City went from 3.9 feet a week ago Tuesday to 6.48 feet two days later before settling to 3.94 feet 24 hours later. In that same time, the Mississippi River at New Orleans was at 4.8 feet then went to slightly more than 6 feet, then dropped a foot in 24 hours.

The ducks

If you’ve been wondering why we haven’t seen the annual U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s annual Waterfowl Breeding Grounds Survey, it’s because this nearly 70-year-old count wasn’t done — another COVID-19 casualty.

After a Friday chat with State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds, it appears Laura’s saltwater surge might benefit waterfowl and hunters. Reynolds said there are early signs that weevils did a number on the common salvinia covering the Cameron and Vermilion marshes (saltwater kills it, too) and floated massive mats of water hyacinths from places where this longtime nemesis had clogged waterways.

Reynolds said he has received permission to fly the coast this week to get a handle on teal numbers and check out Laura’s impact on waterfowl habitat.

“We haven’t done much aerial survey work since March because it’s difficult to social distance in a small airplane,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”

From mid-August reports, fishermen were telling of teal in the marshes on the east side of the Mississippi River — in newly created marshes from natural cuts — along with whistling ducks and more mottled ducks than they can recall seeing in past years.

Of course, teal, rails and gallinules are the only birds allowed to be taken during the special 16-day September season.

For next year

For sportsmen, the major item from Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting is the new five-year, two-zone framework for the waterfowl season beginning with the 2021-2022 hunting season.

The LWFC’s seven members agreed with the recommendation from the Waterfowl Study group for the new zones (the upcoming season is the final year of a three-zone, two-splits framework) after compiling data from hunters’ surveys and 20 years of federal waterfowl harvest numbers.

The new West Zone takes in the current West and Coastal Zones and adds the rice-growing region in several southwestern parishes that had been in the East Zone.

The change also means each zone will have three hunting periods in a 60-day season with splits between the three periods. The upcoming season has only one split.

On the water

Sac-a-lait and other panfish continue to dominate the talk from Atchafalaya Spillway waters while the best bass action appears to be in Verret Basin waters.

Marshes and canals in the Pontchartrain Basin are good for bass and redfish on topwaters, heavy-wire spinnerbaits and Vudu Shrimp under a cork.

Grassbeds are the key.

It took three days for the water to settle and La. 1 to reopen, and it looks like speckled trout are providing action there and in lower Terrebonne.

It’s likely this weekend’s good weather will allow offshore fishermen to fill out the remaining 44,000 pounds in this year’s recreational red snapper quota.