Falling water levels in Atchafalaya sparking run on sac-a-lait _lowres

Photo provided by MICHAEL LONDON Last-day trophy James London said he’s been hunting a family friend’s land near his East Feliciana Parish hometown of Wilson for more than 20 years, but never had a chance to take a trophy like this giant 8-point buck. ‘It’s my biggest deer ever. I’ve taken 8-point bucks in the past, but nothing like him,’ the nursing assistant said. London, who hunts with a .308 Remington, said the buck crossed a trail 35 yards from his stand on the final day of the modern firearms season in the Wilson area.

Great news from the Atchafalaya Spillway.

Since the middle of the week, folks have been cashing in on falling water levels and abundant sunshine. The combination of those factors has increased water temperatures in the Spillway’s midsection, and the sac-a-lait have responded.

Most of the fish are in relatively shallow water, and are more active on reports of water temperatures in the mid 50s.

Sac-a-lait are the first of the sunfish family of fishes to move into the prespawn stage. That happens when late winter/early spring water temperatures climb above 53 degrees.

The two subspecies of sac-a-lait, the white and the black subspecies, enter spawning stages when water temperatures reach 58-60.

And, if you noticed last week, the moon and sun were in the sky together in the late afternoon, when the best catches were reported.

Best baits included hollow-body and soft-body plastic tube jigs and shiners worked on a jighead or 18-24 inches. The best reports came from Bayou Pigeon to the north to the lower Bayou Sorrel waters on the south.

Spillway water levels are expected to remain constant into this week with a 3.8-foot reading on the Bayou Sorrel gauge.

Snapper news

While Amendment 40 to the Reef Fish Management Plan in the Gulf of Mexico dominated red snapper discussions during last week’s Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s meeting, two items that could benefit recreational fishermen gained momentum.

Amendment 40 has been identified as “sector separation” because it divides the recreational reef-fish management component for red snapper into “private” and “for-hire” groups — the latter group identified as charterboat and headboat operations — and gives respective 57.7 percent and 42.3 percent shares to those groups from the annual catch quota allowed to the recreational sector (49 percent of the total red snapper allowable catch of 11 million pounds).

If approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s secretary, the “private” recreational quota would shrink from 5.39 million pounds to 3.11 million pounds.

Federal managers will take public comment on Amendment 40 through March 17.

Written comments can be posted to Peter Hood, NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office, Sustainable Fisheries Division, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701-5505.

The other two items are Amendment 28, a reallocation of the red snapper quota, and Amendment 39, regional management for red snapper and other species.

“Regional management and reallocation did pretty well in the meetings,” said Camp Matens, Louisiana’s recreational representative on the council.

“We added two alternatives to (amendment) 28 — alternatives 8 and 9 — that would give the recreational sector the overage M-RIP data shows recreational fishermen have taken. The rationale is, in fact, that those fish were caught and that’s the historical (recreational) catch. The (red snapper) stock is still in fine shape.”

M-RIP is the Marine Recreational Information Program, the program federal managers use to count fish populations and recreational catch rates.

“Those two alternatives passed 14-4, so we picked up a little support for them,” Matens said, adding that both new alternatives would increase the recreational quota.

Amendment 28’s current preferred alternative would give the recreational sector 75 percent of any amount over an annual allowable quota more than 11 million pounds.

The commercial side would get 25 percent. Under 2015 regulations, commercial fishermen get 51 percent of an 11 million pounds total Gulf-wide red snapper quota.

Amendment 39 is a plan for regional management, a move that would remove red snapper from federal management and put it into the hands of the five Gulf states.

From Wednesday’s public comment, charterboat and headboat operators favor remaining under federal jurisdiction.

While it was expected federal fishery managers would reveal red snapper data under a new M-RIP plan, Matens said no overall population nor catch numbers were announced during any of the council’s four meeting days.

Matens said most of the discussion involved SPR — spawning potential ratio — a key component in the science of fish management. Federal managers currently use a 26 percent SPR in determining the sustainability of Gulf red snapper stocks.

“If we lower the SPR, the question is do we or do we not injure the population, and even the biologists cannot answer that question,” Matens said. “From anecdotal information, from both recreational and commercial fishermen, we know there are more (red snapper) out there, but it just doesn’t seem we know how to deal with that.”

Matens said there’s been an increase push to move red snapper management to the Gulf Commission, which is composed of reps from the five Gulf states, but the Environmental Defense Fund tells the council that the Gulf Commission does not have the money to the necessary biology to manage this species.

Another push for recreational sector management is coming from the commercial and charterboat interests for a recreational tagging system. A plan would have recreational fishermen get into a lottery for a fixed number of red snapper tags that could be used any time during the year for taking red snapper from federal waters.

“We hear testimony that it works for deer hunters, but in deer hunting everyone gets tags, and that’s not the same in fishing,” Matens said.


Fixing a typographical error in the proposed 2015-2016 hunting season published three weeks ago. The final date for the next squirrel and rabbit seasons is Feb. 29, 2016, not Feb. 20 as was in the listing.

Sorry for the error, and thanks to a couple of loyal readers for catching that mistake.

At the commission

Annual stock assessments for black drum, flounder, sheepshead and striped mullet, final approval for the state’s new Catch-and-Cook Program, and updates and public comment on the proposed 2015-2016 resident-game hunting seasons top the agenda for Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.

There also will be an update on the state’s Black Bear Management Plan and discussion of the state oyster lease regulations.

The meeting is set for 9:30 a.m. in the Louisiana Room of state Wildlife and Fisheries headquarters on Quail Drive in Baton Rouge.