Monday, April 05, 2021

2021 Legislative Session fishing-related bills

April brings some of the best fishing of the year, both freshwater and inshore saltwater.  And while we're enjoying the great bounty of the "Sportsmans Paradise", the Louisiana Legislative session kicks off.  The actions of our elected representatives and senators continue to determine how long we'll enjoy this paradise.

This year's session convenes on April 12th.  As each year, we look at some of the key bills that have been pre-filed and explain why we support or reject each bill. And like every year, there is that ONE BILL that conservationists are most concerned about, and 2021 is no different.

HB535 - Provides relative to the geographic location for the taking of menhaden.
SUPPORT - This is the major fisheries bill of 2021... and the consequence of the LWF Commission failing to undertake their obligation. It creates a menhaden fishing exclusion zone extending from the Texas to Mississippi borders, and one half-mile seaward from land. As presented to the Commission last October, there have been countless reports of dead spawning-size redfish - and other fish and mammals - as the result of nearshore bycatch. Furthermore, it was stated that menhaden are the primary food source for most recreational gamefish.  Louisiana is the ONLY coastal state that does not have an exclusion zone.  This bill is facing considerable opposition from the Chairperson of the LWF Commission as well as the menhaden industry.

HB226 - Provides relative to the process by which the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission can change the daily take, possession, and size limits of certain fish in Lake D'Arbonne.  
SUPPORT - Lake D'Arbonne crappie enthusiasts have seen a decline in this species on the lake due to it's popularity. Recent science shows that, unlike heritage studies, crappie can be overfished. In fact, Louisiana's crappie limits are "no size limit, 50 per day", by far the most liberal of any state. Current law requires that any changes to fish limits first be investigated by LDWF biologists, and a negative report filed with the Commission. This process can take up to 2 years, not to mention the very concept that a "negative impact" be needed to manage any fishery flies in the face of modern fisheries management and optimum yield.  While we strongly support the wishes of D'Arbonne residents to have a conservation-oriented limit on their lake, if passed this bill could lead to regional-based limits based on biomass capacity of regional waters (as in most states).

HB655 - Provides for removal of criminal penalties and reclassifies certain wildlife violations and provides for enforcement and recovery of civil fines by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
OPPOSE - The bill basically eliminates all jail time (imprisonment) as part of the penalties and makes all game violations punishable by civil fines only. While we believe eliminating jail time in lower class violations is a good idea, there are certain violations that deserve a severe penalty. We hope this bill will be amended.

HB??? - Possible bill to increase recreational fishing license fees.
SUPPORT - This bill has been discussed openly, but not pre-filed. Louisiana is missing out on millions of federal dollars from the Wallop-Breaux excise tax, due to a change in the formula during the Obama Administration. Louisiana needs to restructure it's licensing, and having the lowest basic resident fishing fees of any state, is starving our Wildlife and Fisheries of the financial support it needs.  The funds from WBF are not just lost to our state, they end up going to other states, like California. It's like losing football recruits to Alabama, and paying for their tuition on top of that! If and when this bill is introduced, we'll provide an update on details.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Introducing the Jiggybee

For the past few months, we've heard about a great new fly from our good friend, Randy Leonpacher. It's called the "Jiggybee"...which he refers to as a cousin to his world famous Jitterbee. It's been a killer pattern for all types of panfish, from bluegill to crappie.

Randy will lead the Red Stick Fly Fishers in tying the Jiggybee on Monday, March 22nd at 7:00pm. The session will be viewable to the public on the FFI Gulf Coast Council YouTube Channel.

Randy explains the background to his new fly:

It was one of those stay-at-home, hot, mid-summer 2020 Covid-19 days.  So I decided it was a good time to tie a few flies.  I had acquired by purchase or trade an assortment of non-conventional craft, fabric & hobby store fly tying materials, great stuff for experimentation.   Naturally, I thought why not come up with a variation on the Jitterbee.  The new “cousin” would be jig-like and more “frizzy” than the Jitterbee.  Jig-like and frizzy have proven to be favorable factors attributing to the success of several flies.

I tied the first pass version fly onto my 3-4 weight when finished, ready for the next fishing trip.  It remained untested and unproven until an opportunity arose for trial in an October 2020 Lake Concordia trip.  The fly worked great during that trip, easily proving itself worthy for space in the fly box arsenal.  Although it has a couple of Jitterbee like features, there are enough differences to justify a “tweak” to the name.  So we decided to call it a “jiggybee”. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

March - a month of transition

Depending on where you fish, this month will either be gangbusters early or very late or even subpar from now through summer. Let's explain.

Last summer, hurricanes Laura and Delta wreaked havoc on southwest Louisiana causing massive damage to property and natural resources. There was a serious saltwater fish kill in the Calcasieu estuary, and a massive freshwater fish kill in the Calcasieu River, Bundicks Lake, several smaller lakes such as Fullerton, and in the Laccasine marsh. Fortunately, waters further east were spared.

Then in February, we had the Great Winter Storm of 2021. North and Central Louisiana got hit with record cold temperatures and heavy accumulations of snow and ice. Many areas were below freezing for 72 hours or more.  Water temperatures plummeted from the low 60s into the upper 40s and have yet to return to normal for this time of year.

Fortunately, there were only a few minor fish kills reported from the freeze. Nothing close to what happened in Christmas week of 1989.  However, those few kills occurred in the Black Lake area of the Calcasieu estuary. An area already hit hard by the hurricanes.

As a result, we have seen reports of fantastic fishing - fresh and salt - along all of southeast Louisiana. Better areas include Black Bayou, Manchac, Lake Verret, Lake Boeuf, Delacroix, Golden Meadow, Pointe-aux-Chenes, Port Sulphur, and parts of the Atchafalaya Basin. Top catches have been for speckled trout, sacalait (crappie) and pre-spawning bass. Sheepshead and redfish have also been very good to flyrodders.

Conversely, reports from central and northern parishes and southwest parishes have been slow. Crappie are still deep and bass have not yet moved to the shallows. Toledo Bend seems to be the exception, where some great catches have come in the last week out of the popular Blue Hole area. If you go there, make sure it's a weekday and get there before the armada of boats show up!

Of course, March is a transitional month. Freshwater fishing will only get better as the month goes along.  That includes all areas of the state. Despite the cold waters nows, it's very possible we'll see bream bedding up in the next 2-3 weeks. Remember that the biggest bream of the year - bluegills and redear sunfish - are early spawners.  They often bed a little deeper than the late Spring fish, so plan on having several weighted flies in your box.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for deep marsh action on speckled trout, now is the time.  That action will subside as we approach April and the fish move into the bays and lower estuaries to begin their spawning ritual.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Louisiana - a winter wonderland!

The coldest outbreak since Christmas week of 1989 has socked Louisiana and Texas with record low temperatures and combinations of snow, ice and freezing rain. Snow pack this morning ranges across western and north Louisiana in varying amounts, with Monroe getting nearly 5 inches! Sleetstorms with thunder and lightning were reported across parts of southeast Louisiana as far south as Houma.

The record cold is expected to continue through the week, with another chance of snow/sleet forecast for Tuesday night and again on Wednesday night through Thursday morning. Low temperatures will hit single digits across northern parishes, with high temperatures slightly below or slightly above freezing.

There are numerous concerns about impacts on marsh fishing. The 1989 arctic plunge resulted in massive fish kills of redfish and speckled trout, along with other inshore species. While some kills are anticipated, it probably won't be nearly as bad. First, the 1989 event took place when water temperatures were still mild and many fish were still in shallow water. Most fish were trapped and unprepared phyisologically for the traumatic change. This event comes late in the season when fish have moved to deeper water and become adjusted to cold water.

Freshwater impacts. While fish kills are extremely rare due to cold weather, there will be a negative impact. Sacalait (crappie) and bass were making their pre-spawn movements as water temperatures were moving into the 60s. As of Sunday afternoon, water temperatures at Cotile Lake were in the 40s up to 10 feet deep! With another week of very cold weather ahead, it could be as late as April in some parishes before we see bass spawning.

Coldwater fisheries. For Louisiana fly anglers who frequent the tailwaters of Oklahoma and Arkansas for trout (rainbows, browns and others), great news. Oklahoma and Arkansas will have seen considerable amounts of snow, along with extremely cold nights and wind chill effects. That means the deepwater reservoirs will supply tailwater streams with cold, highly-oxygenated water well into late summer. Should be a banner year for trout fishing!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Bundick Lake restocked from hurricane kills

One of southwest Louisiana's most popular fly fishing reservoirs, Bundick Lake, was restocked recently with more than 40,000 fish. This effort was to help rejuvenate the fishery following Hurricanes Laura and Delta last Fall. 

The lake took a direct hit from Laura, causing a high volume of organic debris to be blown into the lake. The decomposition of organics, along with high water temperatures, caused dissolved oxygen concentrations to fall below critical levels. Resulting in a massive fish kill.

Among the species stocked are: 1,200 pure-strain Florida largemouth bass, 22,000 bluegill, 8,000 redear sunfish, 10,500 white crappie, and 50 pounds of threadfish shad. The fish were supplied by the LDWF freshwater hatcheries.

The Bundicks watershed has slightly higher alkalinity than most western Louisiana waters. For this reason, it supports slightly higher fish populations and growth rates.

Hatchery Manager Kristi Butler is optimistic. "Based on preliminary sampling results, predator densities and competition for food are low. These factors, combined with the sizes and genetics of the bass we are stocking, will result in a very high success rate".

Bundick has been a popular destination for southwest Louisiana fly anglers seeking chunky redears and large crappie. The lake's countless submerged stumps, and grassy shorelines, sandy bottoms were ideal habitat for both species. Louisiana Outdoors Hall of Fame fly angler Pete Cooper, Jr., spent several years routinely fishing the lower end of the lake for crappie during late winter and early Spring.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Online tying sessions expanded

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place - and likely for the next several months - Louisiana fly fishing clubs will continue to hold their routine fly tying sessions online.  Since last April, the Kisatchie Fly Fishers - and later, the Acadiana Fly Rodders - have been conducting "Virtual Tying Tuesday" via the Zoom meeting application. Then, in December the Red Stick Fly Fishers hosted a club meeting using Zoom under the hosting of the FFI Gulf Coast Council  (owners of a pro Zoom account). 

In 2020, Virtual Tying Tuesday was only available to club members and only using Zoom. The Pro account restriction of 100 users per session was one impediment to general public broadcast.  But the greater impediment was bandwidth.  Over 50 "live" users results in some degradation.  It's a problem that Zoom has had since it's explosion in popularity the past year, and an issue they are working hard to improve. 

In December, KFF went to simulcasting VTT on YouTube.  Live streaming to the Tube allows for unlimited number of participants, and the greater bandwidth of their mature platform results in better video quality. In addition, YouTube live streams can be "cast" to smart televisions (those connected to internet).  Watching fly tying on a 48" TV in high definition is a blast! 

Equally important, YouTube sessions are recorded. Late for a session? No problemento!  Just drag the red dot on the video timeline to the far left and start from the beginning.  If you miss it all together, the video is usually available for 48 hours after the session. 

Starting this Monday, Red Stick will hold their monthly fly tying sessions on Zoom for "active" participants with live-streaming to YT for "casual" participants.  Kisatchie and Acadiana will be continuing their live-streaming as well, when they resume Virtual Tying Tuesday on February 2nd. Check their websites for links to the tying sessions.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Rainbeaux trout stockings going statewide this week

Back on December 17th, rainbow trout were stocked in four park ponds in East Baton Rouge Parish (Perkins, Forest, Greenwood, North Sherwood Forest) and one in Ascension (Lamar-Dixon).  These ponds were stocked by local recreational agencies.

This week, sixteen more ponds statewide will be stocked with this coldwater species as part of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries "Get Out and Fish!" community fishing program. Stocking begins on Thursday, January 14th.

Here is a listing of ponds to be stocked:
- Oil Park, Jennings
- Burbank Park, Baton Rouge
- Bogue Chitto State Park, Franklinton
- Grambling City Park, Grambling
- Zemurray Park, Hammond
- Bayou Country Park, Houma
- Girard Park, Lafayette
- Turners Pond, Minden
- Parc Natchitoches, Natchitoches
- Joe Brown Park, New Orleans
- Fort Randolph State Historic Site, Pineville
- Purple Heart Memorial Park, Ragley
- Elmore Mayfield Park, Ruston
- William Polk Park, Vidalia
- Sidney Hutchinson Park, Walker
- Southside Regional Park, Youngsville

Kiroli Park in West Monroe is the only GOAF program pond not to be stocked this year.  That is due to park maintenance in progress.

All anglers ages 16 and older must possess a Louisiana fishing license. While there is no legal daily limit, anglers are encouraged to keep four (4) fish per day and release the rest.

Rainbow trout are native to rivers and lakes in western North America, but have been stocked in coldwater environments across America and the globe. In winter, several states stock in community ponds to give anglers an opportunity to catch an active fish when warmwater species are mostly dormant. These fish die off once water temperatures exceed 70 degrees. In Louisiana, depending on pond location and depth, that could be anytime between mid-March and mid-April.  However, few if any trout remain in these ponds by March 1st. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

2021 fly fishing calendar - updates

In a normal year, by December 15th we've put together a complete calendar of  fly fishing and kayak fishing events for the coming year.  Well 2020 was not a normal year.  In fact, if 2020 were a house, we'd burn down the house, scoop up the ashes, then burn the ashes, and bury what was left in a sealed container deep beneath the ground!

The continuing pandemic has resulted in an almost complete cancellations of activities for the first half of 2021.  Here's a brief summary of regional events with intended dates in parenthesis:

  • New Orleans Fly Fishing Expo (Jan. 23) - cancelled
  • Atlanta Fly Fishing Show (Feb. 5-6) - cancelled
  • Dr. Ed Rizzolo Fly Tying Festival (Feb. 13) - cancelled
  • FFI Gulf Coast Sweetwater Classic (Feb. 26-27) - postponed to Sept. 17-18
  • Red Stick Day conclave (Mar. 6) - postponed to Fall TBA
  • Kisatchie Fly Fishers Fly Fish 101 (April) - postponed to Fall TBA
  • Sowbug Roundup (May) - cancelled

In addition, club meetings are continuing on Zoom.  Some club trips are still scheduled, but the majority have been cancelled until Fall.   Check with your local club to see what trips, if any, are taking place this year.