Chris Macaluso

March 9, 2021

A More Diverse Bite Delights Along Restored Marshes

As restoration projects in South Louisiana continue, it’s not unusual for anglers to catch bass, trout, and redfish in the same area on consecutive casts with the same bait

All anglers will admit they have a favorite fish to pursue. Speckled trout has always topped my list.

A decade or so ago, I would leave the dock in my favorite waters near Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans, to catch only trout. If I couldn’t catch trout the way I wanted to catch them, I’d return to the dock disappointed.

There is plenty to be said for dialing in a particular species, figuring out how to catch them in any conditions, at any time of year. But it can be just as satisfying to tie on a spinnerbait or pitch a soft plastic, pick a pretty stretch of marsh, and see what bites.

Not being picky paid off for me and my longtime buddy, outdoor journalist Todd Masson, on a clear, cold day in mid-January. Water temperatures hovered in the low to mid 40s and a hard north wind had pulled the plug on the marsh, dropping water levels more than two feet. All told, the chances of catching even a handful of speckled trout in those conditions were slim, even though trout fishing had been very good all fall and winter.

Fortunately, we had an option that promised to be far more rewarding than pounding on cold, beat-up wintertime water for notoriously temperature-fickle trout—largemouth bass.

Over the last decade, the bass population has been climbing in the areas around Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), the ill-fated federal navigation channel that funneled storm surge into New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, damaging hundreds of thousands of acres of freshwater and brackish marsh and swamp. As marsh restoration and efforts to limit saltwater have progressed, the same marshes that were good places to catch redfish and speckled trout in the fall and early spring 15 years ago are now teeming with largemouth bass.

Persistent spring flooding of the Mississippi and Pearl rivers over the last decade has boosted both submerged vegetation and a more diverse forage base. Bass are eating traditional saltwater prey like shrimp and crabs. Redfish and speckled trout are eating freshwater prey like bluegill, crawfish, and shad.

Now, catching bass, trout, and redfish in the same area, on consecutive casts, and with the same bait is not unusual.

Bass fishing in these marshes can only be described as incredible. Good days produce 30 to 40 bass for a couple of anglers. Great days this past fall pushed that number past 50 fish, despite the constant surges of saltwater from the five tropical storms and hurricanes that hit Louisiana last year. These aren’t tournament-winning fish. A three-pounder is a big bass here. But what they lack in size they make up for in tenacity and numbers.

Lower salinities have, at times, moved speckled trout and redfish out of areas they once dominated, but it hasn’t eliminated them from the area’s marshes and lakes. Masson and I fished with two good friends last November and caught 30 fat speckled trout, a handful of redfish, black drum, and flounder not more than a few miles from our January bass fishing spot. In early December, another buddy and I caught 30 speckled trout in a couple of hours jigging a deep ledge in the MRGO, before moving a half mile to a narrow, grass-lined bayou to catch more than 30 bass.

I took my son and my dad at Christmas and landed a nearly 30-pound flathead catfish that hit a small soft-plastic swim bait on the same deep ledge where I’d caught trout just weeks earlier. The trout bite was slow that day, but we caught 15 bass and smiled all the way home. In July, the same area had offered my friend’s 11-year-old son the opportunity to catch his first redfish. The youngster battled an angry eight-pounder less than five minutes after I dropped the trolling motor at our first stop. We caught 14 more redfish, a handful of bass and a couple sheepshead before putting the boat back on the trailer around noon.

Largemouth bass, catfish, and white bass are becoming part of the accepted—and expected—bounty of the area. Local anglers are no longer scowling and saying, “All I caught were those damned green fish today.” Now, they smile and say, “We caught 25 bass today, a dozen trout, and even a few freshwater catfish.”

Duck hunters in Louisiana are following a similar path. As marshes, unfortunately, become open water, the opportunity to hunt mallards, pintails, and gray ducks (gadwalls) has been replaced by shots at dos gris (scaup), redheads, canvasbacks, and ringnecks. Shooting some divers for the grill and the gumbo pot is much more fun than complaining that the puddle ducks aren’t here.

There isn’t an area I have fished in South Louisiana that’s the same as it was 20 years ago. We’ve lost 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands in a century. Most of those changes have meant less habitat and fewer opportunities to catch fish. Change is the only constant in this highly dynamic place.

More change is coming. As diversions from the Mississippi River are constructed to rebuild those vanishing wetlands and marsh creation projects further limit saltwater intrusion, there will certainly be seasonal changes to our fisheries. More habitat will mean more opportunity for hunters and anglers.

But in the short term, and while diversions are operating, some brackish species like speckled trout will move. It’s a return to the natural cycle that built our coast before levees prevented annual floods from spilling over the river’s banks. The fish, both freshwater and saltwater species, that inhabit this delta are equipped to deal with it. They wouldn’t live here otherwise.

Undoubtedly, some sportsmen and women will shake their heads and complain, focusing on the short-term impacts of freshwater and sediment rather than the long-term benefits of growing wetlands and expanding habitat.

I think I’ll tie on a spinnerbait, pitch a soft plastic, pick a pretty stretch of marsh, and see what bites.

Fish the marsh with Chris and Marsh Man Masson in the video below!

 

3 Responses to “A More Diverse Bite Delights Along Restored Marshes”

  1. tom ohns

    It is wonderful to see restored wetlands for so many reasons that are good for the environment and better for people. In Ohio, along Lake Erie, we have lost around 90% of wetlands, allowing all kinds runoff into the lake which politicians do little to correct.

  2. Art E Noyes

    We need to cleanup and preserve the marshes, they are the primary nurseries for many species. I love fishing these areas and hit them every season. The fishing is great some times during the year but the marshes give us peace and enjoyment of all the species that use this resource. Thanks for making people more aware of how important the marshes are.

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Randall Williams

March 4, 2021

Local Coalition Cheers the Reintroduction of the Ruby Mountains Protection Act

Citing the outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities, a coalition of influential hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation groups calls for Congress to safeguard public land recreational opportunities in Nevada

A coalition of 15 hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation organizations today applauded the reintroduction of the Ruby Mountains Protection Act in the U.S. Senate.

Introduced by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the proposed legislation would permanently withdraw 450,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service-managed public lands in northern Nevada’s Ruby and East Humboldt Mountains, as well as 40,000 acres in the adjacent Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, from future oil and gas leasing.

The Sportsmen for the Rubies coalition hopes to raise awareness, both around the state and in Washington, D.C., of the potential threats posed by speculative leasing and energy development in the area. The coalition is part of a growing movement seeking permanent protections for the Ruby Mountains, while advocating for responsible energy development in the right places. The coalition has worked alongside Tribal governments and numerous other local interests to advance these protections.

“Hunters and anglers thank Senator Cortez Masto for her continued leadership to protect the outstanding recreational opportunities found in the Ruby Mountains,” said Carl Erquiaga, Nevada field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “These public lands are critical to one of Nevada’s most important big-game migration corridors, utilized by the state’s largest mule deer herd, and home to many other iconic fish and wildlife species, including the Lahontan cutthroat trout.”

Known as the “Swiss Alps of Nevada,” the Rubies stretch for nearly 100 miles in Elko County, with ten peaks towering over 10,000 feet. These rugged, glacier-carved mountains and their cold, clear streams serve as a stronghold of native cutthroat trout and wildlife habitat, while also providing an abundance of world-class opportunities for hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreators.

“We are glad to see the Rubies once again on a path that will secure this landscape for future generations of Nevadans and all Americans,” said Pam Harrington, Nevada field coordinator with Trout Unlimited. “The fishing opportunities that abound around the Rubies and the Ruby Marshes are unrivaled. Senator Cortez Masto deserves the appreciation of sportsmen and sportswomen for her work on this issue and we hope for swift passage in the Senate as the bill moves forward toward becoming law.”

Despite the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service determinations that the Ruby Mountains have low energy resource values, speculators have in recent years expressed interest in opening the area to drilling. Additionally, in 2019 and 2020, hundreds of acres were nominated for oil and gas leasing around the Ruby Marshes. Habitat fragmentation and degradation could occur as a result of such development, having consequences for fish and wildlife. Hunters and anglers have pointed to this sustained threat as cause for urgent action by lawmakers to safeguard the Rubies.

The Ruby Mountains Protection Act was originally introduced last Congress by Senator Cortez Masto and co-sponsored by Senator Jacky Rosen (D-Nev).

Learn more and take action at SportsmenfortheRubies.com.

 

Photo: Beau Rogers via Flickr

John Gans

March 3, 2021

A Pivotal Decision Point Impacting Striped Bass

Fisheries commission considers weakening striper management

Fishermen up and down the Atlantic coast must pay attention if they care about striped bass. This species has its fair share of problems stemming especially from a reduced food supply and overfishing. Those challenges are not going away.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a regulatory body comprised of representatives from 15 coastal states, is considering adopting a new plan to guide striped bass management. The Commission is looking at 10 main management topics, but most important is its consideration of biological reference points, the goalposts used to evaluate the status of the striped bass population and indicate when management action is needed.

Unfortunately, instead of doing what is necessary to rebuild striped bass, some regulators have suggested redefining what recovery looks like, effectively making their jobs easier at the expense of the striped bass population and long-term angling opportunities.

The current baseline for striped bass recovery is set off population numbers from 1995, the year that scientists and regulators declared striped bass recovered from decades of overfishing. That led to solid fishing and relatively healthy stocks during the late 90s and early 2000s. But, for the last decade, the warning signs of a declining stock have been apparent. Too much harvest, poor reproduction, and little recruitment meant poor fishing.

The Commission has been slow to act, avoiding not-so-hard decisions for much harder decisions down the road.

A 2018 stock assessment confirmed striped bass were officially overfished, so the Commission finally reduced the number of fish being kept by both commercial harvesters and recreational anglers in 2020. New regulations included required use of circle hooks to reduce release mortality and a slot limit aimed at protecting larger fish, which lay the most eggs, as is necessary to repopulate the species. At the same time, the Commission changed the way it manages menhaden, the food source for striped bass, and then reduced the industrial menhaden harvest by 10 percent.

Normally, stock assessments would show if these changes were making a difference. But 2020 was hardly normal. Due to COVID-19, stock assessments did not happen. We do not know the impacts of the reduction in striper limits. The one piece of information we did get in 2020 was not good. The Maryland Young of the Year Study shows that 2019 and 2020 were terrible spawning years, and the juvenile population is low.

The TRCP and its conservation allies, including the American Sportfishing Association and the Coastal Conservation Association, agree that it doesn’t make sense to change the baseline for recovery. We don’t have enough recent data to make a science-based change to how we measure population health. And what little data we do have indicates that weakening the biological reference points could be detrimental to the striped bass population and recreational fishing economy.

The Commission is collecting public comments on the changes to biological reference points and several other provisions that directly relate to striped bass management. Our recommendations for each topic are listed here. These other issues matter little, though, if regulators are going to move the goalposts for recovery.

So how can you get involved? The Commission is holding virtual hearings in all coastal states starting March 8. It’s critical for the public to weigh in on how they would like the fishery to be managed going forward.

Image courtesy of J.B.Pribanic

 

 

Randall Williams

February 25, 2021

Montanans Care About Wildlife Migration

New poll shows strong support for wildlife crossings and continued collaboration between stakeholders on this key conservation priority

In Montana, state and federal agencies as well as conservation organizations and landowner groups have been working to identify opportunities for collaboration between landowners, sportsmen and women, scientists, agency officials, and other stakeholders to conserve important habitat and migration routes.

A new survey of 500 registered voters in the Treasure State—commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts and conducted by the research firms FM3 and New Bridge Strategy—shows that broad sections of the public strongly support this important work.

The survey found that 88% of Montana respondents favor the adoption of strategies and actions that conserve wildlife migration routes, while 86% also agree with improving coordination between federal land management agencies and local stakeholders to prioritize conservation of migration routes on public lands.

The report also highlighted robust support in Montana for specific actions to ensure the continued functionality of migration routes.

  • 87% endorse providing incentives to private landowners, such as ranchers, who voluntarily agree to conserve migration routes on their land as wildlife habitat.
  • 88% support construction of wildlife crossing structures—such as over- or underpasses—to help animals cross major highways where they intersect with known migration routes.
  • 75% approve a requirement that construction of new housing developments and associated roads and infrastructure avoid wildlife migration routes.

Furthermore, the survey showed that an overwhelming majority of Montanans place a high value on their state’s wildlife resources: 88% of respondents see wildlife as important to their quality of life in Montana, while 83% see wildlife as important to Montana’s economy.

Thankfully, Montana has a strong tradition of landowners, conservation groups, and state and federal agencies coming together to achieve shared priorities, particularly when it comes to conserving and improving fish and wildlife habitat. In 2020, various stakeholders worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to develop a strategy for conserving habitat essential to wildlife migration and movement.

For sportsmen and women, it is encouraging to know that a majority of Montanans share concern about one of the most significant threats to its mule deer, elk, and antelope herds. This widespread support should be motivation for state officials, private landowners, and conservation professionals to continue to find common ground and address cooperatively the challenges faced by various stakeholders.

Andrew Earl

February 24, 2021

Six Ways Congress Can Create Jobs and Safeguard Habitat

Conservation works for hunters, anglers, and the American economy

After COVID hit the United States, people flocked to mountains, rivers, lakes, and trails to escape the four walls of our homes and clear our heads.  These outdoor places provided respite and improved the wellbeing of millions of Americans.

Unfortunately, it’s our economy that needs a breath of fresh air now. Following the economic downturn of the past year, Congress should make bold investments to create jobs, rebuild our economy, and improve the health of our communities.

Our natural resources can once again bring our nation together, if Congress seizes the opportunity to invest in them.  As policymakers search for ways to stimulate the economy, they need look no further than our lands and waters. That’s why hunters and anglers are joining a diverse coalition of conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts to ensure that Congress considers fish and wildlife habitat as part of the solution to the many challenges we face.

The six policy proposals that we have put forward will put Americans back to work, combat climate change, and enhance our outdoor recreation opportunities. Here’s what Congress should do to let conservation work for America.

Strengthen America’s coastlines and restore iconic ecosystems.

Our coastal wetlands, marshes, river systems, and floodplains serve an outsized role in minimizing the impacts of extreme weather events. Restoring these landscapes will not only ensure the functionality of important coastal ecosystems for years to come, it will also enhance natural flood buffers, protect critical infrastructure and communities, improve water quality, and support economic growth.

In the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife tourism alone supports $19 billion in annual spending and supports over half a million jobs, but the region is also incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Mississippi River Delta has lost more than 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s and continues to lose the equivalent of a football field worth of wetlands every 100 minutes.

Congress should support the conservation and restoration of these systems by funding publicly vetted coastal or watershed restoration plans. Congress should also create a new program to fund coastal restoration and fisheries management initiatives, like those that were supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Prioritize wetlands restoration.

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act has proven to be our nation’s most effective program for protecting, restoring, and enhancing wetlands and waterfowl habitat. Since 1990, the program has provided flood control, protected water quality, improved ecosystem function, and secured recreational access on more than 30 million acres of wetlands. The partnership model established in this legislation generates roughly 7,500 jobs and supports over $200 million in salaries annually. We strongly encourage Congress to fully fund this program.

Invest in our nation’s private lands.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers a suite of voluntary conservation programs that provide value to rural America beyond their well-known ecological benefits. Incentives offered through the Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program optimize farm and forestry operations, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and add value at a time when the agricultural economy needs it most.

These initiatives help agricultural producers, hunters, and anglers but require significant investment to ensure they remain effective in protecting soil, water, wildlife, and landowners’ bottom lines. We urge Congress to double its investment and significantly grow enrollment in Farm Bill conservation programs, so we can address natural resource challenges—like habitat loss and climate change—and provide landowners with the technical and financial assistance they need.

Use habitat to improve the resilience of transportation infrastructure.

With over 4 million miles of public roads in the U.S., the scope of repairs needed to support our aging transportation infrastructure seems daunting. We encourage Congress to pass a highway bill that creates a new competitive grant program aimed at enhancing the resilience of these critical transportation systems. This kind of dedicated funding is necessary to prioritize the use and restoration of natural infrastructure—natural systems, like wetlands and dunes, that can mitigate threats to our roadways, like flooding from powerful storm surge.

Incorporating natural infrastructure approaches and relocating vulnerable assets out of flood-prone areas can increase the resilience of our communities. These projects would provide quality jobs and pay dividends to local taxpayers.

Invest in pre-disaster mitigation.

When communities experience major disasters, their resources are drained as they rebuild.  That’s why we need an infusion of cash to not only help them pick up the pieces, but also to prepare for future catastrophic weather events.

Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities Program provides communities with matching funds to identify existing infrastructure vulnerabilities and develop innovative, nature-based solutions that lessen the impacts of future disasters to life and property. These pre-disaster mitigation grant projects reduce risk and increase habitat for the fish and wildlife we love to pursue.  We encourage Congress to set aside 15 percent of funds for nature-based approaches to reducing disaster risk.

Invest in sustainable water systems.

From water quality issues in the East to water quantity issues in the West, we need thoughtful approaches to watershed management that are based in local needs.  These solutions are not one size fits all, but several key initiatives can prop up our most valuable resource—the water that powers our lives and outdoor recreation opportunities.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund is a proven tool to help communities overcome challenges to water quality and infrastructure. Since its inception, the Fund has provided communities, many of them disadvantaged, with over $110 billion in financing for estuary protection, wastewater control, and water treatment.

Like the rest of America’s infrastructure, Western water delivery systems are aging and struggling to adequately keep pace with the needs of growing communities and economies. The WaterSMART Drought Response and Cooperative Watershed Management programs help develop local watershed management programs to address this challenge. WaterSMART grants help to improve water delivery, efficiency, and reliability and reduce conflicts over water-use in the West.

Congress should support and increase investments in these water initiatives to put Americans back to work—and back out on our kayaks and driftboats.

How You Can Help

The TRCP will continue to offer sportsmen and women a chance to engage in our #ConservationWorksforAmerica campaign in 2021. Take action now and urge decision-makers to put people back to work through conservation.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CONSERVATION WORKS FOR AMERICA

As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure.  Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create jobs, restore habitat, and preserve fish and wildlife.

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