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March 15, 2021

Haaland in Yellowstone

Photo Credit: Congresswoman Deb Haaland

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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!

 

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March 8, 2021

In the Arena: South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

South Carolina Wildlife Partnership

Based in: Orangeburg, SC
Mission: We connect public hunters with private landowners who are willing to provide hunting opportunities that promote respect for the land and ethical hunting for the future.
Vision: To provide hunting opportunities for everyone in South Carolina who would like to participate.

Established in 2017 by a group of citizens passionate about responsible and ethical hunting, the South Carolina Wildlife Partnership aims to ensure that everyone in South Carolina who wants to hunt, will be able to.

Here is their story:

The idea for the Partnership came after seeing how long hunters have to wait to be successfully drawn through a lottery to hunt on state managed public lands in South Carolina. For some, these wait times can extend up to five years, and that’s because there is so little public land in the state. 92 percent of South Carolina is privately owned. That’s when we decided to partner with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to create opportunities for unsuccessful lottery applicants to hunt on private lands.

In only our second waterfowl season, we hosted 350 public hunters on well managed private lands, eliminating their wait time to hunt, providing an incredible outdoor experience, and connecting people with the land and wildlife they love.  Our hunters on average harvested roughly 3 birds out of a 6-bird daily bag limit, marking a big success for our organization!

Hunters don’t pay to participate in the program. If they aren’t drawn for a public land hunt through the Department of Natural Resources, they can opt in for the private land lottery through the Partnership.

Private landowners are the backbone of this program, as they understand the need for more hunting opportunity and trust the Partnership to conduct managed hunts on their properties.

We are funded completely by grants and donations. Part of this funding comes from the Farm Bill’s Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), a federal program dedicated to creating public access on private lands. VPA HIP was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and provides funding to state and Tribal fish and wildlife agencies to incentivize private landowners to open their land, allowing for increased outdoor recreation opportunities. Initially championed by Jim Range, the founder of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the VPA HIP program has become the most successful tool for increasing public access on private land and helps fund programs like ours! (Click here to read more about this awesome access program.)

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources received $469,000 in VPA-HIP funding in 2020 to boost its Public Waterfowl Lottery Hunts Program.  You can opt in for the hunts with the Partnership by clicking HERE.

 

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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

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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

 

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

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