It’s been a strange year, with severe cold fronts rolling through the state through mid-May, winds howling every weekend and water copiously pouring from the skies.
And many anglers have found the trout fishing to be as strange as the weather.
“My feeling is that it has not been nearly as good as it used to be,” said Baton Rouge angler Ed Sexton.
Sexton, who has fished the mouth of the Mississippi River for years and is one of the anglers featured in the Trout Masters book, admits he has fished less this year than normal, but he said it’s just been tougher than he expected.
He’s not alone in that concern. Tony Taylor, a Grand Isle veteran who also is Louisiana Sportsman’s publisher, said his trips to the island thus far have been busts.
“I went to Grand Isle (June 21-22) and probably had one of my worst fishing trips in a long time,” Taylor wrote on the forum. “I saw very few people catching many trout. (I t)alked to a few charter captains, and they are downright concerned.”
That post elicited a lot of grumbling about the fishing.
“Inconsistent: That’s the best way to describe our trout season so far this summer in Dularge/Cocodrie,” Capt. Chris Venable of TopLine Fishing Charters wrote. “With that said, we had really good catches the last four days, so maybe this is the turning point that we have been waiting for.
“I put a good whack on them again this week in Cocodrie fishing the beaches, and the bite was really good yesterday in Dularge, so my fingers are crossed that we can get back to doing what we love to do, and that’s putting our customers on boxes full of trout.”
Concerns were first expressed in the southwest, where big trout usually are snatched from the Big Lake system each spring. This year, however, the run of lunkers was sparse, to say the least.
But by mid-June the fish were showing up in that area and reports of great fishing began to surface.
“It’s really been pretty good — about as good as it gets,” Big Lake Guide Service’s Capt. Nick Poe told LouisianaSportsman.com on June 11. “It’s been impressive. Pretty much everywhere you go you catch some.”
To the east, however, things have remained atypical.
“I’m on my way home from fishing Leeville/Fourchon right now,” LouisianaSportsman.com user Capt. Ron S wrote on the forum (hopefully while he was gassing up or someone else was driving). “I’d estimate we caught 125 to 150 trout today; only 15 were legal fish. I’ve been fishing out of Leeville for 15 years and never struggled like this to catch trout.”
The off season wasn’t limited to the Barataria Basin and Venice.
“I’ve found this has been an odd year,” said long-time Louisiana Sportsman contributor Rusty Tardo, who has fished the Delacroix/Hopedale/Shell Beach area his entire life. “I’m not finding the numbers I usually do. I think the last trip I made we had 54 trout (among three anglers).
“I could hear some of the captains on the (VHF) radio, and I could tell they were struggling.”
So is there a problem with the fishery? Some believe so.
“They say you can’t hurt the trout population with fishing poles, but there are thousands of people fishing every day now,” LouisianaSportsman.com user Choupic-Man wrote. “Besides the recreational fishermen, the guide boats are bringing 200 to 300 trout home per day, some twice a day, and there are hundreds of those all over our coast. That’s basically no different than gill nets.
“Why not lower the limits ?
And some guides agree that lower limits would be a positive.
“You just have a lot more pressure on the speckled trout, period,” Venice guide Capt. Brent Roy said.
However, Roy also admitted that his crews have been slamming the trout during recent months.
“It was real good until the new moon last week,” he said. “Over that past two months, though, it’s been excellent.”
And, to be fair, some anglers have been having a ball catching trout this year.
Take Tommy Vidrine, for instance. Vidrine is known for catching logs between Fourchon and Four Bayou Pass, and he said it is has been challenging but that the fish are still there.
“The guides have been crying and complaining … (and t)hese weekend warriors who only get to go on the weekends are struggling,” Vidrine said. “There are a lot of big fish (out there), but you have to be experienced and knowledgeable to catch them.”
And Metairie’s Larry Gates, who goes by “madhook” on the forum, said he and his wife have been slamming the trout in the Barataria Basin.
“I don’t know what everybody else’s problem is,” Gates said.
He said he has watched boat after boat parade by the oil structures in the bay, and he knows the anglers are struggling.
But he’s observed that from a distance.
“The whole time, we’re catching fish,” Gates said. “You’ve got to move. You’ve got to find them.
“I burned 40 gallons of fuel that last time I was out there.”
And Gate said much of his success has come later in the day, when many anglers are back at the docks cooling off.
Some anglers have complained that there are gobs of throwbacks in the system, but that keepers are hard to come by.
Gates said the key is to get away from those large schools of tiny tots.
“Small fish stay with small fish,” he said. “If you’re on small fish, get up and go.”
Millertime Fishing Charter's Capt. Travis Miller, who fishes the Dularge system, said he’s putting his clients on plenty of fish.
"It’s funny how everybody gets up in a whirl, saying there aren’t any fish,” Miller said. “It’s been a windy year, but to sit there and say all of Louisiana has no fish is funny.”
That’s not to say there aren’t differences this season.
“Last year and the year before you went on the beach and looked for some birds in the first trough in early in the morning, and you could catch them,” Vidrine said. “It’s not nearly what they were before. But sometimes fish just have lockjaw.
“It’s different than the last couple of years, but you can still go out and catch 15 to 20 trout; a lot of people are doing that.”
Gates said he’s noticed some of the traditional slam dunks just aren’t holding fish for some reason.
“I fished Four Bayou (Pass) and I could not give away a (live) shrimp,” he said. “I moved to Garden Bay, and I got on a rig and caught them.”
And Lake Pontchartrain? Gates said he’s given up on it this year.
“I haven’t caught enough fish to justify the gas,” he said.
But guide Mike Gallo of Angling Adventure of Louisiana said the fishery is back on schedule.
“Lake Pontchartrain has a mix of fish being caught along the bridges — mostly drum, sheepshead, the occasional redfish, the occasional flounder and the occasional keeper speckled trout,” Gallo said. “There are still lots of small speckled trout.
“My feeling is the larger fish have pretty much moved out to saltier water.”
Over in Dularge, Miller said there definitely was a change to the traditional spring run.
“We never had the shrimp come into (Lake Mechant and Sister Lake) until mid-May,” he said.
That meant schools never formed up.
“Normally, by April we’re fishing birds,” Miller said. “We only had two trips this year that I remember bird fishing. The rest of the year was fishing reefs.”
And, while that approach might not have yielded huge numbers, his clients never complained.
“The fish that we caught were a lot bigger,” he said. “We didn’t catch a lot of small fish.”
But Sexton said he’s concerned about the situation.
“I think I’m concerned about the trout population,” Sexton said. “Part of our deal is that habitat we used to have, that I used to fish in March and April — we’ve lost so much of it.”
He said to the old mud lumps at the mouth of the Mississippi River’s South Pass, which once were located adjacent to the beach off the pass, provide a great example because that beach has retreated much farther inland.
“Now those mud lumps are 1 1/2 miles away,” Sexton said. “We’ve lost so much habitat.”
Habitat loss is a definite concern, but others pointed to fishing pressure as a possible reason.
“Could it be that the trout don’t stand a chance in Grand Isle?” LouisianaSportsman.com user JB postulated on the form. “It is ridiculous at how many people are there. It used to be only bad on weekends; now it’s like Saturday every day.”
Miller, however, pointed to the winter and spring weather.
“It was the coldest winter in a long time,” he said. “It’s been one of the wettest years.”
He said the influx of fresh water from heavy rains have lowered salinities, which exacerbate the situation and move trout farther out to the Gulf.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Randy Pausina also said indicated 2013-14 winter could be playing a part in the situation.
Click here to see what else the LDWF is saying.
But no matter what is going on, Sexton, Miller and others cautioned against making changes based on the recent off season.
“If there’s scientific data to show we need to change limits, I’m for that,” Sexton said.
Miller agreed, saying it was way too early to make any changes.
“If we see two or three bad years, then, OK, we need to do something,” Miller said. “But if we have a bad spring, for goodness sakes, if we make knee-jerk changes, we’ll have millions of fish out there, and you won’t be able to catch them.”
In the meantime, some are looking forward to what could be banner fall.
“If a 12-inch fish is about a year old, that’s pretty easy. The fish grow about an inch per month,” Gallo said. “Later this fall, all those fish are going to be keepers. That will be a solid 14-inch fish come October.”
“This could be an epic fall,” the guide said.