Anglers adjust to new regulations for popular fish species

(Photo courtesy Taylor Valois)

Welcome to Louisiana’s full-blown summer and all the heat and humidity that goes along with trying to live through the “dog days.”

Now, if I was a dog, I’d most certainly take offense to that oft-used description of what is the worst time of year around here.

There are oh so many things to worry about. More than heat are mosquitoes and hurricanes.

The one thing we don’t have to wrangle over — OK, maybe two things — is limits and new regulations covering speckled trout and redfish.

We started 2024 with lingering questions about size and daily creel restrictions, and what we learned in the five-year-long fight over speckled trout helped by pushing new redfish rules through much more quickly.

New regulations

So, here are the new recreational regulations of these two most popular species.

Speckled trout:

15-per-day creel limit;

A “slot” limit size of 13-20 inches;

An allowance to keep two specks measuring longer than 20 inches;

Redfish:

4-per-day creel limit;

A “slot” of 18-27 inches;

A prohibition for keeping a fish measuring longer than 27 inches.

Charter skippers and their crews cannot retain a limit of both species while on a for-hire trip.

While state regulations allow for a two-trip possession of both species, fishermen have to know that the allowance is ONLY for off-the-water checks.

For folks who have to travel by water to their camps, this means they can have only a one-day creel limit per angler while they travel from camp back to a launch site.

If you get checked on the water and have a two-day possession, then state agents likely will hand you a citation.

Moreover, you cannot have fillets of either species on your boat — period.

This means changes ahead for the major fishing rodeos for the remaining two months. Bull redfish are off the board, and that five-redfish stringer category so popular for so many years is gone, too.

But, we’re not done yet.

What could be next?

Maybe this is jumping the gun, but there’s some discussion about putting a limit on sheepshead.

When redfish became hard to find — which doesn’t appear to be the case so far this spring and summer — the target on sheepshead got bigger.

Yeah, sheepshead are difficult to clean, but the meat is so white and firm and good, good enough to make it to the tables of some extra-good restaurants.

Years ago, when chefs liked to stretch “the truth-in-menu,” my good friend Don Dubuc and I liked to check out what some restaurants touted on their daily menus, you know, those blackboards with the daily specials chalked out in big white letters.

Never found one with sheepshead, but Don found one labeled “Rondo Sea Bream” only to find out the daily special was sheepshead. (It’s OK to chuckle here!)

Snapper

On the federal level, there is discussion for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council about limiting the catch of lane snapper, a uniquely colored fish with red and yellow stripes.

Don’t often see a great number of lane snapper off Louisiana’s coast, but have caught a few over the years. It’s a small snapper, the minimum “keeper” size is 8 inches, and they make great tablefare. You can keep up to 10 a day in an aggregate with several other snapper species.

Moreover, don’t be surprised if we see restrictions on gray snapper, the fish we call “mangroves.”

Mangrove snapper were a go-to catch when those very restrictive red snapper regulations went into effect some 20 years ago. Mangroves were extraordinarily aggressive — and plentiful — and you could, and still can, keep up to 10 a day with a 12-inch minimum size.

Now, with red snapper taking up more and more waters off the Louisiana coast, and, perhaps, with years-after-years catches, the report from offshore folks is the mangrove catches are down this year. We can only hope this is a temporary observation and the result of some days when the deep-water trips faced not-very-hospitable offshore conditions from late May into the middle of June.

Looking ahead

With the recreational red snapper season opening April 15 and not the Memorial Day weekend as in past years, the private offshore fleet took the opportunity to get in on the action before summer’s heat chases red snapper to deeper water.

Chris and Craig Cuccia caught their limit of red snapper on opening weekend in Venice.

Then, with the greater amberjack and gray triggerfish seasons open through May 31 — both are scheduled to reopen Aug. 1 — there was a greater need among recreational anglers to cash in on a bonus season they didn’t have in past seasons.

Through May, state fisheries managers used the highly regarded LA Creel data-collection program to estimate Louisiana’s private recreational take was near 30% of our state’s annual allotment of 934,587 pounds.

To provide ample fishing opportunity for anglers throughout the summer months and into Labor Day, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Secretary Madison Sheahan signed a declaration of emergency to close the recreational red snapper season in state and federal waters off Louisiana at 11:59 p.m. on July 7, 2024, until 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 12, 2024.

When the season reopens on July 12, it will reopen as a weekends-only season (weekends are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, including the Monday of Labor Day) until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, September 2, 2024, at which time it will close until further notice. Daily creel (four per person) and size limits (16 inches minimum total length) will remain as previously established. LA Creel data indicates that harvest rates of red snapper were greater than anticipated and a season modification was necessary in order to maximize the season for anglers.

Happy fishing!