Be patient and courteous, and don’t barge in on other fishermen or duck hunters, even if the action promises to be great.
Fall along Louisiana’s coast is my favorite season to fish, but there are certain guidelines I follow to stay safe and happy on the water. Since my actions potentially affect the safety of other anglers and their enjoyment of the sport, I need to also be aware of how the fishing community interacts and ensure that my actions are compatible with other sportsmen.
Anglers get together
In my experience, the civility of Louisiana inshore anglers is very high, going even to the point of inconveniencing themselves to help others. This is a huge compliment to our fishing community, but even the patience of Louisiana anglers can get stretched thin in those spots with the honorary title of “community hole.”
There are spots where fishing is so good at certain times that the entire fishing community knows and fishes them, thus the title. Examples of these spots during the fall are the Lake Pontchartrain train trestle, the Great Wall of Chalmette, and the Marcello Castle. If you fish community holes from Friday to Sunday, save yourself some stress by planning to be inconvenienced by another angler.
The Louisiana Department Wildlife and Fisheries has something to say about how we interact on the water and in the woods. It reminds the public that there is a law stating that persons shall not, “Disturb any hunter, trapper or fisherman who is engaged in the lawful taking of a wild animal or who is engaged in the process of taking, with intent to dissuade or otherwise prevent the taking, or to prevent such person’s enjoyment of the outdoors.”
The LDWF even gives examples: “A common infraction of this law is an individual claiming ownership of a baited or brushed fishing spot. Anglers are reminded that ownership of artificial habitat, brush or broadcast fish bait ends when it leaves their boat and enters a public water body and cannot be kept from others.”
If you want to be a cooperative member of the angling community, put yourself into the shoes of other anglers, so you will fit like a square peg in a square hole. For instance, if you are going to fish on an anchor and you see someone drift-fishing, drop anchor behind them on their drift path. If you are drifting or trolling, give an anchored boat a wide berth, or if there are boats anchored every 100 feet along your intended path, anchor yourself or pick a less-congested area to drift. In almost all cases, it’s the best etiquette not to crowd other anglers, but if that becomes necessary, ask if you can join the activity at a certain spot. It’s amazing how that simple question opens doors and may even lead to a new friendship.
Fall is also duck season
While fall is arguably the best season for inshore fishing, it’s also a time when ducks can be hunted. For 60 days in the fall and winter, duck hunters are allowed to pursue their sport, for which they have invested money in boats, gear and guns. Needlessly interfering with their hunting is thoughtless of anglers and doesn’t align with the Louisiana law stated above.
The law doesn’t specifically instruct anglers in southeast Louisiana on what is prohibited during duck season, except in the case of the Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge. The portion of the refuge falling outside of the levee system is reserved for youth duck hunting from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31. During these three months, no fishing is allowed in the designated areas until after noon.
Without more detailed guidance from Louisiana law, I interviewed a duck hunter to get his perspective on which fishing activities can negatively impact duck hunters. Cliff Hall Jr. hunts in Delacroix and other areas in southeast Louisiana. He is also an angler, so he understands the perspectives of both types of sportsmen.
Hall told me that the effects of fishing on duck hunting varies from negative to positive, making the relationship complicated. In some areas and on some days, the movement of anglers is helpful because it can make birds fly from ponds not being hunted to hunted ponds. On the other hand, birds will likely not land in ponds where anglers are present. Therefore, the fishing in a pond is not compatible with duck hunting in the same pond.
Late mornings are best
However, there are certain characteristics of duck hunting and fall fishing that make the two sports very compatible. For starters, the ponds where ducks feed are typically quite shallow and further off the main bayous. They are often not accessible with bay boats and will not be holding speckled trout in the fall. That makes the duck-pond habitat only of interest to anglers pursuing redfish, and in these shallow ponds, redfish angling is often done via sight-fishing.
Sight-fishing is not productive until the sun is high in the sky, at 10 or 11 a.m., when the opportunity to shoot ducks is generally over, being limited to when they fly from their night roosting area to a pond where they will feed for the day — from daybreak to late morning. Hall said that by 10 a.m., most shooting opportunities are over, and hunters generally leave ponds by 11 a.m. or earlier. Therefore, the redfish angler can easily fish the most-productive part of the day by planning a late-morning start and likely not encounter any hunters.
I asked Hall advice for anglers who want to respect the needs of hunters. He said to avoid fishing ponds where ducks are being hunted until late morning. If you want to enter a pond early in the morning, ease up to the pond and look for evidence of hunters. The decoys, blinds or boats will be obvious. If the pond is being hunted, go to another pond until after the hunting is over.
Mind other boaters
Fall brings great inshore fishing to anglers on land and in a variety of boats. It’s a season when special care must be taken by operators of all boats to avoid accidents, because there are more boats afloat per square mile of fished area.
For instance, in summer, you can pass through the gate at the Great Wall of Chalmette without a boat in sight, but come November, you will be taking turns going through the gate. Many inshore features such as flood-protection gates, narrow windy, bayous, and blind corners in canals are all high-risk locations. Be cautious around these features; in most cases, that starts with slowing down. If you are interested in a detailed risk analysis and safety recommendations related to the Great Wall of Chalmette, watch my YouTube video, Tips for Safe Passage Through the Great Wall of Chalmette.
To better understand the challenges faced by kayak fishermen in the fall, I reached out to Jeff Oliver, a tournament kayak angler who fishes around New Orleans, for some insights on how he stays safe and what powerboaters can do to avoid causing accidents with kayaks.
I asked Oliver to describe how he manages travel on major boating routes like Bayou Gentilly or Bayou La Loutre when he’s in his kayak. He said that his kayak, like many fishing kayaks, has very stable platforms and he, with the caveat of being an experienced kayaker, has never been capsized by a boat wake. He said that the ideal bay boat wakes come from idle speed or full planing speed. Most powerboaters will drop to a fast idle when passing kayaks, which is appreciated, but he said he will sometimes wave bay boats through to keep them at full planing speed. A boater’s half-hearted attempt at politeness, which results in passing at 2,500 rpm, throws up a far bigger wake than at full planing speed and results in the kayaker needing to change direction quickly to negotiate the big wake. While this maneuver is adeptly done by experienced kayakers, new kayakers may not be able to adjust and end up capsized.
Oliver doesn’t recommend taking a kayak through flood gates like the one on Bayou Bienvenue. I once assisted a kayaker who was stuck on the outside of that gate because he could not paddle against a strengthening current. Oliver said the concern is not just that the kayaker’s power is not great enough, but that the kayak will be swept sideways in the current and flip. From my own experience as a whitewater kayaker, I understand the force vectors applied to a kayak in strong currents, most notably that rushing water against a broadside kayak will push the upcurrent side of the kayak down, resulting in a capsize. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, whitewater paddlers avoid this capsize by leaning downcurrent when swept broadside in rushing water.
I asked Oliver if he had advice for fishing during cold fronts. He said that whenever the water or air temperature is cold, he wears non-cotton, fast-drying fabrics. He will also take a change of clothes in the kayak. He said that in practice, he doesn’t recommend fishing during cold fronts and winds greater than 15 knots unless he is launching into and remaining in a protected area. He said that controlling the kayak is difficult in a strong wind.
I have heard about anglers using chair-seat style kayaks who were capsized by a strong gust of wind. While the seat is a virtual throne, it raises the kayak’s center of gravity, and anglers capsize when floating broadside and downwind. The high center of gravity resulted in the boat not having enough reserve buoyancy when the long dimension of the kayak was perpendicular to the wind direction.