Swollfest starts Thursday

Nick Rauber and Dan Bankhead expect the anglers’ invasion of Grand Isle that started in last week’s Grand Isle Speckled Trout Rodeo will continue this week for the annual Swollfest Rodeo, Thursday through Saturday out of Sand Dollar Marina.

The dentists and long-standing hunting and fishing buddies look at the revised red snapper season, the catches of all offshore species — remembering that the recreational season on amberjack is closed — and seen that speckled trout and redfish have turned on across the Central Coast as lures for anglers to descend on the state’s only inhabited barrier island.

“And we have Yeti coolers for all the winners,” Rauber proudly proclaimed last week as a further draw for fishermen to enter the rodeo that has sent right at $400,000 to the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the American Diabetes Association in the past 11 years.

True to its name, the rodeo honors the “swollest” fish, the biggest fish, brought to the scales. Last year it was a 110.2-pound stingray, although most years a tuna or grouper takes the prize. There are blue water, coastal, spearfishing, inshore, kayak, women’s and children’s divisions and something called the “Belly-Buzzard Division,” a category for a fish the rodeo committee deems to be the oddest or ugliest fish weighed.

Nearly every marina from Fourchon to Grand Isle has rodeo tickets.

Get that permit

Rodeos like Swollfest sends more and more fishermen into offshore waters, and the Marine Fisheries Section folks at Wildlife and Fisheries said fishermen need something called “Louisiana Offshore Landing Permit” to land several species.

It’s a fee-free permit that all fishermen, no matter their ages, need to have, according to the rule passed earlier this year, to possess “all tunas, billfish, swordfish, amberjacks, groupers and snappers, except gray snapper and hinds.”

The Wildlife and Fisheries Commission ratified the rule to allow state marine fisheries biologists and managers to collect more specific data about catch rates for these species in Louisiana’s offshore waters. LDWF assistant secretary Randy Pausina said the agency wants to use the data to further their proposed move to regional management to replace federal management of these species in the Gulf of Mexico.

A further requirement of the rule demands that anglers catching yellowfin tuna must report their catch before offloading the tuna at a Louisiana marina or port. Reports can be filed by calling (877) 792-3440, via website http://rolp.wlf.la.gov, or by using an iPhone or Android app.

Recreational Offshore Landing Permits can be obtained by using the LDWF website: http://rolp.wlf.la.gov/Permit/Apply.

Free fishing

Saturday and Sunday are the free fishing days in the state. You won’t need basic nor saltwater fishing licenses to catch fish, but you will need the recreational offshore landing permit.

Ken Guidry did what?

Baton Rouge fisherman Ken Guidry has been a Coastal Conservation Association member since CCA formed 30 years ago.

So it wasn’t unusual that he was fishing Memorial Day weekend, the opening days of CCA’s annual, summer-long Statewide Tournament and Anglers’ Rodeo.

Guidry said rough seas forced him to stop at the jetties lining Belle Pass. He told S.T.A.R. director Rad Trascher that he caught several species, including redfish.

“What he didn’t know was that one of the redfish he had thrown in the box was actually a S.T.A.R. winning fish,” Trascher said. “When he went to clean his catch that night, he noticed the special red tag.”

During the spring, Trascher and his teams tagged 50 redfish across the coast with special rodeo tags. Guidry had one of those 50 redfish. He was a CCA member and had entered the 2013 S.T.A.R.

Everything was legal when he presented the fish at Gail’s Bait Shop in Leeville, a rodeo weightstation, and the catcher of the first tagged redfish taken each year wins a Chevy Silverado pickup.

Not this time: Guidry donated the truck back to CCA-Louisiana.

“It is not about the prize to me. It is all about the competition and challenging yourself. So for the good of CCA, I am giving it back, and hopefully an angler that needs it more than me will get lucky and catch the next tagged redfish,” Guidry told the CCA staff. “And this way, I can still compete for the Trout Division which has been my goal for a long time.”

CCA announced the Silverado remains the top tagged redfish prize, and that nine other anglers catching redfish with the special tags will win a NauticStar bay boat, trailer and Mercury outboard.

More tags

Last weekend’s Louisiana Saltwater Series added more tagged speckled trout and three flounder to the growing number of tagged fish in Lake Pontchartrain.

But the headliner for state biologists was that they implanted acousctic tags into 11 more speckled trout to add to the special Wildlife and Fisheries-LSU telemetry tagging project in the state’s largest lake.

The tags allow researchers to record the movement of speckled trout on 90 mounted receivers throughout the lake.

The project is designed to study the feeding habits and to determine the impact of tide, weather, salinity levels, food sources and spawning rituals on trout movement inside the Pontchartrain Basin.

DU in Terrebonne

A $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation grant has turned into a $3 million project that will improve more than 16,000 coastal wetland acres along and off Liner’s Canal in Terrebonne Parish.

Ducks Unlimited teamed with Terrebonne Parish and the Apache Corporation to outline the project and partnered with the Moore-Odom Wildlife Foundation; the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority; and Wildlife and Fisheries to start what DU officials called a “long-awaited project,” designed to stem the rate of wetland loss in Terrebonne Parish by increasing freshwater flow into an area heavily impacted by saltwater intrusion during the last two decades.

DU’s announcement outlined construction of a multi-bay water control structure to increase by three times the freshwater flow through Liner’s Canal by about three times. The project further stated the control structure will prevent saltwater from moving into freshwater marshes farther upstream.

The agreement means that Apache will continue to own the affected marsh and will own the structure. While most of the projects benefits will impact Terrebonne Parish, DU’s announcement indicated 3,700 coastal wetland acres will be enhanced in Lafourche Parish.

This week

Several fisheries items dot the agenda for Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting, but none more weighty for Capital City and Acadiana area fishermen than ratification of new black bass regulations for waters in and near the Atchafalaya Basin.

The call is for final comments about changing the 14-inch minimum size on all black bass to no size limit and seven-fish-per-day creel in the Basin, the Lake Verret Basin (to Lake Palourde) and the Lake Fausse Pointe/Lake Dauterive complex on the west side of the Atchafalaya.

If the commission ratifies the new regulations, LDWF staff believes the earliest the new rules could go into effect is June 20.

And from the hydrological forecast, we can look for the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to begin dramatic falls this week, about half-a-foot each day for the Mississippi on the Baton Rouge gauge and one-tenth of a foot on the Morgan City gauge for the Atchafalaya.

That means the action in the Ball Park area off Old River at Morganza should be a hot spot for bluegill and sac-a-lait for most of the next two weeks.

Those numbers came out before rain-heavy storms ran roughshod Friday over Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.