Chris Holmes, WF360 Louisiana Migration Editor
Louisiana duck hunters will have favorable weather when the season opens in the Coastal and West Zones on Saturday. A perfectly timed cold front is sweeping through the state and will bring much cooler temperatures and, hopefully, new ducks.
Inclement weather conditions earlier in the week prevented the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) from completing its regular preseason aerial duck survey. According to LDWF Waterfowl Study Leader Larry Reynolds, only the westernmost transects had been flown by mid-week. “We’ve only been able to fly the 17 lines in southwest Louisiana thus far, and weather forecasts suggest we likely won’t be able to complete the coastal transect survey. But the 17 lines in southwest Louisiana represent a complete survey for that region,” Reynolds says.
The partial survey results were not promising, however, suggesting that there had not yet been a major migration of ducks into southwest Louisiana when the survey was conducted. “The 247,000 total ducks estimated in southwest Louisiana is the lowest on record for this survey and is less than half the next-lowest estimate of 581,000 in 2013. The most recent 10-year average for southwest Louisiana on this survey is 994,000 ducks,” Reynolds says.
Despite the discouraging survey results, some local hunters are seeing good numbers of ducks and hoping that more will arrive in conjunction with the approaching cold front.
“All last week we were out in the marsh and seeing only 150 to 300 birds a day. But on Monday we saw 3,000 to 4,000, so I think we got a little push, with more birds likely coming with this front,” says Kirk Stansel of Hackberry Rod & Gun. “The water in the Johnson Bayou area is currently waist to chest high. It’s full of food, but the water is just too high, which is keeping the birds spread out. The water will drop with this next front and that should help things out.”
Stansel is optimistic that his clients will have a good opening weekend. The lodge hosted several youth hunters last weekend, and they enjoyed good shooting.
Hunters in other areas are reporting respectable numbers of ducks and looking forward to a good opener. Capt. Chris Pike runs Cast & Blast Charters in the Delacroix and Caernarvon marshes in the far southeastern corner of the Coastal Zone.
“The birds are pretty spread out right now with normal water levels, but I expect the water to drop when the wind switches to the northwest with the coming front,” Pike reports. “I’ve seen good numbers of bluewings around the Caernarvon and Spanish Lake areas as well as some groups of gadwalls in the Lake Lery area. Everything is going to change with the front pushing through, and we should see a good number of gray ducks and more teal. The water drop will also concentrate the birds a lot more.”
Pike says his area has lost some aquatic vegetation due to tidal flooding associated with nearby tropical weather. But he believes that there is enough food left in the marsh to hold the birds. “This looks to be the best conditions for opening weekend that we’ve had in years, and everyone should get their fair chance at bagging limits this weekend,” Pike adds.
Venice is always a promising location for Louisiana duck hunters, and this year shouldn’t be different. “It’s looking really good. We hunt over 7,000 acres of private land, and the food looks really good,” reports Capt. Jesse Morris of Cajun Unlimited. “We’ve seen lots of early birds and will have many more after this front.”
A little north of Venice, guides with Cajun Fishing Adventures were busy last week building and refreshing blinds. The excitement in Capt. Joe DiMarco’s voice was obvious. “You can’t plan it any better than this. We’ve seen lots of birds over the last few weeks, and we kept a lot of feed. With this front being perfectly timed, it is going to be a great opening weekend,” he says.
In addition to seeing a good mix of pintails and gray ducks, DiMarco also reports some early arrivals. “I’ve seen several good flocks of wigeon, which normally do not arrive until after Thanksgiving, as well as lots of green-winged teal, which are also a bit early,” he adds.
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A lifelong resident of southeast Louisiana, Chris Holmes is a freelance writer, avid waterfowl hunter, and fisherman. He will be providing Louisiana migration, habitat, and hunting alerts to Waterfowl360 throughout the 2018–2019 wa-terfowl season.