LDWF Urges Public to be Mindful of Displaced Wildlife During Morganza Spillway Opening Event

May 28, 2019 – With the Morganza Spillway to be opened Sunday (June 2), wildlife species will seek higher ground and be displaced into habitat with which they may not be familiar. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) urges the public to be especially cognizant of wildlife forced into populated areas by flood water from the spillway.

Rising waters force wildlife from flooded habitat into adjacent residential and commercial areas where they may come into contact with residents. LDWF urges citizens to minimize contact with animals while they seek temporary refuge from their flooded home range.

Wild animals not posing a threat to humans should be left alone and should not be fed. Feeding wild animals will encourage those animals to remain in the vicinity of a new food source when they should be allowed to find natural habitat and food sources on their own.

Basic Tips: 
* Avoid areas where displaced wildlife has taken refuge. 
* Avoid interaction with and do not feed displaced wildlife. 
* Avoid roadways near flooded areas to reduce likelihood of disturbance and collisions with wildlife.

Species of Concern:

Black Bears:   The Louisiana black bear is a species of concern during a flood incident, when high water moves bears out of their habitat within the Morganza Spillway. For assistance with black bears that may be forced into populated areas by flood waters, call 1-337-262-2080.

Alligators, Snakes:  Flood waters will carry reptiles into populated areas where they may not normally be noted in significant numbers. Following the impact of flood waters, exercise extreme caution when salvaging possessions from flooded areas. Wildlife, especially reptiles, may remain in flooded areas and pose a safety threat.

Venomous snake species in Louisiana include the canebrake rattlesnake, the copperhead, the cottonmouth, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the harlequin coral snake, the pygmy rattlesnake and the Texas coral snake. For more information on snake species found in Louisiana, including frequently asked questions, visit LDWF’s website at this link:  www.wlf.louisiana.gov/resource/snakes-louisiana .

Deer, Feral Hogs:  Deer and feral hog populations within the Morganza Spillway represent the two large quadruped species that may appear in populated areas in significant numbers as flood waters move wild animals out of natural habitat. As is the case with all wild animals, how these species will react to humans in close contact situations is unpredictable. LDWF recommends allowing these species, when sighted individually or in groups, to move unimpeded through flooded areas as they seek higher ground.

For more information on displaced wildlife, go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife/nuisance-wildlife .

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting Louisiana’s abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at www.wlf.la.gov. To receive recreational or commercial fishing email and text alerts, signup at http://www.wlf.la.gov/signup.

Cajun Surf & Turf: Crawfish Stuffed Venison Backstrap

I first discovered this wonderful blend of flavors a few years back.  It was a combination of a successful late season archery hunt on public land and the remainder of tails from a crawfish boil for my birthday.  After peeling several pounds of tails, I began to think…this would be really good paired with some backtrap.  The seed had been planted.  Ever since that day, I reserve this recipe for special occasions.  It’s easy to do but just takes a bit of time and patience to perfect.  You are sure to impress your friends and family with this recipe.  It pairs well with both red wine or cold beer. 

Saute your onions and bell peppers (I use Guidry’s mix) in butter until softened.  Then add your crawfish tails to warm though.  Next add plain bread crumbs and enough water to get the consistency of thick oatmeal.  Season your stuffing according to your specific taste.  You will need to let the mixture cool long enough so that you can use your bare fingers to stuff the backstrap.  You also don’t want to start cooking the meat with hot stuffing.

You will need to make a pocket into the thick end of your backstrap.  I like using a filet knife for this work.  Make sure that you don’t cut all the way through to the bottom of the backstrap.  Season the meat really well.  Spray a disposable meatloaf tin with non-stick spray.  Place the backstrap into the tin.  You will then begin to fill the pocket with your stuffing. 

Place your dish into a pre heated 350 degree oven.  Bake uncovered for approximately 18 minutes for a nice medium rare temperature.  This will vary depending on the size of your backstrap and the amount of stuffing that you use.  I suggest that you err on the side of medium rare.  Enjoy.

½ length of backstrap (the large end)

2 Tbs butter

¼ cup Guidry’s mix

½ lb Louisiana crawfish tails

½ cup plain bread crumbs

¼ cup water

Seasoning to taste

Jason Thornton@edible_outdoors_cook

Flooding Triggers Deer Hunting Closure in Parts of Deer Area 5

Release Date: 12/31/2018

Dec. 31, 2018 – Deer hunting in portions of Deer Area 5 in the Atchafalaya Basin have been closed due to flooding, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced. The Atchafalaya River has reached 15 feet mean sea level (msl) at Butte LaRose, triggering the closure.
 
Deer hunting in those portions of Iberville, St. Martin, St. Mary and Iberia parishes west of the East Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee, east of the West Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee and south of Alligator Bayou and Bayou Sorrel are closed. Deer hunting in the area will reopen when the river stage recedes to 14 feet msl at Butte LaRose.
 
LDWF will announce when the closure is lifted.
 
For more information, contact Johnathan Bordelon at jbordelon@wlf.la.gov or 225-765-2344 or Tony Vidrine at tvidrine@wlf.la.gov or 337-735-8682.

Third Case Of CWD Found In MS Near LA Border

A third deer in Mississippi has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), according to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP). The 2-year-old doe was harvested in Issaquena County this month, six miles north of where the first deer with CWD was discovered Jan. 25, 2018.

The 4-year-old buck that tested positive for CWD in January was found only a few miles from the Louisiana border on the east side of the Mississippi River.

The second positive deer was detected in October in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, located in the northeast part of the state and approximately 130 miles northeast of the cases in Issaquena County.

CWD has not been detected in Louisiana although it has been in 25 states, including Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. Following the discovery of the first diseased deer in Mississippi the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) sampled 300 deer within a designated buffer zone, which is within 25 miles of the index case in Issaquena County and included East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes. CWD was not detected in any of the sampled deer.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects members of the cervid family. The disease is spread through contact with infected saliva, blood, urine and feces from live or dead deer. Disease transmission also occurs through contact with infectious material in the soil, food and water.

The recent discoveries in Mississippi have highlighted the importance of additional monitoring by LDWF while incorporating preventative measures to stem the potential spread of the disease. Proper handling of deer carcasses after harvest can help in preventing further spread of the disease.

Louisiana is one of 41 states that have instituted cervid carcass importation bans prohibiting the importation of high risk parts. Along with the current moratorium on live importation of captive deer, these measures provide the best defense against potential disease introduction and spread.

The carcass ban includes animals of the family Cervidae, including but not limited to, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, caribou, fallow deer, axis deer, sika deer, red deer and reindeer. 

Cervids harvested in other states may not be transported into Louisiana, except for deboned meat; quarters with no part of the head or spinal column; meat that is cut and packaged; clean skulls with antlers; capes; cleaned cervid teeth; and finished taxidermy products.

Recommended deer carcass disposal includes burial on site where harvested; disposal at approved landfills through official waste collection companies or simply leaving the deer carcass on the property in which it was harvested after the meat has been removed. This is recommended for all deer harvested regardless of state of origin. 

Cervid carcass regulations have proven necessary in two cases this year. CWD infected deer from Texas and Arkansas were harvested by Louisiana hunters this year. In both cases, the hunters were notified by the respective state and the meat was incinerated by LDWF to avoid potential spread. The ash was then bagged and disposed of in an approved landfill. The fact that two known CWD deer were harvested by Louisiana hunters is significant because only a very small percentage of harvested deer are tested for the disease.

The two cases highlight the importance of regulations promoting best management practices that reduce the potential spread of the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) there is no evidence that CWD can infect humans. However, it is strongly recommended that people do not consume venison from known CWD positive animals.

Deer infected with CWD can spread the disease even before symptoms develop. It can take one to two years for infected animals to become symptomatic. When symptoms appear they can include emaciation, lethargy, abnormal behavior and loss of bodily functions. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, teeth grinding and drooping ears. 
  
Symptomatic deer should be reported to the nearest LDWF Field Office.

Deer hunters who would like to have their harvest tested may contact LDWF Field Offices throughout the state. Those offices can take samples during business hours from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Please contact the office prior to your hunt to receive information on proper handling of your deer harvest for appropriate sampling. 
  
LDWF continues cooperative discussions with other state and federal agencies in the fight against CWD and to prevent it from entering the state. 
  
Go to  http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/CWD  for more information on CWD.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting Louisiana’s abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at www.wlf.la.gov

LDWF Accepting Applications for Disabled Vets and Physically Challenged Deer Lottery Hunts

LDWF Accepting Applications for Disabled Vets and Physically Challenged Deer Lottery Hunts

July 2, 2018 – The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is accepting deer lottery hunt applications for physically challenged hunters on Sabine and Floy McElroy Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and disabled veterans on Camp Beauregard WMA for the 2018-19 hunting season.

These special hunts are restricted to hunters selected through the lottery application process. These hunts offer the opportunity for selected hunters to experience an enjoyable, wildlife oriented outdoor experience on these WMAs.

Details on the qualifications, application requirements and dates of the hunts are listed on the application forms. The application deadline is Aug. 31.

Successful applicants will be selected by a random computer drawing.  Applications for the lottery must be submitted to LDWF by the deadline listed on the application. A $5 administrative fee must be submitted with each application.

Applications and more information may be obtained by contacting your local LDWF field office or by visiting the LDWF web site at  http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/lottery-hunts  .

Applications may be delivered in person to Room 442 of the LDWF headquarters building located at 2000 Quail Dr. in Baton Rouge or by mail. The mailing address is: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Wildlife Division, P.O. Box 98000, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-9000.

For more information, contact Steve Smith at 225-765-2359 or  ssmith@wlf.la.gov .

Shot LDWF Agent to Receive Full Retirement Benefits Thanks to New Law

Shot LDWF Agent to Receive Full Retirement Benefits Thanks to New Law
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law on May 31 in Baton Rouge that will provide full retirement benefits to a shot Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) enforcement agent and other hazardous duty members.
House Representative Terry Brown of District 22 authored House Bill 37 that will provide full Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS) benefits to hazardous duty members that are totally and permanently disabled in the line of duty by an intentional act of violence.  LDWF’s own Scott Bullitt will qualify for the full LASERS retirement benefits because of this bill.
Bullitt, originally from Grant Parish, had been an agent for over five years when he was shot in the line of duty on May 21, 2015 in Ouachita Parish.  Bullitt has been confined to a wheelchair since the shooting and was unable to return to regular LDWF agent duties.
“This law was a top priority within the department’s legislative package since it directly affected one of our agents and to show Scott how much the department valued his service,” said LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet. “We are happy for Scott, and honored that this law will be of assistance to all enforcement and other law enforcement personnel.  I thank Representative Brown, the legislature and Governor John Bel Edwards for making this happen.”
Bullitt’s shooter, Luke Hust, was sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 27, 2016 in Ouachita Parish.
“I can’t describe how thankful I am for this bill becoming law,” said Bullitt.  “Not only will it help me, but in the tragic event that this happens again other agents won’t have to worry about being taken care of retirement wise.”

 

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting Louisiana’s abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at www.wlf.la.gov.

14 Turkey Hunting Violations Opening Weekend

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement agents cited 14 people for alleged turkey hunting violations during the opening weekend of the 2018 turkey hunting season.  Turkey season opened on April 7 in all three turkey hunting areas.

On April 7 agents cited:

Jason Stilley, 43, of Independence, for hunting turkey over a baited area and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Livingston Parish.

Nicholas McAlister, 29, of Kenner, for hunting turkey over bait and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in St. Helena Parish

Andrew Skinner, 20, of Woodville, Miss., for hunting turkey without a big game license, hunting turkey without a wild turkey license and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in West Feliciana Parish.

Brian J. Moreau, 42, of Blanchard, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Bossier Parish.

Bryan E. Bryant Jr., 22, of Columbia, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Caldwell Parish.

Stuart C. Baum, 27, of Calhoun, for hunting turkey over a baited area and without a wild turkey license in Caldwell Parish.

Lucas Kyle Stamper, 34, of Clarks, for hunting turkey without a wild turkey license and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Caldwell Parish.

Alexander L. Heard, 19, of Ragley, for hunting turkey without a wild turkey license and failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Beauregard Parish.

On April 8 agents cited:

Jon Brumfield, 63, of Greenwell Springs, for hunting turkeys over a baited area in East Feliciana Parish.

Francis T. Elder, 48, of Washington, for hunting turkeys without a resident basic hunting license, big game license and wild turkey license in Catahoula Parish.

Jordan J. Gibson, 34, of Lafayette, for failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations in Rapides Parish.

Ricky J. Kennedy, 49, of Farmerville, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Union Parish.

Austin B. Kennedy, 18, of Farmerville, for hunting turkey over a baited area in Union Parish.

Matthew W. Nugent Jr., 19, of Dry Prong, for possession of an illegally taken turkey and criminal trespassing on state property in Winn Parish.

According to the 2018 Turkey Regulations, no person shall hunt or take turkeys by the aid of baiting or on or over a baited area.  Hunters are not allowed to place, expose, deposit or scatter corn, wheat or other grain, salt or other feed to lure turkeys to their hunting area.

Also, turkey hunters are required to possess Louisiana basic hunting and big game licenses, Louisiana wild turkey license and turkey tags.

Hunting turkeys over a baited area brings a $250 to $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.  Failing to comply with turkey tagging regulations carries a $100 to $350 fine and up to 60 days in jail.  Not possessing a basic hunting license, big game license and wild turkey license each brings up to a $50 fine and 15 days in jail.

Grassy Lake And Boeuf WMA Closing March 30 Due to Flooding

From News Report

March 29, 2018 – Boeuf and Grassy Lake Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) will close Friday (March 30) due to flooding and remained closed to all activities until further notice, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced. Included in the closure is hunting season for turkey.

LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet issued a declaration of emergency closing the WMAs in accordance with the emergency provisions of R.S. 49:953 of the Administrative Procedure Act and under authority of R.S. 56:115.

Excessive rains and backwater flooding in central and northern Louisiana forced the action.

The declaration of emergency reads, in part:

“Currently, due to excessive high water levels associated with excessive rainfall along with backwater flooding, Boeuf and Grassy Lake Wildlife Management Areas are inundated with floodwater and water levels are continuing to rise. These areas are nearly completely inaccessible by vehicle and hazardous conditions exist on the areas due to such water levels. Such conditions constitute a public safety hazard. Additionally, many wildlife species are stressed and displaced by such events, and public access to and use of these areas during this time will adversely impact such. Therefore, until the high water recedes, it is deemed necessary to close these Wildlife Management Areas to all use.”

LDWF will reopen the WMAs when flooding subsides and repairs are made.

Boeuf WMA, which consists of 51,110 acres, is located 10 miles southeast of Columbia in Caldwell and Catahoula parishes. For more information on Boeuf WMA, go http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wma/32649 .

Grassy Lake WMA, made up of 12,983 acres is located in northeastern Avoyelles Parish, approximately 12 miles from Bordelonville. For more information on this WMA, go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wma/2767 .

LABH Blog: Spring Time Bass in the Bow Woods

Louisiana truly is a sportsman’s paradise an springtime is a perfect example of that. We have abundant choices to promote our time to : turkeys, fishing, hogs, shed hunting, 3d archery, bowfishing, kids sports… the list goes on. But Mark Wilson, being observant from his bow stand, found a bass honey hole during bow season that has turned into a yearly tradition for him and his son.

Sitting perched in a tree bowhunting adjacent to a deep woods swamp, the afternoon stillness was continually disturbed by the sound of fat bass attacking frogs in what appeared to be just a knee-deep-shallow, stagnant area of backwater on the edge of our property.

“Dern! That sounds like bass”, I kept thinking.  “Wonder if there is a way to fish that snakey looking swamp?”  This was in the days before google earth (there was a time before the internet and free aerial mapping), so I had no idea the size and nature of the swamp, only what I could see which was not much. There were lots of standing trees in the water and logs everywhere, and way too thick to fish from the bank.  It was at least a mile through the thick woods from our camp.

So the next spring, my son Jackson and I got a wild hair and brought a plastic boat from home, tied it to a 4 wheeler and dragged it through the woods; hacking a trail with machetes.  We finally got to waters edge, launched the boat, and began fishing what has turned out to be one of the most untapped, unspoiled, pristine, deep-woods, beaver-dam infested, flooded-creek, cypress-gum, backwoods-swamp-environments we have ever seen.  We’ve made maybe 15 trips to the pond over the years and have generally seen some of the best bass and sac-a-lait fishing you can imagine.   The ‘beaver-pond’ as we call it turns out to be a mile or so long and 300 yards wide with a deep spring-fed creek channel winding through the middle.

The pond is full of wood ducks and is a nesting area for thousands of egrets that nest in the trees 10-12 ft above the water.  This of course feeds hundreds of alligators who hang around waiting for the occasional manna from heaven. 

 

We’ve been too preoccupied with the deer in the fall and winter to mess with the thousands of wood ducks that hang around in the area, who often walk up on the bank to gorge on acorns around the pond edges.

So on our first trip to the pond years ago Jackson started with a spinner bait and I tied on our only buzz bait.   The bass are what you call ‘unschooled’ – clearly they had never seen a buzz bait.  Though they bit on everything, they went absolutely nuts for the buzz bait.   If I didn’t catch one every cast I at least got wallowed by one.  They would hit it over and over. After about 10-15 fish I started telling Jackson ‘after just one more I’m going to give you at turn with this buzz bait’… just messing with him of course.  We were fishing in thick standing trees and logs everywhere, and finally one got behind a tree a broke me off, apparently losing our only buzz bait!  But wait, the fish swam a little ways and jumped and tossed the bait and I saw exactly where it landed, and proceeded to paddle over and dip the lure up off the bottom with our landing net.  This is the God’s honest truth.  I tied that lure back on and went on catching fish after fish, laughing like a maniac.

 

Of course we never go near the pond these days without at least 15 buzz baits. Most of the fish tend to be medium sized to small so we fish light spinning rods with light line.  You have less issue with backlashes with spinning rods making long casts through the trees and overhangs.  This last trip we forgot to bring a landing net, and as things work out this would be the time that I hung a giant….at least 8-10 pounds and after a short battle with too light tackle, there he was boatside with a mouth you could fit a basketball in.  The abrasion of his teeth on the light line was just too much. There he went, just like that. Ah…the ones that get away making you scream in agony!

Have you ever tried fishing in one of the swamps you find in the deep woods? May be worth a try!

  • Mark A. Wilson

Spearfishing and Bowhunting

Spearfishing, particularly the Louisiana oil-rig style with scuba gear, is very similar to bowhunting.  Most of the elite young bowhunters I know would find scuba diving and spearfishing off the Louisiana coast to be a thrilling and an equally addictive hobby that builds on all you have learned through bowhunting.

The Inclination

I have been scuba diving for a lot of years. Certified when I was 20 yrs old. For the first few decades the diving was confined to relaxed cruising in the warm blue Caribbean reefs and wrecks on vacations and business trips.  Over the years I have dived all over the Caribbean from the Bahamas to Honduras and many points in the Pacific as well. That sort of diving is very relaxed and comparatively tame to oil rig diving and spearfishing, which more or less equates to bowhunting 28’ up in a hang-on in a bedding area.  Vastly more demanding and rewarding.

My wife Lisa appeared on the scene about 15 yrs ago and wanted to learn to dive. She got certified locally and she, my sister Kim and brother-in-law Ken took a week diving trip down to Honduras. They made 20 dives in a week. Typical they made shallow dives to less than 100 feet to enjoy sightseeing, shark feeding, and turtle petting. It is relaxed diving with a ‘buddy’ arms length away to help address any issues.

Returning to Louisiana, since we had all our gear freshly sorted and checked out, we talked about making an ‘exploratory’ dive to the oil rigs just to see ‘what’s up’. This was highly speculative as I had heard over the years the water off the coast of LA was murky and green with lots of current, sometimes zero visibility.  The idea of tying up to a rusty oil rig and diving a vertical reef, hissing and spewing, was not something we had heretofore felt called to do.  It was the classic ‘contempt prior to investigation’.  

The word we got was that proper diving attire in the gulf was old jumpsuits or blue jeans or anything tough enough to protect you against the barnacles, so it was definitely not a Caribbean-style fashion show.

That first dive into the apparently murky water was definitely a little nerve wracking. Greenish semi-clear coldish water with some current was the initial review.  But as soon as you broke the surface the rig structure opened up and a veritable aquarium appeared with unimaginable schools of fish.  Twenty feet down into the rig a cross member pipe provided a convenient place to sit and observe what was happening.  The rig is exactly as described, a ‘vertical reef’, supporting massive amounts of life from the surface to the bottom, mostly covered in coral and teeming with fish of all sizes and descriptions. It was overwhelming.  Fish everywhere. Clear-enough water.  Time to load the speargun!

The Similarities

Shooting a fish with a spear is like shooting a deer with an arrow.  You either miss, kill or wound. So think about this before squeezing the trigger.  Second, spearfishing requires super-stealth. Fish can feel your gaze not so differently from a whitetails sense that you are a predator.  If you look directly at them they will feel you and see the whites in your eyeballs and flare exactly like a deer does.  So you have to  ease towards them to get in range averting your gaze while very gently raising your projectile to make the shot.  Rush towards them and they’ll stay just out of range.  Third, spearfishing requires great equipment, great scuba skills, great physical fitness, patience, and a developed sixth sense, again like bowhunting.  Guys do it for years and years making hundreds to thousands of dives and become extremely skilled and elite. Just like in bowhunting, it takes time.  Beginners pair up with the elite few, and learn more in a day than you can learn in 10 years on your own. Guys will help you but you have to be willing to pay your dues and help yourself, and suffer it out as a beginner for a season. No free lunch!  Fourth, losing a fish is just like losing a deer. You will be so sick you will want to throw up but it is unavoidable. It happens to the best.  Miss your target on a deer by 2” at 25 yards and it can be wounded and lost forever.  Miss your target on a fish by 1” at 15 ft and the same can happen, or it can simply pull off the spear. With fish, like deer, you have a spot that if you hit it, you will ‘stone’ the fish and he dies on impact. In the case of a deer, hit the heart and both lungs and you can count on a <50 yd run.  Miss the exact spot and pay the price.  Fifth, the adrenaline rush to get on the hunt, and then get ‘on’ a big desirable fish appearing in and out of the ‘murk’, and then capture a prize fish in hand-to-hand conditions underwater in the fish’s natural element is unmatched and indescribable. Catching a fish on a rod and reel versus shooting him with a spear is roughly equivalent to shooting a deer long-range with a rifle versus at 12 yards with a bow. There is simply no comparison.  Gliding effortlessly towards the bottom hunting in blue water,weightless and free, is one of life’s most sublime experiences.

Get Your Feet Wet

Being a spearfishing beginner, not at all unlike being a bowhunter beginner, on that first trip everything went wrong.  Without going into too much detail, here are just a few ‘low-lights’. Like with the long slow mostly self-taught and hard-earned bowhunting skills, we learned at first without teachers and made all the mistakes you can make. First on the equipment front – speargun bands get weak and brittle with age.  A gun will have two or three bands. Our scavenged old guns had bands that were maybe 3-5 yrs old.  The bands that didn’t break outright were too weak to fully penetrate a fish so we poked a lot of holes into fish that pulled off the spears as our guns lacked adequate power, like shooting a 20 pound bow!  Second on the fish identification and understanding front – perhaps the most vicious fish in the gulf is a little 10-12” fish known as a Trigger fish. More or less shaped like a big bull bream. They sport a set of teeth more or less like a piranha.  A Trigger fish, unlike any other fish in the gulf, delights in biting a human, just for fun, even if he has a spear through him.   Even a free swimming trigger fish is subject to swimming up to a diver and biting him on the ear lobe.  As they say, it is not IF you will get bit by a Trigger fish, but WHEN.  Everybody gets bit!

 

Considered one of the best eating fish in the water, we always try to get a few Trigger fish every trip. Shooting one, getting him off your spear, and on to a stringer, and getting your speargun reloaded to shoot another, all the while not getting bit, is challenging. There is nothing funnier than being underwater and observing from a few feet away one of your buddies getting chased and then bit by the dreaded trigger and hollering underwater with his regulator in his mouth, his eyes darting and screaming in pain…like a big lizard they will grab hold and it is only by the grace of God that they ever let go!

Game On

After that first trip, it was ON.  I wondered where diving had been my whole life, how had I missed this?  Our skills and equipment improved very quickly as for the rest of those that take to this sport.  First you must become a very proficient scuba diver capable of self-rescue with absolutely bullet-proof equipment, and be many times more skilled and comfortable than casual divers.  The conditions at times are challenging, and shooting and subduing big fish underwater, sometimes up to 130 feet of water, requires good judgment and experience, a clear mind and very fit body.  Divers work their way up just like deer hunters, starting with smaller fish shallower, and gradually diving deeper, more frequently and shooting bigger fish.  Divers after hundreds to thousands of dives learn how their bodies react to the nitrogen being loaded, and you are expected by your friends to know your skills and limits and stay within them, not always easy when the competitive juices get flowing.  A mistake you make impacts not only you but lots of other people and those impacts can be tragic and lasting…..but there is no reason to ever have an accident, all accidents are avoidable, just like climbing trees and hanging out in tree stands.  We hold each other accountable in this sport just like we do in the woods, with tree stand safety for example.

The Gulf of Mexico with some 3,000 rigs is a fantastic resource and the diving and spearfishing some of the best if not the best in the world.  If you love hunting, consider becoming a diver and get an experienced crew to take you along and give you some tips. No different than bowhunting, you have to start somewhere. Google it, and ask questions. Find a mentor to show you the way. Before you know it you’ll be encouraging others to enjoy spearfishing in the gulf with the memory of your first trip and how silly you must have looked in the distant past.