Archive for February, 2018


SHOT Show floor. By Lew Carpenter

I work in conservation because I love our lands, waters, fish and wildlife.

I am a sportsman.

When I think about the incredible opportunities I have in America to fish and hunt on public lands and waters, I feel strong, proud and grateful. But protecting what I – and tens of millions of other sportsmen and women around the country – value isn’t easy.

Yet it should be.


SHOT Show panel. Photo by Kristyn Brady, TRCP

So when the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) asked me to be part of a panel reviewing the Trump administration’s first year of conservation at the 2018 SHOT Show last month, I gladly agreed to speak in front of representatives from across the shooting and hunting industry. After all, this industry relies on healthy habitat, clean water and vast public lands, and supports wildlife conservation through excise taxes and investment.

It’s a symbiotic relationship where a healthy environment drives economic gain, fueling opportunity, access and large and small businesses. These basic values and tenants emerged during the SHOT Show panel, including the current threats to sporting values and wildlife health that continue to grow at a pace that should concern all sportsmen and women. Read on for an overview of what the panel discussed, focused on public lands policies, the recent withdrawal of Clean Water Act protections to headwaters and wetlands, and restoring the Mississippi River Delta.

Public Land Access and Energy Development

Enacting policies to expand sportsman access to public lands is not just popular, it’s also critical to the future of hunting and fishing. A staggering amount of public land is landlocked, surrounded by private lands, and in many cases efforts to close easement access to these lands is ongoing. Great victories, such as the Sabinoso Wilderness effort by New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) and TRCP – working with both senators in New Mexico to garner funding and purchase private land – allowed a donation to the federal government for access to that pristine wilderness.

With hundreds of NMWF members signing a petition telling Secretary Zinke to open up this wilderness, this was a landmark example of what happens when sportsmen and women fight for their access, and was a huge victory years in the making.

Discussion turned to energy development and dominance on public lands, where energy development and mining can coexist with healthy habitat and quality hunting and angling. But this balance does not happen by chance.

Responsible energy and extraction development requires both careful planning and a commitment from decision makers to get it right from the start. It is, therefore, critical that our public land management agencies – the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service – have the right policies and procedures in place to facilitate both energy development and the conservation of healthy fish and wildlife populations.


Waterfowl hunting on public land. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Withdrawal of Clean Water Act Protections

Moving on to water issues, we touched on the EPA’s decision to withdraw Clean Water Act protections for headwaters and wetlands impacting fish, waterfowl and businesses that rely on quality places to hunt and fish.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency have begun the process of rescinding the 2015 provision that clarified protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, despite broad public support for the rule and its benefits for fish and wildlife habitat. This is the first step in a two-step process to replace the rule, set into motion by an executive order in February 2017.

The repeal and replacement plan is likely to roll back Clean Water Act protections for a majority of the nation’s streams and wetlands, including the headwater streams that are so important for fish and game, plus millions of acres of seasonal wetlands that store flood waters and provide essential habitat for more than half of North American migratory waterfowl. Areas like the Prairie Potholes and Louisiana wetlands are at tremendous risk.

As the panel came to the end of its time, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt took the podium. His prepared words of admonishment were designed to minimize any panel criticism of the administration, which was disappointing in its anticipation of our healthy, but brief dialogue.


Deer hunting the Piceance Basin north of Rifle, Colorado. Photo by Henry Byerly

I spoke to the Deputy Secretary afterward about the place he grew up — Rifle, Colorado – and the collapse of the deer herds north of there in a place once called the “Deer Factory.” Fifteen thousand new oil and gas wells are proposed for that area in the coming years – an example he disregarded. However we shifted back to the Gulf Coast wetlands and the need for his administration to ensure that the coordination of sediment diversion project-permitting in Louisiana happens efficiently, which was something he expressed interest in supporting.

Restoring the Mississippi River Delta

It’s easy to understand getting behind restoring the Mississippi River Delta. A football field of wetlands continues to disappear every hour along the coast of Louisiana, and with those wetlands goes vital fish and waterfowl habitat.


6.5-pound flounder in the Bird Claw of Louisiana’s wetlands. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Later that week Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and other state and federal agencies to collaborate on permitting for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion under the guidance of Trump Executive Order 13807. Located in Plaquemines Parish, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is a Louisiana Coastal Master Plan project that would direct sediment, freshwater and nutrients from the Mississippi River into nearby wetlands to build and maintain land in Louisiana’s Barataria Basin.

The Vanishing Paradise campaign was pleased to see this firm commitment to adhering to the two-year timeline for project permitting in an environmentally and legally responsible manner.

Looking Ahead

We can’t continue to simply hope our politicians on both sides of the aisle protect our public lands, waterways and wildlife. We have to hold them all accountable every day, or the opportunities that drive our sporting legacy, heritage and businesses will disappear.

At every turn, our fundamental values are being challenged – in some cases on a grand scale, and others by a thousand small cuts. Access and opportunity rely on robust public lands that allow wildlife and people to move freely. They rely on clean water, clean air and healthy soil. We shouldn’t have to continually fight for these basic tenants, but instead spend our energy addressing other critical challenges impacting our wildlife.


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“It is one of the most diverse fisheries in the world and it offers anglers of all abilities a place to have one of the most memorable fishing experiences of their lives,” Jesse Simpkins, director of marketing, St.Croix Fishing.


Fished without a blade, these Z-Man Swimmin’ Trout with Trout Eye jigheads fish well in dirtier water and have excellent action played on the drop and off the bottom. Photo by Shane Clevenger

Targeting redfish in the Mississippi River Delta is one of life’s great joys. Anglers lucky enough to spend time here are greeted with thousands of square miles of prime habitat for chasing this dynamic species. Its big shoulders, voracious appetite and tasty flesh make the redfish (Red Drum) one of the world’s great game fish. Those that hunt reds soon find the pursuit and harvest make for an addiction rarely forgotten.

I’m fortunate enough of spend plenty of time in the marsh and, following 16 years of incredible success due to the help of great friends and industry colleagues, some solid techniques have emerged.

This past October, one week before Hurricane Nate crashed through the Delta, I hit the water with anglers both new and old to the area. High winds put us off the mouth of the Mississippi at Southwest Pass, where we normally target massive schools of big reds. The Roseau cane offered relief from the wind and epic, action-packed results.

“When red fishing in Venice, Louisiana, one of my favorite marshland vegetations to target are the Roseau cane,” said Shane Clevenger of Z-Man Fishing Products. “Bait fish will hide in this cane to evade predators such as redfish, largemouth, sheepshead and flounder. Similar to the Spartina grass I’m accustomed to in Charleston, SC, the redfish will actually get up in the cane chasing shrimp and other small bait. This can make sightfishing for them a blast as long as you know not only what to look for but how to present your bait.”

Clevenger explains that small baitfish will make tighter wakes while redfish will make a more substantial “V” wake while swimming, also known as a “push.” He likes to look for these pushes along the edges of the Roseau cane and cast his Z-Man ChatterBait 5- to 6-feet in front of the tip of the “V” “As soon as your bladed jig hits the water start burning it back to the boat,” he said. “The sound and flash of the ChatterBait will drive the reds out and away from the cane so when they hit you can fight them in open water with less chance of breaking them off. Unlike the spookier reds we’re used to seeing in Charleston, these South Louisiana Delta reds can be re-targeted if they miss the bait the first time. Just like when fishing for largemouth, recast near where they first hit the bait and more times than not you’ll find yourself in a skinny-water fight!”


Modern iterations of the spinnerbait include this highly effective Z-Man Chatterbait which provides action and sound to attract reds. Photo by Shane Clevenger

When the tide is high and you’re finding the fish to be a little more lethargic, often a larger profile bait is a overkill. This is an ideal time to downsize your tackle and throw a 3-inch grub. “This is where I’d go with a Z-Man 3.5-inch Swimmin’ Trout Trick pegged to a 3/16th oz Trout Eye jighead,” Clevenger said. “Fried Chicken seemed to be a deadly color for us with a generously flaked, muted tan body and chartreuse tail. The contrast of the tail with the body and the oversized 3D eye on the jighead make it easy for reds to pick this bait out in the dingy water. As a bonus, as long as you don’t break it off, you can fish this one bait all day due to the durability of Z-Man’s ElaZtech.”

“Remember, we’re not fishing this bait as aggressive as the ChatterBait,” he continued. “With this smaller profile paddle tail, the key is casting as close to the edge where the water meets the cane and letting the bait sink. The tail on this bait has some of the best action of any paddle tail bait out there so while this bait sinks the tail is doing all the work for you. Once the bait rests on the bottom the buoyant ElaZtech material, common in all Z-Man soft plastics, will cause the tail to float up and undulate in the current. This perfectly mimics a shrimp or small minnow foraging in the mud and is irresistible to hungry predators. After letting it sit for a few seconds, give a small pop of the rod tip to hop the bait up a couple feet and let it sink once again. Nine times out of ten the fish will hit the bait on the fall.”

Pro Angler Brian Latimer agrees with those techniques and fished the shallowest canes he could find in the Redfish pass and Spanish pass area, yielding prolific days (see his video “Redfish Booty” here [https://youtu.be/ZC-vEghSs-A] for live action)

“The key when blind casting was anywhere current was restricted by either a cane point or small guts leading to backwater ponds,” Latimer said. “I exclusively used a green pumpkin Z-man original chatterbait tipped with a purple demon Z-man minnowz. I tied my bait directly to Seaguar 50-pound flipping braid. I also sight fished a few reds using the same set up but letting the bait rest on the bottom.”


Tried-and-true spinner bait with a dark body and Colorado blade are tough to resist for active and curious reds. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Great modern baits aren’t the only road to success, and old tried-and-true spinnerbaits with a black body or other dark patterns and chartreuse tail have brought plenty of fish to the boat, as well as targeted Rat-L-Trap crank baits.

As for fishing rods, I prefer a 7-foot bait cast model rated around 15- to 20-pounds that is both sensitive for pitching close to the cane and also powerful for taming those bruiser reds. I’ve been using a St. Croix rod like that for decades and currently the St. Croix Legend Tournament stick is perfect. As the saying goes, if I could only have one rod in the marsh…this is the one.


A powerful, sensitive 7-foot bait casting rod like St. Croix’s Legend Tournament stick is perfect for flipping, long casts and conquering shouldery reds.

Pair that rod with a low profile or round bait cast reel, which all the reel manufacturers are making (think bass-fishing reels), loaded with today’s great mono or fluorocarbon lines from makers like Seaguar and you’ve got a perfect setup. Some folks feel if you’re casting crank baits it’s better to have some braided line (pulls from the cane easier….sometimes) so the treble hooks don’t nick through the mono during windy casts, but I have tended to simply pay attention to my line when using crank baits and cutting off nicked sections when I find them.

I’m hard pressed to find a better place for wide-open fishing action like we have in the Louisiana marshes. It’s a place I journey to at least once a year. It’s also a place that needs to be both protected and restored. The loss of these wetlands on a daily basis is staggering. But I feel fortunate that great folks in the fishing and hunting community are paying attention and working hard to help reverse the loss of this world-class fishery and waterfowl habitat (11 million ducks and geese winter here, too).

Our group of anglers, entering 20 years of annual fishing together in these wetlands, is led by Eric Cosby of Top Brass tackle. Cosby has been an incredible advocate for wetlands conservation, allowing a conservation voice at the event, and by his personal commitment to wetlands restoration as an Advisory Council member for Vanishing Paradise and a veteran visitor to Washington D.C. to directly advocate to lawmakers. He creates a great nexus between conservation and the fishing industry, and Vanishing Paradise is grateful to be a part of a classic event that brings outdoor writers and industry folks together to experience this awesome fishery.

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