Tag Archives: rick itami

Bummed By Northwest Fish Runs? So Is This Angler, But He’s Also Exploring New Ops

By Rick Itami

Like many other sport anglers in the Inland Northwest, I am deeply saddened about the drastically diminished runs of salmon and steelhead in our favorite rivers and streams.

For me, 2018 was the worst year in terms of fish landed since I retired in 2003. Fishing was so bad that I cut the number of days on the water by over 50 percent.

Looking forward, the future is not bright. With a new “blob” of warm water developing in the Pacific and the current El Nino, we might be looking at several more years of low run counts.

SPOKANE-BASED ANGLER-AUTHOR RICK ITAMI WITH HIS FIRST-EVER SNOOK TAKEN OUT OF FLORIDA BAY. (RICK ITAMI)

There are just too many negative factors facing our beloved salmonids these days, including pinniped predation, terns and mergansers feasting on outmigrating smolts, continued loss of habitat to human development and other causes.

Then you have our politicians trying to do the right thing, but only succeeding in getting a few days of good press with little real benefit to salmon and steelhead.

And lately, to hear that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted to allow nontribal gillnetting back into the Lower Columbia in the face of low run predictions for 2019, I am getting a sick feeling in my stomach.

I turned 73 years old in April 5 and my window of opportunity for my favorite pastime is narrowing faster with each passing year. And then it hit me: will I die before salmon and steelhead numbers recover to what they were just five to 10 years ago?

The truth is the answer to that question could easily be “yes.”

ITAMI IS MUCH MORE AT HOME IN HIS NATIVE IDAHO, WHERE HE CAUGHT THIS NICE STRINGER OF HATCHERY STEELHEAD, BUT LOW RUNS ARE LEADING HIM TO LOOK FOR OTHER ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY. (RICK ITAMI)

I STARTED FISHING WITH MY OLDER BROTHER WHEN I was 5 years old. We had a creek fed by natural artesian wells that ran through the middle of our little farm just west of Nampa, Idaho, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game planted rainbow trout in it every year. We spent many happy hours catching 6-8 inch trout in our creek and cooling off in our swimming hole in the heat of summer.

Since then, I have graduated to fishing all over the Northwest, mostly for salmon and steelhead. And in retirement, I was blessed to be able to figure things out to the point that I would catch 50 to 150 steelhead a year and a few dozen Chinook salmon. But that’s all in the past now.

Rather than sitting in my easy chair feeling sorry for myself and other salmon and steelhead fishermen in the Inland Northwest, I have decided to give fishing a rest in my favorite local salmon and steelhead venues and pursue different fish species elsewhere.

Over the years, I have developed a bucket list of fish species that I would like to catch that would require me to travel well outside of the Northwest.

I read some books and watched fishing shows about fishing the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This got me excited about trying to catch some of the many species available on the Gulf Coast, including redfish, speckled sea trout, tarpon, bonefish, permit, pompano and other species.

During the past two years I have fished almost the whole semi-circle of the Gulf Coast, including the Lower Laguna Madre and Port Aransas in Texas, Barrataria and Venice in Louisiana, Tampa Bay and the Florida Keys. I’ve booked my wife and I a guide out of Grand Isles, Louisiana for another trip to the bayou this fall.

So far I have landed several species of fish I had never caught before such as redfish, speckled sea trout, snook, black drum, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel and sail catfish.

ITAMI ESCAPED COLD INLAND NORTHWEST WEATHER TO WADE-FISH FOR A DIFFERENT KIND OF TROUT WAY DOWN TEXAS WAY, THE SPECKLED TROUT OF LAGUNA MADRE. HERE HE REELS IN HIS FIRST EVER. (RICK ITAMI)

I caught all of these species inshore fishing various flats with local guides. I have come to love flats fishing. My wife feels safe fishing water that rarely gets over 3 feet deep.

While most of our trips were successful, our one excursion to fish for tarpon on the northern pass of Anna Maria Island near Tampa Bay was a bust. On the mid-May 2018 day we landed in Tampa, a tropical depression had formed over the entire state of Florida. We had to sit out torrential rains most of the week.

The one day we got out to fish, the storm had moved the 10,000 tarpon that were in the pass the previous week somewhere out into the vast Gulf of Mexico. We got skunked.

My wife and I went after bonefish on some flats on the east side of the Florida Keys this past February. Strong winds and passing clouds made it difficult to spot the fish in the 1- 3-foot-deep water.

The guide did his job by poling his skiff within range of seven or eight groups of bonefish. Unfortunately, his clients were too slow and inaccurate with the casts in the windy conditions to get the baits within biting range.

But it was a thrill to see bonefish for the first time — some approaching 9 pounds! I didn’t even know they got that big and I will definitely give fishing for them another try.

So far my favorite Gulf fish to catch is the big bull redfish because they get as big and fight as hard as our beloved Chinook salmon of the Northwest.

FOLLOWING 2017’S BAD RUNS, ITAMI HEADED FOR CAJUN COUNTRY — LOUISIANA’S BAYOU — AND BOOKED SOME FISHING TIME WITH GRIFFIN FISHING CHARTERS. (RICK ITAMI)

IF YOU GET THE URGE TO FISH THE GULF COAST like me, I should let you know some of the things I learned.

First of all, no matter where I went to fish it off Texas, Louisiana or Florida I found that the vastness of the flats makes it almost impossible for DIY trips. In most areas, you can find places to rent boats or kayaks, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re unfamiliar with the area.

The exception to that would be Port Aransas, where some friends from Colorado and I caught some nice speckled sea trout while DIY kayaking.

The guides know the areas well and have their local contacts to let them know where the fish are. On most trips, the guides will travel anywhere from 5 to 30 miles from the launch area to get to where the bite is.

Most of the flats around the Gulf coast have hundreds of small cane or mangrove islands — all of which look alike. Even after going out with guides, I know I could never go out on my own and find the spots they took us to. Worse yet, I would undoubtedly have gotten lost in the vastness of the flats.

So finding a good guide is essential. I search the internet for guides with 5-star ratings from trip advisor. I also take note of guides that are highlighted on fishing shows on TV.

However, the latter didn’t work out quite as well as I would have liked in one case. Having seen a guide out of Venice on a popular fishing show, I booked a trip with him for me and my Air Force buddy from Tampa and his son.

The guide told me over the phone that we could stay at his “lodge” for free. That should have raised red flags, but I didn’t delve any further into the state of the accommodations. We drove from the New Orleans airport to Venice and arrived just before dark. We used our GPS to locate the so-called lodge, which was down a dirt road just off the main highway.

At first we didn’t believe the GPS because it landed us at a ramshackle two-story unpainted building that looked like it had been abandoned for years. We contacted the guide and he assured us we were at the right place and that he needed to do a little “cleaning up” before we settled in.

IT’S NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM IN THE NORTHWEST — THE OPENING OF STURGEON RETENTION ON LAKE ROOSEVELT NEAR THE LILAC CITY AFFORDED ITAMI, LEFT, A CHANCE TO EXPERIENCE A NEW CLOSE-TO-HOME FISHERY. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

He arrived a few minutes later and let us in. He showed us to a small room with two bunk beds that were unmade and with bedding and other things scattered everywhere. My buddy’s son found mouse droppings on his bed. The guide showed us how to use a vise grips to turn the shower on and off. Unfortunately, it was too late to try to find other accommodations. We were stuck.

The good thing was that fishing was good and we caught a lot of nice bull redfish. But beware of anything that sounds too good to be true.

One of the differences in Gulf Coast guides as opposed to Northwest fishing guides is that they all call themselves “Captain.” Most of them prefer to be addressed as Captain, followed by their first name, e.g., “Captain John”. But they don’t seem to mind us Yankees not observing that custom.

Weather is an important factor in the success of fishing the Gulf coast. Hurricanes, tropical depressions and cold fronts are common in this area of the U. S. So it’s often a crap shoot when you book a guide far in advance of your trip.

Most guides require a deposit when you book a trip, but will return it if weather conditions don’t permit a trip … or allow you to reschedule a trip at a later date. Nowadays, you can look at the weather predictions up to 10 days in advance so you can cancel airline, lodging and charter reservations if things look bad.

If you want to target a specific species, you should let your guide know ahead of time. Oftentimes, the guides will go to different areas of the flats depending on which species you want to pursue. For example, in the Louisiana Bayou country, oftentimes redfish are found in different areas than speckled sea trout.

When my wife and I fished the Florida Keys, the guide took us over 20 miles into Florida Bay where we caught a variety of fish including snook, speckled trout, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, and other species. The next day, we asked him to target bonefish only, so he took us on the Atlantic side of the Keys where he poled us into several groups of bones, as mentioned above.

ITAMI AND HIS GUIDES POSE WITH A NICE GULF COAST CATCH. (RICK ITAMI)

It’s also important to let your guide know ahead of time if you want to catch bull redfish (over 26 inches) as opposed to slot reds (20 to 26 inches). They are usually found in different areas of the estuaries.

I’m not much into to catching sharks or stingrays, but they are often plentiful in the flats and put up a great fight if you want to give that a try.

Speaking of stingrays, I once went out with a guide in the Lower Laguna Madre on the south Texas coast who wade-fished exclusively. I love this type of fishing, but you have to shuffle your feet along the bottom so as not to step on a stingray, which can launch its tail spike into your leg in an instant. This can be extremely painful and lead to horrible infections. A lot of wade fishermen wear special leggings to protect them from stingray strikes.

Finally, while my preference is inshore flats fishing, in most areas of the Gulf Coast you can also choose to fish offshore in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Here you have the opportunity to catch other species like yellowfin and blackfin tuna, cobia, king mackerel, red snapper, barracuda and other species.

But most charters take out several people at a time much farther from the launch site than inshore fishing and they are usually a lot more expensive. I never keep any of my catch and get seasick at times, so I will probably continue inshore fishing only with smaller groups of relatives and friends.

ITAMI SHOWS OFF A NICE BULL RED CAUGHT IN THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER DELTA OUT OF VENICE, LOUISIANA. “IT FOUGHT LIKE A CHINOOK SALMON,” HE REPORTS. (RICK ITAMI)

WHILE GIVING MOST OF MY INLAND NORTHWEST FISHING a breather until hopefully the runs of fish return in more respectable numbers, I will not totally abandon it.

Having fished for over 60 years, I have developed a lot of friendships with guides, lodging owners, and cooks and wait staff at great small eateries. So I will fish some of my favorite haunts if for no other reason than to give these wonderful people some business.

And as all avid fishermen know, it’s great just to get out into the stream and take in the beauty of Mother Nature.

Hanford Reach Angler Pines For Past Years’ Larger Returns Of 5-year-old URBs

By Rick Itami

Back in the early 1990s when I first tried my luck at catching the famous upriver bright fall Chinook salmon in the Hanford Reach of the mighty Columbia River, I was amazed to see huge fish rolling all over the river.

THE NUMBER OF 5-YEAR-OLD FALL CHINOOK RETURNING TO THE COLUMBIA RIVER’S HANFORD REACH HAS DROPPED IN RECENT YEARS. PRIOR TO 2006, ONE-THIRD OF THE RUN CAME IN AS 5’S, ON AVERAGE, BUT SINCE THEN THE PERCENTAGE HAS DROPPED TO 18. DAVE SITTON CAUGHT THIS BEAST IN 2012. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And when I say huge, I mean salmon running in the 30- to 40-pound range. The first time I hooked one of these giants, I fought it for 20 minutes before my 30-pound-test monofilament finally snapped when I tried to horse the fish into the net.

In those days, outdoor sections of newspapers often contained photos of smiling fishermen displaying monster fall Chinook caught with regularity.

Fast forward to the present and you have a totally different scenario. You simply do not see anglers landing many really large fish as before.

Toby Wyatt, owner/operator of Reel Time Fishing (208-790-2128) and who is one of the most successful guides on the Hanford Reach, says his clients land just a few fish in the 30-plus-pound range. Most of his catch ranges in the 10- to 20-pound range. He misses getting his clients into the monsters.

So what happened to the giants of the Hanford Reach?

AUTHOR RICK ITAMI HOLDS AN UPRIVER BRIGHT FROM THIS PAST SEASON, A 12-POUND HEN. A FISH’S AGE, THE LENGTH OF TIME IT SPENDS IN THE PACIFIC AND OCEAN PRODUCTIVITY DETERMINE HOW BIG A SALMON GROWS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Paul Hoffarth, Region III fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, confirms the drop in size of fish. Surprisingly and for unknown reasons, Hoffarth says that a significant shift in the age structure of fish happened all in one year — 2006.

Prior to 2006, roughly one-third (34 percent) of the upriver brights were the big 5-year-old fish and 37 percent were 4-year-olds.

Beginning in 2006, the percentage of 5-year-olds has averaged 18 percent (with a range of 10 to 28 percent) and has never recovered.

Hoffarth does not know why the decline happened so suddenly and no studies have been done to determine a cause or causes. Therefore, no one knows if the age structure will return to pre-2006 levels.

So we anglers are left in the dark as to what the future of the upriver bright population has in store in terms of the size of fish caught. Let’s hope whatever caused the flip in the age structure of these magnificent fish will just as suddenly flip the other way.

I would love to see a river full of rolling giants again.

Spokane Angler Fishes For A Different Kind Of Trout — Texas Specks

By Rick Itami

I took my first trip to the south Texas Gulf Coast in late January 2018 to get away from the freezing temperatures in Spokane, Washington, where I live and to fill a bucket list desire to land a speckled sea trout.

SPOKANE’S RICK ITAMI ESCAPED COLD INLAND NORTHWEST WEATHER TO WADE-FISH FOR A DIFFERENT KIND OF TROUT WAY DOWN TEXAS WAY, THE SPECKLED TROUT OF LAGUNA MADRE. HERE HE REELS IN HIS FIRST EVER. (RICK ITAMI)

I searched the internet for a guide on the Lower Laguna Madre and found Captain Ernest Cisneros (956-266-6454). He almost exclusively wades for redfish, trout and snook, which appeals to me much more than fishing from a boat.

So I reserved January 24th and 25th to fish with him. We stayed in touch on a weekly basis because the weather kept changing. As is common this time of year, a few cold fronts came through in January and winds were at times over 25 mph, making fishing impossible. To my delight, the weekend before my scheduled trip, Ernest called and said we were good to go.

Ernest said he could supply me with Simms waders and boots. That was great to not have to carry my own boots and waders in my luggage. He also asked me what type of gear I would like to fish with so he could provide exactly what I needed.

I flew to Harlingen, Texas, and drove to Port Isabel, where I checked into a nice motel that had a great view of the Laguna Madre.

On our first morning out, the weather was cloudy with rain showers. Perfect – just like steelhead fishing in the Northwest!

Owning great equipment, Ernest’s boat is a beautiful 24-foot shallow water vessel with a 250 hp Yamaha outboard that zips around the flats at 55 mph.

On the way out to the first spot he planned to fish, Ernest and I shared our backgrounds. He is a retired educator from Brownsville, Texas who has been guiding in the Lower Laguna Madre for 17 years, but has fished his home waters using artificial baits for 29 years.

He said he started guiding while still teaching science classes to sixth-graders and went into full-time guiding after he retired from teaching. Needless to say, he knows every inch of the water he guides on. I kiddingly suggested that he probably knows every fish in the flats by name.

CAPTAIN ERNEST CISNEROS SHOWS OFF A NICE SEA TROUT. HE GUIDES ON THE EXPANSIVE LAGUNA MADRE, LOCATED BETWEEN FAMED (AND INFAMOUS) SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, A COLLEGE SPRING BREAK DESTINATION, AND THE MAINLAND NOT FAR NORTH OF THE MEXICO BORDER. (RICK ITAMI)

 

Ernest stopped his boat just off the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) and lowered his power poles so his boat wouldn’t drift away. We started wading along what he called “spoils,” which is mainly sediment dredged out of the ICW. We cast KWiggler willow-tail soft plastic lures as far as we could in about 3 feet of water and usually got hit after twitching the bait 5 to 10 feet. Luckily, the trout were biting early and I was pleased to land my first ever within 10 minutes so that I could take that item off of my bucket list.

We kept moving along the spoils for about 200 yards, staying at the same depth and caught several trout each –some over 20 inches. Then Ernest took us north to another spot where he said we could catch both trout and reds. He wasn’t kidding. The trout were the first to bite and we landed several that averaged larger than the ones in the first spot.

Then we approached a shallower flat and started catching one red after another ranging from 3 to 8 pounds. We later stopped at another spot and had the same kind of luck until a porpoise moved through, killing the bite entirely. We ended the day in a shallow bay to the west where I landed two more reds. Then we called it quits after a fantastic day of catch and release fishing.

ITAMI RELEASES A NICE REDFISH. (RICK ITAMI)

The next morning we started at the second spot where we had the best luck on the first day, but the tide was lower and we caught only trout and no reds. For some reason, we got a lot of short strikes too. In addition, we saw more porpoises than a day earlier feeding in the distance.

Ernest took me to a new spot on the other side of the ICW where he said we should get into a lot of trout. We did, and hooked up on almost every cast. The only problem was they were all small – less than 15 inches.

Then Ernest took me to a spot he said that Laguna Madre was famous for. He ran his boat around the shallow bay to show me waking reds and trout darting away from the boat everywhere. Ernest slowed down, shut down the engine and quietly coasted further into the bay. Then we slid into the water and started to wade and sight fish.

The water was about a foot deep and crystal clear. We split up and crept along as quietly as we could, but the fish were just too smart and wily for us. Neither of us came close enough to see any fish within range. Ernest said that’s the way it had been for the past few weeks in that spot.

I did have a little excitement as I was creeping along, squinting to see any fish in front of me. For some reason I looked down and was shocked to see a stingray 4 inches in front of my right foot! If I had not looked down at that moment, I would have stepped right on it and maybe ended up with a spike in my leg. Whew!

Ernest took us to one final new spot where he hooked and landed three reds, but I didn’t get a nibble. But it was another good day and we went back to the launch totally satisfied.

Captain Ernest began an Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program two years ago to enhance the long-term sustainability of the species he and his clients fish for. Being well-known in the area, he was able to get the support of several sponsors like Simms and Costa. Ernest’s clients who release all of their catch are rewarded at the end of the day with gifts from sponsors like caps, shirts and other paraphernalia. The client can also fill out a raffle ticket to win a free fully guided trip for two by Ernest. I chose a couple of caps.

AN EMPTY STRINGER’S A GOOD THING IN THE CAPTAIN’S BOOK. HIS “EMPTY STRINGER” PROGRAM YIELDS REWARDS TO THE ANGLERS WHO TURN BACK THEIR CATCH TO ENSURE THE LONGTERM SUSTAINABILITY OF THE FISHERY. (RICK ITAMI)

I enjoyed everything about this trip, not only the great fishing but also the good eateries like Joe’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant and Mexiquitos Mexican Restaurant and the general friendliness of the people. But I am most impressed with Captain Ernest and his Empty Stringers Catch and Release Program that will hopefully help ensure good fishing for years to come.

Allons! Northwest Steelheader Goes Cajun

By Rick Itami

Like many other sports fishermen in the Inland Northwest, I endured a disappointing year in 2017 with most steelhead and salmon runs much lower than average because of poor ocean conditions caused by El Nino and the dreaded “blob” of uncharacteristically warm water in the northern Pacific Ocean.

So I decided to look elsewhere to try new fishing experiences that were on my bucket list. The first venue that came to mind was inshore fishing for redfish, black drum and speckled trout in the Mississippi River estuary south of New Orleans often referred to as the Bayou.

I researched the internet and found what sounded like a good fit for my needs — Griffin Fishing Charters and Lodge (504-689-7588). Their rates were reasonable and their accommodations appeared to suit my preference of something comfortable and not luxury high-end, which frankly turns me off.

I called and talked with Colby Creppel, co-owner of the facility. The first thing I wanted to know was if the hurricane season was over since up to then, seemingly one hurricane after another had hit somewhere on the Gulf coast, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Colby quickly assured me that hurricane season was indeed over and that November was a good month to fish for reds. I told him to sign me up and was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t require a non-refundable deposit of half the cost of the chartered trip that most other charters require. He also said that he would not charge if the weather was too bad to fish.

Griffin Fishing Charters has a stable of modern, well-kept boats right next to the Lodge on the Inland Waterway. (RICK ITAMI)

Eagerly anticipating the trip for the next three weeks, I finally boarded a flight on November 13, 2017 in Spokane, Washington, and landed in New Orleans that afternoon. It was an easy one-hour drive from the airport to Griffin Fishing Charters and Lodge. I enjoyed viewing the features of this flat, watery world that was so different from the hills and mountains of the Northwest.

As I got within a few miles of the lodge, I crossed over the Inland Waterway and turned on to Jean Laffite Boulevard, named after the notorious privateer who is viewed as both a hero and an outlaw. Not surprisingly, the lodge is located on Privateer Boulevard. I parked at the lodge and found Colby at a fish cleaning station at water’s edge peeling a batch of freshly caught shrimp.

After a short, friendly chat, I told Colby that I hadn’t eaten all day and would like his recommendation as to where to get a good meal. He pointed me to Voleos Restaurant, about 7 miles down the road. When I arrived, I knew right away this would be a good place to eat because all of the others in the restaurant were local fishermen. I ordered the seafood platter with a side of seafood gumbo. It was all delicious, but the gumbo was something to die for.

The next morning, breakfast was served at 5:45 a.m. and all of the guests boarded their assigned boats at 6 a.m. I was assigned to guide Casey Rojas. I got to liking Casey right away. He is a soft-spoken and knowledgeable middle-aged man who has guided for 15 years. I appreciated the fact that Casey didn’t engage in constant chatter like some guides and answered my questions and explained things clearly and succinctly.

We headed out on the Inland Waterway and took a little less than a half-hour to run the 10 miles to the fishing areas, which are about 15 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The area is comprised of hundreds of small islands ranging in size from a few square feet to several acres. They were formed over millions of years from the sediment that flows out of the Mississippi River.

Casey first anchored in a small channel where the outgoing tide was moving the murky water into a larger channel where we hoped some redfish would be holding to ambush baitfish.

We started hearing a lot of shotgun blasts not far away and Casey informed me that duck season had just opened. I told him he should have brought his shotgun along to bag a few ducks while I was fishing. Any outdoorsman would love this area because of the many species of waterfowl. During the morning of fishing we saw ducks, pelicans, ibises, kingfishers, herons, terns and other species. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Casey set me up with a spinning rod and reel with a small fixed bobber about 2 feet above a weighted jig hook onto which he put a fresh shrimp. We both fished for about 20 minutes without any action. Casey pointed out an alligator cruising around about 80 yards from us. I wondered if that may have had a negative effect on our fishing.

Anyway, we picked up and moved to another spot about 5 minutes away. Casey baited my hook and told me to cast toward a point of a small island about 50 feet out. Within about 5 casts, I got my first good take-down and set the hook on my first redfish — a nice 3-pounder that Casey said was perfect eating size. I was impressed by the fight the fish put up. It stayed low and pulled hard like a Chinook salmon and didn’t jump.

The author’s first-ever redfish from the Louisiana bayou. (RICK ITAMI)

The rest of the morning’s fishing was fabulous. I landed at least 10 redfish ranging from about 1-6 pounds, and an assortment of small black drum, sheepshead and channel catfish. The only other species that we could have caught were speckled trout, flounder and possibly even a largemouth bass, which remained elusive to us.

As usual, we had some quiet times when the fish were not biting during which I enjoyed talking with Casey about fishing and hunting experiences. At the end of the morning, I was thankful for being blessed with great fishing, 70-plus-degree weather and a great guide.

After taking a short nap after lunch, I took a walk around the town of Barataria. Known as the Town of Jean Laffite, it exudes a rich history of the days of yore. Laffite is known notoriously as a pirate and privateer who smuggled precious metals and other goods taken mostly from Spanish galleons and selling them in New Orleans. He was also known to profit from smuggling slaves into the United States.

Barrataria, Louisiana, proudly advertises itself as the Town of Jean Lafitte. (RICK ITAMI)

If you don’t know the difference between a privateer and a pirate, I’ll save you the trouble of searching the internet and give you the definitions here.

A privateer is any individual granted license by their government to attack shipping belonging to an enemy government, usually during a war. A privateer operates legally so long as he has a Letter of Marque from the government.

A pirate robs or commits other acts of violence for private ends on the high seas outside the normal jurisdiction of any nation, and without authority from any government.

During the War of 1812, Laffite was recognized as a hero for leading his privateer group to help General Andrew Jackson fight the British in the Battle of New Orleans. General Jackson is quoted as saying Laffite was “one of the ablest men” of the battle. Laffite also supplied Jackson with flints and gun powder from his stolen stores in Barataria.

All of this won Laffite a full pardon for him and his men from President James Madison. But something in Laffite drew him back to privateering and pirating, which he spent much of the rest of his life doing.

One of the interesting features of many of the homes around Barataria is that they have been raised by special hydraulic jacks and placed on stilts, seemingly 12-15 feet high. This was in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Casey said that they have developed the technology to raise the homes so that there is virtually no damage to any part of the homes raised.

A large home that has been raised and put on stilts in case of another Katrina. (RICK ITAMI)

The second day of my trip started out the same, but for some reason we seemed to be able to catch only smaller fish regardless of whether they were reds, black drum, sheepshead or catfish. Casey moved us to several different island points to try to find the big ones.

Finally, at mid-morning, he anchored us off a small island where I landed two keeper reds along with a few other smaller fish. As we were moving to another location, Colby maneuvered his boat full of adults and children with one fellow holding a video camera next to our boat. To my surprise Casey handed one of my reds to Colby and they took off. Casey explained that Colby’s boat was filming a commercial for the Town of Jean Laffite and they needed a redfish as part of the filming. So he said my redfish would become famous. What a hoot!

We continued to another point where on my first cast, I saw my bobber disappear a second or two after it landed in the water and I managed to land my third keeper red. Then the bite completely shut off and we could not catch any fish of any size. I thought to myself that redfish were just like steelhead by inexplicably failing to bite. So we called it a day and I ended my trip with a great feeling of satisfaction.

Guide Casey Rojas with a sheepshead, a species known for its human-like teeth. (RICK ITAMI)

Some things that Casey shared with me are worth keeping in mind when planning a trip to this area. For one thing, Casey said that a cold front will absolutely shut the bite off and he said that Griffin Fishing Charters tries to discourage fishermen from going out during such a front to keep them from being disappointed and wasting their money. Also, high winds will also make fishing very difficult.

For those of us who must reserve airline tickets well in advance, this makes it kind of a crap shoot. I was lucky to have blue bird weather the two days I fished. But you can look at some of the weather forecasting sites on the internet and view the forecasts up to 10 days in advance.

As far as when the best time to fish for reds goes, Casey says generally May through November is good fishing with the hottest months varying from year to year.

While we used shrimp under bobbers during my two days of fishing because of the murkiness of the water, Casey says that when the water is clearer in the summer, they often use lures such as spoons and swim baits to catch reds. He also said that a few of his clients choose to fly fish for reds, but that can be a little more of a challenge.

I tend to be more of a home body most of the time, but I am so happy I decided to break out of my mold and branch out to this great fishing venue. I now have good memories and a great appreciation for the fishing, cultural history and people of the Bayou.

If steelhead and salmon runs in the Inland Northwest continue to be at the low end of the scale, I will be looking for another fun destination to fish like the Louisiana Bayou somewhere else in the U.S.

Angler Looks Back At First-in-a-long-time Roosevelt Sturgeon Fishery

Editor’s notes: The following blog was written and submitted to Northwest Sportsman by Rick Itami.

By Rick Itami

As most of my fishing buddies know, I am mostly a salmon and steelhead angler who has pursued the fish all over the Northwest, British Columbia and Alaska over a 50-plus-year period. But poor spring steelhead and Chinook salmon seasons in 2017 made me start looking for alternatives.

When I received a group e-mail from Toby Wyatt, owner/operator of Reel Time Fishing guide service (208-790-2128), reporting good fishing for sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt out of Kettle Falls, Washington, I had to give it some thought … for about two seconds. I scheduled a trip for the following Monday on July 17, 2017. with assigned guide, Shane Reynolds.  Two other clients joined me — Neal Thompson and his 13-year old grandson Ethan from Spokane.

WITH SPRING CHINOOK FISHING A BUST THIS YEAR, RICK ITAMI (LEFT) TOOK A GUIDED TRIP FOR LAKE ROOSEVELT STURGEON. HIS MAY HAVE BEEN THE SHORTEST AT 51 INCHES FORK LENGTH, BUT THE OPPORTUNITY PROVIDED A GREAT FISHERY CLOSE TO HIS SPOKANE HOME. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the opening of the first-ever catch-and-keep sturgeon season in Lake Roosevelt to run from May 27, 2017 through September 17, 2017 [but since closed after July 31]. The daily limit is one white sturgeon and the annual limit is two. A slot limit of 38 inches to 63 inches was also established for the fishery.

Thanks to successful hatchery programs in the State of Washington and British Columbia, the Lake Roosevelt comanagers, consisting of WDFW, the Spokane Tribe and the Colville Confederated Tribes, developed a harvest plan that allows nontribal anglers the opportunity to harvest up to 10,250 sturgeon over the next 10 years.  What a remarkable success story that has been quietly in the making since the early 2000s!

When we met Shane at the Kettle Falls launch at 6 a.m., our anticipation was high because he had been so successful on previous trips, sometimes limiting out by 8:30 a.m. But our day started off very slowly. Unlike most fishermen pursuing sturgeon in the area, Shane does not spend more than 15 minutes to half an hour at any location. For the first three hours, he moved at least six times to different way points in his GPS that he had had success at previously.  But we didn’t get a single bite at any of the locations.

Fishermen in other boats were having the same lack of success as us and most left the river by 10 a.m. But Shane had confidence that he could get us on fish sooner or later and told us not to lose heart. And sure enough, just before 11 a.m., he cruised over an area where he marked some fish and dropped anchor. Within a couple of minutes after all of the rods were set out, young Ethan’s rod tip bounced up and down and he quickly removed the rod from the holder and set the hook. The fish was obviously a nice one that gave the 13-year-old all he could handle. While Ethan was fighting his fish, I hooked and landed a small “shaker” that was below the slot limit and released. After a tough battle, Ethan finally landed his first-ever sturgeon, measuring 53 inches.

Then it was Neal’s turn. Within 15 minutes of Ethan landing his fish, Neal’s rod buried with a good fish that at first we thought might exceed the 63-inch slot limit. But once landed, it measured out at 59 inches — the biggest of the day. I weighed it for him on my digital scale and it registered just under 44 pounds.

All of us had landed a fish at that point, but I still needed to get a keeper into the boat. I didn’t have to wait long. My rod tip started bouncing and I set the hook into a fish I knew right away wasn’t another shaker. After a good fight, Shane lifted the fish over the gunnel. It measured out at 51 inches. All of us were happy with our catches, and Shane said that we averaged higher overall in size than many of his trips.

So what did we learn on this trip? First and most important is that a knowledgeable and experienced guide is worth every penny you pay him. Shane worked hard to find us some fish and his perseverance paid off. He has learned that sturgeon move around in pods in Lake Roosevelt and you just have to keep moving until you land in the middle of one of them. Once you find a group of fish, the action can be fast and furious, as was our experience towards the end of our trip.

Shane started off using squid on some rods and herring on the others. Once we found out that the fish were hitting the squid and not the herring, he baited all of the rods with squid. We fished depths ranging from 30 feet to 100 feet, but we caught all of the fish between 40 and 50 feet deep that day. This, of course, can vary from day to day. Again, Shane just kept changing locations and depths until he finds fish. And finally, Shane proved to us that we should never lose faith and give up as did other fishermen that day. He had confidence he could get us on fish and he kept changing locations within a huge area until we found success.

Finally, Shane said that if you see sturgeon leaping out of the water, you need to pull up and go quickly to that area, because that’s where biting fish will be. We found this to be true also.

After all of us limited out, we caught and released three more fish before calling it quits for the day. The weather was great with temperatures in the low 80s and winds were light to calm.

As I was finishing up writing this article, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced closure of the sturgeon fishery on July 31, 2017. Anglers were apparently too successful and so the co-managers decided on the early closure so that sports fishermen will have the opportunity to fish for sturgeon in Lake Roosevelt in future years.

So if you want to try this new fishery in coming years, I strongly urge you to go out with a good guide before you try it on your own. The area you fish is huge and quite daunting to a first-timer to that portion of the Lake Roosevelt. And don’t do like many do-it-yourselfers and sit in one spot all day. You have to be willing to move every 15 to 30 minutes if you aren’t getting bites.

Shane Reynolds also has his own guiding business separate from Reel Time Fishing and takes clients on salmon, steelhead, walleye and smallmouth bass trips as well as sturgeon trips.  He can be reached at (208) 880-2994.  I have gone out with dozens of guides in the past and Shane is one of the best.

We have to thank the WDFW, the Spokane Tribe and the Confederated Colville Tribes for making this fishery possible. It gives us salmonid fishermen a great alternative when poor ocean conditions, drought, or whatever results in weak runs of salmon and steelhead.

SMOKED STURGEON

By the way, I smoked my sturgeon fillets and they turned out to be outstanding in flavor and texture. Some members of a local gourmet club asked if I would sell some to them. Of course, I said “no”, but I was flattered that they asked.

Guide Rick Hedding from Clarkston, Washington, gave me the recipe several years ago.  The ingredients are few, the process is a bit long, but the result is the best smoked fish I have ever tasted. Here is the recipe:

– Slice fillets into preferred eating size chunks and place them into large aluminum lasagna pans.

– Mix a 26-ounce carton of iodized salt with 2 pounds of dark brown cane sugar, making sure the mixture is evenly blended without lumps.

–  Liberally spread the mixture over the fillets, making sure to cover every part of the meat.

– Place lasagna pans with fillets into the refrigerator for five hours. The salt/brown sugar mix will turn into a thick syrup that soaks nicely into the fillets.

– Put a clean bath towel over a flat surface and cover it with a layer of paper towels.

– Remove the fillets from the refrigerator after five hours, thoroughly rinse them individually with cold tap water and place them on the paper towels covering the bath towel.

–  Pat fillets dry with other paper towels.

–  Wash the lasagna pans using very hot soap and water and dry thoroughly.

–  Place the fillets back in the lasagna pans and place them back into the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

–  Smoke the fillets at 200 degrees F for five to six hours using hickory chips.