What is the future of Louisiana’s Inshore Fishing?

saltening blog post cover photo jpeg.jpg

It has been said that the only constant on Louisiana’s coast is change, and the Saltening is yet another evolution of that change.

So, what is this « saltening »? What does it mean for Louisiana’s inshore fishing? For speckled trout and redfish?

Those questions and more are explored in this article detailing this natural phenomenon. To get started we must briefly review what my previous article about The Freshening established.

If we are to know where we are, then we must know where we have been, and that demands knowing what happened from 2011 to 2020.

A Brief Review of The Freshening

During The Freshening, Louisiana’s coast saw an unprecedented — yet record-breaking — amount of precipitation and river water flood her coast.

This happened from 2011 to 2020, and during this time the coastal salinity and water clarity was radically changed.

Specifically, the freshwater line was pushed out much further from where it previously resided deeper inland.

To reflect this, I’ve modified the below Hydrocoast maps, using a purple line to denote where the freshwater line resides.

Hydrocoast Freshwater Line – May 2014

saltening Hydrocoast May 2014 Freshwater Line

Hydrocoast Freshwater Line – May 2019

Hydrocoast May 2019 Freshwater Line

You don’t have to be a scientist to see the giant change in salinity in the space of five years and not to mention that the second spillway opening of 2019 was not yet underway!

Additionally, you can see that the gradient of brackish water was far more spread out in 2014, whereas in 2019 it was much more compacted. 

In short, there’s less saltwater and more dirty river water in 2019. There’s a legend below for your convenience.

Additionally, the above pictures are only 1,000 pixels wide, the full resolution PDF files can be found here for May 2014 and here for May 2019, for your perusal.

They are too large in size to put on this page, but they are more detailed in denoting the location and amount of salinity due to their increased resolution.

hydrocoast salinity map legend

Quick Note On These Hydrocoast Maps

It would be better if I had a salinity map from before 2011 to really depict just how much saltier (and cleaner) coastal waters were before the Mississippi River (and surrounding rivers) rose up.

Alas, I do not. Hydrocoast was not yet a thing at that point in time and, even if it were, I still do not have that map.

However, the 2014 salinity map still does a good job depicting how much the coast has changed, especially considering that the bulk of The Freshening happened in that period of time from 2014 to 2019.

Getting back on track: this change in salinity radically altered Louisiana’s different basins, changing where various denizens of the marsh spawn, feed and grow.

The most obvious impact to inshore anglers has been the prolific drop in the speckled trout population and, to commercial fishermen, the 90-100% mortality rate of oyster reefs in locations such as the Biloxi Marsh.

LDWF speckled trout female spawning stock biomass

The speckled trout fishing took a dump. Anglers with clear memory recall this, and the science backs it up.

So, The Freshening was awful. It really sucked. It was the inevitable consequence of gravity and a lot of precipitation.

Now, it is over.

Okay, so now we are all caught up. Let’s move on to what I believe is currently happening on Louisiana’s coast:

The Freshening Is Over, Now The Saltening Begins

Once again, change is afoot. Things are drier. The rivers have gone down and stayed down, with that phenomena beginning in 2020 when we did not have a spillway opening.

Various bodies of water along Louisiana’s coast are quite literally becoming saltier, and that is why I have dubbed this new era « The Saltening ».

It is prolific, stretching across Louisiana’s coast, as evidenced in these salinity charts shown below.

I think this change is more than just « things going back to normal ». I think that what we are seeing is a radical change in direction.

Below are charts for Bay Gardene near the Mississippi River and Vermilion Bay near the Atchafalaya River, pulled from the respective United States Geological Survey stations at those locations.

The data below depicts salinity at those two locations for the years 2019, 2022 and 2023.

Bay Gardene Salinity 2019 to June 2023

saltening Bay Gardene 2019 Salinity
Bay Gardene 2022 Salinity
Bay Gardene 2023 Salinity

Just a reminder: be sure to look at the y-axis for each chart and note that its values are not always the same from chart to chart, indicating that peaks and lows in salinity are in fact much greater or lower depending on which chart you’re looking at.

Vermilion Bay Salinity 2019 to June 2023

Vermilion Bay 2019 Salinity
Vermilion Bay 2022 Salinity
saltening Vermilion Bay 2023 Salinity

Now that you have looked at these charts, you can see how much fresher things were when the rivers raged high in 2019.

If you take time to thumb through all the years from 2011 to 2020, that is pretty much what you see: river water completely blowing out the salinity (and associated saltwater species).

But, note how much the salinity comes up in 2022 and especially here and now in 2023 (the time this blog post was written).

That right there is The Saltening kicking into gear!

Oh, and one other note: if you do not know here to source this salinity information and how to use it, then I strongly suggest taking my course Fishing Trip Planning Resources & How To Use Them.

Where are Hydrocoast maps for 2023?

By now you may be wondering where there are salinity maps to depict The Saltening, just as we used them to depict The Freshening.

Well, there aren’t any.

Hydrocoast was discontinued some time ago due to lack of funding, but certainly not lack of interest. It is sad and I wish our state paid more attention to measuring and monitoring our coast.

These Other Signs Could Indicate A Saltening Has Begun

So, obviously it’s saltier to some degree, but what else is there?

Well, it’s worth pointing out that this year, in April 2023, the Mississippi River did something it has not done in a very long time: she went down from double digits to single digits in April and did not come back up. In April.

Mississippi River in 2023

When you look at when she typically comes down over the years, you’ll see that she does so in July (charts further down depict this).

But this year in 2023 we got a head start in April.

That has not happened since 1988!! (though 2012 came pretty close)

Mississippi River in 1988

In April ’88 the river goes down and stays down. There are no significant rises after that hard fall to re-dirty the surrounding coast.

So that’s certainly an encouraging sight, isn’t it? What do you think so far? Tell me in the comments below.

Now, at this point in time you may be wondering about other rivers and bodies of water. Let me address that:

The Mighty Mississippi Is An Indicator

Yes, I am using the Carrollton Gauge on the Mississippi River a lot, but I am doing that because it serves as something like a speedometer to paint the overall picture of what was happening on Louisiana’s coast, to include Sabine and Big Lake and Vermilion Bay.

Simply put, if it was wet on the Mississippi, then it was probably wet on all the other rivers, too!

With that out of the way, let’s press on.

I can say, anecdotally, that the speckled trout fishing has become somewhat better, and that we are seeing species more reliant on saltwater begin to make a comeback in fishing reports.

These include, but are not limited to: flounder, channel mullet, white trout, pompano and spanish mackerel.

Trout Limit Chicanery

This is one reason why I never really made a fuss when people were up in arms over the trout limit being lowered.

While that debacle is worthy of a very long article, I felt that the decrease in trout fishing we were all experiencing was more a function of the absurd amount of flooding experienced on our coast and that, once the flooding ceased, we would see the fishing return to its previous status.

In short, the issue occurred (and could resolve) in a geological blip of time that whining people on social media don’t have the attention span to comprehend.

So, with that out of the way, there is another point that needs to be addressed:

The Often Overlooked (but critical) Aspect Of The Saltening

As much as I have been using the terms « salt », « saltier », etc. I do not want to mislead people into thinking that just because our coast is saltier that things are inherently better.

Many inshore anglers on Louisiana’s coast already possess this weird cultural thing that just because salinity is up that things are better.

People do this to such an extent that they literally cheer on hurricanes and tropical storms for « raising the salinity » (though these storms do no such thing).

Obviously that’s idiotic and ill-informed, and you can understand why I wouldn’t want to stoke those flames.

Instead, I’d like to point out that the most important aspect of The Saltening is not so much that the salinity is up, but that river water is down.

River water is dirty, blocks sunlight and can over-fertilize, leading to algae blooms.

I’d argue that the most important aspect of The Saltening is not that coastal bodies of water have risen in salinity, but that coastal bodies of water have cleared up because dirty water is no longer being poured into them at a significant rate.

Remember, speckled trout do fine in low salinity water and so do redfish!

We very well could call The Saltening something like « The Clearering » instead, and still be accurate.

Either way, it’s my intention that — as you read this article — you do not become a zealot of salinity but instead a disciple of the broader and more well-informed picture of Louisiana’s coast.

What Can We Expect The Saltening To Bring To Louisiana’s Coast?

We can expect everything that was lost during The Freshening of 2011 to 2020 to be recovered during this Saltening currently happening in the 2020’s. That’s just a hopeful assumption.

Things like viable oyster reefs and speckled trout spawning grounds are bouncing back. We see this anecdotally.

But, this is not the first time we’ve had a « saltening ». Yes, this coastal phenomena has happened before and we can look to the past to get an idea as to what is to come.

That timeframe was over 20 years ago. We must go back to the year 2000. Great Scott!

y2k saltening

What happened during Y2K?

The time leading up to and after the Year 2000 was a « saltening » event that preceded the one we are currently entering.

You could say that it starts in 1992, when the Mississippi River didn’t get above 12 feet, or in 1997 after the Bonnet Carré Spillway was closed. Then, you could say that it ends in 2008 with the opening of the same spillway, or in 2011 when our recent Freshening began.

It’s up to you, but what is undeniable is what happened from 1998 to 2007.

Mississippi River Annual Levels 1995 to 1999

Mississippi River Levels 1995 to 1999

Mississippi River Annual Levels 2000 to 2004

Mississippi River annual levels from 2000 to 2004

Mississippi River Annual Levels 2005 to 2009

2006 saltening Mississippi River annual levels from 2005 to 2009

First, beginning in 1998, the river never got near flood stage then, in the year 2000, she never got out of the single digits.

After that, she didn’t come near flood stage again until 2008, and spent a good deal of time in the single digits.

Now, what did this result it? Before jumping into that, let me detail a key point:

Wouldn’t the 1997 flood have affected the Y2K Saltening?

Yes, there was a spillway opening in 1997! But it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

The Bonnet Carré Spillway was only open for 31 days in 1997. That pales in comparison to the 237 days of The Freshening:

  • 42 days in 2011
  • 22 in 2016
  • 22 in 2018
  • 122 in 2019
  • 29 in 2020

I cannot say for certain how much river water in an area impacts it for however long (don’t we have tax dollars and actual scientists to do this?), but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see the obvious difference between 31 days preceding a span of 11 years versus 237 days distributed in nine.

The Result of the Y2K Saltening:

louisiana state record speckled trout kenny kreeger 1999 11.99

Kenny Kreeger with his massive 11.99lb speckled trout caught January 1999

This was the time when state record speckled trout were hitting the scales with a regular frequency measured in months and single-digit years.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the top ten state record speckled trout: out of ten entries, seven of them came from the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Yes, even during the 90s — specifically in 1992 — the river was behaving itself, lending to good fishing.

I was alive then, going fishing with my brother and father. Now, understanding that fishing trips become better with time — and that the memory fades — I do recall it being easier to catch fish.

After all, we were running around in a ding-a-ling flatboat with a small gas tank and no GPS, not to mention also lacking the other amenities that we enjoy today, like spot-lock trolling motors and shallow water anchors.

Mississippi River annual levels from 1990 to 1994

One could argue that the Y2K Saltening has its roots beginning in 1992.

We didn’t have those tools (that make fishing so much easier) but yet we still caught limits of speckled trout and redfish.

Comparing that old boat to the one I fish today is like comparing a coracle to an aircraft carrier. It’s not even close.

Yes, I still catch fish, but I’ll admit that it’s harder today than it was then.

Yet, I am excited! And that’s because we very well could be in the beginning stage of what will amount to be an epic time in inshore fishing.

And what’s crazy is that when you browse fishing report forums and digital creators, none of them are talking about this!

But, perhaps it is now when I need to lower my volume and cover my ass:

Beware: This Is All Just My SWAG

You need to know that this entire article is only my SWAG, or Scientific Wild Ass Guess.

At the end of the day I’m just some guy who really likes inshore fishing and was fortunate enough to figure out a way to make a living from it.

Along the way I picked up some useful insights and learned more than I otherwise would have, but I am no scientist.

My researching this topic only made this more clear: there’s so much I don’t know and do not comprehend.

Additionally, I cannot predict the future, and chances are I could be looking at this « saltening » concept incorrectly. For all I know, the Mighty Mississippi could topple levees and wipe out civilization next year, much less inshore fishing.

What you’ve read so far may only be misplaced optimism magnified by a lens of blissful ignorance.

You’ve been warned.

Are you really prepared for the saltening of Louisiana’s inshore fishing?

Given my warning that I could be completely wrong, let’s get a little crazy , go out on a limb and pretend I’m onto something:

What does this « Saltening » mean for Louisiana’s inshore fishing? Most importantly…

…what does it mean for you and your fishing trips?

Well, if the fishing is going to get better, then that means we will all have fun catching more fish, more often.

And I guess that’s it. But, when considering this saltening a little more deeply, I arrive at a few things:

Firstly, we inshore anglers got a black eye in the last ten years and learned the hard way about conservation. This didn’t happen just in Louisiana, but the Boot State was certainly a part of it.

Whether that’s Speckled Truth’s Citation Program, Release Over 20, TAG Louisiana or the many other conservation initiatives that have sprung up in this new millenium, we now have a growing group of anglers wielding an appreciation for catch and release.

speckled trout in September

I think that your shot at catching a real wall-hanger is a possibility in the years to come. I can teach you what you need to know to meet that challenge.

We are moving forward into another saltening, but this time with a pronounced catch & release mindset that could see records being broken, and those records will most likely be broken by the anglers who adapted to The Freshening and did well catching fish under those tough conditions.

I’ll make it simple: if you were a lousy live-bait angler frequenting community holes in the last ten years then you cannot expect to reap the benefits of a saltening as much as the anglers who took time to master new techniques and locate their own fish.

Yes, you will catch more fish. No, you will not catch that state record.

There’s more to being a samurai than swinging a sword, and there’s more to inshore angling than using generic fishing tackle and tactics.

I think what is required to capitalize on The Saltening is a holistic understanding of the marsh, how it came be, how the fish use it and, of course, a proven process to locate and catch fish based upon the conditions predicted for the day of your trip.

This and more is what I teach inside Inshore Fishing 101 as well as other courses inside LAFB Elite.

I want to give a huge thanks to Devin for sharing his knowledge with all of us.

My inshore game went from a bust to busting trout and redfish in the past year. Look at my Facebook pics for the proof.

I have been fishing all of my life but the information contained within has taken my fishing to a whole new level in a very short time. Devin will teach you the « how and why » so you can find your own spots depending on the conditions.

A great fishing trip was possible because of being an LAFB Elite member and the discounts alone pay for the membership!

But the knowledge is priceless!

Willie Bradford Brown III

Over To You

There may be something ahead we don’t know. There are questions I know that I have, but do not yet have answers for.

Maybe the fishing will suck. Maybe it won’t bounce back. Perhaps there’s some kind of unforeseen consequence of The Freshening that we have yet to discover.

I do not know. Perhaps time will tell.

But I do know that, by now, you may have an opinion or some kind of insight to offer.

I value such things and that is why on this blog I feature a carefully crafted comments section where you can chime in. You’ll find it below.

Thank you for reading!

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