PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

April 19, 2014

Chester Moore column: Whistlers, snook and ballyhoo, oh my!

Chester Moore
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR —   Today I bring you several interesting observations on wildlife from around the states of Texas.

 Let us start with waterfowl…

 What flies like a goose, sports claws befitting a raptor and whistles a distinctive song?

 Answer: the black-bellied whistling duck.

 Formerly relegated to Mexico and the Texas Gulf Coast, the unusual species is expanding its range and turning heads in the process.

 “There definitely has been a northward push of black-bellied whistling ducks into areas where they were non-existent just a few years ago,” said DU biologist Todd Merendino.

 Now established throughout Texas and in parts of Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida, there have been sightings as far north as South Dakota.

 Merendino said some believe climate change has fostered the expansion and their adaptability has no doubt aided the process.

 “They can thrive in a variety of environments from coastal marshes to prairie to back yards. In fact, they are becoming quite common on many golf courses. They are a tree nesting duck and make use of wood duck nest boxes,” he said.

 In actuality, they have more in common with geese than ducks as males and females are virtually indistinguishable, they sport long legs and necks and walk instead of waddle.

 Numerous hunters have reported confusion upon first sighting and in one instance the bewilderment extended into the dog world.

 “Last year on Lake Fork my buddy and I shot a couple of whistlers. When my dog got to the first one, it stopped dead in its tracks, mouthed it for a second and then turned around and looked dead at me,” said Texas waterfowler Justin Stevens.

 “I’ll never got the look on her face. It was like, ‘Hey Dad, this bird is just too weird. I didn’t sign up for this’. At first I got mad but then busted out laughing because my dog was as confused as I was the first time I saw one.”

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 In the aquatic world two of the most effective ambush predators are largemouth bass and snook, which is becoming a super popular gamefish on the Lower Texas Coast.

 While bass are well documented at using these techniques, less has been written about the snook’s sneaky reputation, so let’s take a look at how you can use bass strategies to land big snook.

 Bass tournament anglers know that tight channels with a lot of water movement are preferred feeding areas for their favorite prey. Snook feed in much the same way and generally hug the shoreline on the outer edge of the channel or lie inside and gorge themselves on their choice of prey items that enter.

 These locales are great spots to fish walking topwater plugs as the snook often hit bait near the surface when feeding there. Try working your plug slowly to simulate a wounded baitfish and if that does not work speed, consider switching over to a chugger. Sometimes fish acting finicky respond better to them.

•    •    •

 The first time I heard of using cut ballyhoo for speckled trout I was rather taken aback.

 While I had caught a few specks on cut bait before, the reports I was hearing were stunning. Anglers in South Texas claimed ballyhoo worked as good as the controversial croaker and even had some people wanting to ban its use because of its effectiveness on big fish.

 “Oh, ballyhoo works,” said outdoor writer and veteran Lower Laguna Madre angler Calixto Gonzalez.

 “Other than down here people use it mainly for offshore but it is killer for big trout.”

 Ballyhoo for trout is just one of several “alternative” baits anglers are embracing in Texas. For saltwater it used to be shrimp, croaker, mud minnows and mullets. For freshwater shiners and crawfish were basically it.

 Now we have baits like the black salty, scientifically created, patent-pending live bait produced in Arkansas. It is sold at some bait outlets in Texas but many anglers myself tried it because it can be delivered right to your door via FedEx.

 I started using them last year while fishing for largemouth bass on some ponds that had big fish in them that simply did not want to hit any kind of lure. They had been severely pressured.

 At first, I tried shiners and caught a few small fish but once I switched to the Salty started catching bigger ones. Rigged on a wide gapped hook placed through the lips and fished on a free line they are killer along grass lines and usually hook the bass in the corner of the mouth.

 That means you can easily release the fish to fight another day.

 (To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at cmooreoutdoors@gmail.com. You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at www.klvi.com and watch him Saturdays on GETV.org on “God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore”.)