In the Deep South, fishermen talk hunting while they’re casting to tailing reds or corking for trout. Hunters talk fishing as they scan metal-gray skies for greenheads and pintails. Being an all-around outdoorsman comes with the heritage.
No wonder saltwater cast-and-blast opportunities proliferate through the Gulf of Mexico region. Search out freshwater fishing and hunting trips, and you’ll find every kind of exotic combination in every corner of the country. But when it comes to coastal opportunities, we’re talking mostly the Southern United States and primarily ducks mixed with the target fish species of red drum and trout.
According to the most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Survey, 69 percent of hunters fish and 28 percent of anglers hunt. (If the percentage of anglers hunting seems low in comparison, consider that twice as many people fish as hunt.) Either way, millions of people each year make their memories in the woods and on the water.
“Since we’re located within the lower Mississippi River Delta and at the end of the Mississippi flyway, our area is a wintering point for thousands and thousands of ducks,” says Ray Stansberry, manager at Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, Louisiana. “Ninety percent of our hunters choose the cast-and-blast package. What else would hunters do back at the lodge after a morning hunt besides read a book, watch TV or take a long nap?”
Duck seasons generally occur in fall and winter, when North American fishing travel slows. And since hunters generally target ducks over ponds or marshes, access to good sites is quick and easy from coastal fishing hot spots.
To show you a sample of what’s available in the South’s busy winter wonderlands, here are six cast-and-blast operators — including four lodges and two guide-only outfitters — from Texas to Florida. Chances are, though, most coastal fishing lodges in Louisiana and Texas offer some kind of hunting opportunities. And undoubtedly, many fishing guides throughout Florida’s east coast, Georgia and the Carolinas can find hunting options for guests on request. In most cases, hunters must bring their own firearms and ammunition. Decoys and dogs as well as fishing tackle and bait are provided.
1. Redfish Lodge
Experience: Redfish Lodge offers dove and duck cast-and-blast adventures. Dove hunting takes place on a lease about 45 minutes from the lodge. Guides drive guests to the dove fields for late-afternoon shoots. The parties return to the lodge for dinner and fishing the next morning.
The lodge owns four duck blinds that are within wading distance of its facility on Copano Bay. Hunters trek out in the morning, return to the lodge for lunch, and fish in the afternoon for redfish, trout, black drum and flounder. If they have not limited out, guests can shoot again in the afternoon instead.
Season: Legal hunting seasons can change each year. The 2015-16 South Zone split dove season runs Sept. 18 to Oct. 21 and Dec. 18 to Jan. 22.
At press time, the state had not set 2015-16 duck season dates. The 2014-15 South Zone split duck season ran Nov. 1 to 30 and Dec. 13 to Jan. 25. (Redfish Lodge offers cast-and-blast trips only during the first split for duck season.)
Cost: The dove cast-and-blast costs $1,480 (two nights/two days) per person, double occupancy. The duck cast-and-blast costs $1,330 per person, double occupancy.
Two-day packages include accommodations (the lodge can sleep 18), guided fishing (aboard one of six boats), tackle, catch care, all meals, beverages (including beer and wine), unlimited wade and kayak fishing, and wireless Internet. Hunting and fishing licenses are not included.
2. Bay Flats Lodge
Experience: Bay Flats offers duck hunting with or without lodging and meals. The winter cold fronts and winds bring down mallards, gadwalls, wigeons, pintails, canvasbacks, redheads and teal, among many other species.
Bay Flats’ 11,000-square-foot lodge lies across the street from Swan Point Marina. Hunters board boats at the marina before dawn. The region features miles and miles of open marsh and water. Guides carry bunches of wolf weed aboard their 24-foot tunnel-hull center-consoles to camouflage their boats once they locate birds. Bay Flats owns some pit blinds and fixed stands, but the pressured birds tend to stay on the move.
Midmorning to midday, the hunters come back to the lodge. They head out onto San Antonio Bay in the afternoon to target trout, redfish and flounder. During November and December, the bays become almost crystal clear. Most local anglers recede to the deer woods or turn on their sports channels to watch football, leaving the hot spots open for cast-and-blasters.
If you’d prefer to hunt again instead of fish in the afternoon, Bay Flats will cater to your wishes.
Season: As mentioned above, Texas duck hunting seasons have not yet been determined. Bay Flats does offer cast-and-blast opportunities during both split seasons. The lodge estimates it entertains 800 to 900 guests each month from November through January.
Cost: The lodge accommodates 55 guests per night and maintains 14 full-time hunting and fishing guides. Costs start at $250 per person for a morning or afternoon hunt without lodging (a hot lunch is provided); $400 per person with lodging and meals. The cast-and-blast combo with lodging and meals costs $625 per person per day.
3. Cast & Blast Charters
Experience: Capt. Chris Pike runs Cast & Blast Charters as a guide service out of Delacroix, located about 35 minutes southeast of New Orleans. He usually recommends that hunters and anglers stay at Sweetwater Marina, which offers one-bedroom efficiencies (with bunks and sofa sleeper) that come with kitchens and dining areas.
Pike has access to 2,500 acres of private land that he hunts using a boat for transit, with pop-up and permanent blinds.
Pike offers packages for teal and regular duck seasons. The hunting occurs at first light until about 10 a.m. Fishing starts at 1 p.m., and anglers target the interior marshes for reds, trout, drum and flounder, finishing around dusk.
Season: Louisiana’s 2015-16 teal season runs Sept. 12 to 27 with a six-bird daily bag limit. Regular duck seasons had not been determined at press time, but usually last 60 days, starting in early November and running through late January. Pike says the peak time is Thanksgiving until the first of the year, when the region experiences its best weather for productive hunting and fishing.
Cost: $375 to $450 per person per day, excluding accommodations and meals. Efficiencies at Sweetwater cost $159 per night and sleep six.
4. Dogwood Lodge
Experience: Southern Way Charters, which owns Sportsmans Lodge in Venice, Louisiana, and runs two liveaboards out of Gulfport, Mississippi, will open its new 114-foot floating Dogwood Lodge in Hopedale, Louisiana, this month — in time for teal season. Hopedale lies 45 minutes east of New Orleans on the Biloxi Marsh.
Both Sportsmans and Dogwood lodges offer cast-and-blast opportunities in an a la carte setting — lodging is priced separately, as are guided hunts and fishing trips. Southern Way tailors your trip and arranges for the proper guides to host you from the lodges.
Most hunters target ducks, but Southern Way can also book hog hunts and bow-fishing trips. Guides pick up hunters from the lodge by boat and take them to locations in the marsh that include platforms. When guides need to stay mobile to follow the birds, they use pop-up blinds or other camouflage materials.
Water clarity in Biloxi Marsh peaks in the winter, when fly-fishermen and spin-casters can sight-fish for red drum in shallow water.
Season: Louisiana’s 2015-16 teal season runs Sept. 12 to 27 with a six-bird daily bag limit. Regular duck seasons had not been determined at press time.
Cost: Lodging costs $215 per person per night. Hunts cost $250 per gun per hunt, and fishing costs $750 to $900 per boat (for two to four people, depending on the boat).
5. Cajun Fishing Adventures
Experience: Cajun Fishing Adventures launches two water-taxi boats from its lodge to ferry customers across the Mississippi River to hunting leases that comprise backwater marsh ponds. Hunters then board duck boats in the bayou with guides, dogs and decoys that disperse toward an assortment of pre-built, drive‑through duck blinds.
After the morning hunt, customers return to the main lodge for a hot meal, and then head out in fishing boats for the afternoon. Fishing for red drum, trout, black drum and flounder remains fairly steady day-in and day-out in Louisiana.
Cajun Fishing Adventures uses 18 fishing guides and six hunting guides.
Season: Peak times within the teal and duck seasons depend on several variables, including how much water flowed down the river back in spring and early summer. That defines the amount of aquatic flora and fauna available for ducks to eat.
Fronts also bring more ducks south. The direction of those fronts determines which species arrive and when.
Cost: $750 per person per day, including guided hunt, guided fishing, lodge accommodations and all meals.
6. Back Bay Adventures
Panama City, Florida
Experience: Capt. Todd Jones runs cast-and-blast trips out of Sun Harbor Marina in Florida’s panhandle. Depending on the moon phase, anglers might fish in the morning and hunt in the afternoon, or vice versa. Jones says on a full moon, generally afternoon hunts prove more productive.
Jones and the guides he works with usually set up on public waterways and marshes in St. Andrews Bay or in brackish intracoastal channels. They set out 200 to 400 decoys, depending on their group size, so other hunters don’t normally crowd in. They can’t compete with that kind of visual spectacle.
The region draws redheads, canvasbacks and bluebills as well as seaducks like buffleheads, scoters and oldsquaw. “We probably have one of the largest populations of redheads in the country outside of the Laguna Madre [in Texas],” he says. “This is a destination for redheads.”
Fishing trips target redfish inshore and amberjacks, snapper and grouper offshore. Jones uses a 24-foot Tidewater center-console.
Jones doesn’t work with any specific lodges, but says that Panama City has more than 200,000 available hotel rooms, and late fall and winter is a slow tourist season.
Season: The 2015-16 Florida duck season dates were not available at press time. Last year, first-phase dates ran Nov. 22 to 30; the second phase started Dec. 6 and ended Jan. 25.
Cost: $450 for two hunters; $100 for a third. Jones works with two other guides. Combined, they can accommodate as many as nine hunters in three boats.