Lake Pontchartrain is world famous for its "World Series" trout.
This year was mind numbing as far as the water in the Mississippi River. The water rose to record levels that stayed around for what most folks thought was way too long. I fell in that camp with my biggest concern, which was the effect it would have on the human element.
The Bonnet Carre Spillway stayed open for an astounding 123 days in 2019. The opening in 2019 set two records. It was the first time the pins were pulled in consecutive years (2018 & 2019). It was also the first time that the structure took floodwaters into Lake Pontchartrain twice in the same year (February 27 thru April 11, and May 10 thru July 27).
The spillway has been opened just thirteen times since 1937, but with increasing frequency in recent years. Five of the thirteen openings have occurred since 2008, including three in the past four years.
Each time the spillway is opened, two sides form about the outcome of all that fresh, muddy water emptying into the brackish/sometime salt water. That concern has some credence as there are detrimental issues with too much fresh water in a saltwater estuary.
There are certainly short-term effects. Most saltwater species cannot tolerate too much fresh water causing them to leave until salinity levels return to normal. Too much fresh water for too long of a period can decimate oyster beds.
Additionally, algae blooms form removing much-needed oxygen levels while occasionally causing fish kills. In my opinion the long term effects are not the doom and gloom prophecies that some speak of. They are actually quite beneficial to the overall water quality and ecosystem.
There are always many complaints about how the population of speckled trout will never be the same. Although that does happen short-term as they evacuate the fresh water, they usually come back with a vengeance.
Lake Pontchartrain is world famous for its "World Series" trout. Usually when the series is taking place, the lake will have a population of giant trout that can be caught. In 1999 Captain Kenny Kreeger caught an 11.99 whopper that is 2nd place in the Louisiana State Fish Records and Jason Troullier landed one that hit the scales at 11.24 in the lake.
The big trout are a little late this year, but nevertheless they are here. One of the great things about the fresh water this year is the abundance of healthy grass that has grown. Grass produces bait which in turn produces fish while being an easy way to locate the fish.
The speckled trout have really shown up on the shoreline between Bayou Bonfouca and Bayou Lacombe and are still smashing the baitfish. And anglers are taking advantage of it. When the water was high but falling recent reports show the specks mixing within the schools of mullet, which are concentrated in patches of eelgrass.
When the water is high, conditions for fishing over the grass are about as good as it gets. Anglers can fish with a popping cork and adjust the depth of the lure to the height of the water above the grass. A swim bait or a hard bait such as a rattle trap can be very effective as you adjust the speed of the retrieve to keep the bait above the grass.
Another great technique that is one of my favorites for this time of the year are top-water lures. It only takes a few inches of water above the grass to work your lure. The anticipation of the explosion as a yellow mouth spec or a redfish smashes the bait always keeps the adrenalin flowing.
When the tide falls and gets low, all of that bait leaves the grass and the fish can easily be caught using all three techniques by adjusting the depth of your presentation. All this is great but my favorite spot to catch the really big trout are the bridges.
The Causeway bridge crosses the lake for 24 miles, running north and south and holds some of the biggest trout in the state. It's a little deeper here, up to 14', so fishing plastic on the bottom is a top producing technique as well. Heavier jig heads need to be used for the depth and the current. 3/8 ounces is a good place to start but 1/2 ounce or heavier may be needed.
On the east end of the lake, my favorite spot is where the railroad bridge crosses the lake along with the Hwy 11 bridge and the I-10 twin spans. The depths of these bridges are a little shallower--from 8 to 10 feet--but the techniques that produce fish are pretty much the same as the other spots.
I like fishing these bridges because it's much like bass fishing. A good troll motor is a must because of the current and the need to move from piling to piling. Anchoring is nearly impossible and usually after a fish or two you need to move to the next set of pilings or saltwater stumps as I like to call them.
The technique is much like fishing a plastic worm. Cast as near to the piling as you can, and let your bait fall to the bottom. The strike can happen on the fall and is usually detected as a very light tap. Then reel in the slack and set the hook hard to ensure a proper hook up.
The trestle bridge has been holding a good number of speckled trout, but the size has not been that great until now. The big ones or "World Series" trout have finally made the scene.
One very unique thing about Lake Pontchartrain trout is how fat they are. A 12" trout there weighs 20% to 30% more than trout in other places. The amount of food available there is the key factor, and they don't have to chase their food as much. They expend less energy as they play the tides around the pilings. Less effort and more calories mean more meat on the bones.
You have to be a bit more careful because that big lake can get really rough at times. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Be safe in the outdoors and may God truly bless you!
Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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