Tis the season to be jolly.
And a hearty Ho! Ho! Ho! to all, except the folks who caused False River to decline to a state where is can hardly support the kind of gamefish species that had it among the top fishing lakes in the country a generation ago.
There’s enough blame to go around in Pointe Coupee Parish in this tragedy, most of whom are in the background now. And there’s no point in naming names, except that a major landowner, a couple of companies and the political forces holding sway more than 20 years ago have yet to shoulder the blame for degrading what once was one of our state’s trophy bass lakes.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: The landowner wanted to drain farmland, and held enough political power to push drainage projects through the system that doubled False River’s watershed. When completed, it meant the runoff carried sediment loads too great for this oxbow lake to handle. Both ends of the 12-mile-long lake silted up.
This lake held enough bass, chinquapin, sac-a-lait and catfish to rank among the most productive lakes in the U.S. in terms of pounds of fish per acre. It had its share of roughfish, too, including an alligator gar that came up beside my friend Joe Major’s boat, a beast we estimated was eight feet long weighed in excess of 200 pounds.
That was a day Joe and I caught 34 bass and a 30-pound blue catfish near the old Island Queen.
It was a lake with a shell bed that stretched for more than a mile on the north end, the New Roads end, that drew hundreds of small boats during the spring to get in on the chinquapin “bedding” season.
The species seeks hard shell or hard sandy bottoms to spawn. The silt from one drainage project covered this shell bed years ago and left the bottom so soft that chinquapin have virtually disappeared from the lake.
During the late fall and through the winter, sac-a-lait catches were off the chart. Yes, it was that good. Not now.
OK, so False River isn’t a watery desert. It continues to have bass, but degraded water quality and overzealous control of the water levels have reduced the lake’s ability to carry sportfish species. Today, gar, buffalo and carp rule these waters.
It’s laudable that the current Pointe Coupee Police Jury and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have undertaken projects to restore hard-bottom fish habitat. LDWF announced last week that the Police Jury provided “approximately 24 (cubic) yards of gravel ... distributed throughout three locations,” with four-inches thickness in spawning beds measuring 20x20 feet or 10x40 feet to make, according to the LDWF, “a total of 10 artificial reef beds,” in the False River Restoration Plan.
That’s just not enough. Maybe 10 times 24 yards — No! — 100 times 24 yards will be needed to get this lake back to mimic the spawning capacity needed, and it once had, to help repopulate sportfish in False River.