Now that the freshwater effects of the Bonnet Carre Spillway have peaked — the last floodgate was closed Monday — the almost constant question from recreational and commercial fishermen is how long it will be before Lake Pontchartrain fishing “gets good” again.
Unless you respond, “I don’t know,” there’s no true answer, not in the aftermath any time Bonnet Carre has been opened to relieve pressures on Mississippi River levees.
What we can know from the times these gates were open is that the freshwater push usually hugs Pontchartrain’s south shoreline, and concentrates species like speckled trout, redfish, drum and sheepshead in the lake’s northern waters.
What definitely happens is blue catfish find their way from the river’s floodwaters into the Pontchartrain Basin. So don’t be surprised when a 30- or 40-pound something latches on to one of your enticing soft-plastic offerings in the next months. (BTW, evidence in the wake of 2011’s Spillway opening suggests Gulp! Shrimp to be the blue cat’s favorite artificial morsel.)
Among the yet unanswered questions resulting from this short three-week opening is what happens to fish and crabs in the Basin’s outer reaches, places like the MRGO, The Rigolets, Chef Menteur Pass and Lake Borgne.
We’ve faced these problems in past Bonnet Carre openings, but questions remain about what effects will arise from the massive floodgates project out of Seabrook into the Industrial Canal, the Intracoastal Waterway into now-blocked-off MRGO and Bayou Bienvenu.
With the recent run on largemouth bass in the MRGO, it’s certain bass followed catfish in the Spillway’s outflow, and we should see more green trout showing up in places where existing populations have taken up residence.
What’s interesting is the data for a now three-year run of The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ speckled trout, redfish and sharks telemetry tagging program. It wasn’t around the last time the Spillway opened, and the program should tell us exactly how these species react to this event. Another factor is there’s little historical evidence to show what happens when a Spillway opening comes so early in the year.
One thing we’ll see is a continuous cry from Pontchartrain fishermen about the perception of the drastic decline in Pontchartrain’s productivity. It took four years for crabs to return in numbers after the 2011 opening. Last summer, a group asked the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to intercede on their behalf to reopen the rock dam placed in the MRGO to stop regular and storm-driven tidal surges up the MRGO and through the Seabrook area into the lake.
It’s going to be an interesting year, and all we can do now is hope and pray spring’s floodwaters don’t force the Corps to reopen the Bonnet Carre.