Lake Pontchartrain's Best Kept Secret
Typically, the fall’s arrival focuses the attention of Lake Pontchartrain anglers on the bridges as speckled trout, flounder, black drum and redfish gather at the pilings of the Causeway, trestles and Twin Spans to fatten up for the winter.
But there is another, lesser-known area in the lake where the fishing heats up as the weather cools down. The marshes on the north shore east of Mandeville attract good numbers of trout, reds and flounder as summer slowly turns to fall. And as more and more cold fronts push from north to south, those marshes also become prime duck wintering—and duck hunting—grounds.
The Causeway isn’t the only place for great fall fishing in Lake Pontchartrain. Photo courtesy of Peter Clark.
“We’ve had some very good trips catching trout in Bayou Lacombe in the early fall over the past few years,” said Chas Champagne, owner of Dockside Bait and Tackle in Slidell. “While it’s not a primary target for most guys fishing Lake Pontchartrain, it’s always worth it to ride over there and check it out because you can often find some very good fishing.”
Without an effort in the last five years to restore those marshes and shoreline, the fish Champagne is after and the ducks that attract hunters to Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge may have been headed elsewhere.
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CWPPRA) invested nearly $16 million in pumping sediment from the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain onshore to restore and replenish nearly 600 acres of shoreline and marsh between Mandeville and Slidell.
The project is officially named the Goose Point/Point Platte Marsh Creation Project. It was completed in February of 2009 after new marsh was built both east and west of the mouth of Bayou Lacombe and enough shoreline was fortified to provide protection to an additional 1400 acres of wetlands.
CWPPRA has been working to build restoration projects like the one at Goose Point across coastal Louisiana for more than two decades and has built 10 projects in the Pontchartrain basin in that time, all restoring critical fish and wildlife habitat and the area’s natural hydrology.
Before the restoration effort at Goose Point, decades of slow erosion along the lake’s rim had allowed saltier water to intrude into what were once mostly freshwater marshes. As the saltwater made its way deeper into the marshes and killed vegetation, small ponds turned into larger and larger lakes. The open water areas expanded gradually each year and more rapidly as hurricanes and tropical storms sent saltwater farther inland and battered the marshes with high waves.
John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, said restoring the marshes around Goose Point and Bayou Lacombe has had immediate benefits for the overall health of a variety of fish and wildlife in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.
“The speckled trout and redfish and other popular sportfish certainly benefit from these healthy marshes,” he said. “But looking at other species can give you a good idea of how healthy the system is. We have great crabbing in Lake Pontchartrain and those crabs rely on healthy marshes all around the lake. Plus, we see a lot of ducks spend the winter in the Lake Pontchartrain area. The big rafts of Dos Gris you see out in the lake feeding during the winter spend the night in the protection of those marshes around Goose Point as do other ducks like teal and gadwall.”
Capt. Greg Schlumbrecht of To Fish Charters makes his living in search of speckled trout, redfish and flounder in Lake Pontchartrain. On his days off during the late fall and winter, he hunts the marshes along the lake’s north shore as well. He said he’s noticed an improvement in duck and fish habitat since the marsh creation project, though construction has led to some short-term inconveniences.
“A lot of the deeper lakes in the Big Branch area where we used to paddle around in pirogues to duck hunt were made much, much shallower by the restoration project and we can’t get back into some of the areas we used to,” Schlumbrecht said. “It’s taken away some areas, but you can see the benefits because the grass has come back and is very thick. That grass is food for the ducks and where the young redfish and speckled trout go to grow.”
He also said those marshes around Goose Point provide food for the larger trout and redfish that eventually show up along the bridges and in the passes.
“Shrimp and pogies and all kinds of food fish grow up in those marshes and come out of Bayou Lacombe in the spring and fall,” he said. “That’s why the trout we have are so healthy. They are eating all of that food coming out of the marsh.”
Lopez said without efforts to restore the fertile marshes around Goose Point and all along the rim of Lake Pontchartrain there would undoubtedly be a drop in fisheries production and hunting opportunities.
“Lake Pontchartrain is a unique system because it is so large and influenced by so many freshwater sources,” he said. “But it is just like any of our other basins along Louisiana’s coast in that the fish and wildlife depend on the health of the wetlands around it for food, protection and production.”
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