NEW ROADS — Sixty tons of gravel are being shoveled into False River to create nesting grounds for bass and sac-a-lait —the latest in a series of steps meant to restore the oxbow lake to its former fishing glory.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials and members of the False River Watershed Council started dumping the gravel in the 10.5 mile-long lake Wednesday.
The objective of the project, made possible through a $1.5 million grant from the state, is to create six ideal spawning beds for the lake’s fish species as authorities attempt to reverse the oxbow lake’s 20-year decline.
“The Legislature and the Governor’s Office have been supportive of False River; they know the challenges we face,” state Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, said Wednesday.
He said there’s a good opportunity to secure another $1.2 million in priority capital outlay funding given the progress made in restoration efforts the past two years.
Once designated a trophy lake for bass fishing, False River has been in decline due to heavy silt build up over the past two decades. It has affected the lake’s water quality, stifled vegetation growth and curtailed fish-spawning habitats.
“These gravel spawning beds are going to help nesting fish like bass, bream and sac-a-laits,” said Mike Wood, director of Inland Fisheries for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
He said it would take about two days to create the six spawning beds.
The spawning beds will give fish a secure place to lay their eggs and allow sunlight to reach the eggs for incubation.
The spawning beds, which will measure approximately 30-feet wide and be four-inches deep, won’t be visible to fisherman and boaters. However, the coordinates of their locations will be posted on the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ website.
“We’re doing these in shallow parts of the lake so the sun can reach the bottom,” Wood said. “All of this is just a small part of a much bigger project. None of these things individually can fix the river on its own.”
The spawning beds are the latest component of the comprehensive restoration plan the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources unveiled to the public in May 2012.
Since then, state and local officials have taken a series of steps toward restoration which were also funded by the $1.5 million grant.
The measures included lifting a 1991 ban on commercial fishing in False River, which is reducing the number of bottom feeding fish in the lake. Officials also restocked the lake with 300 pounds of redear sunfish and had an engineering report prepared that outlines techniques that can be use to reduce siltation by better managing the lake’s drainage canals.
Wood said the once controversial lake drawdown is also still a possibility in the restoration efforts.
“That’s going to be done when we can do other projects in association with that,” he said. “We need to create more shoreline habitats and islands on the south end of the lake first. (But) it won’t be a dramatic drawdown. Nothing folks need to get excited over.”
James “Brother” Pourciau said he has been fishing in False River for 45 years. While he applauds the restoration efforts, Pourciau, 68, believes officials should be trying to address the lake’s vegetation needs if it wants to properly return False River to its former glory.
“Since vegetation has been gone it has been hard for even professional fisherman to catch fish,” Pourciau said. “This lake has turned into a recreational lake when it used to be a fishing one. But I believe there’s enough room for it to be both.”