False River restocked with redear sunfish

NEW ROADS — The ambitious effort to restore False River continued Tuesday when the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries restocked the ailing oxbow lake with approximately 300 pounds of redear sunfish.

Mike Wood, director of inland fisheries for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said replenishing the lake’s fish population with 300,000 redear sunfish­ — also called chinquapin — will help the agency gauge just how well revitalization efforts are going.

“These fish may grow into a viable population and we’re hoping that will be a symptom of the return of False River,” Wood said. “When we see healthy chinquapin in this lake, we’ll know the conditions necessary for their survival are back.”

False River has been in a state of decline the past 30 years due to excessive siltation, which over time has neutralized its spawning territories for fish and deteriorated its natural habitats.

Wood said the lake’s habitat deficiencies are to blame for the dramatic drop over the years in its chinquapin population.

In June, the state Department of Natural Resources released its False River Ecosystem Restoration Plan, after more than two decades of stalled revitalization efforts from multiple state and federal agencies.

In November, the LDWF lifted its 1991 ban on commercial gill-netting, a component in the DNR plan that Wood previously said would help reduce the negative impacts excessive numbers of commercial fish have on the lake.

Also in November, the state Bond Commission approved the sale of $500,000 in general obligation bonds to finance more of the plan’s initiatives, which include dredging the lake, creating island terraces, and completing a 2-to-3-foot lake drawdown.

Tuesday’s redear restocking, however, was not part of DNR’s original plan.

Wood said the chinquapin were surplus fish the agency harvested at one of its hatcheries.

“We believe we can get the best use out of them in False River,” he said.

Approximately 145,000 2-inch chinquapin fingerlings were dumped into False River Tuesday afternoon, he said.

Wood said a total of 300,000 fingerlings will be added to the lake at various locations by Wednesday.

If conditions are favorable, Wood said, the fingerlings should be between 5 or 6 inches long around the same time next year, and up to 8 inches long in 2014.

“They are the preferred fish; definitely at the top of my list in terms of table fare,” he said.

Several members of the False River Watershed Council watched Tuesday as Wikldlife and Fisheries began the restocking effort at the public boat landing near Morel’s Restaurant.

Fishing aficionado Tommy Bryan, who also lives along the lake’s shoreline, said he’s looking forward to the future developments.

“I’m really happy to see these fish going in,” Bryan said. “We’re looking for more — like sac-a-laits.”

Local fisherman Keith Robillard said that the fish stocking will complement the Wildlife and Fisheries habitat rehabilitation plans for the lake.

“These fish will arrive and spawn around the same time the new habitats are going on,” Robillard said. “It’ll be the perfect storm.”

New Roads City Councilmen Kurt “Clipper” White called the restocking “a very important process” toward turning False River back into the economic engine it once was for Pointe Coupee Parish.

“When you have a major fishery in your backyard, it attracts people to New Roads and gives people a reason to stay here,” White said.