Checked river stages lately?
For the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya?
The Mississippi is near 16 feet on the Baton Rouge gauge, near the 5-foot mark at New Orleans, and the Atchafalaya’s reading is already below 3 feet at Morgan City.
What in the wide, wide world of fishing is going on here?
It’s April, and the state’s two major rivers are not supposed to be this low: Last year, these readings were three times those numbers and the water was rising so fast that the Morganza and Bonnet Carre spillways were opened to relieve pressure on overstressed levee systems.
For crawfish lovers, that’s not good news. Word from the fishermen is there are two weeks, three tops, left for Atchafalaya Spillway crawdads, and that means Mother’s Day weekend appears to be the last for “cheaper” crawfish.
Good news for some, sure, and recreational fishermen are exploring Atchafalaya Spillway waters for bass, sac-a-lait, bluegill, chinquapin, goggle-eye and catfish in places floodwaters lingered into July last year.
It’s bad news for the coastal restoration folks: Last year’s floods expanded the Atchafalaya Delta, and hopes for a second straight year of sediment-laden waters to further enrich North America’s only building delta will have to wait until next year, if then.
Another downside, one record keepers are hoping doesn’t materialize, is that a low Mississippi River so early in any year increases the propensity for that summer’s hurricanes to find their way into Louisiana. Records indicate a high Mississippi into summer’s first weeks tends to steer tropical storms away from our coast and point to 2011’s river levels and no serious storms threats as their latest proving point.
Those restorative hopes and that omen of storms are lost amidst reports of the turned-on Spillway: Catches during the last two weeks turned around the not-so-good reports from a month ago when veteran bass fishermen said they were concerned bass numbers had dropped and the outlook for the rest of the year was bleak.
The Spillway’s midsection, upper Bayou Sorrel through Big and Little Pigeon and Grand Lake, are giving up bass. Water receding from the deep swamp into canals and bayous have moved bass into the mouths of run-outs and along the banks to gorge on the small crawfish, baitfish and other morsels they need to recover from the spawn.
Sac-a-lait and bream are very active in this area and are taking a variety of tube jigs, small Beetle Spins, crickets and nightcrawlers.
David Cavell said he caught several sac-a-lait on a “3/8-ounce Humdinger (spinnerbait) in the Pigeon area and Sorrell (north) is on fire.”
Strong southerly winds during the past weeks have kept catches on the Spillway’s lower end, from Duck Lake to Flat Lake, on the low side. South winds swell water levels in those areas and make afternoons the more productive hours mostly because of falling tides.
A look at the lower reaches of the Mississippi River going so low so early means there will be a creeping saltwater wedge moving up the river. That will bring all manner of saltwater species into the river and means places well inside the main passes, even in the river as far north as Fort Jackson, will hold redfish, flounder, black drum and speckled trout into the late fall.
Old River sac-a-lait have moved out to the buttonwoods and the cypress trees. This oxbow near Morganza and Innis is fed by Mississippi River water, which stops flowing into (and falling from) the big river at about the 15-foot reading on the Mississippi’s Baton Rouge gauge. At a 16-foot reading, it means Old River water is moving out, and sac-a-lait and bluegill that fed in flooded areas are following the water to the oxbow’s bed. Shiners and tube jigs are working.
- Farther north, falling water triggered explosive bass and sac-a-lait reports from Lake Mary’s backwater areas. Rennie Carter said a two-day trip produced 60 bass and more than a hundred sac-a-lait. “Never got in a boat. Caught them all from the bank,” Carter said.
- Much farther south, in the Venice area, spinnerbaits and soft-plastic creature baits (mostly crawfish imitations) are working on bass in the Red’s Pass area.
- Philip Timothy reported from the Alexandria area that he and his sons are “tearing up the white perch (sac-a-lait) in the bar pits near Catahoula Lake, some big ol’ slabs.”
Following that is the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ announcement that the drawdown on Catahoula Lake will begin Tuesday with a target date of June 30 for the lake to reach the drawn-down pool stage. This is a month earlier than the usual June-July dewatering period for this important overwintering waterfowl area.
“We’ve worked to complete an earlier drawdown since we began experimentally changing the drawdown dates two years ago. But late spring rainfall and flooding have not allowed it,” LDWF Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds said.
Reynolds said the lake’s level is between 34-35 feet with hopes of lowering it to 27.5 feet by June 30.
ALBC’s big change
Timothy also sent word that the Association of Louisiana Bass Clubs will break from a 41-year tradition of holding its annual club championship, The Best Six, at Toledo Bend and move one of the state’s largest bass tournaments to the Red River near Natchitoches.
The move was decided in January when Toledo Bend’s water level was at an historic low. Late winter and spring rains have refilled the giant reservoir to near pool stage.
“At our annual general membership state meeting in January, we discussed the low water levels on Toledo Bend,” ALBC president Dan Touchet said. “When we met, the lake was sitting at 159.0 feet, which is almost 13 feet below pool, and a number of launches were closed.
“The low levels not only made the lake dangerous to travel, but was also problematic for us to successfully release the fish back into the lake,” Touchet said.
“We, the board and I, knew our members did not want to make a change, but we knew a decision had to be made because of the logistics of making such a large move.”
Timothy reported the ALBC board decided to hold the Best Six for May 4-6 on the Red River out of Natchitoches at the Red River Waterway’s Grand Ecore Landing.
“No one likes change, but sometimes conditions make change necessary,” Touchet told Timothy. “I think our fishermen are going to like the location. There are 100 parking slots, and the Red River Waterway has added another 70 more so there will be plenty of room to park and walk to the weigh-in. It is a win-win for everyone.”