The Hunt for Reds in October

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By John A. Lopez, Ph.D
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation saveourlake.org

Something is happening in Lake Pontchartrain, and I hesitate to describe what I suspect.

Lake Pontchartrain was once known as a bleak place to fish or recreate. When the signs went up closing the lake to swimming, it was confirmation of what many people had already concluded: Lake Pontchartrain was highly polluted, and if a fish dared to be in the lake, it would be only a lunatic that would consume it. The infamous Nick’s bar on Tulane Avenue (closed after Hurricane Katrina) once had a mixed-drink called Lake Pontchartrain that was a muddy-looking concoction that you might only drink on a dare. Fortunately, the pollution was not as bad as thought, although it was bad. More importantly the problems were not so impossible to address. When LPBF began its quixotic quest to clean Lake Pontchartrain, we immediately had partners everywhere who wanted to help. We still do, and we appreciate that support enormously. If it was up to LPBF alone, it would have been, and would still be, impossible to accomplish.

The Lake started to get better in the 90’s and, by the end of the decade, clams had recovered and record speckled trout were being caught. In the next decade, LPBF (with many friends) placed nine artificial reefs in Lake Pontchartrain. Also. our recreational and fishing map was released. Professional fishers, such as Dudley Vandenboore, Harry Hildebrand, Frank Davis, Don Dubuc, and others started talking about what they had known for a long time: The lake had fish, particularly speckled trout. Game on. We now have professional charter captains who make a living on recreational charters in the Lake. This was unimaginable 20 years ago. Dudley and the CCA also saw to the completion of two more reefs in 2011.

I suspect we all kind of know this Lake story through our own various experiences around the Lake, from driving the Causeway and seeing a beautiful color to the water, swimming, or jet skiing, or sailing on moonlight cruises. So what’s new?

In 2010 and 2011, there were enormous runs of redfish in St. Bernard Parish near Shell Beach. People were bank-fishing, kayak-fishing, and catching one redfish after the other. This past year, I have not heard of that redfish run happening, but what I have heard, from enough reliable sources to be suspicious, is that our lake is being invaded by bull reds. I have had reliable reports of schools of bull reds in eastern Lake Pontchartrain from two independent and reliable sources. I also witnessed a school of large fish from our high-rise office at the base of the Causeway Bridge at the south shore. With binoculars, I studied the feeding frenzy of a school of large fish. A week later a friend (who fishes a lot) confirmed that he saw the same school while driving the Causeway Bridge on the same day. He was sure they were redfish.

Recently, fishing from a pier on the north shore, I caught two nice reds (merely 4 pounds), which are not bull reds but still nice redfish for Lake Pontchartrain. BTW, I think of bull reds as fish often described in feet not pounds. I grew up here, and I never recall anyone ever describing schools of bull reds in Lake Pontchartrain. That happens in Chandeleur Sound or offshore, but not in the Lake! Yet there is anecdotal evidence that we may be seeing more and larger redfish in Lake Pontchartrain. If it’s true, why would it be?

The closure of the MRGO has changed the way water flows into Lake Pontchartrain and the surrounding marshes. When the MRGO was open, the tide poured in and out of the MRGO. With that water, it carried shrimp and other small bait fish that tend to be carried by the tides. With the MRGO closed, all that bait fish and shrimp are forced to flow through the sounds, bayous, lagoons, etc., and when they do, they are passing through higher quality habitat. Could it be that the redfish simply are more naturally drawn into the Lake due to the more natural migration of bait fish through better habitat? Surely this is speculation. And you may be wondering from this observation, why no one that I mentioned has caught a bull red? One friend hooked one of the schooling fish and stripped out his “light tackle” that he used for big lake trout. Another was a biologist who spotted the fish without a fishing pole. For me, on the 20th floor of a high rise, and friend driving the Causeway Bridge,
casting was a challenge. I guess I should acknowledge that these mystery guests could be Jack Crevalles. However, I recommend that next time you’re in Lake Pontchartrain you bring your bull red tackle.

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