On a typical mid-summer morning, the L&N Train Bridge that spans The Rigolets would be a beehive of activity, with boats gathering early at the site to pursue speckled trout, drum and redfish eagerly awaiting bait to come their way in the current.
But this summer has been anything but typical for the iconic trout hole near Slidell.
High water from a wet spring, along with the dousing the region got from Tropical Storm Cindy last month, has swollen the East and West Pearl Rivers — which are now releasing volumes of freshwater into The Rigolets.
That miles-long swath of “chocolate milk” is plainly visible hugging the shoreline all the way to Bay St. Louis, Miss. and then out to Half Moon Island, 9 Mile Pass and 3 Mile Bay in the Biloxi Marsh — effectively trapping speckled trout that would have exited Lake Borgne by now to spawn.
“When trout are trying to leave Lake Borgne, they hit that freshwater line and turn back around because they don’t know what’s happening on the other side,” said Capt. Kris Robert, with One Last Cast Charters, who said he’s still fishing what is typically a May/June pattern well into July this year.
“We’re still fishing the rigs and shell pads in Lake Borgne, and they’re holding fish. Two boats get on a rig and you’ll catch a lot of fish — we’ve been catching 40 or 50 trout by 9 o’clock in the morning. But what happens is when four, five or six boats get on one rig, and those fish get pressured and beat up, they leave the rig.
“And the first thing people say is, ‘They’ve left Lake Borgne.’ No, they haven’t left — they’re just going to spread out. They can’t go east.”
The train bridge sits between the two river outlets, so what’s normally a deepwater hole with cooler, salty water and plentiful bait is still awash in freshwater.
“Normally this time of year, the Pearl has already dropped out. Typically it’s around 7 feet, about half of what it is,” Robert said. “When it gets to about 7, that allows the saltwater intrusion from Lake Borgne coming out of the (Mississippi) Sound to push up into the river, no different than what happens in Venice.
“When the Mississippi River drops in Venice, the saltwater gets pushed up — it’s the same thing here.”
The good news for L&N fans is the river is now at least heading in the right direction. It’s been dropping steadily since early July, and is forecast to be at about 10 feet today — and below 9 feet by this weekend.
Robert said it won’t take very long for fish to hit the bridge once salty water finally makes its way back up into The Rigolets. Click here to see him demonstrate how he ties a drop-shot rig, an effective technique for the shell pads near rigs in Lake Borgne.
“Once the Pearl gets to 6 or 7 feet, watch what happens. It just takes three or four days once the saltwater pushes in,” he said. “Those fish are going to roll in there and it will be lights out.”
And all that surplus freshwater that’s bad news now could ultimately be good news later this year, Robert said.
He’s expecting another bumper crop of white shrimp, which could make for another glorious fall in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.
“I predict it’s going to be really good,” he said. “Last year we had an unbelievable fall and it lasted a long time. I think we’re going to get the same thing this year.”