Davis Pond Speck Effect
The large diversion has forced Lafitte anglers to change their trout-targeting tactics this time of year.
Other than tasting the water, Capt. Jason Shilling pointed out that a foamy prop-wash indicates that the water is salty enough to hold speckled trout.
When he was a kid, the area known as The Pen was small. Now, itís a monster. Chalk up this increased size of The Pen to coastal erosion.
Up until a few years ago, all Bourgeois had to do to catch speckled trout was to make a short trip to The Pen where the salinity levels were high enough for speckled trout.
Now, he doesnít hear anything about catching speckled trout in The Pen, and the closest place to consistently find the salinities trout need is Hackberry Bay.
Chalk up the lack of speckled trout around Lafitte to the Davis Pond Diversion.
The benefits of curtailing coastal erosion aside, whether all the fresh water around Lafitte is a good thing or bad depends on through whose eyes you look.
"Itís screwing up our speckled trout for sure," Bourgeois said. "Keep in mind, Iím not full of a bunch of hard facts. Iím just going by what I see and what biologists tell me. What I do know is that where I used to catch redfish and speckled trout, I now catch redfish and bass."
Being that he is primarily a redfish guide, Bourgeois added that Davis Pond has been great for redfish. The habitat is nice and healthy, and there are different species of grass growing everywhere. Bourgeois also is seeing roseau cane blooms everywhere he looks.
"Thereís definitely been a change in the terrain," he said. "And thereís a little bit of positives and negatives in everything in life. The positives with Davis Pond are itís good for perch, bass, redfish and ducks, but the negative is that itís bad for speckled trout, oysters and crabs."
Capt. Jason Shilling with New Orleans Style Fishing Charters has experienced much the same as Bourgeois. Places around Lake Salvador like Jones Point, where Shilling used to load the boat with speckled trout, havenít given up 25 trout in the last six years much less six hours.
"They dedicated Davis Pond in 2002, so that was 10 years ago," Shilling said, "and I probably havenít caught a trout out of Lake Salvador since 2006. So thatís at least six years that I havenít caught a trout there. Thatís not to say trout wonít go in low-salinity water, but theyíre not going to stay if the salinity isnít right."
What has happened since the opening of the Davis Pond Diversion is that the fresh water diverted from the Mississippi River flows first through Lake Cataouatche where it filters through the expansive grass flats.
Then all this fresh water flows through Salvador to the Intracoastal Waterway and into Bayou Perot. From there, it flows out into Little Lake and Turtle Bay through the Harvey Cut.
"All that fresh water keeps the salinity really low all the way down to the north end of Little Lake," Shilling explained. "What weíve got is a constant battle between Mississippi River water and Gulf of Mexico water.
"If we get strong south winds and high tide when thereís no water coming through Davis Pond, the saltwater line moves farther north. When we get water coming through Davis Pond with a strong north wind and low tide, that moves the saltwater line farther south."
But generally speaking nowadays, this saltwater line is going to stay a lot farther south than what it used to. Whereas Bourgeois and Shilling used to catch trout right there in Bayou Rigolets and Bayou Perot, they now have to go at least to the south side of Little Lake if not even farther.
"Your starting point used to be two miles away ó now itís 15 miles," Bourgeois said. "And then youíve got to work south from there. That fresh water isnít confined to its direct route either. It spreads out to the east and west, pushing the salt line farther south, which means itís pushing the speckled trout farther south, too."
So how do speckled trout anglers know theyíve gone south far enough? According to Shilling, there are a few visible signs to look for. One is diving birds, and the other is a foamy prop wash.
As you motor through fresh water, your prop wash tends to be a lot of bubbles that disappear rather quickly. On the other hand, when you hit the salt water, your prop wash will become foamy and stick around for a long ways behind your boat.
"If youíve got foamy prop wash, youíve probably got enough salinity to consistently catch speckled trout," Shilling said. "Other than that, the only other way to know is to stick your finger in the water and taste it."
Although finding clear water would lead one to believe they have stumbled upon water salty enough to hold trout, Bourgeois said that isnít always the case. Muddy fresh water can obviously push south, but salt water can muddy up just as quickly when the wind starts blowing.
"The mud that you see isnít always from Davis Pond," Bourgeois said. "The grass in Cataouatche filters a lot of the mud out anyway. But most of the muddy water you see fishing south of Lafitte is from wind and the openness of the area, which has come from coastal erosion. Thatís the big gray area with the diversion. We sacrifice crabs, oysters and trout, but we get better vegetation in there to fight losing our land."
However, there is one case in particular where Shilling has seen the diversion push up mud swells in the north end of Little Lake. When diversion water is flowing through the Harvey Cut, Temple and the Short Cut, you see current flowing through there that pushes up mud in Little Lake. Shilling didnít believe any natural current would do that.
One place where Shilling has found some consistently good speckled trout fishing so far this year is in a nearly walled off area known as Brusle Lake all the way on the south end of Little Lake just south of Bay LíOurs.
"Itís surrounded by rocks, and thereís one opening on the west end that you can get through," Shilling explained. "It stays clean in there, and Iíve been pretty impressed with some of the limits Iíve caught and what a few buddies have been able to do in there."
Although itís just on the other side of Bay LíOurs, Shilling went on to explain that the salt line must have been somewhere between Brusle Lake and the north end of Little Lake because it was obviously salty enough in Brusle for the trout while the north end of Little Lake had very low salinity.
Shilling also feels that the kind of winter we get in South Louisiana has a lot to do with trout fishing the following spring. We experienced a cold winter two years ago, but this past winter was unseasonably warm.
"We actually caught a few trout in The Pen back in early February," Shilling said. "I guess when the river is low and theyíre not pumping, the salinity in there can creep up a little bit. But it wasnít much to get excited about. We only caught a few, and we havenít caught them in there since."
The simple fact of the matter is that when the Davis Pond diversion is pumping out its nearly 11,000 cubic feet of water per second at the top of a saltwater estuary, all that water is going to go through that estuaryís network of bays, bayous and lakes.
As it filters though, it pushes fresh water in on top of Lafitte and changes the salinity, the vegetation and the fish. Take the islands between Bayous Perot and Rigolets for instance. Shilling used to catch a lot of trout around those islands. Now he catches a lot of bass.
"You take the salt out of a saltwater estuary, and itís going to kill all the saltwater plants," Shilling said. "When theyíre pumping that kind of fresh water through here from the Mississippi River, you canít help but have freshwater plants and fish take the place of saltwater plants and fish."
Since speckled trout are the first saltwater fish to be replaced when the fresh water moves in, the picture isnít quite so rosy if you see things through their yellow eyes.
Contact Capt. Theophile Bourgeois at 504-341-5614 and Capt. Jason Shilling at 504-416-5896.
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