Black Bayou Lake, the centerpiece of the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, is pretty as a postcard. The 2,000-acre, cypress tree-studded lake holds vast beds of American lotus, a plant with huge, lily pad-like leaves up to 3 feet across and beautiful 6-inch yellow flowers.

The semi-urban refuge located off Highway 165 a hop, skip and jump north of Monroe was created in 1997 with a 99-year lease between the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the City of Monroe, which owns the lake.

The lake teems with wildlife, especially bird life. Song birds abound, as do wading birds, such as herons and egrets. A run across the lake during late bream season will jump up dozens of wood duck families. During the fall migratory season, other waterfowl join them.

It's a bird watcher's (and hunter's) paradise. Twenty-two hundred land acres surrounding the lake are included in the refuge, All the acreage is open to the public and over half of the area is open to hunting, although some strange rules are in place.

The lake has always been a popular fishing destination and continues to be so.

Bluegill fishing is excellent from April to September. Redear sunfish, better known locally as chinquapin, form spawning beds and are easy to catch in April and May.

The lake, which reaches depths of 8 feet near the center, is also noted for its largemouth bass fishing, especially in spring.

Crappie (white perch) jiggers work the lake hard from the end of February to May.

Few rules apply to fishermen, other than a prohibition on launching boats with motors over 50 horsepower and prohibitions on the use of trotlines, limb lines, yo-yos, traps or nets.

Hunting is a different matter. Strangely, much of the lake is open to waterfowl hunting, but hunters are not allowed to launch boats from the public launch site to access the open hunting areas. Hunters can walk in and wade or use ATVs on designated trails to pull in small boats. The construction of permanent blinds also is prohibited.

Hunting deer with firearms isn't allowed, although bow hunting is allowed concurrent with Louisiana state seasons. Small game hunting is allowed, but without a spring squirrel season.

Camping and open fires are prohibited.

A signed refuge hunting permit must be carried by all hunters. This is simply the rules and regulations brochure with a space for signing on the front cover. A $2 boat launching fee is required to launch a boat at the public ramp.

More information on Black Lake Bayou National Wildlife Refuge can be obtained by calling 318-387-1114 or from the Web.