The planned drawdown of the Wham Brake Impoundment on the Russell Sage WMA near Monroe is almost complete, and engineers are currently on-site surveying potential spillway modifications, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said.

LDWF Biologist Manager Jerald Owens said the state is working with Ducks Unlimited on the project to begin the process of managing the property as prime waterfowl habitat.

"As of right now, the majority of the brake, which is just a little less than 4,000 acres in size, has now been de-watered. There's a little bit of water in the south end, and there's water in the channels, but that's about it," Owens said.

Wham Brake was "free-leased" to the department in 2011, and the state recently became the outright owner of the property through donation, he said. In addition to the engineering recon work and ongoing surveying, preparations for waterfowl food plant production are also underway with the project.

For years, Owens said International Paper Company used the brake to house runoff from its two paper mills in Bastrop via Little Bayou Boeuf. Upwards of 20 million gallons of effluent per day from the mills would flow towards Wham Brake, which was leveed by the paper company in the 1950s.

"They leveed two-thirds of the brake, where they would hold water and discharge it from time to time," he said. "For years, in the bleaching process for paper manufacturing, one of the by-products of that was dioxin, a highly toxic chemical. Wham Brake has had a fish consumption advisory for almost 20 years now due to that (dioxin) pollution."

When the mills shut down about six years ago, the water level in the brake fluctuated with the rainfall.

What remains to be seen is the effect this drawdown will have on the existing bass population. At its peak, Owens said the lake ranged in depth from about 3 to 5 feet outside of the channels.

"Right now with the water draw down getting as low as it is, hopefully the fish population is going to survive but there's no guarantee of that," he said. "But the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is managing Wham Brake primarily for waterfowl, and if there's good fishing then that's a bonus, and it's hoped that there will be. But getting it this low, there certainly is the possibility that we'll lose some fish."

The lake is currently home to many young bass, in the 2- to 4-pound range, although Owens said he heard of a recent 8-pound catch.

The good news for area anglers is that 2,000-acre Bussey Brake, which also was recently donated to the state by International Paper Company, will be actively managed as a fishery and is only about 10 miles away.

Waterfowl-wise, if Mother Nature cooperates with necessary rain later this summer, Wham Brake will be re-flooded and ready for teal in September.

"We will hopefully have some water for teal season, but as of right now we don't have a reliable source of water where we can turn on a pump," Owens said. "It's going to depend on rainfall and runoff."