Three weeks after it was opened, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished closing the last bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway on Monday, halting the flow of freshwater from the Mississippi River that had been pouring into Lake Pontchartrain since Jan. 10.
While much of the lake currently looks like café au lait in recent satellite images, Capt. Mike Gallo with Angling Adventures of Louisiana doesn’t believe prime speckled trout fishing later this spring will be impacted.
But it’s definitely been a hot topic of conversation for Gallo, who operates out of his lodge in Pirate’s Harbor.
“We went to a parade Sunday, and I guarantee you 20 people asked me, ‘Hey captain, what do you think is going to happen with the Spillway?’ I said, ‘When do you normally go fishing for trout in Lake Pontchartrain?’ They said, ‘We usually go toward the end of March.’
“My answer is, ‘By then, I think everything will be fine. I think the water is going to clean up and it’s going to be business as usual.”
For the short term, though, Gallo said the freshwater influx has forced him to cancel and reschedule several trips slated for this winter.
“There’s definitely a line of dirty water, more so toward the south shore than the north shore,” he said.
And while west winds are usually the bane of Lake Pontchartrain anglers, Gallo said they will likely be key in restoring the lake’s salinity to a speckled trout’s liking.
“We usually hate a west wind. Well, guess what? All the fishermen are going to be praying for a west wind to blow all that water out,” Gallo said. “I guess we’re wishing for 20 fronts between now and April.
“Before a front we get south winds which will push in the saltwater, and after a front we get north winds that push water out, so with that constant back-and-forth, back-and-forth, over time it will become salty again.”
Although there will be definite short-term impacts from the freshwater — Gallo is running mostly redfish trips now in the Biloxi Marsh — he said if past history is any indication, the Spillway opening will create prime habitat for speckled trout in the not-too-distant future.
When the Bonnet Carre opened in March of 1997, less than two years later the largest speckled trout in the history of Lake Pontchartrain — an 11.99-pounder by Kenny Kreeger — was caught in January of 1999, he said.
“Biologists studied that fish, and cut the ear bones out of that fish and said it was around 7 ½ years old, and it was like it was on steroids,” Gallo said. “Well, 'steroids' is when they open the Spillway and you get those rich nutrients in the lake and everything grows.
“The minnows grow faster, the shrimp grow faster, everything grows and the trout eat all of those things — and you get a 12-pounder.”
One big wild card in Lake Pontchartrain’s immediate recovery remains the Spillway — and if it will have to be opened again later this spring.
“What I’m worried about is if we get a second opening,” Gallo said. “This is the earliest it’s ever been open in its history — it’s unprecedented. Normally they open it later in the spring.
"But as long as we don’t have a second opening, I see it being pretty much business as usual from mid-March on.”