Just two months after the Bonnet Carre Spillway opened — and poured fresh Mississippi River water into Lake Pontchartrain for about three weeks earlier this winter — the estuary faces yet another inundation of freshwater from rain-swollen rivers on the North Shore.
Torrential rains across Tangipahoa, Washington and St. Tammany parish last week mean speckled trout anglers anticipating another great spring run on the lake will likely have to be on the lookout for pockets of clean water to hopefully find fish.
“Consistency is going to be the problem,” said Chas Champagne, owner of Matrix Shad and Vortex Shad soft-plastic paddletail lures. “What’s happening is between tides and winds, it’s moving that freshwater around. That’s what I’ve been saying all year — I’ll got out and catch 20 fish, and then go back the next day and catch three.”
The Amite, Bogue Chitto, Pearl, Tangipahoa and Bogue Falaya all filter into Lake Pontchartrain, and unlike the most recent opening of the Bonnet Carre, all of this freshwater is pouring in closer to the time when speckled trout favor saltier water for the spawn, which usually begins next month.
“When these fish go to do their spawning rituals in April, May and June, those females are just going to get out of here,” Champagne said. “We might have one little run of 2- to 4-pounders for a week or two, but that’s nothing. We used to catch 2- to 4-pounders for three months.
“Wherever we find pockets of clean water, we are going to catch fish. But catching limits? I remember one time in my log this time of year I had 16 limits of speckled trout in a row. We’re not going to see that this year — no doubt in my mind.”
Champagne said salinity levels in the lake, which had recently spiked, have already tanked after the storm.
“The salinity was sitting at like 1 or 2 for the last six weeks, which is terrible, but we were actually catching a few fish because we were still in that winter/early-spring mode and the trout don’t need the salt all that much,” he said. “Then it shot up to a 10 because we had such a hard southeast wind for several days before the rains — it was almost similar to the effects of a tropical storm.
“So it shoots up to a 10, and now it’s already back down to a 2 because everything is starting to level out — the Tchefuncte, the Pearl and the Amite are starting to pour into the lake and pour into the good saltwater we had.”
The recent wild salinity fluctuations underscore Champagne’s point about the expected lack of consistency for this spring’s fishing.
“That’s how fast it’s changing. Every day is different,” he said. “It’s going to be like that all spring. That would be like a human being relaxing outside in a T-shirt in 80-degree weather, and the next day it’s 35 degrees or even colder. It’s going to definitely change some stuff up.”
Champagne said the search for cleaner water can be relative — even a subtle change in shades could be the difference in catching some fish this spring.
“One thing we always say out here is that you’ve got to be able to see the head of your trolling motor,” Champagne said. “If you can’t see your trolling motor, that’s not good.
“That’s a big bright white object, and if you can’t see that 12 inches down, you need to keep moving.”