Urban kayak oasis

Robyn Bordelon caught this nice bass in Bayou St. John near the bridge on Filmore Avenue. This great urban fishery sits in the heart of New Orleans and provides a welcome respite from city life.

“Boats on the Bayou” shines light on downtown New Orleans bass

If you’re looking for some freshwater kayak fishing fun in the middle of New Orleans, give Bayou St. John a try. This historic urban waterway was once a major trade route from Lake Pontchartrain to downtown New Orleans. Now, the peaceful waterway is lined with large homes and is mostly used by recreational paddlers. However, the fishing is good and kayak access is easy.

The Big Bass Rodeo in New Orleans’ famed City Park is the oldest freshwater fishing rodeo in the country. This is a bank-fishing only contest which recently held their 73rd annual event. The lagoons in City Park are home to many big bass and other freshwater species. However, the park’s lagoons allow bank fishing only and are not open to kayaks. 

Several years ago the rodeo added a separate kayak fishing division dubbed “Boats on the Bayou” where anglers can fish in Bayou St. John which lies just across the street from the park. Fishing in the bayou is allowed year-round, but power boats are not allowed. Bayou St. John is fairly protected from wind by the surrounding neighborhoods and areas of tree-lined shore. With no motorboat traffic, it is a great, safe place for new and experienced kayak anglers alike.

Healthy bass populations

This urban waterway is typically underfished, although recent fish shocking samples by LDWF showed healthy populations of bass with some big bass in the sample. The 2022 winner of the Boats on the Bayou event was Luke Beslin with a 4.19 pound bass.

Bayou St. John offers a variety of fishing structure. Mixed shorelines of trees, grass edges, concrete rip-rap and submerged aquatic vegetation provide great places for kayak anglers to try their luck. Additionally, small docks and piers are common along the areas with houses and the multiple bridges, and concrete embankments provide additional fish-holding habitat. The water is up to 11 feet deep in some areas and the bottom is relatively flat. However, some deep holes, ledges, and drop-offs can be easily located with a depth finder. 

There are no designated launch areas along the miles of shoreline, but access is fairly easy with roadside parking and clear bank areas to slide the kayaks into the bayou. All of the bridges are passable underneath with kayaks, but you’ll need to lay your rods down and may have to duck your head a bit if the water is up. On the northern-most end of the bayou near Allen Toussaint Blvd, (formerly Robert E. Lee Blvd) there is a low structure that is virtually impassable. However, this only cuts out access to a small section of the bayou that leads out to Lake Pontchartrain. 

There is a flood control structure near the lake that is closed to prevent storm surges from entering the bayou, but is also used to regulate and improve the exchange of water between the lake and Bayou St. John. This has improved the water quality of the bayou over the last several years. The bayou hosts a full range of freshwater species, but speckled trout and redfish are occasionally caught in the northern areas of the bayou due to the close proximity to the lake. 

This chunky bass couldn’t resist a white spinnerbait slow-rolled along the concrete pad that lines the shoreline in this area of Bayou St. John.

Best bass baits

Typical bass lures do the trick, with spinnerbaits, Rat-L-Traps and plastic worms being amongst some of the more popular lures. Average bass caught are usually under two pounds, but larger fish are also regularly caught. The water is generally clear, but does cloud up after heavy rains. 

The bayou also has healthy populations of bream, which are regularly caught on small spinners, live worms and crickets. Rio Grande Cichlids are also regularly caught. With fairly clean shorelines and wide-open water behind you, the bayou is a great place for using the fly rod out of the kayak. Small popping bugs and various insect imitations work well.

Often overlooked is the catfish population. Blue and channel cats are often incidentally caught by anglers targeting bass. However, specifically targeting catfish with large nightcrawlers or other natural baits such as cut shad or mullet can lead to a nice mess of cats.

Bayou St. John is also a great place to take the kids along. With no rough water or having to worry about powerboats swamping you, it makes for a peaceful, safe day on the water with easy opportunities for the kids to catch fish. 

As with any waterbody, fish are not going to just jump in the kayak. It takes a bit of patience and learning to find the better areas and patterns for fishing Bayou St. John. If you commit to making several trips, you can figure out what works best for you and surely put some nice fish in the ‘yak.

About Chris Holmes 254 Articles
Chris Holmes has kayak fished in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and many places in between.