Freshwater intrusion has changed this great fishery — for the better
There are many areas in southeast Louisiana that have become more brackish as a result of freshwater diversions and other post-Hurricane Katrina coastal protection projects. With easy kayak access to prime fishing areas, Hopedale is a great area to target for a wide variety of species.
On a recent trip, several different species were landed, saltwater and freshwater, and there is little doubt that a few more could have been found. With its proximity to Lake Borgne, and with the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) providing a straight run to the Gulf, Hopedale was almost strictly for saltwater fishing for many decades. However the post-Katrina installation of the rock dam across the MRGO just east of Bayou LaLoutre, levee enhancements and other flood-protection measures in the Pontchartrain Basin have greatly changed the hydrology and salinity in surrounding areas.
Hopedale has reverted to a brackish system and seen an influx of freshwater species, including largemouth bass, freshwater catfish, bream and a first on a recent trip: white bass. No doubt there are other freshwater species swimming around the area. However, the good news is that all the normal saltwater species — redfish, speckled trout and flounder, etc. — remain and are co-mingled.
While the rock dam is porous and tidal water still flows through it, there is no doubt about the salinity changes. The surrounding marshes are supporting vast areas of submerged aquatic grass and are home to a mixed bag of both saltwater and freshwater species.
There are two main launch points for kayak anglers in Hopedale.
There is an honor box and a concrete ramp at the site of the old Pip’s Place on Hopedale Highway. You won’t find any facilities or supplies available: launch and parking only. This launches into Bayou LaLoutre and a short paddle/pedal through Hopedale Bayou and into Hopedale Lagoon and the surrounding marsh complex and Lake Ameda. Typical marsh fishing abounds, and it is a great area for kayak anglers to explore.
A few miles further down the highway is Hopedale Marina. It has a dedicated, kayak-specific launch that makes getting in the water quick and easy without having to contend with powerboats at the regular back-down ramp. It is a full-service marina with ice, fishing supplies and restroom facilities. From the launch, you can simply cross Bayou LaLoutre into the spoil canal and access the surrounding marsh. Also, as short paddle/pedal north puts you directly into the MRGO near the rock dam. You can fish the MRGO up to and all around the dam. A few adventurous ’yakers regularly transport their kayaks up and over the rocks to fish the east side of the dam. If you plan to do this, travel as light as possible and use caution. The rocks can be slippery, they often move, and you can easily twist an ankle or worse. Another option is to head west in the MRGO, fish the rock jetties along the shoreline and then enter into the vast Lena Lagoon marsh area.
Now, the good part. All of these areas contain the same, multiple, mixed fish species. On a recent trip with Capt. Eric Muhoberac, we ended the day with five: redfish, largemouth bass, blue catfish, speckled trout and white bass. Did we do anything special? Nope. We fished as we regularly do with artificial lures. All of these species were caught using the same lures and the same techniques.
Fishing near the dam produced trout and bass with a plastic cocahoe jig/tail under a popping cork. I switched to the same plastic jig/tail tight-lined on the bottom and put a big blue catfish in the kayak. As the wind picked up, we left the MRGO and pedaled back past Hopedale Marina to get a little protection in the marshes around the spoil canal. The grass is already thick in the area and will get thicker as the summer heat wears on.
What to use
Fishing the grass can be frustrating, but a little change in lures or technique makes it productive. If it is calm, try weedless topwater frog-type lures and work the tops of the grass. Pay particular attention to any holes or breaks in the grass. Always pause the lure in these areas and twitch and pop while trying your best to keep in the same place for a while. The explosive strikes can nearly scare you out of the kayak. However, the strong wind this day made it impossible to stay out in the open ponds.
Next, it was back to the popping cork and working the plastic jig/tail down the outside edges of the grass along canal banks. Using the wind and current to drift the bait slowly along while imparting a few random, but stout pops, the redfish couldn’t resist. Also, a first time fishing this area, two white bass fell for the same technique.
Be it shallow ponds, lagoons, rock jetties, small lakes, or even a 40-foot deep former shipping channel, the kayak-fishing habitat in Hopedale is as diverse as the available species.
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