Mississippi River finally drops — but anglers urged to use caution

Boats like this one near Pilottown have been running aground on newly formed sandbars that were created when the Mississippi River reached near record-breaking highs earlier this spring and summer. As the river drops, anglers are urged to use caution because of sediment and obstacles deposited during the high-water conditions. (Photo by Sea Tow Westbank)
Boats like this one near Pilottown have been running aground on newly formed sandbars that were created when the Mississippi River reached near record-breaking highs earlier this spring and summer. As the river drops, anglers are urged to use caution because of sediment and obstacles deposited during the high-water conditions. (Photo by Sea Tow Westbank)

Months of high water mean new sandbars, obstacles downriver

After months and months of high water — including two unprecedented openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway earlier this year — the bottom finally fell out of the Mississippi River.

The river stage at New Orleans on Aug. 1 was 13.95 feet — and it’s forecast to fall more than 7 feet, down to about 6.6 feet, by Aug. 31.

But it’s not done yet — as we move into fall, it’s expected to keep dropping down to 5.5 feet by Sept. 15.

That would be almost a 9-foot drop in only 45 days — and that means fishing downriver in spots like Empire, Buras and Venice could be off the charts in the next few months as bait-filled saltier water gets pushed back into the river and area marshes.

Safety first

It also means extremely hazardous conditions if you plan on boating downriver this fall.

“Pay close attention. Don’t run wide open,” said Capt. Joe DiMarco Sr., a guide with Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras. “If you go into an area you’re familiar with, read the current. It’s going to tell you where the sandbars are. If it looks perfectly smooth, it’s probably a sandbar. There have been numerous people getting stuck 2- and 300 yards up on a sandbar because they’re running wide open.

“Even a lot of very experienced guides are getting stuck on new sandbars. We’re on the water every day, but conditions are changing fast as the river drops — you really have to pay attention.”

Huge amounts of sand and sediment have been deposited downriver for the last several months, and now that the river level has finally fallen, boaters will have to contend with new, unfamiliar obstructions. DiMarco said a new channel was even surveyed at Ostrica, with tugboats’ prop wash used to dredge an opening late this summer.

A backup plan

He recommended having a backup plan if you’re on the river this fall, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area.

“I would say for the next year or so, get a Sea Tow membership, because you’re probably going to need it if you fish downriver,” he said. “There’s a lot of new stuff, logs … we’ve seen trees almost out to Battledore Reef that are on the bottom in 3 feet of water now.

“If you’re running that in the dark and nothing was ever there before, you’re going to smoke it.”

Navigating the river will definitely be tricky, but DiMarco is certainly optimistic about fishing prospects with a more normal river level now.

“This is probably the fastest drop I’ve seen in 15 years of guiding, and I’m really curious to see how the fish will react,” he said. “But I really think we’re going to have a fantastic fall this year.”

Patrick Bonin
About Patrick Bonin 1324 Articles
Patrick Bonin is the former editor of Louisiana Sportsman magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.