Copper-colored water stretching across several acres churned as if disrupted by a storm, but no such weather phenomenon touched the lake this day. This “storm” came from ravenous redfish moving through Lake Pontchartrain devouring mullets, pogies, shrimp and anything else they could gulp.
“Redfishing in the fall is phenomenal around the Rigolets and Lake Pontchartrain,” explained Greg Schlumbrecht with To Fish Charters (985-960-1709, www.tofishcharters.com). “I’ve seen schools of bull reds turn the lake orange. When they come through like that, they’ll eat anything that moves. We normally find them because of all the baitfish jumping out of the water or the birds diving. It’s crazy. Sometimes, we catch reds until our arms turn into noodles.”
Roughly 41 miles long by 24 miles wide, Lake Pontchartrain covers 483,390 acres and connects to the 162,505-acre Lake Borgne, and thus the Gulf of Mexico, through two deep passes. In 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, founder of the French Louisiana Colony, ventured into Lake Borgne, named for the French word for “one-eyed.” He named one of the passes the Rigolets, from the French word “rigole” meaning “trench” or “gutter.” Thinking he found a major river instead of just another pass, Iberville dubbed the other waterway “Chief Liar,” or Chef Menteur in French. He named the lake after Louis Phélypeaux, the influential French Minister of the Marine, better known to history as Comte de Pontchartrain.
In the fall, migrating redfish in the 20- to 40-pound class supplement the local population as bulls move through Lake Borgne into the passes before entering Lake Pontchartrain. Anglers often see them terrorizing baitfish in the Middle Grounds, the area of Lake Pontchartrain between the Rigolets and the Chef and Interstate 10. Near where the Rigolets enters Lake Pontchartrain, currents scoured a hole more than 100 feet deep.
“When bull reds come into Lake Pontchartrain, we ride around looking for big seagulls and pelicans diving,” advised Kenny Kreeger of Lake Pontchartrain Charters (985-643-2944, www.lakepontchartraincharters.com.) “The schools move quite fast. I run my boat into them wide open, grab a rod and cast. After we land the fish, we start looking for the diving birds again. Then, we do it again.”
With little other cover on the generally featureless lake bottom, the bridges spanning the lake provide good cover. During a strong tide, fish gather where pilings create slack pockets in the flow. Redfish use these pockets to ambush baitfish running with the tides. Drop a live shrimp on a Carolina rig just upstream from the pocket and let the tide carry it into the eddy.
Also called the Twin Bridges, Interstate 10 crosses Lake Pontchartrain from Slidell on the north shore to the Irish Bayou area on the south shoreline. The bridges first opened in 1965, but Hurricane Katrina severely damaged them in 2005. One new span opened in 2009 and the second one opened in 2010. Generally parallel to I-10, the U.S. Highway 11 bridge dates to 1928. A nearby railroad trestle dates back to 1884. Old railroad bridges also cross Chef Pass and the Rigolets. A new span of U.S. 90 opened in 2008 across the Rigolets near Fort Pike. A U.S. Highway 90 bridge dating back to 1929 still crosses Chef Pass.
“The Rigolets can produce a lot of good fish,” recommended Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana (877-4AAOFLA, www.aaofla.com). “The old railroad bridge over the Rigolets is always productive. Since the Rigolets is such a confined area, the tide can really run through there. People have to pick times when the water is not moving too fast. The tides change from incoming to outgoing or during neap when there’s small tidal movement is a good time to fish the Rigolets.”
Rocks between Irish Bayou and the Chef can also attract big reds. The bayous and marshes between Irish Bayou and the Textron Canal can hold good fish. As weather turns cold, many redfish drop into the deeper canals.
“When I go looking for redfish, I normally hit the dead-end canals off Lake Pontchartrain like Geoghegan Canal or the waterfront subdivisions like Venetian Isles, Lakeshore Estates and Eden Isles,” Schlumbrecht advised. “Most canals run about 10 feet deep, but ledges come out from the shoreline. I fish the ledges with a 3/8-ounce blue moon Deadly Dudley. The reds are usually right at the drop, not in the shallow part or in the deep water.”
The marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway between the Rigolets and the Chef and those around Lake St. Catherine also produce good redfish action. Some holes in deep passes through the marshes concentrate big bulls. Unknown Pass links Lake Borgne to Lake St. Catherine. Big bulls sometimes cruise the Lake Borgne shoreline between the Rigolets and the Chef. Many people fish the shorelines with live shrimp under popping corks or free line live baitfish over deep holes.
“All the passes that bring water to and from Lake Pontchartrain can be highly productive,” Gallo said. “In the fall, when shrimp migrate out of Lake Pontchartrain into Lake Borgne and on to the Gulf of Mexico, the mouths of the passes and their tributaries make great ambush points.”
Pearl River forms part of the Louisiana-Mississippi state line. North of Slidell, the river divides into West Pearl and East Pearl. West Pearl carries the bulk of the flow through Louisiana wetlands while East Pearl continues down the state line. Between the Rigolets and the Mississippi state line, the Pearl River delta feeds a fertile marsh loaded with redfish.
The two main rivers further subdivide into numerous interconnected streams, creating a rich, wetland labyrinth. East Pearl flows into Lake Borgne on the state line. West Pearl splits into West Pass and East Pass. West Pass flows into the Rigolets itself. East Pass flows into Little Lake, a shallow estuary separated from Lake Borgne by an island. Some better redfish places in the Pearl River delta include Lower Black Bayou, Sawmill Bayou and Johnson Pass, but any small tributaries can produce good action. These marshes make great places to look for reds when bad weather churns the big lake.
“In the Pearl River delta, a lot of anglers catch redfish with bass lures,” Schlumbrecht said. “All the little sloughs that flow out of the marsh into the main river channels are phenomenal for redfish in the fall. That area is full of baitfish. Fish the marsh on a falling tide. Redfish wait at the mouths of sloughs looking to gobble up anything that comes out of the marsh.”
Like bass, and often in the company of bass, redfish hide in the grasses bordering the major channels. While the channels may drop into deep water, a shelf usually extends 10 to 20 yards out from the shoreline. Weeds grow on these shelves, making outstanding ambush places for redfish – and largemouth bass depending upon the salinity. Run spinnerbaits, buzzbaits or frogs across the top of submerged grass or between reeds. Next to deep channel drops, fish live finger mullets or cut bait on a Carolina rig.
Whether chasing bull reds in open water or tempting slot spot-tails with bass tackle in the marshes, the lakes and wetlands between Slidell and New Orleans provide anglers nearly unlimited fishing opportunities. •
Capt. Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana shows off a redfish he caught while fishing near the old railroad trestle that crosses the Rigolets near where it enters Lake Borgne close to Slidell. This time of the year is a great time to snag massive redfish – especially when cold fronts pass and make the temperatures chilly.
Capt. Greg Schlumbrecht of To Fish Charters of Louisiana shows off a redfish he caught near the Interstate 10 Bridges over Lake Pontchartrain by Slidell.