Frenzied birds hovering just over the water picked at flashing baitfish forced to the surface by ravenous predators. Some birds periodically dove into the frothy maelstrom of normally greenish water now glowing coppery red.
“Looks like a big school of redfish moved in on some bait about a mile past the railroad bridge,” observed Dudley Vandenborre, who guides on Lake Pontchartrain out of Slidell, La. “Let’s go!”
As we approached, we each tossed Vandenborre’s own creation, a soft plastic “Deadly Dudley” on a jighead. Moments later, monster redfish gulped each bait, harassed by five or six brethren each trying to snatch the morsel for itself. Color didn’t matter if the bait hit where massed redfish battled for a share of the bounty.
“When the bull reds come into Lake Pontchartrain, we ride around looking for big seagulls and pelicans diving,” advised Kenny Kreeger of Lake Pontchartrain Charters. “When we see big gulls and pelicans diving, that’s the place to fish. 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 birds again.”
Situated between Slidell and New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain covers 483,390 acres of southeastern Louisiana. It connects to Lake Borgne, really a 162,505-acre bay off the Gulf of Mexico, through two deep, narrow passes, the Rigolets and Chef Menteur. In the fall, many large redfish move from the Gulf through Lake Borgne into Chef Pass and the Rigolets before entering Lake Pontchartrain.
“Redfishing in the fall is phenomenal around the Rigolets and Lake Pontchartrain,” recalled Greg Schlumbrecht with To Fish Charters. “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 the baitfish jumping out of the water or the birds diving. It’s crazy. Sometimes, we might fight one redfish for 45 minutes and catch them until our arms turn into noodles.”
Lake Pontchartrain offers anglers a different Louisiana redfishing experience than what most people get when coming to the Sportsman’s Paradise. In the delta marshes, which create some of the best redfish habitat anywhere, anglers normally fish ponds that average less than 18 inches deep. Lake Pontchartrain averages 10- to 14 feet deep with some dredge holes dropping more than 40 feet. Near where the Rigolets enters the lake, tides scoured out a large hole about 100 feet deep.
Many anglers fish near several bridges that cross Lake Pontchartrain. Railroad and car bridges also cross Chef Pass and the Rigolets (an 8-mile long strait). Redfish frequently drop into pockets behind bridge pilings to ambush anything tides push toward them. Drop a live shrimp or baitfish on a Carolina rig just upstream from the pocket and let the tide carry it into the eddy.
“The old railroad bridge over the Rigolets is always productive,” recommended Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana. “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 tide change from incoming to outgoing or during neap, when there’s small tidal movement, is a good time to fish the Rigolets.”
The state also established several artificial reefs with material recycled from bridges destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and other materials. The Dudley and Kim Vandenborre Reef covers four acres near Slidell. Anglers may also fish reefs between Highway 11 and Interstate 10, by the New Orleans Lakefront Airport or off Williams Boulevard and other places.
“The lake bottom is naturally smooth and featureless,” Vandenborre explained. “Other than the bridges and a few artificial reefs, nothing really sticks out for the fish. Dudley’s Reef sits in about 12 feet of water. Baitfish and shrimp come to feed on the algae on the reefs. Trout and redfish come looking for the baitfish and shrimp.”
The oldest artificial reef in the lake dates back nearly two centuries. Near where the Rigolets enters Lake Pontchartrain, a hospital served soldiers assigned to Fort Pike. Completed in 1826, Fort Pike served as a military outpost during the Civil War. After nearly two centuries of storms and erosion, the lake shoreline retreated so that little remains of the “hospital wall” except rocks and other debris now under several feet of water.
For booking trips, call Gallo at 877-4AA0OFLA or see www.aaofla.com. For Kreeger, call 985-643-2944 or visit www.lakepontchartraincharters.com. Call Schlumbrecht at 985-960-1709 or see www.tofishcharters.com. To book with Vandenborre, call 985-847-1924 or visit here.
Top Photo: Capt. Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana holds a redfish he caught while fishing near the U.S. 90 bridge that crosses the Rigolets near where it enters Lake Borgne close to Slidell, La. (Photo by John N. Felsher)