It had been a few weeks since I was able to take the kayak out and fish. I aggravated a nerve in my lower back and the muscles around it locked down tight. It was difficult to sit and to get in and out of the truck. With the help of ibuprophen and a few muscle relaxants the situation gradually improved. Today would be a test trip to see if I could load and unload the kayak, fish for several hours, and then get home without trouble. I’m writing this, so I must have made it home.
I’d loaded my truck with the usual gear, but this time there was something extra – old Christmas trees. I’d collected them back in January to sink and make some sac au lait (a.k.a. crappie) habitat. I had a bunch of twine and some window weights to sink them. I’d heard people caught sac au lait in this lake, so I’d planned to make some attractive cover with the Christmas trees. I had my depth finder with me, and would fly fish in the early morning, and then try to find some deeper spots to plant the trees. After fishing, I would use the kayak to shuttle the trees out to a good spot and sink them.
My internal alarm woke me up a little earlier than I had planned. It was about 3:30 when I made my coffee and a quick breakfast. I was driving toward Slidell at 4 and got to the launch at the lake in the Pearl River Wildlife Management area a little before 5. This was the first time I had fished the lake, so it would be a learning experience. I signed in at the check in station, pitched the trees off the truck, and started rigging up the kayak and my fly rods. I noticed several cats were coming around as I prepped to go out. I got the kayak down to the water and about that time another guy pulled up and unloaded his sit in kayak. Apparently he fishes the lake regularly, and I got some details as he spoke with his Cajun accent. He regularly caught sac au lait and other fish here, so I figured I was in the right place.
It was semi-light about 5:15 as I shoved off. The Cajun went left and I went right. I tied on a buggy looking #6 stimulator, thinking that it would be hard for pan fish and bass to resist. I would catch a few on the surface and then switch to wet flies after the sun got up. The fly looked great to me, but the fish had other ideas. I threw it right on the edge of the shoreline, out in the middle, and in between. Nada. So I switched to a leggy Chernobyl ant with a #12 nymph dropper about 18” below it. Now I had both surface and lower levels covered. Nothing. Every now and then I’d get a half-hearted swirl at the ant, but no real strike. As the sun came up higher I could ascertain two things. The first was that the water was not very clean. There was about a foot of visibility. The second was that there were casings and dead mayflies all over the surface. There must have been a huge hatch during the night, and the fish had been gorging. No wonder they weren’t hungry. Just as I had this thought a big bluegill leapt cleanly out of the water as it snagged a mayfly off the surface. I went down into a little slough and spotted a small (3 feet) alligator, and then saw a bigger 7 footer a few yards away. They appeared to be fishing too, but I didn’t see them catch anything.
I’d worked my way around the lake without even a good bite, when I saw the Cajun guy coming from the other direction. We compared our results. He had a sac au lait, a goggle eye (warmouth), and a bream. He said it was really slow. He was working quickly and about 30 minutes later he was loading up for home. It was about 8:30. I continued to try the bank, which wasn’t really a bank in most of the lake. Instead it was a lot of weeds that grew out into the water to a depth of about 4 feet. I kept thinking if I put the fly at right at the edge of the weeds there would be a fish that would come out to eat it, but still nothing happened.
The sky was clear and the sun was really beaming down hard by 9 o’clock. I needed to do something to switch things up as I watched the water temperature nudge up to 87 F. I switched to a #12 Pat’s Plus (sinking fly that imitates a leggy nymph) and tried something I rarely use – a strike indicator (a.k.a. a little cork). Since the depth of water around the weeds was about 4 feet, I set the indicator about 3 feet above the fly. I worked down the weed line a bit more, tried some “stick ups” out in the lake, and came to a little island. I swung the fly about an inch of the edge and let it sink. The cork…..er, indicator bounced a couple of times and then went down. I brought in the first fish of the day, a chunky goggle eye, after over 3 hours of solid fishing.
I released the goggle eye and cast back out to the edge again. To my surprise, the cork…..er, indicator went down again. This was a better fish and it put a decent bend in the 4 weight rod. When I got it up the fish materialized into a spotted gar. Not a very big one, but it was very irritable and it flopped all over the place and wrapped itself in the fly line.
I unhooked the gar and released it. I tried a few more minutes along the edge of the little island and then headed over to the far bank.This was a real bank, with some logs, earth, roots, and other structures that seemed likely to hold some fish. After a few minutes of casting the cork…..er, I mean strike indicator, went down and this time a pretty little red spotted sunfish came in on the end of the line.
I released the sunfish and headed back toward the launch. It was about 11 am, getting really hot, and time to create some crappie spots.
I had been zigzagging all around the lake reading the depth finder, and was disappointed that I could not find anything deep (i.e. 15-20 feet). Instead, most of the lake was a steady 4 feet deep, with occasional areas that reached 5 feet and a few that were 5 and a half. It seemed the lake was generally shallow, and yet it was known to produce some nice sac au lait. I beached my kayak and unloaded my fishing gear and put a smaller sized tree across the bow and the largest one on the stern. I went out near the 5.5 foot area and tossed out a small weighted float, took a gps reading, and pushed the small tree into the water. It sank down nicely, and then I circled around to do the same with the larger tree, but it did not quite sink. Instead it floated, mostly below the surface like an iceberg. The big tree had dried out over the months and was quite buoyant. I was surprised the weights could not completely submerge it, and I watched the gentle breeze slowly carrying it over to the shore. I went back and got the two other intermediate size trees and repeated the process. They were held down by the weights, so I got 3 out of the 4 trees properly deployed and marked. Now I’ll just wait and come back about the time of teal season (September) to see whether the trees are holding any fish.
When I got back to the truck I saw the strangest thing of the day. Two women pulled up in a car, got some sacks out, and went into the woods. I heard them making noises and then realized they were calling to the cats. The woods sort of woke up, and within a couple of minutes there were about two-dozen cats around them. They were feeding the cats, and when I looked closer I could see they had made several boxes out of sheet metal and other materials so that the cats could have shelter. So these two ladies were tending this flock of feral cats out at the management area. About this time another guy stops his car, pulls out a no kill type trap and releases an armadillo. It seems this check in station is a popular release spot for animals.
I was heading back to New Orleans over the I-10 Bridge and got a look at the water. The Bonnet Carre spillway has been diverting MS River water into Lake Pontchartain for over a month, and now that it’s warm all those nutrients are producing an algae bloom that’s causing aquatic activities to be curtailed. I could see big swirls of green algae from the east to the west as I crossed the lake above the Rigolets. It’s just another sign that humans are changing and stressing the natural systems. People put their waste into the system, and the system responds by producing chemicals (i.e. algal toxins) that are toxic to people. It’s nature’s way of getting back at us.
P.S. I recently learned the origin of the lake and the White Kitchen name from some friends. The White Kitchen comes from a restaurant that once sat at the junction of highways US 90 and 190. When the interstate highway (I-10) was built, traffic no longer passed the White Kitchen and it was closed. The lake is nicknamed Lake Katrina. It was swampy marshland until it was opened up to form the lake due to Hurricane Katrina. That likely explains why it has little structure and is a steady 4-5 feet deep.