August 3, 2017

Four Years Later, I Learned This About River Water


My journey in inshore fishing has revealed to me truths I otherwise would not have learned.

River Water Gives Life to our Coast

Fishing across Louisiana's coast, from Slidell to Venice to Dularge, has enriched me in many ways.

This enrichment includes a better understanding of the marsh. I got this from experience.

Putting my time in on the water has shown me the Mississippi River is not nearly as bad as I once thought.

What I Used to Believe

The majority of my inshore angling experience has been in St. Bernard Parish. I usually launched from Breton Sound and Campo's marinas, fishing everything from Lake Robin, to Breton Island, to the top of the Biloxi Marsh.

This area is largely saline, comprised nearly 100% of saltwater marsh, despite having been home to fresher water and cypress trees in the past.

It came to light in 2013 the government wanted to build massive diversions from the Mississippi River. This was an attempt to reverse coastal erosion.

River water was alarming to me because I believed freshwater destroys marsh and inshore fisheries.

I believed we should keep the marsh free of river water and rebuild it through dredging operations.

Dredging would build land right now, and not 50 years from now.

In case you're not following me, or want to see my argument from 2013, you should read The Proof in Dredging to Save our Wetlands.

What I Believe Now

A lot has happened since 2013. I have gained a ton of fishing experience and knowledge, eclipsing everything I had learned up to that point.

Exploring places like Delacroix, Venice and Dularge have revealed to me the incredible fishing they have there.

All these places have one thing in common: they are heavily influenced by river water.

Why River Water Kicks Ass

Today, I believe river water is great for inshore fishing. Let me tell you why.

It's What Makes Louisiana Louisiana

If it weren't for the Mississippi River, there would be no Louisiana. I'm not referring to the land she built over eons, but the present day fishery we have.

It's incomparable. People from across the nation have fished with me and they all marvel at the vast richness of our wetlands.

Yeah, we have a lot of marsh and a lot of fish, oysters, shrimp and crab growing in it.

It wouldn't be possible without the life-giving water of the Mississippi River.

I think we all get that.

The Best Fishing is Around River Water

Redfish tournament trails from Texas and Florida come to Louisiana, but Louisiana redfish tournament trails don't go to Texas and Florida.

With river water, Louisiana is the Redfish Capital of the World.

And when they do come to Louisiana, competitors always run to the areas influenced by river water.

Competing anglers in Texas will literally run across the Gulf of Mexico to catch redfish grown fat from the richness of river water. Anglers in Mississippi and Alabama do the same.

Knowledge Bomb They are catching these redfish next to bluegill and largemouth bass, within 100 yards (or less) of "chocolate milk" river water.

But it's not just redfish...

It seems to me the best speckled trout fishing (during fall and winter) is in these same areas. Just read fishing reports posted by Shell Beach and Hopedale guides to understand my point.

You will see Shell Beach guides (no river influence) make the run to Delacroix (river influenced) to catch speckled trout.

Never have I seen a Delacroix-based guide run to the saline Biloxi Marsh. Not once.

Bonus Bass

We know redfish and speckled trout will do fine with less-saline brackish water. Another species that thrives in this water is the largemouth bass.

In river-influenced marsh we catch bass in the same spots as speckled trout and redfish. Consider them a healthy bonus from river water.

Dead Zones I have never seen a "dead zone" in marsh influenced by river water. In fact, the only places I have seen fish kills were in saltier areas with no river influence.

You can read about one such occurrence here.

The River Builds Land

She really does. I've seen it in Venice.

If only I got a dollar every time I had to push my boat off a sandbar! And I wish it was floatant, it'd be easier to get unstuck!

I was thrown for a loop when navigating to Pass a Loutre via Swanson Bayou.

Swanson Bayou in Venice

The satellite imagery doesn't account for the land that the river built since the map was created.

New Land in Pass a Loutre

It was definitely a "WTF moment" when I saw land where the GPS showed water.

But we still need that saltwater...

It's not just river water that makes our fishing awesome, nor is it just saltwater. It's the combination of the two. The magic happens where these two forces collide.

An Example Last year Lake Pontchartrain saw the most river water it has seen in years.

This came in the form of a 500-year flood, a 1,000-year flood and the opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway (which flowed at 203,000 cubic feet per second for 22 days).

Later that year, just before the fall, we had a drought and strong east winds that pushed saltwater from the Mississippi Sound into the lake.

What happened afterwards was the most incredible fall fishing seen in years.T

And even if we did dredge it all back...

Read my article from 2013 on dredging vs diverting (it's linked above). I make a pretty strong case for dredging. I still believe it's effective and something we should do.

So nobody is confused

Dredging is part of the coastal restoration effort. Miles of land have been dredged back and are being dredged into existence right now.

Dredging works and kicks ass.


However, even if we did dredge everything back, we would still see the inside of the marsh turn fresh. This isn't speculation, it's a bonafide observation.

In 2009 the MRGO was closed in Hopedale with a huge rock dam, cutting off saltwater from the Gulf. Strong saltwater no longer had a highway straight into the heart of what used to be a freshwater marsh and swamp.

Since then, we have seen this area "freshen up". Ponds I fished off the Spoil Canal since the 1990s never had mats of aquatic grass.

We threw gold spoons for redfish. Not the weedless variety; the kind with a treble hook on the back. If we got hung up on anything, it was an oyster shell.

If you threw that same lure today, you'd get hung up in mats of aquatic grass. You have to use weedless lures. When you do, you catch not just speckled trout and redfish, but also those bonus bass.

With rainfall and no hurricanes, these areas become fresh anyways.

It's just my experience.

I'm not writing this to pick a political fight or take sides. I'm just willing to admit, on a public platform, that I was wrong.

That takes a lot of humility.

These are just my experiences, my direct observations.

Not something I heard from a person through another person. Not a scientific study.

Just what I have seen with my own two eyes.

The Only Constant is Change

Nothing stays the same in Louisiana. It's the only thing we can be sure of.

Our forefathers chopped down all the cypress trees, the landscape changed.

Fur became unpopular and expensive, how trappers made a living changed.

The river was leveed off, the marsh changed.

I can go on and on. What matters is how we handle that change.

If and when river water is reconnected to the marsh, things will change.

Oyster leases in its path will die. Speckled trout will be pushed to more saline waters. Ponds with no grass will be overgrown with it.

I know it sucks. I wish everyone could have it the way they want it to, but that is not the way of the world. It never has been.

River water is a double-edged sword. With it will come new opportunities to replace what was lost.

It's up to us to find those.

Captain Devin

About the Author

Devin is a former fishing guide and lifelong inshore angler. He founded Louisiana Fishing Blog in 2012 to share his ideas as a charter captain and still writes in it today. Since then he's created a fishing university — LAFB Elite — where he teaches inshore anglers how to safely navigate Louisiana's coast and catch more fish.

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  • I understand that, I was around before then. My point is, with the rivers being so high, would it really be as salty as we think? I’m sure it would, but the river water would still be mucking things up.

  • “I wonder what it would look like if the MRGO was open and Mardi Gras Pass closed? It’d probably be fresher than most would think. But, we’ll never know.”

    It would be like pre-rock damn. No grass or bass anywhere in the MRGO and sharks at your cleaning table instead of gars and perch.

  • Captain Rory, good to hear from you! (For those who may not know, Captain Rory is an established and successful guide in Shell Beach.) I’m honored to know you’ve taken time to read and especially comment here.

    Yes, I’ve had a hard time for speckled trout in Delacroix this winter and have been catching limits of speckled trout near Chalmette consistently since November.

    The salinity there has been measured at 2.0ppt.

    You can see for yourself here.

    I don’t think salinity is super important to trout during the winter, at least not as important as food and a stable environment, what the MRGO has in spades.

    Yeah, Oak River is definitely fresh, I think it’s something like 0ppt or 0.5ppt.

    And, in all fairness, in this article I’m not referring to this winter only, but all seasons over the last ten years or so.

    Now, you bring up a point most people have not, or are simply not aware of, and that’s the abnormally high rivers we’ve been having, as well as the high river we have now.

    I wonder what it would look like if the MRGO was open and Mardi Gras Pass closed? It’d probably be fresher than most would think. But, we’ll never know.

    For sure, for Louisiana’s fishing to be good there must be river water AND Gulf water. It’s like a binary explosive, one part alone is not enough.

    I guess the question is, how much for each part?

    But another thing is certain: when we have a drought the trout fishing is going to explode.

    I’m not certain when that will happen, but we cannot have abnormally high rivers like this forever.

    Tight lines, Captain Rory

  • I can tell you no Shell Beach guide has been going to Delacroix for trout, even me. Yea, I have tried, but last winter was tough and this one was near impossible. Sure, we head that way for reds they love that fresh stuff. but for the most part the Delacroix area this year has been too fresh for trout. When the water in Point Fienne is fresher than City Park the trout are not going to hang around. This year even places like Oak River Bay are almost completely fresh unless we get a hard east wind. I have been watching satilite images and see more brown river water coming out the east bank (Mardi Grass) than comes out SW Pass.

    I am not a fan of Mardi Grass Pass but in normal years it would not be much of an issue. Thing is we have not had a normal river in several years now. Especially this year we never got a big drop in the river. It has been at or near flood stage when it should have been below 5′. It is sky high now and probably not fall if it does until midsummer if we are lucky. Get ready for another season of people crying they can’t find trout.

  • Awesome article, and thanks for posting. Hope we have a chance to work together in the future.

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