OUTDOORS: The story of the flood is not yet over — the good, bad and ugly

As summer wanes and our attention begins to turn towards fall and cooler temperatures — not to mention the hunting season — more and more the Great Flood of 2011 will become a distant memory. But, as biologists and geologists study the post flood data, like a Clint Eastwood movie there is some good, bad and ugly to be expected.

The good just might be some of the best freshwater fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin that’s not been seen in decades.

Mike Wood, Director of Inland Fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, while speaking to a group of outdoor writers Aug. 6, at the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association Annual Conference held in Houma says it’s easy for him to predict what anglers can expect.

“In most cases a flood is the river — left to its nature — doing what the river does and it’s a very important aspect that the river in the springtime does it’s thing, which is rise above its banks,” Wood explained. “When that occurs it provides area for fish to spawn and provides areas for young fish to refuge. And, every time we have that, we have a tremendous boost in reproduction. And, so now of course, this was a record one we had this past year. We almost forget we had a very high flood the year before. So, it’s easy for me to predict that the next two or three years, all throughout the Ouachita Drainage and through the Mississippi River drainage, we’re going to have great fishing, much like it was during the 70’s and 80’s.”

Recently on a trip to Bear Bayou fishing for a few Chinquapins (red-eared sunfish) a bass angler saw that my wife and I were picking up a few small bass underneath our float using of all things — worms. He approached us with graciousness asking if we minded him throwing his crank bait along the stretch we fished. Not minding at all, we watched him catch no less than 50 bass, not one the legal 14 inches required to keep.

Since the floodwaters receded, this same story has become like a favorite You-Tube video played over and over. Based on the current number of bites bass anglers are getting and the good this year’s flood event will have on the fishery the next few years, there is going to be some frustrated tournament anglers who’ll have to cull a lot of small bass.

Our friend from Baton Rouge who pulled up along said, “Can you believe this? Not a legal fish, but I’m having fun.”

By contrast the bad according to Director of Marine Fisheries, Harry Blanchett, speaking to the same group, is the increased size of the dead zone as a result of an increase in algae.

During the flood it was clear that where the barge was sunk in Bayou Chene and tied into the Tabor Canal preventing backwater flooding, it channeled water southward through a maze of pipelines and bayous. And, obviously, the main river pushed plenty of freshwater and bed load sediment out into Four League and Atchafalaya bays.

Though natural sediment and freshwater are beneficial in preventing coastal erosion — not to mention the fact that the Atchafalaya Delta is the only growing land mass in the state and coastal erosion is high on every politician’s radar these days — it also carries with it tremendous amounts of fertilizer.

Blanchett said, “The other thing that came down with the floodwater is nutrients. We got lots of nitrogen and phosphorous; most of which went offshore. A lot went into the marshes making them look a lot better. It’s not just the mud and freshwater that makes the marsh look better. It’s good old farm fertilizer. It does its job and because it recycles for several years you’re going to have some additional growth in those marshes for several years to come. But, when you put that stuff offshore, the algae loves it and you end up with algae blooms. Once the algae uses up those nutrients that are available they settle down and die.

Both algae and living animals consume oxygen. In Louisiana we have a hypoxia zone or lack of oxygen in the lower water column that’s about the size of the state of New Jersey. This year it’s going to be the size of New Jersey and some other small state added to it.”

One fish kill already has been reported near Elmer’s Island that may be a result of lack of oxygen in the water — biologists are still studying it to be sure. And, others are expected due to the fact that July and August are peak months for these types of events to occur.

The ugly part of the 2011 flood event may be spreading of invasive species of fish.

Wood said, “With regard to the flood, not only was the high water a very good thing for our native fish, but also fish that adapt to the same situation. In this case silver and bighead carp. We had openings in Morganza and Bonnet Carre Spill-ways out of necessity. That’s what they were designed to do. And, they allowed carp in some cases to go — not where they’ve ever been exposed — but to become an additional stocking of those carp and now we’re left with dealing with that.”

One salvation in limiting the spread of Asian carp might be that saltwater or soft water may not allow these fish to spawn. Wood pointed out from LDWF studies the department isn’t seeing reproductive populations of these species, which feed on plankton in soft water. Moreover, regions around the state such as Lake Pontchartrain and the Amite, Comite, Ticfaw river systems as well as piney wood areas west of the Ouachita River system are considered soft water.

It may be a couple years before all of the analysis of this year’s “Great Flood Event” can be deciphered and no doubt there will be some good, bad and ugly as a result. But, in the meantime freshwater anglers shouldn’t despair too much, because the good just may overshadow the bad and ugly for now.

If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share, you can contact John K. Flores by calling (985) 395-5586 or by e-mail: gowiththeflo@cox.net

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