Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 39 No. 1 - Page 32

Ponchartrain’s Blues & Reds (Continued from page 6.) “Catfish act just like redfish,” Kreeger suggested. “Catfish like muddy water. When I’m targeting catfish, I look for dirty water. For catfish, I also like a slack tide. There’s not much bait in the lake during the winter so catfish will hit about anything we put in front of them. Shrimp heads or fish pieces make good chum. I’ll throw out a couple handfuls of chum and put out four rods baited with shrimp. We won’t load the boat with fish in the winter, but we’ll catch some pretty good sized ones.” Kreeger uses a Carolina rig with an 18-inch leader for fishing bait on the bottom. He usually anchors the rig with a 3/4-ounce lead slip sinker, but may use a 1-ounce chunk when fishing a strong tide. On the terminal end, he threads a shrimp on a long-shanked J hook, but many anglers prefer to fish bait with a circle hook. Not everyone uses bait to tempt cats. Anglers frequently catch blues on softplastic grubs, shrimp or minnow imitations while targeting speckled trout or redfish. Sometimes, anglers tip lures with shrimp pieces for extra flavor, but cats may bite plastics without bait. “Catfish are very aggressive predators,” stated Dudley Vandenborre, who guides out of Slidell. “I never go out looking for catfish, but we catch a lot of them while fishing plastics for speckled trout and redfish. On one cast, we might catch a 15-pound catfish. On the next cast, we’ll catch a 5-pound trout and then a 10pound redfish, all on the same lure. The biggest catfish we’ve ever put on my boat weighed 32 pounds and hit an avocado Deadly Dudley soft plastic bait.” Like fishing for redfish, look for catfish around any hard structure. Several bridges crossing the lake create excellent places to hold reds and cats. The longest bridge continuously over water in the world, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, spans the massive estuary at its widest point from north to south. Running 24 miles with two spans, it provides nearly 10,000 large, round barnacle-encrusted concrete pilings where fish can hide and feed. “We never know what we’ll catch around the Causeway,” Schlumbrecht said. “Sometimes, we catch several different species in the same areas. We don’t target catfish, but it’s a fairly frequent bycatch at times. Some days, we might catch 10 cats while fishing for trout or redfish.” Also called the Twin Spans, Interstate 10 crosses Lake Pontchartrain near Slidell. Hurricane Katrina severely 32 GULF COAST FISHERMAN damaged it in 2005, but a new span opened in 2009 followed by a second one in 2010. Generally parallel to I-10, the U.S. Highway 11 bridge dates to 1928. A nearby railroad trestle dates to 1884. In addition, U.S. Highway 90 and an old railroad bridge both cross Chef Pass and the Rigolets. “All the bridges can hold catfish,” Vandenborre recommended. “I’ve probably caught more cats by the trestle, but that’s because I fish there more than the other bridges. The Twin Spans probably have a lot more cats than the other bridges. A friend of mine fishes by the U.S. 90 Bridge over Chef Pass. He’s caught some cats topping 70 pounds. Mostly, he uses a big chunk of pogie or a crab. Several times, I’ve seen him with some 50 to 60-pounders on the boat in the winter.” Big blues also move out of the catfish-rich Pearl River system into eastern Lake Pontchartrain. In September 1992, Christie Carpenter pulled a 72.50 pound blue catfish from West Pearl. West Pearl River splits into two mouths. One flows into the Rigolets and the other into Little Lake, an estuary close to Lake Borgne. In this fertile marshy delta, anglers frequently catch redfish and catfish in the same spots. “The two mouths of Pearl River are good places to fish for cats,” Kreeger advised. “A lot of big freshwater shiners come out of the rivers at that time of year also. Catfish probably follow the shiners and feed upon them. We anchor in the mouth of the river, drop some baits into the water and sit there waiting for catfish. I’ve hooked some that broke my line. I never saw them so I don’t know how big they were.” Not far from Pearl River, the Hospital Wall creates an excellent feeding ground for catfish and redfish. Built in the 19th century near where the Rigolets enters Lake Pontchartrain, a hospital once served soldiers assigned to Fort Pike. After nearly two centuries of storms and erosion, little remains of this old facility except scattered rocks and other debris now under several feet of water. These rocks provide excellent structure for various predators. Many anglers awaiting the return of warmer weather mis