Anglers in the wetlands surrounding New Orleans, La., never have to look very far to be reminded they are living the ultimate paradox: They are enjoying the nation’s most prolific coastal fishing in the midst of a terminal environmental disaster.
This winter, the best fishing in The Wall area has been along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet rocks.
Some of our favorite fishing spots are “islands” that have been dragged below the surface by the sinking of deltas starved by levees, canals that injected lethal doses of saltwater into the heart of freshwater marshes, and the abandoned well heads and tank batteries from an energy industry that took what it wanted by any means necessary – then left its insults behind.
But “The Wall” may be the ultimate icon of that bitter irony.
It is the concrete barrier rising 28 feet high, almost 4 feet wide and running 1.8 miles through wetlands on the northern corner of Lake Borgne and across the MR-GO and the Intracoastal Waterway. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on orders from Congress to block storm surges from ravaging the city again as they did during Hurricane Katrina.
Of course, the reason that ravaging took place was because of monstrous canals such as the MR-GO and Intracoastal dredged by the corps on orders from Congress that helped destroy more than half of the wetlands that once existed along our coast – the same wetlands that provided a natural storm barrier and created the engine that drives fisheries production.
The wall is truly imposing, as are the new levees built along the MR-GO, looking like formidable weapons to fight future surges.
But fish and anglers live in the present. And when speckled trout and redfish discovered The Wall was trapping lots of meals such as shrimp, menhaden and croakers, they began congregating along its length, as well as along the rock rip-rap along the west bank of the MR-GO placed to form a wake barrier for its new levees.
And since anglers discovered the fish were there last winter, it has quickly become a favorite fishing spot. They have been crowding The Wall area since the temperature dropped last month. And while last year’s bonanza of big trout hasn’t been repeated, fishing for limits of keepers-to-3-pounders has been steady.
“Last year, my parties of four would have limits of trout between 2 and 4 pounds in an hour and a half,” recalled Dudley Vandenborre, the guide and lure-maker who was casting in the area Monday morning. “After that, we could move away to a different spot and catch limits of reds. It was really unbelievable.
“But when the word got out, sometimes you’d have 30 or 40 boats fighting for spots in that one corner – where The Wall meets the bank.”
This year, the specks are smaller, and more spread out. And because of that, a trip to The Wall may be more enjoyable.
Dudley Vandenborre, guide and lure-maker, says The Wall fishing area has become one of winter’s most dependable spots.
On a recent Monday morning, Vandenborre didn’t even work against The Wall, but went directly to the MR-GO rock. He started at a spot about 500 yards from The Wall and just moved steadily southward. When he caught a fish, he’d drop the anchor and continue casting until the action stopped, then move again.
“I tried The Wall when it first got cold, but the fish there were really small – a lot of them weren’t even keepers,” he said. “The bigger fish were along the rocks.” But the drop in size hasn’t diminished The Wall’s rank as a new top winter spot for these reasons: You can fish it on windy days, there are miles of shoreline to cast, and the fishing will hold steady until mid to late February.
It’s a good place to fish. As long as you don’t think about what The Wall represents.
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