If you’re looking for a new exciting angling destination, fishing on Lake Pontchartrain is easy, fun, and has an enviable reputation among all levels of anglers.
Probably the first thing locals will tell you is that this is not a lake at all, but a 40-mile-wide estuary directly connected to the Gulf of Mexico. These conditions allow for a broad variety of species to call these waters home and more than decent fishing.
The basin of the estuary isn’t deep, with an average depth of up to 14 feet, but there are plenty of fish that you can find on your hook, and even more spots to look for them. Lake P is also home to one the longest bridges on the planet – the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (the fishing is superb around its pilings!). There’s so much to do, see, and cover here, so better get started!
Top Fish Species in Lake Pontchartrain
Connected to the Gulf of Mexico by the Rigolets Pass, Lake P and its brackish waters are the playground of various fish species, as well as colorful flora and fauna. Here, fishing is open all year, but what you can catch changes significantly depending on the time of the year and whether or not the spillways are opened. When the spillways empty excess freshwater directly into the lake, there are noticeable changes in the ecosystem – and, as a result, changes in the fishing.
This means that, depending on the time of the year, you can find anything from Catfish and Redfish to Bull Sharks on Lake Pontchartrain. Still, there are some species that are considered favorites, so let’s talk about them for a moment.
It all starts with the Trout!
There’s no doubt that fishing for monster Speckled Trout is what gave Lake Pontchartrain its good name. For a long while, chasing these beauties around the lake was the alpha and omega of fishing fun all year; but lately, changing water conditions have made the whole experience inconsistent.
No one’s certain why the fishing fluctuates, but many seem to agree that the surge of freshwater in summer months chases the Trout away. Salinity is necessary for these fish to spawn, and without it, they choose to move until the fall and winter months when fishing picks up again.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fish for Speckled Trout on Lake Pontchartrain, just that you should pick your timing and fishing spots carefully. You can still find some lunkers out there (anywhere from 5–12 pounds), and there are plenty of regular-sized Trout for the taking.
Some of the best spots to look for Specks are around bridge pilings and shorelines. In winter, when the day is clear and there’s no wind, look for birds on the water, and you’ll find your prey.
Local anglers are familiar with the way Trout move around the lake and their advice and guidance is a game-changer. That’s why it’s a good idea to consult them and let them share their ample experience with you.
Let’s Talk about Redfish!
When in doubt, Redfish is always the right choice. Not only is the bite excellent throughout the year, but you can easily hook a trophy-sized Bull in Lake P, especially if you cast your line in the fall.
In September, big Redfish make their way from the Gulf of Mexico through the Rigolets and Chef Pass into the lake, where they’ll spend the fall and winter. They move in massive schools, and sometimes there’s so many of them that you can easily spot them from the surface. Their characteristic bronze color gives them away.
Anglers on Lake P love going after Redfish, both because they’re relentless fighters and because they’ll gulp down just about anything that crosses their path. You can find them both in deep and shallow waters, because wherever bait is, they’ll follow. This is why it’s a good idea to stay alert for diving seagulls and pelicans that can serve as a road sign to where Redfish are feeding.
One thing to bear in mind is that schools of Redfish move around frequently, so you need to be light on your feet if you’re looking to catch your limit. Biloxi Marsh is one of the top spots to target Redfish, and the Rigolets (especially around the railroad bridge) can offer hot action almost any day of the year.
These predators also like to hide behind bridge pilings to ambush their prey, so casting upstream and letting the current get the bait to the fish can almost guarantee a bite. Then it’s time to make it count and reel as if your life depended on it.
And the World’s Biggest Sheepshead Comes from…
…that’s right, Lake Pontchartrain! The biggest ever Sheepshead on record was hooked right next to New Orleans on the waters of Lake P when a local pulled a 21.25 lb giant into his boat. And even though finding such a magnificent specimen again is a long shot, fishing for Sheepshead is still incredible here.
You’ll find these toothy fish wherever there are barnacles or any other type of crustaceans. In fact, one of the best ways to get a Sheepshead’s attention is to scrape barnacles using a shovel – the tiny pieces of their favorite food will be like a siren’s call. Chances are, you’ll have a whole hungry school on your hands before you know it.
Fishing docks and bridge pilings are where they like to gather and feast, and this is where you can find and hook them using live bait. These guys, despite their robust mouth and teeth, are not predators, so they have no desire to chase their prey around. Instead, they’re notorious nibblers, and they won’t just chomp down on whatever is in front of them.
This makes it difficult to recognize a Sheepshead bite without losing both your bait and the fish. If you’re targeting them, stay aware of even the smallest movements of the line – that could easily be a Sheepshead testing to grab the food and run.
The best time to go after Sheepshead is in late winter, just as they’re preparing to spawn. They’ll spend the summer in skinny waters, congregated around different kinds of underwater structures. And trust us when we say the pleasure of eating them is even bigger than the satisfaction of catching them.
Bass Fishing is a Big Deal
One of the biggest perks when fishing in brackish waters is that you get the best of both saltwater and freshwater worlds. Alongside Speckled Trout and Redfish, you could easily find Largemouth Bass on your line.
Bass are known for being vicious when spotting their prey, and the same rule applies to Lake P’s Largemouths. If you can find where the food is, usually shrimp and shad, Bass won’t be far behind. They usually congregate in shallow waters, and one of the most productive spots to target them is the marsh right next to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Bass also love feeding in bayous, and local anglers know that if they want to find this fish, going to Bayou Liberty or Bayou Lacombe is their safest bet.
Lake P’s North Shore has become particularly famous for its Bass fishing. So much so, that there’s an annual Northshore Bass Series Championship Tournament. The event usually takes place in October and is a source of fun for the whole parish, which relishes the good fishing action on their beloved lake.
Flounder Me Up!
We can’t talk about fishing on Lake Pontchartrain without mentioning Flounder. Flatties come in all sizes in the estuary, and they spend a lot of their time on the down low. During that period, they’re considered bycatch. But, come fall, the landscape changes dramatically.
Every year, from October–December, Flounder venture offshore to spawn and this is the prime time to go after them. Because they all have to come through the Chefs and Rigolets Passes, as well as the Trestles, casting your line in these areas is just about the best thing you can do to land a doormat. Ledges between skinny and deep waters are the Flounder’s sweet spot, because the tide brings food to them and all they have to do is gobble it down. Bridge pilings also offer solid action.
You can also try fishing close to the banks on a falling tide for good results, but whatever you do, remember to have a net close at hand when you get Flounder on the line. These fish have a very hard mouth, so setting the hook isn’t easy. They’re infamous for letting go of the bait just as you’re about to bring them in. The good news is that they’re greedy, so even if you lose one, think fast and cast your line again. Chances are, you’ll get another bite right away.
Flounder in the lake can weigh up to 5–7 pounds, and that’s plenty of delicious fillets to bring home and feast on. If you decide to chase Flounder in the fall, you simply can’t go wrong.
Where to Fish on Lake Pontchartrain
Lake Pontchartrain covers well over 600 square miles, so there’s a lot of water to explore, and if you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up disappointed. There are some famous fishing holes that are known for superb action, but having a local show you around is a foolproof way to get some fish into your cooler. Let’s take a look at some of the best spots on the lake where fish like to hang out.
Fishing with a Charter
If there’s one thing Lake P has no shortage of, it’s fishing charters. Local guides who run them have spent most of their lives prowling this massive body of water and they’re the fish whisperers you need to find your prey.
You’ll find most of them running out of Slidell on the northeast side of the lake, and of course, there’s New Orleans on the south. If you decide to go fishing on a charter, things are much simpler – you don’t have to lug around your gear and you’ve got a captain with a boat that will help with everything.
This allows for more freedom, less time spent on researching the area, and gives you much more access to fishing hotspots. You can find a lot of fish around the Rigolets and Chef Passes, but you’ll need a boat to get to the bridge pilings where they usually gather in search of food. And once you find the fish, you’ll need to use the right setup to get them to bite, and here again, local experience is indispensable.
The Twin Span Bridge is another popular Trout and Redfish treasure trove, along with the deeper sections of Intracoastal Waterway, where you can hook anything from Black Drum to Sheepshead. If you’re looking for Largemouth Bass, your guide will probably take you to one of the bayous, where Bass usually like to hang around right in the center of it all.
Another perk of charter fishing is that you don’t have to be a seasoned angler to explore a new body of water.
On Your Own
If you feel confident enough to hit the lake on your own, there are hundreds of miles of shoreline for you to explore. Our advice is to start out of Slidell, because from there, you can navigate your way to the Trestles by car, and that is the place to be if you want to target just about any species.
Lake Pontchartrain Seawall used to be a saltwater spot, but it now harbors a healthy population of Catfish and you can easily cast your line either from the bridge or straight from the bank. Both Slidell and Mandeville have fishing piers that boast a good bite.
If you’d like to do some bayou fishing, then you’ll have a good time wade fishing in Bayou Lacombe, especially if you’re interested in Largemouth Bass. For some slot Redfish, Lakeshore Drive is the way to go, especially if you’re coming from New Orleans.
All things considered, there are countless options on where to go and what to fish for on Lake P. The most important thing for you to do is decide what you’d like to target and then organize your trip accordingly.
Lake Pontchartrain’s Rules and Regulations
Louisiana state fishing regulations apply to Lake Pontchartrain. The most important thing to remember is that all anglers age 16 and older need to have a valid Louisiana fishing license.
Whether you’re going solo or booking a charter, it’s your responsibility to obtain a license before your line is in the water. The lake is officially recognized as a saltwater fishery, so along with the basic fishing license you can buy in Louisiana, you’ll also need a saltwater license.
When it comes to the daily limits of fish that you can keep, these vary significantly from species to species, and your captain will let you know how many you’re allowed to keep. If you’re fishing on your own, it’s important to be aware of just how many fish you can bring back home.
Lake Pontchartrain Really Does Have It All
With New Orleans right at its doorstep, too many bridges to count, and even more song-worthy fishing spots, Lake Pontchartrain is a brackish diamond in the rough. The first name of this estuary, Okwata (which means “wide water”), accurately describes what you’ll be facing when you head out. Not only miles and miles of productive waters, marshes, and bayous, but also wide fishing horizons that keep on giving.
Did you go fishing on Lake Pontchartrain? What are your experiences? What advice would you give to fellow anglers? Share your thoughts in the comments below, we’re always happy to hear from you.