Catahoula Lake has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Once the waterfowl migration gets underway each fall and winter, the focus is on this sprawling body of water covering some 30,000 acres in LaSalle and Rapides Parishes because the lake is a stop-over site for millions of waterfowl on their way south for the winter.
Catahoula is the state's largest natural freshwater lake having been formed, according to writer Terry Jones, by seismic activity, possibly an earthquake. The activity caused the land to sink in the area and waters from nearby Little River filled the depression, thus forming what is now known as Catahoula Lake.
The lake is jointly managed by the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF).
Larry Reynolds heads up the waterfowl division for the LDWF and faces a two-pronged challenge each year. One is to be sure the table is set with natural plants that provide waterfowl food once the ducks get here. The other is to try and prevent the encroachment of undesirable woody plants that crowd out the plants waterfowl prefers.
"In order to give the millet, chufa, flatsedge and sprangletop species a chance to take root and be there when the ducks arrive, it is necessary that much of the lake be dewatered to give the plants time to germinate and grow," Reynolds said.
"We have begun the dewatering process here in May and, depending on rains, hope to have the lake down to drawdown pool stage by the end of June. The lake will remain down until mid-November when we will allow it to fill again. Once the plants that provide food for waterfowl become well established and the area is covered with shallow water, this is the optimum situation for the arriving waterfowl," he added.
"Catahoula is one of the most important, if not the most important early season habitats for waterfowl in Louisiana and in the lower Mississippi flyway. The lake drawdown is an integral part of that habitat. We're continually trying to figure out ways to maintain the quality of the habitat that enhances the plants we're trying to grow while inhibiting the expansion of woody plants that are encroaching onto the lake bed."
Reynolds pointed out that two particular species of woody plants are creeping their way onto the lake bed and where they establish themselves, desirable plants providing waterfowl food do not grow.
"Swamp privet and water elm are two troublesome species that would take over the dewatered areas if allowed. It's expensive to use bulldozers, bush hogs and herbicides but we absolutely must get a handle on these troublesome plants. This year while the water is down, we will be bulldozing approximately 1000 acres of small trees and applying herbicide to another 1200 acres. We're experimenting with the timing of the drawdown to draw it down either earlier or later as a possible mechanism to inhibit expansion of these woody plants.
"Because of this activity that will be ongoing, hunters and fishermen need a heads-up as to when we're going to pull the water down, and that's why we issued a press release to let users of the lake know what is going on and when it is to take place. We want to let folks know when the water will be moving, the dates we plan to keep it dry so than can make arrangements of summer fishing trips or any other recreation activity," Renolds added.
Having the lake drawn down during the times recreational users would more likely utilize the lake is an inconvenience. However, once the ducks arrive this fall to find a smorgasbord of palatable food awaiting, the reward will hopefully supersede the inconvenience.
Glynn Harris Outdoors is proudly sponsored by DSK, Ltd. of Minden.