St. Tammany Parish -
Louisiana's Biloxi Marsh and Lake Pontchartrain offer you some fine fishing adventures, but those aren't the only adventures for you to experience in this sportsman's paradise. However, fishing is at the top of my list and St. Tammany Parish is my favorite spot.
The parish is nearly one-quarter water with about 30 boat ramps and marinas providing access to redfish, specks, flounder and other game fish species. Many saltwater anglers consider the redfish the ultimate gamefish for its tenacious fight. I've had reds stretch my string from Virginia to Texas but the best catching I've ever experienced has been here.
Captain Mike Gallo fishes Biloxi Marsh and Lake Pontchartrain for reds, specks and flounder with light tackle and fly fishing gear. Lake Pontchartrain, a nationally known estuary for large trout and Biloxi Marsh, the Redfish Capital of the World, puts you in trophy territory.
When I fished Biloxi Marsh with Capt. Mike it seemed other worldly early in the morning when the wind was still and the water was flat reflecting the reeds, sun and sky. A sense of peacefulness prevailed, even taking the edge off anticipating that first redfish strike. And that first fish was just moments away.
We worked the marshes the way freshwater anglers cast for bass casting close to the shore. We began the day by slinging topwater baits where baitfish were avoiding being eaten. As the sun rose higher, we switched to spinnerbaits with a short arm for the blade and a plastic grub on the hook.
"The fall fishing in Biloxi Marsh kicks off just after we have had three cold fronts push through that's about mid October," says Captain Mike. "This will send the white shrimp toward the Gulf and start a feeding frenzy that will last until the water temperature drops into the low 50s in early December. Days of 50 to 75 speckled trout, 10 to 15 redfish and a few flounder are common. I catch them a verity of ways. Plastics under a cork, topwater in low light conditions, as well as live shrimp."
When fishing is done for the day there is much more to see and do in St, Tammany Parish. For instance, tour companies conduct boat tours of Honey Island Swamp, an area that encompasses 25 square miles with nearly 70,000 acres in a permanently protected wildlife area. It is 3 to 7 miles wide and 15 to 20 miles long.
According to Paul Trahan, manager of Dr. Wagner's Honey Island Swamp Tours, "a simple definition of a swamp is a flooded forest." He says "El Whoppo", a Honey Island resident alligator is "about 15 feet long" and probably weighs between 800 and 1,000 pounds. He is most likely 65 years old but this senior citizen shows no signs of retiring.
You'll find a trip into Honey Island Swamp, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, is a lot like traveling to another country or at the very least like traveling back in time to a place where it's easier to imagine sightings of wellsome call it the "swamp thing" while others call it Sasquatch's southern cousin. Who knows if what's been described as a creature with long orangish-brown hair and very large, wide set, hazel-colored eyes traveling through the swamp actually exists? The point is, this feels like the kind of place it could.
What you will most likely see, depending on when you visit, besides alligators, anhingas and owls are bald eagles, waterfowl, a host of herons from great blue, little blue and tricolor to green and black-crowned night heron as well as egret, ibis, osprey and wood stork along with furbearers like raccoon, otter, beaver, mink and that unmistakably orange-toothed South American import, the nutria.
The introduction of nutria during the 1930s to boost the Louisiana fur trade didn't work out exactly as planned. The large (average size is about 12 pounds), furry semi-aquatic rodents adapted quickly to the Louisiana wetlands and are now busy reproducing with reckless abandon and wreaking havoc on the native plants of the wetlands.
Alligators on the other hand, although once endangered, are now very successful in the wilds of Louisiana with current estimates from the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries numbering 1.5 million 'gators. An additional 500,000 are raised on alligator farms across the state.
The Insta-Gator Ranch in Covington is directed by Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries. Guided tours offer an entertaining way to learn about the alligator industry from hatchling to handbag. This is a hands-on educational venture where you can feed and hold gators, learn about harvesting the eggs, and watch a film about alligator wranglers locating nests in the marshes.
But the swamp isn't the only place to see wild critters on the Northshore. Global Wildlife Center, operated by the non-profit Global Wildlife Foundation near Folsom, has nearly 3,000 herbivores, many of them endangered or threatened, roaming freely within a 900-acre enclosure. Humans, on the other hand, are comfortably stashed inside modern covered wagons pulled along by tractors during guided tours. Since visitors feed the animals from the wagons a four-legged crowd quickly gathers once the "chuck" wagons are spotted.
Guides enthusiastically share their knowledge of animal behaviors you'll witness, like the stotting, or sudden high jumps, by a herd of Indian blackbuck or the Flehmen response exhibited by giraffes that looks like a grimace with the upper lip curled back but is really a better way to detect scents.
But the Northshore is not only known for its wildlife viewing. For many years New Orleanians have crossed the causeway over Lake Pontchartrain to savor the small town charms of Mandeville with its fashionable shopping districts and eateries; Madisonville, home of the annual fall Wooden Boat Festival and the Maritime Museum; and Covington's eclectic shopping, trendy cafes and restaurants, and the one-of-a-kind H.J. Smith's Son General Store and Museum. Each town has its own flavor with art galleries, museums, antique and specialty shops, and award-winning restaurants.
Louisiana's first rails-to-trails conversion, the Tammany Trace, is a lovely 31-mile recreational corridor connecting Covington on the western end with Abita Springs, Mandeville, Lacombe and Slidell on the eastern end.
The folks on the Northshore enjoy serving local seafood and Cajun fare with style and there is no shortage of excellent chefs. Savor the tastes of bouillabaisse with shrimp, mussels, clams, grouper, crabmeat and tuna, filets of speckled trout or succulent roasted duckling.
While visiting Mandeville check out Juniper Restaurant and enjoy snapper soup or Eggplant Pirogue (a pirogue is a classic Cajun flat bottomed boat) filled with shrimp, crab and crawfish tails simmered in garlic cream sauce. The elegant Dakota Restaurant in Covington is another excellent choice especially if you're interested in their signature lump crabmeat and French Brie soup or fried soft shell crab stuffed with shrimp, crabmeat and crawfish.
You'll want to take trip to St. Tammany Parish for the fishing but the life style will make you want to stay. Happy Hooking!
Angling Adventures of Louisiana: Captain Mike Gallo. 985-781-7811, 877-422-6352, aaofla.com
Dr. Wagner's Honey Island Swamp Tour: 985-641-1769 (call for reservations), honeyislandswamp.com. Open year round except major holidays.
Global Wildlife Center: 985-796-3585, globalwildlife.com. Open daily.
Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery: 985-892-3669, (call for reservations), insta-gatorranch.com.
Pearl River Eco-Tours: 985-649-4200 (call for reservations), pearlriverecotours.com. Also fresh and salt water fishing charters available. Open year round.
Dakota Restaurant: 629 N. Hwy. 190, Covington; 985-892-3712.
Juniper Restaurant: 301 Lafitte Street, Mandeville; 866- 370-8713.
For more Info
St. Tammany Parish Tourism: 800-634-9443, LouisianaNorthshore.com