Catching Fish in the Tchefuncte
By: Peter Egan
The Tchefuncte River is located in Washington and St. Tammany Parishes in southeastern Louisiana.
The Tchefuncte becomes a respectable river, viable for fishing, boating, skiing, wakeboarding (and other aquatic recreation) at an area known as Three Rivers, where the Little Tchefuncte is joined by the Bogue Falaya River and the Abita River, forming one much larger river known as the Tchefuncte. This larger river where the three smaller ones culminate will be the central focus of this article.
By far the most commonly pursued species of fish in the Tchefuncte are Largemouth Bass.
Fishing for bass in the Tchefuncte is challenging to say the least. The entire bank on both sides of the river north of Madisonville (near the river’s mouth) is lined with what would be considered prime bass habitat were there not so much of it. Fallen trees, lily pads, docks, other aquatic and man-made debris line the shire for miles and for the majority of the river. The same can be said for the private bayous, lagoons and canals that are attached to the river.
Finally, on days when the weather is pleasant, the water becomes so muddy from boat traffic that fishing is pretty much impossible after about noon on a Saturday through the following Monday.
If you don’t have a bass boat or a flatboat with a trolling motor, you’re wasting your time fishing for bass. A trolling motor is an absolute necessity for fishing the Tchefuncte because of the river’s layout. You’ll need to cover as much ground as possible and hope you can hit on a few spots.
Top baits used to catch bass in the Tchefuncte either make noise and/or chop up the water (spinnerbaits and buzzbaits), or are weedless in design, usually soft plastics. This larger group can include artificial worms (Tequila Sunrise and Fire n Ice are my personal favorites), weedless topwater frogs (for the lily pads), lizards, etc.
If you’re going to cast towards the shorelines and all of the accompanying brush, and it’s important to you that you hit the perfect spot, go with something weedless or you’ll be losing a lot of lures to the trees. If you’re willing to fish along shorelines, spinnerbaits are typically a safe and effective bet. Buzzbaits are used in much the same way, only where lily pads are present or at dawn when the fish must rely more on sound and feel than sight.
In my opinion, bass fishing in the Tchefuncte is unnecessarily difficult by design, so I tend to target other species more often than not.
Unlike fishing for bass, the Tchefuncte still holds a sizeable number of catfish. While numbers of fish species appear to have been in a state of decline since the population of St. Tammany Parish seemingly tripled following Hurricane Katrina, the catfish in the river seem to be the least impacted by the added fishing pressure.
One of the things I like about catfishing is that instead of going out in search of fish, I can have them come to me. It’s far more convenient and I’ll fill my ice chest with fish while the guys chasing bass may have one or two decent size fish.
How do I do this? The answer is simple. I’ve mastered the science of using chum to lure catfish into the area that I’m fishing.
I use a variety of chumming methods depending on my goals for the day, if I’m fishing from a boat or from my back porch, and the extent to which I am willing to deal with turtles on any given day.
The Tchefuncte holds all three of the major southeastern United States catfish species: channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish. I’ve caught plenty of each of the three, although I’ve caught more channel cats than blue cats and more blue than flathead.
Flathead catfish tend to prefer live bait, whereas the other will eat just about anything they can smell that smells like food to them. To be clear, food to them could be rotten, decaying flesh that smells awful to humans. But hey, they’re an important part of the ecosystem and they taste delicious so they can eat whatever they like as far as I’m concerned.
Aside from the various species of bream/bluegill, other panfish and the occasional small crappie, when winds blow in from the south, it’s not uncommon for saltwater from Lake Pontchartrain (which is actually a bay) to be blown into the river, taking with it the species that reside in brackish water. Notably, there have been numerous reports of people catching speckled trout and redfish in the Tchefuncte in Madisonville, nearly a mile from the mouth of the river.
It’s quite common to see people crabbing at the boatlaunch at the mouth of the river, and there have even been reports or people catching gaftopsail catfish (a saltwater species), and even bull sharks in the southern end of the river near it’s mouth in Madisonville.
While the Tchefuncte offers a diverse assortment of fish species depending upon the conditions, my preference is to drop my chum bucket and let the catfish come to me. That being said, less lazy fishermen can experience a smorgasbord of variety when it comes to the types of fish that have been caught in the Tchefuncte.