Outdoor Corner: The Great River

Lyle Johnson
This is a bit of an unusual catch. Shelia Edmonston caught this big drum in her cast net at Cocodrie on May 10, 2019 while throwing for shrimp to go fishing for reds and specks.

Most of you that read this column know that I live on the Diversion Canal. We recently had a minor flood a couple of weeks ago that happens on a fairly regular basis, not to mention the 2016 event that is still fresh on plenty of minds all over southeast Louisiana.

Our area (East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension Parishes) are somewhat accustomed to the drill when the water comes up. The Mississippi River floods every year and generally doesn't make a blip in our minds because it's a different watershed that hardly ever has any effect on us.

The Mighty Mississippi is the second-longest river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. It heads south for 2,320 miles to the Mississippi River Delta where it dumps into the Gulf of Mexico here. The Mississippi gets its name from Misi zipi, the French name for the river, Misi-ziibi (Great River).

The Great River with its many tributaries, drains a mind-boggling all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains in its watershed. The total catchment of the Mississippi River covers nearly 40 percent of the landmass of the continental United States.

The main stem is entirely within the United States and the total drainage basin covers 1,151,000 square miles, of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world.

Over time, the Mississippi River has experienced numerous large and small changes to its main course, as well as additions, deletions, and other changes among its numerous tributaries, and the lower Mississippi River has used different pathways as its main channel to the Gulf of Mexico across the delta region.

Through a natural process known as avulsion or delta switching, the lower Mississippi River has shifted its final course to the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico every thousand years or so.

This phenomenon occurs because the deposits of silt and sediment begin to clog its channel, raising the river's level and causing it to eventually find a steeper, more direct route to the Gulf of Mexico.

In the 1950's U.S. government scientists determined that the Mississippi River was starting to switch channels to the Atchafalaya River because it is the easiest and steepest route to the Gulf of Mexico.

The government authorized the construction of the Old River Control Structure that has prevented the river from leaving its current channel. The structure allows 30 percent of the Red River and the Mississippi to flow through the Atchafalaya Basin. It was completed in 1954 but the Mississippi still wants to change course. It nearly happened in the Flood of 1973 and it is a continual battle to keep it within its current banks.

The Morganza Spillway was constructed as well to open and flow more river water into the basin. It has only been opened twice, in 1973 and 2011. It is planned to open again this year but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has confirmed that the opening of the Morganza Spillway has been delayed again.

Officials state that the new opening date will be on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Engineers also plan to open just one door per day for the first three days so the basin fills slowly, giving wildlife a better chance to escape.

The Corps last opened the Morganza in 2011, and the first day "was pretty violent," said Heath Jones, chief of emergency management for the New Orleans district. This year's slow open is designed to cause less havoc on animals, he said. The Morganza might stay open for around two and a half or three weeks.

Locals and engineers are all aware that this year will be different from the last opening in 2011. The Atchafalaya Basin was in drought in 2011 while it's at record highs this summer. The Army Corps of Engineers only intends to operate the structure when needed as to not put additional water into the Atchafalaya Basin.

The Mississippi has set flooding records this year: It's been in flood stage in Baton Rouge for five months since January, and the Corps opened the Bonnet Carre spillway on two separate occasions this year, the first double opening in its history.

The extended opening of the Bonnet Carre is affecting our area as the Amite River/Blind River hasn't dropped to normal levels in over three months. Nothing to be concerned about at this point, just highly unusual.

Next, we had a bit of bad news this past weekend on our waterways as the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement agents are investigating a fatal boating incident that occurred in Tangipahoa Parish on June 1. The body of Freddie Richardson, 51, of Baton Rouge, was recovered from the Tickfaw River around 6 p.m.

According to the operator of the boat, Richardson was a passenger in a 19-foot fiberglass boat when they went over a wake causing their vessel to violently turn to the right. Richardson was ejected into the water and unfortunately he was not wearing a personal flotation device.

 His body was turned over to the Tangipahoa Parish Coroner's Office to determine an official cause of death. LDWF will be the lead investigative agency for this fatal boating incident. LDWF, the Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office, Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, and the Livingston Parish Fire Department participated in the search.

The Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of our long lasting, summer boating season. The increase of river traffic was very noticeable and will continue for a long time.

Ascension Parish, Livingston Parish, Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, and the U.S. Coast Guard all had patrol boats on the river trying to keep things as safe as they can.

So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard, be safe in the outdoors, and may God truly bless you!

Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net.

Outdoor Calendar

EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman's League meeting held at Gonzales Fire Dept on Orice Roth Rd. starting at 7:00 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.

Wednesday Evening Bass Tourney: Every Wednesday at Canal Bank from 5 p.m. until dark. Fee $40/boat, one time registration fee of $40 going toward the Classic Tournament. Weekly event through spring, summer. Call Canal Bank for information. 225-695-9074

CCA Louisiana S.T.A.R. Fishing Rodeo: May 25 thru Sept 2 summer-long CCA Louisiana saltwater fishing event. Tagged Redfish, Offshore, Inshore, Ladies & Children's divisions. Registration required. Must be CCA member. Website: ccastar.com.

Swollfest Fishing Rodeo: June 5-8–22nd: Sand Dollar Marina, Grand Isle. Weigh-in 4:30-6:30 p.m. June 6-8. Master Board in Offshore, Deep Drop, Inshore & Kayak divisions; Lagniappe Board in Women's and Children's divisions & six awards in Overall category, including "Swollest" fish. Benefits Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital & Louisiana Cancer Care Coalition. Website: swollfest.com.

Wounded War Heroes Fishing Rodeo: June 27 thru 30 @Bridgeside Marina. Founded 4 years ago, 50 of our wounded veterans will take part in this one of a kind, locally founded fishing event. For more info on the rodeo and how you could get involved go to www. woundedwarheroes.org

Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at reelman@eatel.net