Trying to locate artificial reefs? Depth finder, GPS and live bait are a must

Wednesday, July 27, 2005
By Bob Marshall
Outdoors editor

Anglers who make regular trips to Lake Pontchartrain's artificial reefs say success often depends on three things: a depth finder, a GPS and live bait.

"It's like fishing anywhere else. There's a few little tricks you have to learn," said Charles Luttrell, a Mandeville angler who regularly visits the reefs.

There are three sets of reefs in the lake:

-- Orleans parish reef is about one mile off the south shore of the lake, approximately 1½ miles east of the Lakefront Airport. This reef is composed of about two acres of limestone rocks placed in many individual piles to form a rough rectangular shape. A yellow buoy marks the reef. The center of the reef was reported by state authorities to be at or about GPS coordinates 30 03.518' North, 89 59.618' West.

-- North shore reef is about five miles south of the Mandeville boat harbor and about five miles east of the Causeway. It consists of 80 reef balls placed in a circle around an old oil well shell pad. It is marked by a yellow buoy. The GPS coordinates to the center are at or about 30 16.296' North, 90 03.753' West.

-- East Jefferson reef is a group of three oil well shell pads, each of which is surrounded by about 200 reef balls. The group is about four miles off the south shoreline almost equidistant between the Bonnabel Boulevard and Williams Boulevard public boat ramps. Each pad is marked by a yellow buoy.

The GPS coordinates for the three reefs are at or about:

-- 30 05.028' North, 90 12.096' West

-- 30 05.034' North, 90 12.582' West.

-- 30 05.289' North, 90 12.336' West

All the GPS coordinates listed above were calculated using WGS 84 datum.

A GPS is a valuable tool because the buoys can be moved by storms, or by anglers illegally tying up to the buoys anchor lines.

A depth finder is just as important.

"A depth finder that shows bottom contours is a really helpful, because it will show you where the reef balls are," said John Lopez, of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. "You want to know that because if you drop your anchor inside a reef ball you'll lose it, and because the fish tend to hang around the reef balls."

Lopez and other researchers have investigated the reefs in scuba gear and with underwater cameras.

"There's food around the reef balls for trout and other predators, so that where the fishermen should try to get their bait," he said.

The best way of doing that is to use a depth finder to locate the edge of the reef, then anchor outside the reef so the tide and/or wind pulls the boat closer to the reef balls.

"If you use your GPS to mark the edges you find, then you'll have no problem returning right to that spot the next time you go out," Lopez said.

Like summer fishing in the marsh, the best bait for specks around the reefs the past few months has been live shrimp, typically rigged under a floating or sliding cork. The water around the reefs is about 12 feet deep. Keeping the bait off the bottom is important.

"We've collected a lot of lures, hooks and sinkers," said Mark Schexnayder of the LSU Sea Grant Program. "You want to get your bait or lures near the reef balls, but not inside them."

Although tidal movement is considered critical to fishing in most locations around southeast Louisiana, it doesn't seem to be a big factor around these new reefs, anglers said.

"Tide didn't matter when I was catching trout," Luttrell said. "The biggest factor lately was the heat and sun. The fish were biting better right before and right after sunrise, but by 9, 10 o'clock, it was over."

. . . . . . .

Bob Marshall can be reached at or (504) 826-3539.

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