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University » Public Lands » Catahoula Lake
Catahoula Lake

louisiana-department-agriculture-logoCatahoula Lake is located in LaSalle, Rapides, and Grant parishes in central Louisiana approximately 20 miles northeast of Alexandria. The area is easily accessible via Louisiana Highway 28.

This unique 30,000 acre wetland is owned by the State of Louisiana. The lake is managed under a tri-party management plan with the co-operators including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

This large, shallow, poorly drained wetland supports choice waterfowl food plants and has been referred to as the “largest moist soil unit in North America”. Furthermore, Catahoula Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in Louisiana, covering more than 46 square miles. Historically the primary inlet of the lake was Little River. Several creeks also enter the lake. The lake was drained by Old River, French Fork, and numerous bayous. Navigation and flood control projects resulted in drastic changes of the lake’s drainage. After construction of the first lock and dam on the Black River downstream of Jonesville, a control structure was built downstream on Little River to maintain a conservation pool on the lake and prevent the lake from being permanently inundated. The Catahoula Lake Diversion Canal was developed to provide drainage of the lake downstream of the lock. A control structure was built at the upper end of the diversion canal so that water levels could be managed to facilitate fish and wildlife management. As a result of these activities, the flow of French Fork was reversed, resulting in siltation in part of the original river channel.

The lake bed is characterized by uniform plant types occurring in concentric zones related to lake bed contour. The periphery of the lake supports woody plants, primarily water elm, swamp privet, and irregular occurrences of black willow and bald cypress. The next zone is dominated by chufa with the next lower zone being predominantly sprangle top and teal grass. Dense stands of millet occur around the marshy area of the lake and the permanently flooded zone supports bull tongue, mud plantain, and water hyssop.

Subject to drastic water level fluctuations the lake provides habitat for hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, and shore/wading birds as well as aquatic habitat for both sport and commercial fishes. Catahoula Lake provides habitat for up to 200,000 migrating northern pintails, a species of special concern in North America. The lake has also served as wintering habitat for as much as 26% of the total North American canvasback population, another species of special concern.

Catahoula Lake provides thousands of hours of recreational activity annually in the form of hunting, fishing, hiking, sight seeing, and birding.

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