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May 12, 2008

Louisiana Lake Trout

Any cast might produce the next state-record speck on a rejuvenated Lake Pontchartrain

Rebuilding Lives and Property
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, Capt. Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana lived near Salt Bayou, a marshy tributary to Lake Pontchartrain just outside Slidell. Before it hit, Gallo and his wife, Jackelyn, packed what they could and evacuated to Picayune, Mississippi.
 
About 17 feet of water inundated his home halfway over the second story. When the storm surge subsided, it left very little behind. Gallo built a home on higher ground in Hickory, Louisiana, and rebuilt the other structure as a fishing lodge. The captain began guiding again in October 2005 but couldn't reopen his lodge until April 2007. Today, it can accommodate up to eight people. It comes with a full kitchen complete with appliances and utensils, a living room and two full bathrooms.
 
In Hopedale, southeast of New Orleans, Capt. Charlie Thomason (504-278-FISH; www.captaincharlie.com) of Bayou Charters guides in the marshes south of Lake Borgne. This area suffered catastrophic losses when the eye of Katrina passed directly through it.
 
"We had two lodges, one about 7 feet above the water over the boat slips and another about 14 feet above the ground across the street," Thomason says. "The storm surge was nearly 26 feet deep here. When the surge hit, it disintegrated everything. When the water fell, it took everything with it, leaving very little standing in St. Bernard Parish. We had nothing left except for a couple of concrete blocks."
 
The professional redfish angler couldn't return to his lodge until October. Then, he could only return after purchasing a Bobcat tractor and clearing the one road into Hopedale. He and Capt. Shane Robin, one of his guides, began rebuilding, completing the new Silver Side Lodge in April 2007. While rebuilding, Thomason and Robin largely subsisted on fresh trout they caught every day and cooked over a propane burner.
 
"Believe it or not, we brought a boat down in October 2005 to work on the dock," Thomason says. "We went a mile away and caught 50 trout. Every day, we could catch all the trout we wanted right off the dock. We were joking about doing charters off the dock."
 
For the new lodge, Thomason bought four modular homes and linked them together as a duplex. He raised the lodge to more than 20 feet off the ground - 21 feet above sea level - and reinforced everything with steel strapping. Now, it can accommodate up to 24 people, 12 in each 1,450-square-foot unit.
 
"I took my first charter in late December 2005," he says. "We had the fish, but the area didn't have any ice, fuel or groceries down here. The bayou didn't have any boat traffic, and the fish didn't have any pressure then."