Bayou Bartholomew

Bayou Bartholomew the Forgotten Watershed?

Corps Of  Engineers Southeast Arkansas Feasibility Study

Bayou Bartholomew, and its one-million acre watershed, begins its journey northwest of the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the Harding community, and flows approximately 375 miles crossing the Louisiana border joining the Ouachita River.

It is the longest bayou in the world.

Lined with majestic cypress and tupelo swamps, inhabited by alligators, turtles and frogs, visited by wintering waterfowl, containing over one-hundred and seventeen species of fishes, Bartholomew is truly a wonder of nature remaining natural with few improvements.

The Bayou Bartholomew Watershed of Arkansas and Louisiana is one of the nation�s most unique places on earth. Bayou Bartholomew follows a meandering course through all or part of Jefferson, Lincoln, Drew, Desha, Chicot, and Ashley counties in Arkansas and joins the Ouachita River in Morehouse Parish, near Sterlington, Louisiana.

Bayou Bartholomew is considered a conservation priority by The Nature Conservancy  because;

 1) it contains what is probably the largest, relatively intact, low relief stream subject to bank overflow in the Mississippi River Valley;

2) it supports at least three species of federally listed freshwater mussels and over half of all known mussel species found in Louisiana

3) it may support the most diverse assemblage (103 species) of freshwater fish of any stream system in North America

 4) Although fragmented, it captures a landscape of bottomland forest that supports important populations of many species, including the threatened Louisiana black bear and high-quality examples of numerous plant communities.

A bayou (pronounced Byoo or Byoh) is a shallow, curving channel filled with slow moving, sometimes stagnant, water. The name was used by French settlers of the lower Mississippi River, its delta and the adjacent drainage areas of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. The term bayou is seldom used outside this area. It may have derived from the French word boyau meaning channel. The word bayou describes an abandoned river channel, a slow moving stream draining a swamp or shallow lake or an oxbow (horseshoe-shaped) lake.

The name Bartholomew is attributed to the predominantly French speaking Catholic settlers of the lower Mississippi River Valley. True to their faith, they paid homage to Saint Bartholomew by naming the bayou in his honor

Archaeologists make the point that Bayou Bartholomew, as well as all the adjacent "oxbow bend" brakes, was once, a long time ago, a part of the Arkansas River before the river swings eastward to meet the Mississippi River on the east side of Desha County, Arkansas.


Bayou Bartholomew may have been forgotten If it were not for the vision of Dr.Curtis Merrell.

The Bayou Bartholomew Alliance was incorporated in October of 1995 as a nonprofit organization. It was Dr. Curtis Merrell’s concern for this resource which started the formation of a group of citizens, landowners and others who share the vision of  Dr. Merrell and the importance of this unique southern stream. 

Bayou Bartholomew has problems created by man which cause its water to be of a lesser quality than what it could be. Activities which lead to water quality problems or loss of habitats include urban development which removes the trees along the stream bank. This causes bank erosion and increases in stream temperature which leads to stress on aquatic organisms.

Some remember the bayou from bridge crossings as the muddy illegal dumping sites of everything from worn out furniture, garbage, pesticide barrels, old cars, farm machinery to you name it.

Farming activities have also lead to problems for the stream by denuding stream banks or allowing soil erosion to occur. These same activities lead to loss of fish and wildlife habitat. These concerns and a desire to improve the situation led to the establishment of the Bayou Bartholomew Alliance. This non-profit organization has brought together representatives of many different areas of interests including agriculture/forestry, environmental, recreational, industrial and others to preserve water quality, improve the beauty of the Bayou, enhance wildlife and fish habitat and related recreational pursuits, educate the public about the historical and ecological significance of this resource, and to improve overall benefits to landowners adjacent to the Bayou.

Since 2004 thirteen sites are sampled each year from above Pine Bluff down to near the Louisiana border at Parkdale. Numbers of fishes collected at each site are recorded along with species of fish.


Over 117 species of fish have been found in Bayou Bartholomew and at least 40 species of mussels, including more than half of all mussel species known in Louisiana and at least three mussel species currently listed by the federal government as endangered or threatened. Good populations of both largemouth and spotted bass throughout the length of the bayou were found.   The 117 species of fish found in the Bartholomew makes it the  second most diverse stream in North America for fish species.

Some sites had great concentrations of crappie with many going 3/4 of a pound. Most sites continue to see species diversity increasing as work on the bayou continues. Utilizing electro-fishing thirteen sites are sampled each year from above Pine Bluff down to near the Louisiana border at Parkdale. Numbers of fishes collected at each site are recorded along with species of fishes. Fish that are collected are weighed and measured and then released back into the stream. Most sites continue to see species diversity increasing as work on the bayou continues. Fishes such as river redhorse that were extremely rare in the Bayou 10 years ago are becoming common.

College students who have helped with sampling included Aria Ralston (Brigham Young University), Mark Tanner (BYU), and Georgia Bailey (SEARK, Pine Bluff), all summer employees of Layher Bio-Logics RTEC, Inc. Derrick Grant (UAPB) and Bonnie Earlywine (UCA, Conway) who were Arkansas Game and Fish Commission summer interns.

Bayou Bartholomew the longest Bayou in the world.  Arkansas Striper Fishing

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Merrell named a hero of conservation by Field & Stream.