A year’s worth of fishing in Louisiana — now there’s a journey that I’d like to take!
Given the vastness of the Sportsman’s Paradise and its fresh- and saltwater fisheries that offer up unbelievable piscatorial variety and riches each year, it’s a tough job, but hey, somebody has got to do it, right?
If you’re game to tackle 12 months of Louisiana angling greatness, here’s a solid plan for experiencing the best angling action that Cajun Country has to offer this year.
January’s typically reserved for sipping steaming hot java in front of the fireplace, oiling reels, sharpening hooks, replacing line and generally dreaming about the year’s best fishing to come. But while that prospect certainly does lie ahead for any number of species, the year’s first couple of months are in fact great for targeting a lesser-known species: the chain pickerel (or “jackfish”).
“That’s their spawning time,” said Rob Woodruff, a Texas resident who operates the Orvis-endorsed Woodruff Guide Service, a fly-fishing operation that samples water in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, “and they are up in (a water body’s) grassbeds in shallow water.”
While the region’s chain pickerel — which resemble northern pike — don’t get exceptionally big, they are loads of fun to catch at a time of the year when little else is up shallow and biting.
Woodruff suggests white and yellow Beetle Spins, small spinners and small Rebel-like crankbaits for conventional anglers. Fly-fishing enthusiasts can try black crystal flash Wooly Buggers with orange coneheads or small flashy streamers with gold, pearl or chartreuse colorations.
When the year’s second month rolls around on the calendar, the thoughts of many Louisianans will turn to the Super Bowl.
And, no, I’m not talking about Super Bowl XLII in Tampa, but the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” the 2009 Bassmasters Classic, scheduled for Feb. 20-22 on the Red River near Shreveport/Bossier City.
“The Bassmasters Classic is a dream event,” reported Mary Ann Tice, executive director of the Shreveport Regional Sports Authority in a news release. “Hosting the Bassmasters Classic will be a defining moment for Shreveport-Bossier City and northwest Louisiana. We are completely delighted and proud to welcome the entire B.A.S.S. family to our world.”
How dreamy the 2009 Classic proves to be will probably be determined by the Red River’s water clarity, observed Gary Tilyou, Inland Fisheries administrator for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “So much of what will happen in the Classic there on the Red River depends on what the river is doing (in terms of water clarity),” he said, adding that, as of press time, the fishing on the river and its oxbow lakes and sloughs was “fantastic.”
“If it’s not a muddy river, then it will be a fantastic event,” he offered. “If it’s muddy, it will be challenging and those guys will show me how good they are.”
Speckled Trout & Redfish
While plenty of times throughout the year are good for targeting speckled trout — “spotted seatrout,” more appropriately — in Louisiana waters, the Ides of March brings the beginning of “gator trout” season at Calcasieu Lake.
Gator trout, the so-called biggest of trophy specks, begin to show up in earnest as the month of March wears on. While speck anglers all have their favorite tackle ranging from live bait to soft plastics to spoons to cast at oil rigs and equipment, shell beds, and other structure in and around tidal flows, give me a sizable topwater lure to rip through the chop as these big trout produce some memorable early spring surface action!
In my book, it’s virtually impossible to think of spring speck fishing without thinking about the redfish that are undoubtedly lurking nearby.
And when the redfish hotspot is Venice, few are the times of year during which an angler shouldn’t be talking about this fabled Louisiana angling resource.
While several offerings are widely favored for catching a limit of Venice reds destined for the fryer — live bait, soft plastics and spoons come to mind yet again — my favorite way to connect with this explosive saltwater game fish is to catch them with a fly rod.
To do so, I’ll rig up an eight or a nine-weight Orvis Zero Gravity or Helios fly rod coupled with a good reel sporting a solid drag system and a floating line. Give me a few poppers, shrimp and crab patterns and a Clouser minnow or two to attach to a 7 1/2-foot 1X or 2X tippet, and I can be happy for days if some hungry reds are available to target!
Late spring is a great time to fish for spawning bluegills and other platter-sized panfish on a number of Louisiana waters.
Woodruff says that Caddo Lake is his top choice for bluegills and red-ears this month.
“If you find (a) bed and catch one, you can catch a ton,” Woodruff said, noting that the bigger ‘gills tend to hang out around the bed’s perimeter and deeper side.
What to use? For flies, throw things like Bream Killers, Wilson’s Bluegill Bullies or Miss Prissy Poppers in white, chartreuse or yellow. For conventional angling, toss small Beetle Spins around the beds or fish the ever-popular crickets or worms under a bobber.
According to Mike Wood, the Inland Fisheries program manager for the LDWF, D’Arbonne Lake and Caney Lake are two other top panfish spots to consider. “D’Arbonne is an especially good sunfish lake, but Caney is as well,” he said. “Almost all of the top 10 redear sunfish have come from Caney Lake in Jackson Parrish, and the state record is 2 1/2 pounds.”
Wood says that the redear spawn — “chinquapin” or “shellcrackers,” as they’re also known — corresponds with the full moon from March on through the summer months. For an angler with some night crawlers in hand, this is pure fishing fun at its finest.
Remember Venice? Offshore anglers sure do, especially those who want to test the outer limits of a saltwater rod and reel’s backbone and drag system with species lurking in the dark blue waters off this coastal hamlet.
A case in point occurred last summer when I had a chance to do some freshwater fishing with Barry St. Clair, the longtime holder of the Texas’ largemouth bass state record mark at 18.18 pounds.
Despite double-digit striped bass pulling on our li
nes, St. Clair didn’t really want to talk about stripers or even largemouth bass, the species that put his name on the map and changed his career. Instead, what the likable Texan wanted to talk about was the backbreaking effort that he had recently put in near Venice to land a triple-digit yellowfin tuna!
How can you get in on the backbreaking action to land some serious sushi or grilled tuna steaks? Unless you’re a seasoned offshore veteran, probably the best advice that I can give for a bluewater angling experience is to bite the bullet and hire an offshore captain who knows how to put you where the big boys are lurking.
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