In most years, the crappie forecast for the Sportsman’s Paradise is almost entirely optimistic.
Fortunately, 2009 shouldn’t deviate from that theme. Louisiana anglers have more than enough reasons to grab a cane pole or ultralight spinning rig, some minnows or jigs and an empty fish basket . . . and go crappie fishing, of course!
That’s because when it comes to fishing for sac-à-laits, few states can match Cajun Country in its sheer volume of really good crappie waters.
Need a place to start? Then throw a dart onto a map of the Bayou State. Odds are your dart won’t land far from good water.
From Caddo Lake to Toledo Bend, from Caney Lake to D’Arbonne Lake to Lake Bistineau, Louisiana has no shortage of good places to wet a line.
Add in False River, Old River, Catahoula Lake, and, well, I think you’ll begin to get the picture — the Sportsman’s Paradise is, in fact, a crappie angler’s paradise!
According to Gary Tilyou, the inland fisheries administrator for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, one of the best spots to start crappie fishing this year might be on Toledo Bend Reservoir, the 181,600-acre Sabine River impoundment in western Louisiana.
“We’ve got a pretty good water event going on at Toledo Bend,” Tilyou said. “That should be good for the fish, and we would expect the fishing to be fantastic this year, perhaps the start of a few great crappie years (in a row).”
Another one of the state’s crappie hotspots is the 2,700-acre Poverty Point Reservoir near Delhi. Annually one of the top crappie producers, Poverty Point should be primed again this year.
“Poverty Point has been very good (lately),” Tilyou said. “For (the best) crappie (fishing of the year), it would be more of when you would expect it — in January and February.”
In other words, get the fishing gear ready — after you finish reading this story, of course — and head for the water!
Perhaps one of the state’s few exceptions in what is expected to be a phenomenal sac-à-lait year, southern Louisiana’s sprawling Atchafalaya Basin complex appears to be on a bit of downturn. As Louisianans will recall from 2008, big saltwater storm surges rolled into the Basin late last summer, thanks to Hurricane Gustav, and to a lesser degree, Hurricane Ike.
And that saltwater intrusion wasn’t good for the Basin’s freshwater fish species.
“In the Atchafalaya Basin, we did have some major fish kills that occurred,” Tilyou conceded.
The top Louisiana inland fisheries biologist said that the storm surge rolled up the main river stem itself, into some of the region’s tributaries, and into some interior lakes that have served as refuges for freshwater fish in past storms.
“It was very similar to what happened after Hurricane Andrew if somebody is going to go back and compare what Gustav did,” Tilyou said. “Gustav was not quite as bad as Andrew was, but it was almost as bad in the Atchafalaya Basin, since both storms went right up the basin, basically.
“The storm affected all species with an indiscriminate fish kill,” Tilyou continued. “Everything that was in the bad waters died and we did lose a lot of game fish, a lot of bass, crappie, bluegills.”
While the effects of Gustav were bad in the Basin, Tilyou reminds anglers that hurricanes are a natural part of the landscape and, as of press time, signs of recovery were emerging.
“Mother Nature will dictate how fast the fishery recovers,” he said. “We had a very high water event after Andrew and that stimulated production. The first year after (that) hurricane, we had little 6- to 8-inch bass everywhere. By June of the following year, there were little fish everywhere, and by the end of year, the 10-inch growth rates were phenomenal.
“Now we don’t have instant re-growth of age after such an event, but we had a lot of little fish the following year, and they started becoming something that you could take home — which is 14 inches for bass in the Basin — in about two years.”
While the anglers reading this article may or may not be enthused about the period for catchable bass in the Atchafalaya Basin, they probably will be quick to smile when they hear Tilyou’s report on how quickly the panfish in the Basin responded after Andrew.
“The crappie and the bream responded just as quickly (as the bass), and since there are no size limits in the Basin, anglers were able to have success right off the bat,” Tilyou said.
“We supplemented (fish stocks after Andrew), but with Mother Nature supplying a good water event, what we were doing was just a drop in the bucket (compared to the natural process). You just never know what you’re going to get from Mother Nature.”
Now that you have a few of the state’s prime crappie waters on your radar screen for this month and throughout spring, how do you go about catching a limit of slabs as winter’s chilly temperatures give way to spring?
To answer that question, let me defer to America’s favorite fisherman, Jimmy Houston, the highly energetic, blond-haired, fish-kissing B.A.S.S. king from Cookson, Oklahoma.
While Houston originally staked his claim to fame as a two-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, his second career as the television host of “Jimmy Houston Outdoors” has given him years of fishing action for one of his favorite freshwater species.
Especially at this time of the year.
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