Photo by John Felsher.
In terms of bass populations, at least, much of Louisiana is showing signs of recovery from the storms of 2005, so anglers throughout the Sportsman’s Paradise should encounter plenty of line-pullers this year. Follow along as we review the situation region by region.
The good news is that south Louisiana anglers who struggled to find bass in the past two years may see more fish in their favorite honeyholes, although they probably won’t find many lunkers. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries boosted the natural recovery effort with a massive restocking effort in those areas hit hardest by the storms. Local anglers also did their share.
It generally takes between three and four years for an area to recover fully from such a catastrophe, but anglers should catch fish this spring.
Although the 2006 spawn produced very few fish in the devastated areas, the 2007 spawn produced a phenomenal amount of fish. Bass hatched since Hurricane Katrina should measure 12 inches and weigh about 2 pounds this spring. In addition to killing fish, hurricanes Katrina and Rita completely reconfigured the geography of south Louisiana by cutting new channels and blocking others, especially in the lower Pearl River delta near Slidell.
The Pearl River forms the border between Louisiana and Mississippi. Bradley Slough splits from the main channel east of Talisheek to create the West Pearl. The West Pearl actually carries the majority of the flow southward from that point.
In the zone between the rivers, which is known as Honey Island Swamp, several major streams including Middle River, West Middle River, East Middle River, Morgan Bayou, Wastehouse Bayou and Peach Lake create a wet labyrinth. South of U.S. Route 90, the land disappears into a delta marsh crisscrossed by channels.
In the upper portions of the Pearl River, toss worms near logs or drop them over the dropoff edges. During a falling tide, fish the mouths of any channels draining the swamps. Bass often gather at the mouths of these drains, waiting for the currents to bring crawfish and minnows to them. Toss a crawfish-colored, shallow-running crankbait or a chartreuse spinnerbait up these streams and work them down with the tide.
In the marshes, anglers would more likely catch numbers than lunkers. Again, fish the falling tide. Work topwater lures, buzzbaits or buzzing frogs over the grass patches. Flip worms or lizards into the deeper areas. A black and chartreuse or white beetle spinner devastates small bass, as well as large bream and crappie.
“During high tide, baitfish get in shallow areas to hide from predators, but when (the) tide falls, these areas become dry,” said Sam Swett, a professional bass angler from Covington. “Falling water flushes baitfish and other creatures into deeper channels. Marsh ponds usually have a small ditch that opens into deeper water. It’s like a fish funnel. Fish and bait coming out of shallow ponds must pass through those ditches. Bass wait there to eat whatever they can grab.”
Katrina reconfigured much of the Delacroix-Caernarvon area as well, but it also shows great promise. Not long after the storm surge subsided, anglers could catch an occasional 3- to 5-pound bass in the marshes. Fresh, silty water coming from siphons on the Mississippi River helped to rebuild nearby marshes. That fresh flow also helped bass. However, as in many post-Katrina marshes, fishing often proves to be a hit-or-miss situation.
In the Caernarvon area, fish the dead-end canals and adjacent weedy ponds near Lake Lery or Big Mar. Top honeyholes include the Crow’s Foot, where one canal splits into four, and canals near Grand Lake, Spanish Lake, Lost Lake and Little Lake.
On the west side of the Mississippi River, people began catching numbers of small fish in the upper estuary near Lac des Allemands, Lake Boeuf, Lake Cataouatche and Lake Salvador by 2007. Myriad bayous interconnected by countless canals along the Intracoastal Waterway link these marshes with those of the southern portion of the Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City.
Grass forms the dominant cover throughout most of this area. Forget deep-running crankbaits — use buzzing frogs, weedless lizards, jerk shads or other soft-plastic lures with hook points inserted into the plastic. Skitter these over the tops of matted grass. Frequently, bass erupt through the vegetation to engulf such an offering. Anglers can penetrate vegetation with heavy jigs or work the edges with worms and spinnerbaits.
“In places where people can’t even get a Texas-rigged worm to go through the grass, a Stanley Ribbit easily hops across the top,” said Lonnie Stanley, a five-time Bassmaster Classic veteran and lure manufacturer. “(It’s) rigged with a 3/0 to 5/0 wide-gap hook. I’ve caught big bass on it in very shallow water covered in grass so matted that no other bait could work in that spot.”
At the lower end of the Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City, the 14,000-acre Lake Verret connects to Lake Palourde and Grassy Lake through a labyrinth of canals and bayous. Lake Palourde contains 11,500 acres and Grassy Lake covers 1,024 acres. Anglers find many fish in the lakes, marshes, swamps and dead-end canals throughout this area.
“The Lake Verret area probably has lower numbers of bass but bigger fish,” said Mike Walker, an LDWF biologist in New Iberia. “The marshes in St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes have the numbers. With a minimum length limit of 14 inches in the Atchafalaya Basin, the average weight of bass harvested is right at 2 pounds, but there have been some bass over 10 pounds in the Basin due to the Florida bass stocking program. With no minimum length limit for harvested fish, marsh bass average close to 1 pound.”
At the northern end of the Atchafalaya Basin near Breaux
Bridge, Henderson Lake suffered as much from drought as it did from the Hurricane Rita fish-kill. Henderson Lake spreads through about 5,000 acres of backwaters from the Atchafalaya River, much of it shallow, weedy flats. However, natural waters such as Lake Pelba and Lake Bigeaux can drop to more than 20 feet deep in places.
Canals, including the one under Interstate 10, also hold deep water. Texas Canal runs parallel to and just north of I-10. Amoco Canal runs through Henderson Lake from the levee area and connects with Texas Canal. The Boulevard Canal runs parallel to the levee along the western shoreline and connects several landings to the southern fla
“Henderson Lake is the best bass lake in my area, with Chicot Lake a close second,” said Jody David, an LDWF fisheries biologist in Opelousas. “When the Atchafalaya River at Butte LaRose is around 9 or 10 feet (deep), fishing really picks up. If the river is too high, it’s tough to fish. It floods at about 12 to 14 feet. The lake produced some bass in the 4-pound range since Hurricane Rita. In the past, it produced bass almost up to 10 pounds.”
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