Best Bets for Louisiana Fishing in 2012

Simple fact: you can't be in more than one place at any given time. Applied to Louisiana fishing, that's a tough truth because at any given time, several good bites are happening. Add real-life concerns that limit the number of days you can actually spend fishing, and prioritizing becomes important.

With that in mind, we've picked three of the best bites in Louisiana for every month of the coming year.

JANUARY

Crappie:

Larto-Saline

The Larto-Saline Complex serves up world-class fishing for big crappie, and many anglers consider mid-winter prime time for targeting serious slabs. Complex is an apt description of this vast backwater system, which includes natural lakes, water from two major river systems, flow-diversion projects and an ever-changing character.

Water color and level are two of the largest variables, and both impact the crappie fishing. Local anglers like falling water, and most look for water that is dark, but not muddy. Working jigs with one or two poles in hand allows you to fish sunken brush and the edges of trees at a good range of depths and to cover a lot of water.

Other options:

If you're looking for something larger than a crappie, January is also an excellent time to target a trophy largemouth at Lake Chicot.

Moving to the saltwater side of things, look for concentrations of redfish in deeper parts of bayous when the weather turns really cold. Expect the same fish to push shallow in the marsh during warmer snaps.

FEBRUARY

Largemouths:

Atchafalaya Basin

Fast bass action is the main attraction in the Atchafalaya Basin, which is vast, wild and beautiful. Fishing heats up there with the first hints of spring warmth. But, this area is complicated, both for navigation and for figuring out how water levels affect the fish's locations and orientation to cover.

If the water is low, fish concentrate in canals and generally are easy to locate. If it is high, vastly expanding the swamp and allowing the bass to spread back into the trees, finding the fish may require more looking.

Fish a spinnerbait or a shallow crankbait that you can cover a lot of water with, but also keep a worm or jig handy for slower presentations through thick cover.

For more information on the area, go to www.cajuncoast.com.

Other options:

If you want to target something seriously big this month, head for Toledo Bend with heavy tackle and drift the lower end of the lake with big chunks of cut bait for overgrown and under-fished blue catfish.

In saltwater, where much fishing turns tough during February, sheepshead continue to bite near bridge pilings and jetty rocks.

MARCH

Redfish:

New Orleans Area

Although March winds can be maddening — altering water levels and stirring sediment — when you do find the right conditions and figure out how the reds are oriented, this month's action can be fabulous. Big redfish feed in the marshes and bayous just south of New Orleans. Look for clear water, and fleeing bait.

Walk the top with a Bomber Badonk-A-Donk and stay ready for explosive strikes. If reds are pushing bait, but won't come to the top, swim a big-bladed spinnerbait just beneath the surface. The "thump" of a big Colorado blade draws redfish from long distances.

For more information, visit, www.neworleansfishing.com.

Other Options:

Moving to freshwater, March is an excellent time to visit the Red River. Warming weather and normally high water pushes the river's largemouths shallow and makes them aggressive.

March is also an outstanding time to look for jumbo crappie at Caney Lake. You may not catch big numbers, but there's potential to land a genuine giant.

APRIL

Largemouths:

Toledo Bend Lake

Few places in the nation have a more storied largemouth tradition than Toledo Bend, but this massive impoundment on the Texas border has no need to rest on its reputation. The largemouth fishery is in outstanding condition with plenty of hefty bass in the mix. April outings yield high numbers of high-quality largemouths.

Toledo Bend offers everything from timber to brush to grass of many kinds, and this month the bass are in all the places where it looks like they should be.

Tie on a spinnerbait or a lipless crankbait and cover some water, casting to visible structure and watching for patterns. Often the water is clearer in the lower main body than up the river, so pay attention to how that affects the fish's positioning.

More information is available at www.toledo-bend.com.

Other Options:

If you're looking for fast-action spring crappie, with a strong possibility of some large fish in the mix, point the truck toward Lake D'Arbonne near Monroe.

For something bigger and meaner, visit Lake Calcasieu and swim grubs or soft-plastic minnow imitations for redfish. Watch for "slicks," which reveal where game fish are attacking baitfish beneath the surface.

Check out the best bets for Louisiana fishing for May, June, July and August on page two

MAY

Bluegill:

Cheniere Lake

Tupelo, cypress and tannin-darkened waters make 3,500-acre Cheniere Lake a beautiful place. More beautiful to fishermen, though, are the thick-bodied bluegill and mix of other sunfish that call Cheniere home.

Many bluegill are spawning in May, so if you catch one, keep working that area. Beds may be nearby. Bedding or not, they are around the trees, cruising and looking for meals.

For sheer fish-catching capacity and simple fun, it's tough to beat a cage full crickets and a basic float rig. The bluegills are super active by May, though, so you can also catch them on popping bugs with a fly rod or by swimming micro-sized jigs and spinners.

Other Options:

Whether you wade or fish by boat, May is a great time to throw soft-plastic lures and topwater lures for jumbo speckled trout at Sabine Lake.

Turning back to freshwater, target the boat docks along either side of False River if you want to catch some crappie this month.

JUNE

Dolphin:

Venice

Early summer brings fast and sometimes frantic action from dolphin that average 10 to 20 pounds, but are sometimes much larger. Venice provides some of the nearest access to these fish.

Trolling over offshore structure is generally the best way to find the hard fighting, high-flying and fast-running fish. Once a school has been located, dolphin can be caught a lot of different ways.

Dolphin tend to travel in big schools, so when the first one attacks a bait, furious action often isn't far behind. In fact, veteran offshore fishermen try to keep other baits in the water when a dolphin is hooked, because fighting fish tend to hold the schools close and keep them excited.

For more details on the action visit www.outerlimitcharters.com.

Other Options:

Straying only slightly inland from Venice, the fresh waters of the Mississippi River Delta offer fast action for channel cats throughout the summer. Specifically, try fishing night crawlers along cypress edges at Lake Des Allemands.

June is also a great time to go bluegill fishing at Latt Lake, which is a loaded with standing timber that limits recreational boating.

JULY

Channel Catfish:

Cross Lake

The dog days lend themselves to dropping bait, sitting back and waiting for catfish, and Cross Lake is an ideal location for such an endeavor. Covering 8,500 acres near Shreveport, Cross supports a fabulous population of channel catfish, with a good mix of sizes represented.

Because the cats can be widespread, drifting and dragging bottom rigs is a good daytime strategy. Watch your graph as you go and keep a buoy handy. If the screen lights up with fish on the bottom and a couple of rods plunge down, toss the buoy, circle back and drop an anchor.

Anchoring on the shallow ends of slopes is a good strategy for after dark, when the catfish typically stray shallower to feed.

Other Options:

If you're looking for seriously big game and don't mind brutal battles, head offshore out of Cocodrie in search of yellowfin tuna.

For some mid-summer bass fishing, Poverty Point Lake is a good choice.

AUGUST

Spotted Bass:

Sabine River

Whether due to remoteness and limited access, or the number of other places that are better known for their bass offerings, the Sabine River does not

get a lot of fishing pressure. One thing is for certain. It's not due to a lack of fish. Spotted bass, plus a fair mix of largemouths, abound in the river, which winds along the Louisiana/Texas border. Trophy fish are rare, but decent fish are plentiful.

Endless deadfalls provide great current breaks and ambush points for the bass. How the fish orient to the cover and the types of banks they favor vary according to current flow and other conditions, so paying attention to patterns will make you more efficient. A great strategy most days is to work close to the brush and pitch a jig into the thick stuff.

Other Options:

For summer fun in the surf, head for Grande Isle State Park and cast grubs for speckled trout. If you prefer not to fish the surf, a bridge and a pier provide "dry" options.

Staying in the brine, August is also a hot time for mangrove snapper. You don't have to run way offshore to find them.

Discover the best bets for Louisiana fishing for September, October, November and December on page three

SEPTEMBER

Catfish:

Mississippi River

As good as the catfishing is in many Louisiana rivers and lakes, the Mississippi River stands alone when it comes to serious trophy cat potential. All three major catfish species abound in the nation's largest river, and all three grow big. An occasional triple-digit weight cat is even possible. September typically brings reasonable water levels and active fish.

Because the big cats use many types of habitat during late summer, drifting works well. Use modest-sized chunks of cut fish for channel cats and smaller blues, or bigger chunks of the same bait for big blue catfish. For flatheads, anchor along the edge of a deep hole and put down a big live bait offering.

Other Options:

September is also an excellent month for bass fishing on Caney Lake. While it's not the giant producer it was years ago, Caney still produces some heavyweight largemouths.

For fast action from hard-fighting fish of a different sort, visit Lake Claiborne and cast shad imitating baits for hybrid bass.

OCTOBER

Cobia:

Cocodrie

Cobia — or lemon fish, if you prefer that name — swing close to the coast during the fall and congregate around oilrigs, gas platforms, buoys and other solid structure.

Sometimes you spot these big brown fish just sort of lurking in the shadows close to the surface. Other times they are on or near the bottom.

The most dependable way to catch cobia is to put a small, free-lined live baitfish right in front of the fish you see cruising. That said, cobia take a variety of jigging or minnow-imitating lures, or cut bait fished on the bottom.

Whatever you offer, use a rod with plenty of backbone and strong line. Cobia are seriously strong.

For more information on the action, go to www.houmatravel.com.

Other Options:

Speaking of strong fish and a need to use seriously heavy tackle, October is an excellent month for flathead fishing on the Red River. These flatheads grow to super sizes.

Meanwhile, the bass in Saline Lake, which covers more than 8,000 acres along the Natchitoches/Winn Parish border, also get active during the fall, creating opportunities for fast bassin' action.

NOVEMBER

Largemouths:

Lake D'Arbonne

An already good largemouth population at Lake D'Arbonne has been getting even better in recent years, with more big fish in the mix. Florida-strain bass have been stocked recently to improve genetics. Couple that with plentiful food and great habitat, and the news is even better.

November cooling trends seem to trigger the panic button in largemouth bass, and fishing action can be outstanding. Now is prime time for working a topwater lure, especially on sunny days.

If the fish won't quite commit to the top, a soft-plastic jerkbait is a great subsurface tool during November.

Other Options:

This is also an excellent month to visit Toledo Bend with striped bass in mind. Stripers run in schools, so where there is one, there often are several.

Late fall also ranks among the best times of the year to hit the marshes for flounder. Try dragging jigs or minnows very slowly along the bottom.

DECEMBER

Seatrout:

Lake Calcasieu

Cold weather and big trout go hand in hand at Big Lake, as Calcasieu is best known by many local anglers. Gator trout spend sunny days cruising flats and searching for finger mullet. Extra cold days push them into the channel or bottom depressions.

Good ways to locate the fish are to drift and watch for diving birds. Also watch your graph, because slight depth breaks often hold fish.

Soft-plastic minnow imitations, lipless crankbaits and subsurface walking plugs are among the most productive lures for Lake Calcasieu trout. While winter is prime for big fish, they tend to prefer slightly smaller versions of lures this time of year than during warm periods.

For more information, visit www.biglakeguideservice.com.

Other Options:

If you want to catch crappie this month, head for Lake Bistineau. The crappie grow big in this Shreveport-area lake, and during the winter they tend to be concentrated.

Meanwhile, Spanish Lake in the south-central part of the state has been specially managed with big largemouths in mind. December is a good time to target big bass with minimal competition from other anglers.

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