2009 Louisiana Fishing Calendar

There's no shortage of fishing adventures in the Bayou State this year. Here's where -- and when -- you can maximize your angling action this year! (Feb 2009)

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

Chain Pickerel

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.

FEBRUARY

Largemouth Bass

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."

MARCH/APRIL

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!

MAY

Bluegills

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.

JUNE

Offshore/Yellowfin Tuna

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.

JULY

Topwater Striped Bass

Ever been on a red-hot fishing trip where the water was boiling '¦ literally?

I've enjoyed some epic topwater action for ferocious striped bass tearing into schools of shad with everything they've got and then some.

Toledo Bend Reservoir is home to some of these mêlées each summer as landlocked linesides can literally knock threadfin shad up and out of the water two, three and at times, nearly four feet into the air.

"It's (something) you have to experience to believe," Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing guide and striped bass specialist Steve Hollensed reports. "When schools come up, often you hear it with your ears before you see it with your eyes."

Interested in experiencing this insane topwater action?

The Texas-based guide with Flywater Angling Adventures suggested that fly-fishing enthusiasts use 7-, 8-, or 9-weight fly rods rigged with either a floating line or, at times, a shooting head ranging from 300 to 500 grains.

As for flies, he'll use a two-fly rig consisting of a shad-colored balsa-wood popper on top and a small conehead Wooly Bugger or Crystal Shad pattern rigged 2 feet below.

For conventional tackle enthusiasts, the guide recommends medium- to heavyweight baitcasting or spinning gear coupled with a Pop R in white or bone. Crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps, Sassy Shads, and spoons in chartreuse, pearl, and white are also good bets.

AUGUST/SEPTEMBER

Bull Redfish & Flounder

As summer turns to fall, my angling thoughts return to the saltwater, especially when the conversation turns to the running of Louisiana's bull reds in coastal waters and the appearance of the year's best flounder fishing.

As the autumn full moon cycles occur, flounder fishing heats up in the state's coastal waters, particularly near jetties, passes and spots like Lake Calcasieu and Sabine Lake. Live bait, spoons, and even fly tackle will work on these flat fish, so get out the next couple of months and put some incredible eating on the table.

If flounder are too small for your angling tastes, then how about a rod-busting adventure brought about by hooking up with a massive bull red?

Autumn and winter months offer a great time to do just that, whether fishing in the surf with a big piece of bait and a surf rod or targeting these tailing monsters in the marshes between New Orleans and Biloxi.

The latter is all the rage right now among Gulf Coastal fly-rod enthusiasts, the trend spurred on by catches like Conway Bowman's January 2004 world-class bull red that tipped the scales at 41.65 pounds. Filming an ESPN Outdoors television show, Bowman caught the fish on camera using a purple-and-gold Haley's Comet crab fly.

With numerous other 20-pound-plus bull reds caught frequently in this region, this big bull red action could be the hottest Louisiana angling ticket of the fall and winter months this year.

OCTOBER

Largemouth Bass

October is a spectacular month for bass anglers, not the least of which is the cooling waters, the Creator's canvas turning spectacular colors and the virtual absence of anglers.

Why the absence of anglers?

"Our anglers, the bulk of them are hunters and they'll abandon the water and be out in the woods squirrel hunting or deer hunting," Wood said. "Most of them leave it (fall fishing) to a few and it's one of our best times of the year, especially for bass." When fishing-hole talk turns to the beautiful Washita River north of Monroe, Wood suggested, lend an ear. "It's a beautiful river that is very productive and we had a very good flood cycle (last year) that should bode well," he said. "The Washita had gone for years without the type of flood event that would produce a really good age-class, but last year, everything happened with just the right timing. So, we should have a lot of 6- to 8-inch age-class fish this year, and that will help carry this fishery for several years."

According to Wood, you can approach the Washita by fishing either the "impoundments" formed in several places by locks or the free-flowing stretches of the fishery.

"When an angler fishes the impoundments, which fish just like a lake, a good thing to use are big plastic worms, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and such," he said. "The river is a current-oriented thing, so I'd suggest going with a Carolina rig, a crankbait or a 6-inch plastic worm. There are lots of spotted bass here and generally, the bass on the free flowing river are smaller fish on average."

Farther south, the fall bass fishing can be good in the Atchafalaya Basin, although all bets are off this year after the big saltwater storm surges produced last year by Hurricane Gustav, and to a lesser degree, Hurricane Ike.

"In the Atchafalaya Basin, we did have some major fish kills that occurred," Tilyou said. "It was very similar to what happened after Hurricane Andrew if somebody is going to go back and compare what Gustav did."

Anglers should note two things about bass fishing this year in the Basin. First, the total effect of the hurricanes was an unknown commodity as of press time.

"We know what died, but we don't know (as of press time) what has survived," Tilyou said. "In early October (2008), we'll be going out and start sampling intensively to see what's left in those water bodies, and after that, develop a management plan to see where we need to go from here."

Second, not all of the basin's bass were killed by the storm waters -- so some good bass fishing should still be available in the Atchafalaya Basin. "The basin is very resilient," Wood stated. "We'll do what we have to do -- but I'm pretty sure that the basin will take care of itself."

NOVEMBER

Crappie

While Louisiana is blessed with any number of outstanding sac-à-lait waters, Tilyou asserted that the crappie fishing at Toledo Bend is tough to beat. "We've got a pretty good water event going on at Toledo Bend (as of press time)," he 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."

Since winterti

me and early spring crappie fishing is typically good on Toledo Bend anyway, that's saying something. If you're looking for some top-notch late fall and early winter angling action, grab some minnows and jigs and head for your favorite T-Bend crappie hole this month.

DECEMBER

Catfish

How to wind down a year of topnotch angling in Louisiana? For Gary Tilyou, no better way exists than spending some time relaxing with a catfish rig in his hand. "I love to catfish in November and December," he said. "It's really peaceful on the water and there's hardly anyone out there with you."

How should a Bayou State angler fish their favorite catfish water from Toledo Bend to the Atchafalaya Basin to the Mississippi River? At this time of the year, Tilyou says to search long and hard for the right spot before settling in to wet a line.

"I try to find holes (where fish congregate)," he said. "At this time of the year, you can often find them schooled up in holes, and you can do very well on channel cats and the occasional blue if you find a good spot."

And in a state as blessed with angling resources as the Sportsman's Paradise, finding a good fishing hole is rarely -- if ever -- a problem, regardless of the time of year that an angler is wetting a line!

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