Toledo Bend Spring Bassin'
September 28, 2010
This giant impoundment on the Texas border can deliver some big-time bass fishing. Here's how to be part of that action! (March 2010)
Steve Barnett used a Strike King Diamond Shad lipless crankbait to fool this largemouth.
Photo by John Felsher.
No other Louisiana lake holds more potential for producing double-digit bass than Toledo Bend in March.
"Mid-March is the peak season for catching above-average bass in Toledo Bend," confirmed Ricky Yeldell, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries chief biologist at the reservoir. "That time produces more big bass than any other time of year. The Toledo Bend Lake Association provides free replicas for any bass over 10 pounds caught and released back into the lake. Each year, they give out about 45 to 50 replicas."
At 186,000 acres, "The Bend" stretches 65 miles along the old Sabine River channel between Louisiana and Texas and holds more than 1,264 miles of shoreline.
Each state stocks approximately 450,000 Florida-strain bass fry annually. In addition, the Toledo Bend Lake Association releases 20,000 to 27,000 "Phase II" Florida fingerlings. These 4- to 6-inch fingerlings enjoy a substantially greater survival rate than standard 1/2- to 2-inch fry.
With excellent habitat, deep water, abundant food and stocking, Toledo Bend bass grow to impressive proportions. In fact, the lake produced a 15-pounder, the second-largest bass ever caught in Toledo Bend, on June 27, 2009. Donnie Gill of Leesville, La., enticed the 15.03-pound largemouth with a Texas-rigged worm in 22 feet of water at the south end of the lake. Eric Weems still holds the official lake record with a 15.32-pounder he caught in Six-Mile Creek, a major arm on the Texas side just north of the dam.
While Six-Mile Creek, Housen Bay and other southern creeks traditionally produce giant bass, northern waters might hold bigger bass in the spring. The north side of a lake typically warms first. With the winter sun in the southern sky, the most intense rays hit the northern shorelines. In addition, eastern shorelines receive more direct afternoon sunshine than western shores. Consequently, the northeast portion of a lake generally warms first, followed by the northwest, southeast and finally southwest sections.
On such a large lake as Toledo Bend, the spawn lasts for months, moving from north to south. In addition, not all bass spawn simultaneously. Some largemouths begin spawning in late January or as late as May. Some male bass spawn with more than one female and may remain bedded into June. However, the spawn peaks during the April full moon. A secondary peak occurs during the March full moon with a smaller spike in May.
"Toledo Bend is a very complex lake, so it's difficult to say what's happening at any one place at a given time," Yeldell explained. "During March, depending upon weather conditions, bass might be in spawn or pre-spawn mode. Because the lake is so long, timing of the spawn varies greatly."
The Sabine River enters the extreme northern end of Toledo Bend amid an archipelago surrounded by myriad channels. This area contains many shallow flats that offer good spawning habitat. Several major tributaries create more honeyholes.
Before spawning, bass often stage near dropoffs and major points. For staging fish, concentrate on sloping points or channel flats. Around points, throw Carolina-rigged worms or lizards. Hot colors include black and blue, black neon, green pumpkin, pumpkinseed and chartreuse, June bug or watermelon. As bass move shallow, throw jerkbaits, Rat-L-Traps, Hot Spots or spinnerbaits parallel to grass lines or drops.
"From January through February into early March, we catch most of our fish on lipless crankbaits," said Jerry "J.T." Thompson of Living the Dream Guide Service. "I like anything with red or gold, like a crawfish pattern. Chrome and blue is another good color. In March, we switch over to soft plastics. People can do well if the water is up by flipping bushes with creature baits, craws or tubes. In the past couple years, we've caught several fish in the 9- to 10-pound range."
To penetrate flooded brush, many anglers flip hollow tubes, Texas-rigged worms or jigs. Shorter, but more bulky than lizards or worms, tubes resemble miniature squid. Using a long rod like a cane pole, swing the tubes baits and drop them into open pockets between grass and twigs. Even when not feeding, a bass may react instinctively to the sudden intrusion of its lair.
The mid-lake area grows thick with button willow, often called buckbrush. Ready to spawn in the spring, bass frequently follow small channels in this area that give fish access to either shallow or deep water. During high water, flooded buckbrush provides some of the best spawning habitat on the lake.
Just north of the Pendleton Bridge on State Route 6, the Louisiana SR 1215 area on Bayou San Miguel holds several small ditches that lead into buckbrush flats. Named for the old highway that still exists on the lake bottom, this area also contains several deep creeks, humps, flooded timber and grassbeds that offer good spawning habitat.
"Big bass come from one end of the lake to the other, but the 1215 area is a traditional hotspot for spring fishing," biologist Ricky Yeldell said. "It has a large flat area with a fair amount of stick-ups and good cover from submerged aquatic vegetation. Anglers also fish the slightly deeper areas near the buckbrush flats to catch bass that haven't quite moved into the shallows yet. The area from North Toledo Bend State Park northward along the Louisiana shoreline is a great area to try for early-spring bass."
Flipping tubes or jigs is not the only way to catch fish here. The area also contains some good grassbeds, prime locations for working unweighted soft plastics.
"The mid-lake area is usually one of the most consistent areas for catching bass," J.T. Thompson said. "We follow them down the lake, fishing the 1215 area, the Indian Mounds and Housen Bay. In early spring, I try to stay on a pre-spawn pattern rather than catch bass on the beds. Once they get on the beds, I like to stay away and not disturb them. We catch most of our fish on soft-plastic stickbaits or jerkbaits like a fluke. With fluke-type baits, we normally fish open water outside the flats away from the bushes."
Rigged with the hook inserted into the plastic, an unweighted soft-plastic jerk shad, lizard, frog or fluke combines the action of topwater baits and the weedless attributes of Texas-rigged worms. Fish these across matted grass with a "pop and drop" retrieve. Skitter them across grass tops, pausing occasionally.
sh start bedding, I go to soft plastics," said Randy Colson of Big Fish Guide Service. "A soft-plastic jerkbait is one of my favorite lures to use when fish get on the beds in water 2 to 6 feet deep. I work it dead stick, not too fast. I let it sink a bit."
Colson often fishes the Blue Lake area near the sunken SR 1215 roadbed. Blue Lake Slough feeds into this area with several creek channels and little ditches leading to flats. A good sandy bottom provides excellent spawning habitat.