The Many Faces Of Louisiana Bassin'

Natural lakes, artificial reservoirs, marshes, swamps: All confront anglers with very different sorts of conditions. But the common denominator linking our multifaceted bass waters is: catching the bigmouths! (April 2006)

While I enjoy fishing with a cane pole, there's something about "chunkin' and windin'" that I've always liked. Sure, you can catch lots of fish while holding a pole and watching a bobber but when you're reeling a lure and a bass smacks it, that's the height of fun for me.

I still vividly recall the first time I ever felt a bass on the end of the line, when, at about the age of 9 or 10, I was casting a Hawaiian Wiggler from the sandy banks of Molido Creek. I lofted the lure next to a cypress knee on the far bank, and, two turns of the reel later, I felt a jolt. I didn't so much reel the bass in as launch him airborne over my head to land on the bank behind me.

I have no doubt that bass still lurk behind the cypress knees of Molido Creek just as they did when I was a kid. In fact, dams were constructed across some of those old streams to form small lakes. Bigger lakes in Louisiana came into existence in much the same way, except that their creation involved moving tons and tons of earth to create a reservoir. Both types of impoundments offer plenty of exciting bass fishing activity today.

And then there are the Bayou State's natural lakes, many of which were formed along the Red River, which cuts a swath from the northwestern corner of the state cutting diagonally across the heart of Louisiana. Periodic floods undermined the trees along the river's bank, dumping them into the roiling water and forming a series of logjams that extended approximately 150 miles. These jams artificially raised the banks of the river and created numerous lakes along the river in low spots along the tributaries to the Red.

A significant number of these lakes have been lost, but several of them were saved, paradoxically, by the construction of dams. These lakes include Lake Iatt, Saline Lake, Nantachie Lake, Wallace Lake, Lake Bistineau, Black Lake, and Caddo Lake. Some of these lakes are popular as fishing sites; the last three in the preceding list lead the way.

One feature typifies these old natural lakes: a profusion of trees, namely cypress and tupelo gum. Because of the presence of trees, pleasure boaters, water-skiers, and personal watercraft are usually not a problem for anglers.

While these lakes are usually fairly shallow, other lakes such as Toledo Bend have some extremely deep water. This monster of a pond has some water 60 feet deep along the Sabine River channel that runs through it. At the same time, however, Toledo Bend has shallow flats that may average less than 5 feet in depth.

Early in the year prior to the spawn, bass in deeper portions of Louisiana's lakes will spend most of the time in or over deep water. As water temperatures warm in early spring, bass will begin moving toward the back of the coves and other stretches of shallow water where spawning will take place once water temperatures reach the mid-50s.

Bouncing a jig with a pork or plastic trailer down the side of submerged creek or river channels can sometimes produce eye-popping catches. Locating concentrations of suspended bass on sonar is a help in dictating the choice of lure and approach. Carolina-rigged plastic worms will often produce on fish suspended a few feet off the bottom. Other lures such as jigging spoons, plastic grubs and tailspinners are designed to be dropped and hopped right in the face of a bass.

Once the fish begin moving to the shallow spawning areas, plastic lizards or finesse lures tossed in and around nesting areas can often produce strikes from some of the year's largest bass.

South Louisiana lakes are in general shallower on average than are upstate lakes. As a result, their spawn usually occurs earlier than it does at some of the deeper lakes, simply because the water warms quicker.

No matter the type of lake -- natural or artificial, deep or shallow -- one constant applies: Bass relate to structure be it grass, mossbeds, sunken trees or stumps. Anglers who take care in thoroughly fishing jigs, plastic worms and crankbaits or slow-rolled spinner baits around these areas can expect good results.

GRAND BAYOU

One of the state's newest lakes, Grand Bayou, has offered exciting bass fishing since it was formed. While fishing for schooling bass has been a fun activity in recent years, some real wallhanger bass have been caught at this productive little lake as well.

MISSISSIPPI OXBOWS

Another type of lake found within the borders of Louisiana is the ox-bow lake. Over the years, the Mississippi River, which forms the boundary between Louisiana and Mississippi, has changed its mind as to where it wants its channel to be. The channel has shifted this way and that, and when it lops off a bend and carves out a new course, oxbow lakes are left behind.

Some of these oxbows were created years ago, long before the present levee system was in operation. Many are outside the levee and are unaffected by the ebb and flow of the Mississippi. Others, however, are inside the levees, and when the river rises or falls, so do these lakes. The result can be frustration for camp owners along these lakes. It can also produce some absolutely fantastic fishing.

When the river waters push into these oxbow lakes, fresh water, nutrients, forage and game fish come along for the ride. Once the river level subsides, the bounty remains in the lakes inside the levees, resulting in hot fishing for bass as well as other species of game fish.

Anglers frequently check with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offices along the Mississippi to get the latest forecast for river stages. The best scenario is for the river and oxbow lakes to crest and begin a slow fall. Fishing can sizzle when these conditions exist at a few or all of the scores of oxbow lakes along the course of the mighty Mississippi.

ATCHAFALAYA BASIN

Perhaps one of the most remarkable areas in the nation, the Atchafalaya Basin is hard to describe. A sprawling maze of bayous, lakes, rivers and sloughs, it teems with all sorts of wildlife, including bass and other species of freshwater fish.

The area is so large that even on weekends, with hundreds of boats on the water, a fisherman can go all day without seeing other anglers. As a result, fishing pressure is usually kept to a minimum, guaranteeing a better fishing experience.

Located within the basin are Lakes Henderson, Lake Verrett and Bayou Pigeon, all favorite areas for bass anglers from around the state.

The flats on the north and south end of the basin are especially popular; there, jigs flipped into holes in the grass or Carolina-rigged worms fished along the edges of mossbeds are known to be productive lures.

COASTAL MARSH

Any article covering bass fishing in Louisiana would be incomplete without considering the marsh, which offers perhaps one of the most unusual methods of catching bass that any state has to offer.

Unfortunately this area, especially in southeast Louisiana, will have to start over, having been blasted by Hurricane Katrina this past summer. There is no doubt that the area will recover -- Hurricane Andrew created similar chaos in 1992, and the area bounced back sooner than most thought it would.

The marsh is a flat, wetland area that defines the lower reaches of the state before it eases off into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the marsh is salt water, some fresh, some brackish. It's here, especially in the brackish areas, that you can encounter a phenomenon known to attract anglers from across the country to the southern boundary of Louisiana. Bass abound here, as do saltwater species such as redfish, speckled trout and flounder. Because of this, every strike is a surprise -- you don't know what you'll have on the end of the line.

The marsh is unique because it's affected by the tides. As the tides ebb and flow, baitfish react accordingly, and the bass take full advantage. For example, when the tide is falling, marsh ponds, and the baitfish in them, drain into the bigger channels where the bass and other species of game fish, are waiting.

Anglers who fish the marsh regularly usually look for the clearest water they can find and fish spinner baits and jigs around the cane and marsh grass. Marsh bass usually don't grow as large as do their upstate cousins, but the numbers of bass you can catch make up for the size deficit.

When you consider the variety of fishable waters around Louisiana, it is obvious that the state's lakes, be they natural, artificial or tidal marsh, make up the bulk of the fishable acreage. However, Louisiana also has a number of rivers and streams that offer some of the finest fishing to be found anywhere.

RED RIVER

In northwest Louisiana, a new fishery has been created along one of the state's most vital tributaries, the aforementioned Red River. Whereas clearing the logjams nearly a century and a half ago created an abundance of lakes, action by the Corps a decade or so ago created yet another exciting fishery.

A series of five locks and dams resulted in the creation of five pools between Shreveport and Alexandria. What was once a rolling river, usually too fast and muddy for most anglers, has been converted into a set of placid, generally clear waters, all capable of producing outstanding catches of bass.

Then there are the myriad oxbow lakes off the river, which offer some of the state's best angling, not only for bass for crappie, bream and catfish as well.

Around the locks are rock jetties that are to baitfish as honey is to bees. Fishing crankbaits, jigs and

Carolina-rigged worms around these jetties can be quite productive.

OUACHITA RIVER

In northeast Louisiana, the Ouachita River has long been known as one of the state's best bass fisheries. Today, some of the nation's most prestigious bass tournament circuits regularly visit the Ouachita.

Not only does the river itself offer top bass fishing, but the lakes off the river as well as the streams that feed it are excellent bass fishing areas as well.

Most anglers who regularly fish the Ouachita look for points or cuts where water is running into the river, fishing these areas thoroughly with crankbaits or Carolina-rigged worms. Often in spring, when water is high enough to push fresh water into the river lakes, some of the state's best bass angling can be found here on the Ouachita.

CALCASIEU RIVER

In southwest Louisiana, the Calcasieu River features brackish water in its lower end, where it empties into Calcasieu Lake with fresh water above the saltwater barrier near Lake Charles.

The mouths of the streams that empty into the Calcasieu are especially good for bass. Fishing plastic worms, jigs or crankbaits on the downstream side of the mouth of any of these streams can be quite productive.

There are also some excellent streams in southeast Louisiana, including the Amite, Comite and Tchefuncte rivers. However, the effects of Hurricane Katrina will undoubtedly slow these areas down for a year or so.

One special thing about many of these southeastern Louisiana streams is the fact that while there are plenty of largemouth bass there for the taking, this area is the state's most popular area for another type of bass, the Kentucky or spotted bass. Plastic worms, spinners and crankbaits fished in and around sunken brush or around points in these rivers are excellent spotted bass producers.

If you like variety in your Louisiana bass fishing, then we hope that we've given you plenty of options to investigate. If you want to fish a large, quiet and deep lake, you can't beat Toledo Bend. If you've never tried fishing a river with locks and dams, the Red River system is there waiting for you.

How about a river with multiple bayous and creeks running into it, and with lakes connecting to it? You can't beat the Ouachita River. You say you've never fished an active oxbow lake? Louisiana has plenty inside the Mississippi River levee system. How would you like to fish an area where one cast produces a bass and the next a flounder? Louisiana's coastal marsh is waiting for you. Would you like to try you hand at dabbling in history by fishing one of the dozens of old logjam lakes? Louisiana has what you're looking for.

Add to this plethora of high-quality lakes and streams a substantial complement of bayous, creeks, and farm ponds and smaller impoundments, and the conclusion, you'll surely agree, must be that Louisiana is indeed home to more promise-filled fishing water than you can shake a stick at.

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