Bassin' On Bistineau

Bassin' On Bistineau

This reservoir on Bayou Dorcheat in the northwest corner of the state is facing a problem with aquatic weeds. But it still offers some bass-fishing options in the spring. (April 2010)

Northwest Louisiana is home to a lake that bears the distinction of being one of the state's oldest bodies of water. Ancient Lake Bistineau, located in the tri-parish area of Bossier, Webster and Bienville, was formed eons ago as a byproduct of a giant log raft that choked the nearby Red River as long ago as the early 1800s.

Lowlands adjacent to the Red did what lowlands do if given enough time. Cypress trees grew over the wetlands and an impoundment was formed. What eventually became Lake Bistineau was a swampy area that was land-locked once the Red River was cleared of logs around 1870.

In 1938, a dam was constructed across Bayou Dorcheat and water spread over thousands of acres to form what is now Lake Bistineau. In 1951, the dam was raised an additional 4 feet to create the 17,200-acre lake as it is today.

Environmental consultant Russ McVey spends his free hours working as a fishing guide on the Red River, Caddo Lake and Lake Bistineau.

"I grew up near the lake and still live within three minutes of the launch ramp. Bistineau is my 'home' lake and has been my favorite place to fish since I was old enough to hold a fishing pole," McVey said.

"I learned the lake and watched how my dad fished it, and then as I grew older, another gentleman, Ken Johnson, taught me some bass fishing techniques I'd never heard of before. He taught me how bass love to hang close to the trunks of cypress trees. I learned from Ken how to fish a jig and the importance of getting the bait as close to the tree trunk as possible. He used to tell me you needed to put the jig between the bark and the trunk," McVey noted with a chuckle.

Observing McVey, it was obvious he had learned his lesson well. There was no doubt he could gently drop a jig in a coffee mug at 30 paces with scarcely a "plink" to be heard. The jig slipped into the water with barely a ripple.

"When the bass are not aggressive," McVey explained, "you need to ease the bait into the water to keep from spooking them. I'd say that 80 percent of the year, you find the bass next to the cypress trees on this lake."

On the day we fished, the bass definitely were not aggressive. A strong storm with rain, wind, hail, lightening and thunder had swept over the lake the night before our trip. We were greeted with bright blue skies, high barometer, north wind and chilly temperatures.

But, according to McVey, bass head for the flats for the spring spawn and this can be an exciting time to bass fish on Bistineau.

"I start fishing around the cypress trees in the flats, looking for a big bite. I have found I have better luck with a black-and-blue jig with a matching trailer," McVey offered.

"To entice bites if the jig isn't producing, I sometimes switch to creature baits and tubes Texas rigged with a 1/4-ounce weight. I like black-and-neon or black-and-blue."

McVey noted that after they have spawned, the bass are ready to eat. If the grass isn't thick, jerkbaits in gold with an orange belly fished around the shallow cypress trees should produce some action.

"If the grass is too thick to fish the jerkbait, I fish a soft-plastic worm, lizard or creature bait and often fish it without a weight. Should the wind pick up, a lizard seems to work better and I fish it close around some of the shallow cypress trees. Green pumpkin or black neon are good colors to try under these circumstances," McVey added.

"If the water gets a little stained and has current going over the flats, a white and chartreuse 3/8-ounce spinnerbait or firetiger-colored crankbait will be good baits to fish around shallow cover."

Once the spawn is over, as it can be by late April, McVey noted that enticing bites can be a bit more challenging. Even so, he caught a few fish under conditions that would have skunked the average fisherman.

That's at least partially because he know which lures have worked best for him on Bistineau over the years.

"If I could only fish with five baits, on one rod I'd have a jig, a 7/16-ounce in black-and-brown amber with a black neon trailer. On other rods I'd have a jerkbait in gold with an orange belly, a (Bandit) 100 or 200 Series crankbait in Tennessee shad or firetiger, a creature bait fished Texas rigged, and a noisy topwater lure. With these baits, you can catch fish in Bistineau," McVey assured.

"Learning how to effectively pitch and flip a jig is not something you can learn overnight. It takes a lot of practice, plus you have to have the right equipment. Some people try to flip and pitch with a rod that is too limber. I like to use a stiff rod because it allows you to have control of the lure at all times. Your reel has to be the free-spool type that lets the line flow freely from the reel. I fish a jig all year around these trees, but sometimes a soft lure seems to attract more bites," he said. As we moved about among the cypresses, a creeping nemesis that is threatening the life of Bistineau was evident. Giant salvinia, a floating and fast-growing aquatic plant, is steadily spreading over the lake, making some of the shallower areas practically inaccessible.

"This stuff is bad," McVey remarked. "You can't fish under it and you can't run a motor through it, even though it is a floating plant. Should you be running down the lake and run into a mat of salvinia, it could be obscuring a log that has drifted up under the mat. You can tear up a motor in a hurry if you hit one.

"I really don't know what can be done to stop the spread of this plant. I don't know if man or machine is capable of ridding the lake of salvinia," he noted.

He then added a bit of advice.

"One thing that fishermen and boaters absolutely must do is check their motors, their boats and trailers every time they leave the lake, making sure they remove every sprig of salvinia."

After trailering the boat, McVey spent several minutes making sure every piece of the salvinia was removed.

Jeff Sibley is a fisheries biologist with the Minden office of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He noted that the department is trying several ways to control the spread of the fast-growing plant. He reaffirmed McVey's conviction about the necessity of making sure all parts of the plant are removed from boats, motors and


"A single sprig overlooked can start an infestation on another lake when a boater launches there," Sibley cautioned.

"The lake is undergoing a drawdown to coincide with cold weather. We're hoping for a hard freeze to kill most of the salvinia. The plants left high and dry by the drawdown should be killed back," Sibley said.

Other procedures are being used, including herbicide application and a particular species of weevil that has shown the ability to kill the plant. But for now giant salvinia is threatening to put a damper on one of the best bass-fishing lakes in north Louisiana.

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