It's Lunker Time in the Bayou State

It's Lunker Time in the Bayou State

There's no better time to target Louisiana lunkers than the pre-spawn period, when the bass are focused on feeding.

Many people feel lost in late winter, the limbo season between the end of hunting seasons and the beginning of spring fishing. However, for sportsmen willing to brave the elements, some of the biggest bass all year wait to bite. Having a monster bass tugging on your line just might cure the winter blues.

In late winter, sow largemouths swell with roe, waiting for just the right time to head to the shallow spawning grounds. In the cold water, big females stage in deeper water as males move ahead to prepare the way.

"As waters warm, male bass move up along the shorelines first," says Bobby Reed, a fisheries biologist in the Lake Charles office of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "They beat the females, generally, by two to three weeks. Males will begin setting up territories, finding good substrate to scour out a nest and defending it against other species or against other males who may want to build a nest."

When water temperatures hit about 68 to 70 degrees, females become ready to choose the right guy for fatherhood. After spending two or three hours with her fellow, the female releases her eggs, kisses him goodbye and abandons Mr. Right Now to raise the babies with no help and no child-support payments.

People who can find bass just before the spawn can land the lunker of a lifetime. For the hottest action in cold weather, look for the warmest water around. That's where big females gather in their pre-spawn mode.

Ironically, the northern shoreline warms more quickly, because the warmer south winds stack water against it. Eastern shorelines receive more intense afternoon sunshine than do western shorelines. Hard objects such as riprap, rocks or logs absorb heat and radiate it to surrounding waters. Fishing around dams, boat launches or other hard structure could produce excellent results.

In addition, calm water warms more quickly than do flowing rivers. Obviously, shallow water warms faster than deep, and muddy water warms faster than clear, because suspended particles in turbid water absorb solar heat. Dark bottoms absorb more sunshine and warm more quickly than white sand bottoms, which tend to reflect the sun's warmth.

Charlie Thompson took his 9-pound, 13-ounce bigmouth near Caernarvon on a jig. Photo by John N. Felsher

TOLEDO BEND
For big late winter bass, few Louisiana waters can compete with the expanses of 186,000-acre Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border.

"In my opinion, Toledo Bend is one of the greatest bass lakes in the country," says Jasper, Tex., tournament pro Todd Faircloth. "In the winter, people can catch fish in 30 feet of water or in shallow water. I like to fish down by the dam, in Housen Bay or Six-Mile Creek. I throw a crankbait, a lipless crankbait or a spinnerbait around the grass in 5 feet of water. You can't go wrong with red, chartreuse or orange in winter. Along the grass edges, I fish soft plastics in blue and black, watermelon or pumpkin on a Carolina rig in 18 to 25 feet of water around main-lake points."

In February 2001, another pro, Dean Rojas, won a major tournament with three straight five-fish limits. His 15-fish total weighed 55 pounds, 8 ounces. Rojas concentrated in the Louisiana Highway 1215 area, a sunken highway that flows through flooded brush. Along this road he flipped a Texas-rigged black neon Lake Fork Tube jig with a tungsten weight. Almost effortlessly, and without much splash, he accurately pitched this jig to any available structure.

In the same tournament, Ben Matsubu chose to go deep. He fished around the dam with a drop-shot rig and caught 15 bass weighing 53 pounds, 13 ounces for third place. To create a drop-shot rig, use a Palomar knot to tie a worm hook onto your line, but make sure you leave a lot of excess line on the tag end. Then, rather than cut the tag end off, fasten a weight to the end of it. This creates sort of a reverse Carolina rig. When you drop the bait to the bottom, the sinker contacts the bottom while your worm suspends above the bait. The rig is best fished vertically, and it's absolutely deadly.

Many marinas in both Texas and Louisiana serve the Bend. For more information, call the LDWF office at (318) 286-5881.

LAKE BISTINEAU
Lake Bistineau, a 17,200-acre timbered lake near Bossier City, consistently ranks with the best bass lakes in Louisiana. More known for numbers than size, it still produces many bass in the 3- to 5-pound range, with an occasional 8-pounder to keep things interesting. The lake may soon produce bigger fish if the recently-introduced Florida-strain largemouths grow as anticipated.

The lake more closely resembles a growing cypress swamp than an impoundment. Cypress trees dominate the waterscape. The old Dorcheat Bayou channel runs through the shallow lake, dropping to 20 feet in places.

"In January and February, it's jig season," said Russ McVey of Southpaw Guide Service. "We catch bigger fish, but we don't catch as many fish. One of the deepest places on the lake is near the Port of Bistineau. It has about 15 to 18 feet of water. The Rock also has deep water. It's in a big channel bend south of Lake Bistineau State Park. About five main feeder creeks enter the lake. The feeder creeks are good, but the main lake has the best fishing. In many areas on this lake, bass never see lures."

Launches at the dam and at Lake Bistineau State Park offer access. For information, call McVey at (318) 987-3833.

RED RIVER
In 1995, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the last of five water control structures on the Red River from Shreveport to Marksville. Consequently, the river flooded forests, reconnected formerly isolated oxbows to the main channel and produced an incredible bass explosion in the newly inundated structure. Excellent fishing attracted major bass tournaments to the rich fishery where once only a shallow muddy ditch flowed.

Bassers catch many largemouths in the 2- to 5-pound range, and some that reach 8 pounds. Recent introductions of Florida-strain bass might increase that trophy tally in coming years. As the newest "reservoirs," the best bass fishing probably occurs in Pools 4 and 5 between Shreveport and Coushatta. Pool 3, between Coushatta and Colfax, competes as a close runner-up. Some better honeyholes include Little Ninock and Caspiana oxbows, Bishop Point and Young's Point.

Anglers launch at Clark's Landing in Elm Grove, Stoner Avenue in Shreveport and the U.

S. 84 bridge at Coushatta. For information, call Clark's Landing at (318) 747-2002 or the Red River Water Commission in Natchitoches at (318) 352-7446.

SABINE RIVER
Often overshadowed by massive Toledo Bend Reservoir just upstream, the Sabine River produces excellent bass catches as well. Anglers shouldn't expect many double-digit lunkers in the river, but they might fill double-digit stringers.

Along the river, Toledo Bend dictates water flow. Overnight, river levels can rise 2 or 3 feet after a significant water release from the sprawling reservoir. High water may curtail fishing, but falling water puts voracious bass into a feeding frenzy. Ravenous bass congregate at the mouths of numerous creeks draining the swamps to feast upon abundant baitfish, crawfish and other morsels.

In the main channels, bass lurk next to logjams, cypress stumps, lilies, standing trees and other structure. In winter, bass hold tight to structure. Flip a worm or jig next to structure and slowly bounce it along the bottom past the dropoffs. Hot colors include red shad, tequila sunrise, junebug, black-and-blue or watermelon red.

Louisiana anglers may launch at the Nibletts Bluff Park boat launch off Louisiana Highway 109 near Vinton or near the "Burned Out Bridge" south of Interstate 10 near Toomey. For information, call Mark LeLeaux of Lake Charles Tackle at (337) 479-2999.

ANACOCO LAKE
Three years ago it was challenge just to find a bass in Anacoco Lake near DeRidder, but now, this 2,600-acre lake may be the site of the next bass bonanza. Impounded in 1950, Anacoco Lake suffered for years. Unfertilized soil couldn't support much plant life. Without nutrients, fish didn't thrive.

Fish populations dropped considerably. Electrofishing samples found 40 to 50 bass per hour in Anacoco Lake compared to 200 to 250 bass per hour at Toledo Bend.

In February 1999, the state drained the lake to about 300 acres. Some brood stock, including a few 11-pound largemouths, survived. That summer, the state planted crops to produce organic matter and nutrients before refilling the lake. In April 2000, the state stocked the lake with Florida-strain bass and forage species.

Now, as bass continue to grow, anglers may catch more than 100 largemouths per day, although most remain small - for now! That could change as the Florida-strain bass continue growing. The state also released some excess broodstock from a fish hatchery to add larger bass into the lake.

For more information, call biologist Bobby Reed at (337) 491-2575.

D'ARBONNE LAKE
On Feb. 17, 2000, Ed Stellner put Lake D'Arbonne on the lunker map. He twitched a gold-and-black suspending jerkbait to entice a 15.31-pound bucketmouth. It solidified the reputation of this 15,000-acre impoundment near Farmerville for growing trophies.

Many people fish the numerous creeks and tributaries including Bear Creek, where Stellner landed his lunker, or Hurricane and Stowe creeks. Seek current washing around a point near both deep and shallow water, and fish with dark crankbaits or grubs. Other effective methods include Carolina-rigged black, brown or brown and orange craw-worms and crawfish-colored crankbaits.

Several launches along La. 33 provide access.

LAKE CONCORDIA
A designated "trophy" lake, Lake Concordia near Vidalia offers one of the best chances in the Bayou State to lip a double-digit bass - possibly even a new state record. Since 1990, the state has annually stocked Florida-strain bass into this 1,000-acre landlocked Mississippi River oxbow. LeRoy Adams landed the lake record at 13.04 pounds in March 1998 on a junebug worm.

Still resembling the old narrow river channel, the lake stretches about six miles long. Scoured by ancient currents, the bottom remains mostly devoid of cover. Cypress trees along one side and camp docks on the other provide the dominant cover.

Depths average about 10 to 15 feet, but some holes drop to more than 55 feet. Grassy flats at either end attract big fish preparing to spawn. At the flats, water rises from about five feet deep to two feet deep. Many anglers tempt lunkers with jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits or jigs.

Sportsmen's Lodge offers accommodations. Call (318) 757-4381.

ATCHAFALAYA BASIN
For most people, the only glimpse they see of the longest riverbottom swampland in North America comes from an automobile traveling 60 miles per hour along Interstate 10 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge.

The sprawling Atchafalaya Basin stretches for about 150 miles from near Simmesport to the Gulf of Mexico. It reaches about 25 miles wide in places. With more than one million acres, the Atchafalaya Basin provides outstanding fishing from Krotz Springs to Morgan City. One of the best areas is Henderson Lake along I-10.

"On Henderson Lake, you have to watch the Atchafalaya River levels at the Butte LaRose gauge," said Jody David, a LDWF fisheries biologist in Opelousas. "If the river is right, I would rank Henderson among the Top 5 bass lakes in Louisiana. When the Atchafalaya River at Butte LaRose is around nine or 10 feet, fishing really picks up."

Workers dug a canal along the proposed interstate route to permit barges to haul concrete spans and supplies. Now, this canal measures about 14 to 20 feet deep. The twin causeways provide structure for lunkers, if anglers can stand constant rumbling from 18-wheelers overhead.

"The canal under the interstate produces bass at times," said Kirk Benoit of Lake Charles. "Fish the cuts that come out of the canals. Early in the morning and late in the evening, baitfish congregate along the concrete pilings under the interstate. Fish the ones away from shore. That's where the bass are."

Other anglers may also seek deep, quiet waters in Lake Pelba and Lake Bigeaux nearby. These lakes drop to 30 feet deep in places. Abundant cypress trees, dropoffs and tributaries hold good bass populations. Most fish range from 1 to 2 pounds, but some anglers land lunkers of more than 7 pounds.

Farther south, many anglers fish Belle River or the Bayou Black area. Kevin Van Dam won a major bass tournament in Bayou Black with a black, blue and purple 1/2-ounce jig with an electric blue plastic trailer. He landed 15 bass weighing 32 pounds, 5 ounces.

For more information, call the LDWF office at (318) 948-0255.

CAERNARVON/DELACROIX
To rebuild marshes southeast of New Orleans, authorities diverted Mississippi River water through canals near Caernarvon. The freshened water allowed bass numbers to expand. Stockings of Florida-strain largemouths added trophy size.

In February 1999, Kevin Gerstner landed an 11.32-pound bass from a Caernarvon canal. One year later, Charlie Thomason used a jig to entice a bass weighing 9 pounds, 13 ounces.

After the 2000 drought, heavy saltwater intrusion harmed the bass population. However, anglers still find plenty of fish. These canals remain one of the best places to lip a double-digit bass in southeast Louisiana. Shallow lagoons and canals around Lake Lery, the Crow's Foot - a branching of different canals - and thousands of other unnamed canals, sloughs and lagoons, provide a rich resource for growing big bass. For lunkers, probe thick structure with black and blue jigs tipped with craw worms. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and topwaters also produce good catches.

A launch off Louisiana Highway 39 at Caernarvon and several hoists along Louisiana Highway 300 offer access to these vast tidal marshes. For information, call Charlie Thomason at (504) 278-FISH.

VENICE MARSHES
For eons, the Mississippi River overflowed its banks, creating a vast marshy delta. As water poured from the river, it clashed with Gulf of Mexico brine in a titanic struggle for supremacy. As a result, the two forces formed a brackish neutral zone where both marine and aquatic environments co-exist and flourish.

That titanic struggle continues. With a staggering flow, the mighty river constantly tears down or builds up areas, cuts new channels and blocks others. Bass, redfish, speckled trout, flounder and many other species thrive together. Anglers often catch several fresh- and saltwater species on the same lures in a single outing.

River water flows into a numbing maze of channels, lagoons, passes and flats. Bass lurk in lush grasses in places like the Wagon Wheel, a series of canals. Many bassers probe canes with tube jigs, Texas-rigged worms, spinnerbaits, weedless spoons, buzzbaits or topwaters for some of the best bass action in the country.

Known more for quantity than quality, the delta can produce catches of 100 bass a day. Most average 1- to 3-pounds with a few 4- and 5-pounders thrown in for good measure. In the wrong conditions, though, anglers might make a 30-mile run from Venice Marina or Cypress Cove and not find anything.

In general, when the river falls, bass fishing success increases. As tides fall, it pulls water from flooded canes and backwaters. Tides also flush food from cover. Bass congregate in passes and channels to munch on baitfish, shrimp and crabs flowing to them with the tides.

For more information, call Venice Marina at (504) 534-9357 or Cypress Cove Marina at 1-800-643-4190.

* * *
This sampling barely scratches the surface of the outstanding winter fisheries found throughout Louisiana. So bundle up in a heavy parka and break out the rods a little early for some hot cold-weather action.



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