Louisiana's Fab 4 of January Bassin'

Bayou Black, Toledo Bend, Caernarvon and D'Arbonne are the John, Paul, George and Ringo of Bayou State bass waters this month. Walk, run, drive or fly to get in on this action.

By Kinny Haddox

January is a time for taking down Christmas decorations, going to Super Bowl parties and getting the last bit of mileage out of the old duck lease for the year. But in the Bayou State, it's also time to start thinking about lunker largemouths.

Unfortunately, there's one factor that makes January lunker hunting hard to predict: the weather. Somebody once said that if you don't like the weather in Louisiana, wait until tomorrow - it'll change. So Louisiana bass fishermen can't write off the month like anglers in so many other states must.

January bass fishing is definitely challenging, but going after big bass can make the odds even longer - kind of like trying to win the lottery.

As Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Mike Wood said: "Going after big bass isn't easy. You're aiming at a very small target. Only about 1 percent of the bass population is going to be in the 5-pounds-or-better range. If you go after big bass only, you'll have to fish slower, and with bigger baits. That will take you out of getting a lot of smaller strikes."

Wood realizes that fishermen sometimes think that January is too early - but that's not the case at all, he insists.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

"Really, you actually increase your odds this time of year," he explained, "because sometimes the first fish to move in shallow after a few warm days are the big females with eggs. They'll move in and roam the shallower water, even if they aren't ready to spawn. One thing people don't understand is that these big fish lay on the extra fat and start producing eggs in the fall. They develop mostly in the fall, then use that cushion to get them through the winter and to the spawn. A big fish is going to weigh a pound or more in the early months of the year than at any other time."

Louisiana has a lot of lakes with the potential to produce big January bass, Wood asserts. "The guys that are really serious about big bass know this is a great time of year. If you're willing to be patient and adjust for the conditions, you can land a trophy bass."

To help us learn how and where, we've asked two veteran bass fishermen to pick some of their best spots for January and tell us how they go about catching big bass.

CUPPER ON BAYOU BLACK AND TOLEDO BEND
Larry Cupper is familiar with the best of both worlds of Louisiana bass fishing. As a former resident of the Lafayette area, he's familiar with the best south Louisiana has to offer. And as a resident of the lake side of Toledo Bend now, he's also gotten to experience the best of Louisiana's biggest big-bass waters. He was kind enough to share some of his top tips for fishing his two favorite January waters - Bayou Black in the Houma area and Toledo Bend out of Zwolle, his new home.

"One of the best areas for bass in the south, not just in Louisiana, is Bayou Black and that area of the marsh," said Cupper. "The area has become better known because of tournaments, but the serious fishermen in south Louisiana have known about it for a long time. It gives up some great catches."

Even though January isn't the most popular time to fish Bayou Black, it can, in Cupper's view, be one of the most productive. "We used to have a New Year's bass fishing tournament for all the guys like myself that didn't party and all that stuff," he said. "We tried a bunch of different locations, but there were always issues like high water or muddy water. They just didn't work out. But when we started holding it on Bayou Black, we always caught fish, even on New Year's Day.

"There are several good areas to launch all up and down the area, but our favorite has always been Bayou Black Marina," he said. "Now, before you get too involved fishing here, you need to make sure you know where you are going. The area isn't a place to go by yourself, or without some good guidance and planning. If you can, go with someone who knows the area. If you can't, at least get a good map and take your time finding your way around. That's important."

According to Cupper, some of the best big-bass waters early in the year include the School Board area, the Toilet Bowl and the Superior Oil field. There's enough water there to last several years if you want to learn it. The major key to finding fish at this time of year is to find the right kind of water.

"Everybody will tell you the first thing you've got to do is find some decent water," he said. "It's kind of hard to describe: It's stained, but not muddy; it's not too clear, but you can still see a bait a few feet away in the water. And the best area to fish once you find decent water is the dead-end canals.

"One reason the dead-end canals are so good is that the water stays warmer where there isn't that much movement. It's really important at this time of year unless the weather is really warm. On the points and where there are run-offs, the water is much cooler. Another good thing about the dead-end canals is that most of them have wellheads, and they're in deeper water."

Cupper notes that this is when reading the weather and water conditions really comes in handy. If it's been warm for a few days, the fish may be up at the end of the canal or along the banks; if the weather has been cold, and the water has gotten colder, the fish will get in the deeper holes in the canals. A good place to start looking is around the wellheads.

And the best bait? "If I could only take one bait, I'd take a 3/8-ounce white spinnerbait with gold blades," he offered. "This time of year, the fish are feeding on shad. There are not any crawfish or other fish out much now. You can also catch them on jigs or worms, but overall the spinnerbait lets you cover more water more effectively. You can fish it shallow, or you can slow-roll it in the deeper water. Fish it close to the cover, and when you bump the bait into the structure, let it fall a second before starting your retrieve."

If it seems like Larry is a detail person when it comes to fishing, that's because he's had plenty of practice. As the fishing editor for KAVC in Lafayette, he's used to putting folks on the fish on his 6:40 a.m. show each Thursday. He also owns and operates the Country Station and Tackle Store on Main Street in Broussard, where he keeps up with the latest fishing reports. Otherwise, he's out there learning what's going on firsthand by going fishing himself.

Now, let's head up north to Pick Two: Toledo Bend. Larry suggests that you go to an area

you're familiar with, or, again, use a map to decide which one of the many big inlets and coves you want to fish. Whether it's Lanana, San Miguel or San Patricio, you need to concentrate on one area and not spend all your time running from spot to spot. Not only is that sound fishing advice for this time of year in general, but it'll also reduce the frostburn on your cheeks if the weather turns chilly. A huge lake like Toledo Bend (which covers nearly 190,000 acres) can be intimidating if you look at it as a whole. But if you take a certain section of the lake and really work it, you'll have better success.

"Toledo Bend is certainly a lot different place to fish," Cupper said. "Fish have an opportunity to go much deeper on this big reservoir, and that makes them hard to find. You need a good depthfinder so you can be on the lookout for fish. Even though the fish go deeper, they relate to structure like old roadbeds, treelines and stumplines near the creeks. They like to get there and stage up for moving in shallow when the weather warms up.

"I'd recommend finding an area like that, looking for fish on the finder, and then fishing at least 6 to 8 feet deep, sometimes deeper. I like to use jigs or a spoon. You've got to fish slowly. I even use a spinnerbait sometimes. Again, you can pull it through the fish if they are suspended or you can slow roll it along the bottom." Deep-diving crankbaits too often produce in these conditions; Larry's favorite colors are parrot and shad.

One of the most exciting ways of finding fish at this time of year involves identifying areas of what Larry calls "dead water" - where there isn't any run-off, wind or other influence to make the water move.

"If you can find a couple of areas like that," he said, "and the weather gets warm for a few days, you'll be surprised to find big bass moving up into 3 to 4 feet of water. When they do that, they're usually ready to pounce on a bait if you get it in front of them. When you find these kinds of spots and the weather is right, you can really have some fun".

If you're a beginner, Toledo Bend has an abundance of guides, and if you don't feel comfortable taking on the big lake by yourself, give one of them a try. They'll be glad to help you learn the techniques it takes to catch big January bass, and they'll help you learn to look for the right kind of structure. It costs a couple of hundred dollars, but it's an investment that can pay off in making you a better fisherman.

"I guess you can tell by what I do that I love to fish," Larry concluded. "I hope what I share with others can help them be a better fisherman."

BOLER ON CAERNARVON
OK - what about Pick Three? For that we go to Roger Boler, an up-and-coming professional fisherman who has become a crowd favorite in his home area around Slidell. Boler's favorite home water is the Caernarvon area.

"Caernarvon can be real good in January," Boler said. "Of course, the weather has got to be right for the fish to bite - and for you to be able to make the run. It's a long, complicated run, and not something that you want to try by yourself the first time out. There's a common misconception that January is too early to catch big fish here, but that isn't true. If the weather is right, fishing can be really good."

There are a lot of oil-field canals here, Boler reported, and the fish tend to go to the deeper ones. When the water's cold, go to the deeper canals and look for the deepest water in them. That's where the big fish will usually be.

"Deep water here is 8 to 10 feet deep, with a majority of the deeper spots at 6 to 7 feet," he said. "You can catch fish by slow-rolling a spinnerbait or running a crankbait in and across the canals or bayous. The fish will be out in the middle most of the time, especially if it's cold.

"On occasion you'll get some good warm weather, and, if you can find the big fish deep, you can often sack up some numbers," he added. "The big fish tend to hang together at this time of the year. You can also catch them on jigs and big worms, and I've seen some people going to the new drop-shot lures. Drop-shotting allows you to fish slower and keep your bait in front of the fish."

One of the most popular areas of Caernarvon is the Crow's Foot, a community hole that gets lots of pressure, but not so much that the fish don't just keep coming back. "You can catch a few, then go somewhere else and come back and catch a few more," Boler said.

"Really, this is just a big canal system. It has good fishing all year; you just have to vary your techniques. In the winter, I like to stick to the basics. Fish deep, throw white or chartreuse spinnerbaits, and fish plastics slow. If they're going to bite, you'll catch them that way."

WOOD ON LAKE D'ARBONNE
For Pick Four we go back to the source who actually has a college degree in biology to back up his fishing claims - Mike Wood. After all, why can't a bass fisheries biologist put his two cents in?

"I don't know about all the techniques and baits and best areas," he remarked, "but I do have several favorite lakes for big bass. One of the best ones that's really coming back is Lake D'Arbonne near Farmerville. It's an older lake, but it has really responded to the effort we've put into it."

Wood credits cooperation between the Lake Commission and the LDWF for creating an ideal situation. The LDWF has been involved in a serious stocking effort with Florida bass, and they're now seeing some really fast-growing bass in the Union Parish Lake.

"Two things that work together are stocking and managing," he said. "We've done both at D'Arbonne, and the catches in the last year or so are starting to show that up to 70 percent of the bass being caught have some Florida genetics. That's outstanding - it's well above average."

Another reason for D'Arbonne's potential is that it's really like a small version of Toledo Bend. Covering 16,000 acres replete with deep channels, shallow ridges and miles of shoreline and coves, it boasts an enormous complement of cover, and the bass seem to be thriving there.

Popular lures are big jigs and soft-plastic lizards, spinnerbaits and even crankbaits worked very slowly. On warmer days, when bass can move up into shallower water, lipless crankbaits are deadly.

D'Arbonne is really like three lakes in one: The big lake's on the south end, while Corney Creek and D'Arbonne Creek make up the other two segments. All are huge areas, and anglers' objectives are best served by learning and concentrating on the structure in one area rather than running the whole lake, especially in January.

"We've got an abundance of places to go catch big fish," said Wood, "and January is certainly an excellent time. But you can't catch them talking about it - you've got to go fishing."

And who can argue with that?


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