Targeting The Bayou State's Best
September 28, 2010
Regardless of where you fish in Louisiana, some of these destinations are close to home. Let's see what the waters have to offer this year!
The marshes around Grand Isle give up hefty reds of 2 to 10 pounds in August.
Photo by Polly Dean
That I would become a fisherman was set in concrete years ago when my dad took me fishing to False River, not far from our Baton Rouge home.
Fishing a 1970s version of a jointed minnow, I had cast and reeled nonchalantly for some time that early summer morning when suddenly a jolt on the end of my line helped to change the course of my life.
When the 1 1/2-pound largemouth bass was reeled in, a lifelong fisherman was born -- someone who to this day treasures the heritage and piscatorial riches of Louisiana's top-end angling resources.
Whatever end of the Bayou State you call home, there are great salt and freshwater destinations within an easy drive to provide a year's worth of angling adventure Cajun style!
Blue Catfish: Toledo Bend Reservoir
I've never been much of a whiskerfish junkie, but that changed last winter when I hooked and landed my first-ever blue catfish. It was a 43-pound, 9-ounce specimen. It was a fight that I'll never forget from the tremendous take of the bait, the screaming of monofilament out of the reel, the sheer brute strength at the end of my line, or the difficulty in holding up such a fish for a grip and grin shot.
I might have been late to the whiskerfish dance, but after my experience last winter, trust me, I'll be back for more.
One of the Bayou State's best whiskerfish spots is the border lake that separates Texas and Louisiana -- Toledo Bend Reservoir.
How good is the 181,600-acre reservoir for big blues? Pretty good, according to Bill Ritzell, who boated a 67-pound blue last year!
The three secrets of catching big blues are shad, shad and shad. They are the bait to use. Big bait-casting rigs, 20-pound-test monofilament, 3/0 or 4/0 circle hooks, a big sinker and cut shad are tough to beat for a big wintertime blue.
Crappie: Poverty Point Reservoir
The second month of the year might be better known for the Super Bowl, groundhogs and Cupid's mid-month arrival for sweethearts, but in my book, February is the perfect month to target crappie in a number of Louisiana's superb sac-au-lait waters. As winter begins to turn into spring, try 2,700-acre Poverty Point Reservoir near Delhi.
"Crappie are great winter fish, but once we start having a few of those 75-degree days, we'll start getting into a spring crappie pattern," legendary angler Jimmy Houston pointed out.
When the weather does start moderating -- especially with a stiff southwesterly breeze warming up things in a hurry -- Houston puts his crappie game plan into action.
"I would try to look for creek channels close to where you feel fish are going to move in to spawn," he said. "Flat areas with hard type banks are good places for them to span. Remember where you caught crappie last year, find a nearby creek channel and that's where they tend to be."
Largemouth Bass: Delacroix
By the Ides of March, winter is all but over in the Sportsman's Paradise. In fact, down south, spring has indeed sprung by the time this month arrives on the calendar. And that's a great reason to go bass fishing in the southeastern portion of the state in the Delacroix area southeast of New Orleans.
While Hurricane Katrina dealt this portion of the state a grave blow in August 2005, the Delacroix bass fishery has steadily recovered. If past B.A.S.S. events launched from the Big Easy have been any indication, good spots for anglers to consider in this maze of bayous and small lakes include Lake Leary, Spanish Lake and Oak River. Look for isolated cuts, grass patches, canals and places with current to find bass.
What lures should anglers put into their tackle boxes before coming to fish here?
"The nice thing there is that it's a flipper and spinnerbait angler's paradise," reported two-time BASSmasters Classic champ and five-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam. "There are some crankbait opportunities, but it's primarily a shallow, stained-water fishery and that's conducive to big baits and big lines. Buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and frogs are the kind of baits that you'll throw to coax them out."
VanDam used similar baits to capture his first Classic title in July 2001. Those same techniques also make VanDam one of the early favorites to capture yet another Classic title when the Super Bowl of bass fishing returns to New Orleans in February 2011.
Cobia: Gulf Coast
The hard-fighting cobia is a saltwater species that really likes springtime along the northern Gulf Coast. These fish begin arriving in earnest in the Louisiana coastal regions this month as waters warm out of the lower 60s.
If you're not all that familiar with this species, make no mistake about the fact that cobia are one of Louisiana's top piscatorial predators. Weighing anywhere from the low teens to more than 50 pounds, these fish demand rods, reels and line that are beefy enough to stand up to the challenge.
While many anglers prefer live baits -- especially eels -- others enjoy taking cobia on various hued bucktails, soft plastics or even big saltwater flies.
Whatever your selection, look for cobia around inshore waters near underwater structural features, either manmade or natural. Also, look for single objects in the water like floating debris, markers or buoys.
Wherever you spot the fish, maneuver into a position to sight-cast your bait, lure or fly to the strike zone, and then be ready to hang on for dear life when the cobia takes the bait!
When May arrives, I get excited -- the panfish spawn is in high gear this month in most of Louisiana's freshwater venues. It's time so get the skillet ready!
Up north, Caddo, Caney and D'Arbonne lakes are good spots to try for tasty bluegills and redears. Down south, the vast Louisiana Delta system waters and the Atchafalaya Basin are prime spots to consider. In between, just about any decent size farm pond holds bream.
If you are interested in some of the real fishing
action, consider using a fly rod. A fly rod in either 4- or 5-weight model. Add a floating fly line, a 7 1/2-foot leader in 5X strength, and a few small topwater popping bugs in white, chartreuse, red, black or green frog patterns and you're in business.
To keep things a bit simpler, use a cane pole rigged with a small bait hook, a split shot or two and a bobber. While bluegills and redears eat worms readily, my best bluegill luck has always occurred with crickets.
Speckled Trout: Calcasieu Lake
To start the summer off, why not head for the state's famed Calcasieu Lake to fish for big "gator"-sized seatrout. This southwestern Louisiana treasure is not too far from Lake Charles and produces good speck fishing around jetties, oyster reefs, underneath slicks and under working birds.
Trout often take a variety of baits ranging from live shrimp under popping corks to Carolina-rigged soft plastics to topwater plugs. They are even susceptible to Clouser Minnow flies tossed on the long rod.
In July, anglers looking for offshore action think of Venice and dolphin. This isn't "Flipper" we're talking about. These are fish also known as mahi mahi or dorado. These beautifully hued blue and gold fish are abundant, acrobatic and among the best table fare on the planet.
Since the best fishing is often well offshore in the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, consider hiring a guide if you're not familiar with deep-water fishing and boating techniques.
Trolling is the staple method of catching these fish. Dragging lines near any floating debris of current rips is a standard tactic.
Redfish: Grand Isle
To end the summer, targeting redfish can fill your August with action. Louisiana's marshes and coastal ponds are filled with these beautiful copper-colored fish that are in the 2- to 10-pound range.
A changing tide is the time to find the reds at their most aggressive. Quite often they are along the marsh grass edges or prowling shell bars.
Redfish eagerly smash topwater plugs, soft-plastic jigs or a live shrimp dangling beneath a cork.
But for the biggest of this species, it is hard to beat the surf zone along Grand Isle. Big bull reds are found there and are most often targeted with live baits.
Largemouth Bass: Atchafalaya Basin
One of the most beautiful places to bass fish in Louisiana is in the Atchafalaya River Basin. It's a cypress swamp region filled with bayous, backwaters and shallow lakes teeming with cover and vegetation.
While the basin was hammered by hurricanes Gustav and Ike with saltwater storm surges in 2008, many bass were able to survive in a number of areas throughout the basin.
A glance at late summer 2009 bass tournament action in the region showed that plenty of fish were being caught, but with most weighing 3 pounds or less.
Toss a spinnerbait, buzzbait, topwater plug or soft plastic in these waters this fall for some fast action.
Some think of October as the time of baseball's "Fall Classic," the World Series. But Louisiana's coastal anglers know the month as a prime time to sock away the flounder filets!
One top place to catch big numbers of these delicious flatfish is at South Pass of Pass-a-Loutre.
With these fish putting on the feedbag and gorging themselves on shrimp and baitfish, look for big numbers of fish to be caught at times on live baitfish or jigs with soft-plastic trailers.
The key in this region is to look for schools of baitfish hanging around underwater structure on your electronics. Once located, thoroughly work the area, keeping your bait near the bottom where the flounder await in ambush.
Redfish: Biloxi Marsh
In late fall and through much of the winter, some of the world's greatest big-fish angling occurs in the Biloxi Marsh region not too far away from New Orleans.
Conway Bowman is one of the top fly-fishers in the world and a longtime outdoors television show host. Back in January 2004, Bowman went fishing with guide Greg Arnold and boated an International Game Fish Association fly rod world-record redfish, a 41.65-pound bull caught on a 20-pound class tippet.
"This place is insane," Bowman said of Biloxi Marsh. "I didn't catch a fish under 20 pounds the whole time I was there, but I never expected to catch a world record.
"It's the best sight-casting I've ever done and I guess I've fished for just about everything."
October through January are top months. Bring a 9-foot, 10-weight fly rod and a 20-pound mono leader. You need to be able to throw at least a 50-foot cast, and be ready for a beast of a battle with a world-class bull red.
Crappie: Red River
This northeast Louisiana waterway near Shreveport offers some good cold weather options for sac-au-lait.
Between the various locks along the flow, look for debris and brushpiles that the current has concentrated. These are the places that hold the biggest slab crappie. Other places to target are eddies below logjams or in backwater pools off the main river. During this colder period using live shiners improves your chances.