While there are a lot of great bass lakes throughout Louisiana, some of the best bass fishing can be found in the numerous rivers that flow through and back up within the bayous.
By Kody Chase
The summer solstice is upon us, signaling the astronomical beginning of the summer. Remarkably, in the weeks following the solstice, days begin shortening by a minute or two each day. However, anglers typically find agreeable fishing conditions as pleasant May weather slowly gives way to June’s building heat.
Since the spring spawning season is over in most of the state, many June anglers are turning their attention toward early summer bass waters. Of course, in a state like Louisiana, anglers have dozens of bass lakes to choose from across the state, but most have a favorite spot or two. Places like Toledo Bend, Caney Lake or Poverty Point are always worthy options; however, bass anglers with a wild hair may choose to launch boats in one of many rivers to find new fish and new scenery.
Largemouth bass inhabit all of the state’s major river systems. These riverine fish live in habitats that are, overall, less stable than habitats behind impoundments. Though river bass lack the mass of bass pulled from reservoirs on average, a river bass’ tenacity in a fight and healthy population numbers are second to none.
The Ouachita River, which begins as a trickle in the Ouachita Mountains of west-central Arkansas, is a respectable place for daring bass anglers.
Ryan Daniel, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Inland fisheries biologist, has been managing the river’s natural resources for 17 years. In addition, he has enjoyed many days utilizing the river’s resources on his own time.
“In June the river is getting back to normal summer stages following the spring floods,” said Daniel. “Since the river drains a large area, the river flooding can be substantial, but is an annual occurrence and bass have adapted. The Ouachita begins rising in March as spring rains and snow melt begins to trickle south. If the rainfall is substantial, the water may continue rising through June or even mid summer.”
Bass fisherman launching from the Monroe will find bass hanging around backwaters north of the city limits. Backwaters with names like Moon Lake, Wall Lake, Horseshoe Lake are accessible by boat. Daniels suggests that smaller unnamed backwaters northward towards Arkansas may be accessible, too. These lakes are a short ride south of Columbia where the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintains an additional ramp. In June, bass are also encountered where backwaters are draining toward the main channel.
“In these drainages, good numbers of bass in the 4- to 6-pound range can be caught on standard bass baits,” said Daniel. “Ouachita River bass tend to be a bit smaller than their cousins found in Louisiana reservoirs, as all the bass are native northern largemouth, not stocked Florida bass.”
Multiple B.A.S.S. Nation qualifying tournaments have taken place on the river, as well as several college tournaments. Weekend anglers can use corps boat launches along the Ouachita River at Sterlington, Monroe, Forsythe Park and Columbia. From any of these launches anglers can find bass relatively quickly. An inclusive list of boat launches is maintained by the LDWF and can be viewed online.
The Louisiana stretch of the Red River (www.redriverwaterway.com) is divided into five pools, each separated and controlled by a lock and dam. The Red enters Louisiana via Arkansas and flows south through Shreveport, eventually converging with the Atchafalaya River. Pool 1 is found along the southern most stretch of the river near Poland.
“Pool 1 is not a big as the other pools upstream,” said Jody David, biologist. “However, there are several oxbows holding good bass.”
According to David, grass carp was introduced years ago and have eaten the underwater vegetation, leaving floating vegetation, timber stumps and logs, along with riprap running the banks, as the only natural cover in the river and the oxbows. As with all rivers, hydrology plays a critical role in the quality of the fishery. The river can go up and down with in a few hours, or it can stay at or above flood stage for weeks, as was the case during the June 2015 floods.
“In general, the river gets up during the spring and early summer, and when the water begins receding the fishing gets better,” said David.
Both largemouth bass and spotted bass are found in the river system and both are fair game, with many anglers fishing currents off points around rock weirs along the bank with crankbaits and plastics in standard colors. Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times to fish, with water level playing a major role in fishing conditions.
The Red River Waterway Commission (a USACE entity) has implemented a stocking program in each of the five Louisiana pools. Between 2002 and 2006, the commission stocked each pool with 8,000 fish, with a second phase beginning in 2013 in which an additional 8,000 fish were added to each pool. Electrofishing and biological surveys exhibit high survivorship in these areas.
On the Shreveport side of the river, near Pools 4 and 5, anglers find world-class bass fishing, literally. These pools, which are generally wider and slower, are more like lakes in appearance. Bassmasters included the Red river on its “100 Best Lakes” list in in 2015 and 2014.
Bass fishermen can launch craft from several commission-owned boat launches at recreation areas found along the river from the North Caddo Bossier Recreation Area east of Hosston on Highway 2 downriver to the Brouillette Recreation Area located outside of Marksville off Highway 425.
“At close to 850,000 acres of land, swamp and water, with 30 percent of the annual discharge of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, the Atchafalaya River Basin (ARB) is the largest contiguous river-floodplain swamp in North America Flow,” said Biologist Brac Salyers.
The system has a long history of control and diversion and is regulated by the USACE, which uses multiple diversion structures and guide levees to keep floodwaters in the basin. The basin ends in the Gulf of Mexico at Atchafalaya Bay. Silt carried by the system is continually growing Wax and Atchafalaya deltas.
As with other slow, low rivers, flood regime plays a pivotal role in fisheries production and activity. Spring flooding of the Atchafalaya River is the norm and has historically occurred through the spring months into early summer. Since the cause of the spring floods includes snow melt runoff from the north-central U.S., waters can stay colder much longer than nearby water bodies outside the protection levees.
The late flooding and the introduction of cold, turbid water force bass to find shallow areas in the back canals and lakes, where sediment has settled to allow more sunlight to penetrate the water column and warm the water. Spawning season varies, depending on the duration of floods and level of the rivers.
“Peak spawning of largemouth bass has been documented in water temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees F,” said Salyers. “In a year with a normal flood regime, bass would have already spawned in June, and no longer be associated with their spawning beds, utilizing cover instead.”
Bass habitat is plentiful in the Atchafalaya Basin and includes typical lowland haunts, submerged aquatic vegetation, an abundance of sunken logs/stumps, standing and overhanging trees, houseboats and oil production platforms. Water conditions in the late spring into early summer can be highly variable. For local bass fishermen, ideal conditions include slowly dropping water levels during which anglers focus attention on cuts where water is draining out of the backwoods and swamps. Draining concentrates forage and bass gather to feed. In these areas, anglers should match lures with the baitfish, or toss topwater lures across the current.
The rich waters of the ARD hold many healthy bass. According to Salyers, catch rates for 2015 fall electrofishing sessions were over 110 bass collected per hour. Data analysis, including historical survey data, shows the Basin having consistently balanced bass populations of both larger and smaller fish. Age structure of the bass population suggests stable or growing bass population.
“Anglers will recall a 14-inch minimum length limit with a 10 fish creel on black bass (largemouth and spotted) in the Atchafalaya Basin and surrounding waters through 2013,” said Salyers. “This regulation went in effect as an emergency declaration after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to protect the spawning potential of surviving bass, as well as bass stocked to try and help replenish the fishery.”
The intense, multi-phase stocking program lasted from the early 1990s to 2009. The size limit and creel regulations remained in effect for over 20 years due, in large part, to support by the public. According to Salyers, some of the support may have come with a misconception that the regulation would grow bigger bass.
However, a three-year mortality study, conducted from 2009 to 2001, showed that the basin had slower growth rates and shorter life expectancy than many other Louisiana waters. As such, this belief is not true. Today, state limits apply to bass taken from the ARB.
Access points to the Basin are spread across the region, with public boat launches in Bayou Benoit, Adam’s, Myette Point, Catahoula, Belle River, New Verdunville, Butte, La Rose and Bayou Pigeon.
The list of fishable rivers in Louisiana is exhaustive. Other bass producing waterways include the Sabine, Calcasieu, Bonne Idee and Pearl rivers to name a few. Each of the state’s rivers is influenced by local and upstream variables and conditions fluctuate year ’round or even day to day during the spring and early summer.
Complex hydrology adds a challenge to weekend trips. Rivers, like the bass that inhabit them, adjust to changes faster than many anglers anticipate. River bass are not lake bass and many have different tastes and habits. If river bass are a new opportunity, spend some quality time studying bass habits and reviewing favorable water conditions. Use GoogleEarth to locate backwaters and use river gauges to determine the range of water levels that allow access to backwaters and other portions of the river. Local bait shops and area anglers are other great resources to utilize.