While fishing up the Corney Creek arm of Lake D’Arbonne a few spawns ago, I noticed a fish that kept swirling under the same cypress tree. After covering the 50 yards or so yards to get into casting range, I made a fateful mistake while turning to my fishing partner.
“That’s a caught fish!” I proudly exclaimed.
We worked on that fish for at least two hours before giving up on it. All the while we were steadily casting and changing lures, the fish continued to thumb its nose at us with swirl after swirl.
“You’ve got a lot more to learn about spawning fish,” my partner said scoldingly. “We could probably walk up there and grab it with our hands easier than getting it to bite any of these baits scattered across the deck.”
Come to think of it, we were a little bit too early for that bass actually to be spawning, a little bit too ignorant about how to catch it, and a little bit too confident that we were going to catch it just because it appeared to be on a bed. There’s a lot more to catching spawning fish during the spring than meets the eye.
Louisiana is somewhat unusual in that there isn’t really that much difference between fishing spawning bass anywhere from 33 degrees north latitude to the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, bass will begin spawning somewhere in south Louisiana, but the delay between south and north isn’t that great.
Any spawning calendar would be measured in days rather than weeks. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of when anglers can expect bass to be spawning in their corner of the state, how to catch them when they move up and how to adjust to any variables that could throw off the bass.
If there’s any part of Louisiana that you could point to as the one whose bass are the first to spawn, that would have to be the coastal marshes around New Orleans. Delacroix, Morgan City and Des Allemands have rebounded in a big way since the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Unfortunately, just as the bass fishing was beginning to get really good, another hurricane, Gustav, blew through southeast Louisiana, and reports of lots of dead bass were rampant. Thus, reported Covington bass pro Jason Pittman, the best spawn-fishing will take place in the many Florida Parish rivers that flow into Lake Pontchartrain.
“Any of them from the East Pearl west toward the Tangipahoa, Tickfaw and Amite will offer the most consistent fishing this spring,” he said. “These areas weren’t as affected by Hurricane Gustav as the coastal marshes, but the bass spawn in these tidal-influenced rivers is unpredictable at best.”
Bass spawn in these north-shore rivers as erratically as weather moves through Louisiana. Anglers in this part of the state know what it’s like to see a bass on the bed as early as late January, only to see not another one until the middle of February. The fish move up as soon as the water gets right, but variables like cold fronts, low tides or a potent combination of both can have them scratching their heads as much as it can the anglers that pursue them.
Pittman pointed out that bass typically move into any small pockets or dead-end canals off the main rivers to spawn. And, according to him, it’s not uncommon to find two bass spawning in one pocket but then to see no other fish on the bed for another three or four pockets.
“These bass don’t spawn on anything in particular like bass might in other waters,” Pittman said. “They could be on cypress trees, laydowns, logs stumps — whatever they find suitable for spawning in whatever pocket they decide to move into.”
Since these spawning bass are so scattered and sporadic, Pittman recommends quickly covering water with fast moving baits like spinnerbaits and small crankbaits. The trick is to get a bass to give up its location with a stroke or swirl. Once a fish gives up its location anglers can circle back later and work the area more methodically with slower-moving lures like Texas-rigged soft plastics or soft sinking baits like the Senko.
“The main problem with this kind of fishing is that the north winds after a cold front can push a lot of water out of these rivers and back into the lake,” Pittman added. “It becomes a scramble at that point, and all you can really do is hope that some of the bass were smart enough to spawn in deeper water.”
While there aren’t as many options in southwest Louisiana, this corner of the state sets up as very similar to southeast Louisiana. The only options are either the coastal marsh or the interior rivers that flow into the marsh. With the huge storm surge that pushed into the marshes from Hurricane Ike, the two main fisheries this year are the Mermentau River and the Calcasieu River.
“I took part in a study down at the Lacassine reservoir two years ago,” said 10-time Louisiana BASS Federation state team qualifier Dennis Tietje. “It was to see if the area was ready to open to the public after Hurricane Rita. The one things that stands out from that study is that the 10 of us that fished for four hours found bass on the beds in late January.”
The problem with the southwest Louisiana marshes, though, is that even now they don’t open to the public until March 15, which is just about the end of the marsh bass spawn. So even if the marshes bounced back quickly from Ike, the rivers are still offering the most consistent, if not the only, spawning bass fishing in this part of the state.
Weather permitting, anglers can find bass spawning as early as February in the rivers. Finding the early spawners means finding pockets of shallow, clear water, which can be difficult at best with the late-winter rains that Louisiana typically gets.
“If we get a lot of rain during February it could put the spawn off as much as a month,” said Tietje. “To me, this water around here isn’t the kind of water bass need to spawn. But if you can find that good water, you’ll find spawning fish. The best places to look for the right water is the back of the dead end canals on either the Mermentau or the Calcasieu.”
Heavy rains or not, Tietje said, bass will pour into the dead-end canals by March 15. They will first move to the logs a
nd laydown trees in 5 to 6 feet of water, but they will move to the shallow sides of stumps in 2 feet of water when, finally, they actually commit to spawning.
Many of these stumps aren’t visible, and anglers typically blind-cast with spinnerbaits to the bank so they can pull them to the shallow side of the stumps. This presentation puts the spinnerbait right in the strike zone without disturbing the bass too much.
“Texas-rigged Zoom Ultra Vibe Craw Worms also work well during the spawn,” Tietje added, “as will Rouges fished tight to the stump if the water is clear enough. These lures work equally well on the Mermentau and Calcasieu with the main difference being that the shallow water is closer to the bank at the Calcasieu River because the canals over there are deeper right off the bank.”