From sprawling brackish tidal marshes to massive reservoirs to small lake gems, Louisiana offers anglers a wide variety of fishing opportunities. Just about any freshwater lake or river in a state can provide excellent bass fishing.
Bobby Reed is one of the fisheries biologists for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and he offered his opinion of the top six bass waters in the Bayou State. Here’s how he ranked them, your top spots for bass fishing in Louisiana.
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TOLEDO BEND RESERVOIR
One of the best bass lakes in the nation, Toledo Bend ranks No. 10 on the Bassmasters list of the top 100 bass waters in the United States, but No. 1 for Louisiana waters. The massive reservoir spreads across 186,000 acres along the Sabine River, which forms part of the Texas-Louisiana state line.
“Toledo Bend is always a good producer of big bass year in and year out,” said Reed, the LDWF Inland Fisheries senior advisor. “By late 2011, the lake dropped to 12 feet below pool, but it’s been above 171 feet for the past two springs. We saw tremendous bass spawns in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, the lake averaged more than 30 bass a month over 10 pounds. I expect that to continue.”
Toledo Bend produces more double-digit bass than any other Louisiana lake including at least two 15-pounders. Donnie Gill caught a 15.03-pound largemouth on the southwest side of the lake in June 2009. Prior to that, Eric Weems set the lake record in July 2000 with a 15.32-pounder he caught in Six-Mile Creek. That fish hit a 1-ounce green and black jig sweetened with a watermelon craw worm.
“Every year, people catch some 13- and 14-pound bass on Toledo Bend,” said Tommy Martin, a former Bassmaster Classic champion who has guided on Toledo Bend for decades. “The south end of the lake has the biggest bass, but we probably catch more 4- and 5-pounders in the center section of the lake on either side of the Pendleton Bridge.”
Despite two 15-pounders caught in the heat of summer, March historically produces more big bass on Toledo Bend than any other month. In March, big females laden with roe start moving into the shallows looking for spawning partners. The spawn typically peaks under the full moon in April.
“More people fish on Toledo Bend in March than any other month in the year,” Martin advised. “At that time of year, the fish are up shallow. That makes them easier to find and catch. Anglers may not see the fish, but it’s easy to see the beds unless we get excessive rainfall. For a really big fish, I’d look for beds in one to three feet of water until I saw a giant bass. After spotting one, I’d throw to it until it bites.”
The 1215 area north of the Pendleton Bridge on the Louisiana side holds some of the best spawning grounds on Toledo Bend. State Route 1215 used to run through pine forests and across creek channels in the area. Now, the old roadbed runs through flooded shallow weedy flats edged by brush. Bass use multiple small ditches to move up into ideal spawning habitat. Some other great places to find spawning bass include Pirate’s Cove, grassy humps near the dam, Six-Mile Creek, Housen Bay, Indian Creek and San Miguel Creek.
“The 1215 flats area is a very good place to fish in the spring with a lot of spawning areas,” Martin recommended. “It’s loaded with hydrilla and lily pads. Pirate’s Cove is a huge spawning area. It’s almost a lake in itself with lots of good spawning flats.”
POVERTY POINT RESERVOIR
Poverty Point Reservoir, a 2,700-acre impoundment near Delhi, began filling with water in 1998. The lake opened to fishing in 2003. From the beginning, the state stocked it with Florida bass. Now, it produces some lunkers topping 13 pounds.
“Poverty Point has a lot of good 6- to 10-pound bass in it,” Reed advised. “In our samples, we’ve seen some 14-pound fish. It’s relatively shallow. It was built by putting up a levee around a bean field and a bayou. It was a clean lake when impounded, but some areas have grown up with willow trees and brush. Most of it is 6 to 8 feet deep, but some holes are 12 to 15 feet deep.”
In the spring, anglers look for bedding bass along the shorelines. When they spot a big bass on a bed, they may spend hours casting to one fish. Usually, they toss soft plastic creature baits that simulate salamanders or crawfish. Salamanders, crawfish and bream frequently feed upon bass eggs and fry, so bass on the beds attempt to kill these creatures. Bass on the beds don’t really feed, but may grab any intruder that could threaten the eggs.
“Sight fishing is like hunting,” said Shaw Grigsby, a professional bass angler and national television show host. “The challenge is finding the fish. Once we find them, we can often get them to bite. Bass on the beds grab baits instinctively to protect their eggs and fry.”
Some people look for nests and then mark them with a stick or other object. Then, they leave the area to return a few hours later. When fishing beds, keep a distance. Make long casts with extremely light, fluorocarbon line to avoid spooking fish. At extreme casting distance, throw baits past the nest and drag the baits into the nest to antagonize bass into biting.
Let a bait sit motionless in the bottom of the nest for long periods. Occasionally, give it a little shake. Even with no apparent action, a craw worm, creature bait or similar enticement twitches and undulates slightly with water movement. Just that bit of subtle action could provoke a strike.
GRAND BAYOU RESERVOIR
Planned as a reservoir for lunker largemouths, John K. Kelly Grand Bayou Reservoir, better known simply as Grand Bayou, covers 2,500 acres near Coushatta. The lake reached pool stage in 1996. The bayou and a few ponds incorporated into the rising reservoir contained some native fish, but the state heavily stocked the new lake with Florida largemouth bass. Although an excellent numbers lake, the impoundment also produced bass topping the 13-pound mark.
“Grand Bayou Reservoir has a lot of good cover with submerged vegetation,” Reed said. “When we do samples, we catch a lot of 6- to 10-pound bass in it. In March, work the weed beds and hydrilla beds with spinnerbaits and plastics.”
The actual bayou once flowed through pine forests, but now marks the main channel through the lake. The lake averages about nine feet deep, but some holes in the old Grand Bayou channel drop to about 30 feet deep. When creating the lake, the state clear-cut the bottom, but many areas grew up in willows and brush. Points, drop-offs, gravel beds, grass, docks and shoreline cover now provide the dominant structure.
Many anglers fish holes in the main channel and drop-off edges with Carolina rigs or wacky worms. In the flats next to the channel, anglers work topwater baits or spinnerbaits. Run shad-colored crankbaits parallel to the channel edges. At times, anglers might spot schooling bass herding threadfin shad along the channel into the shallows so keep a long-range lipless crankbait handy to throw at any targets of opportunity.
Along the shoreline, fish the grassy edges with Texas-rigged soft plastics in one to four feet of water. For the biggest bass, flip jigs tipped with creature baits into thick grass. Water gets deeper near the dam, so anglers vertically jig spoons or run deep-running crankbaits over sandy or gravel bottoms.
Although small, Chicot Lake can produce monster largemouths. The 1,642-acre impoundment wholly within Chicot State Park near Ville Platte produces several 9- to 11-pound fish bass, with an occasional 12-pounder. The lake record approached 14 pounds.
“For a number of years, we’ve managed Chicot Lake for producing big bass,” Reed recalled. “The lake has a 14- to 17-inch slot limit. It has a lot of good fish in the slot and above the slot. In winter samples, we catch many 10- to 12-pound bass.”
The lake averages about 7 to 8 feet deep, but a few holes reach 15 feet deep. Much of the shallow lake looks more like a flooded swamp than an impoundment. Cypress trees dominate large parts of the lake. Some cleared boat lanes provide easy maneuvering near the launch ramps, but between the cypress trees, large swaths of aquatic grass, flooded brambles and other woody cover make fishing difficult.
“Chicot Lake has a lot of humps and coves with abundant cover from cypress trees and submerged vegetation,” Reed explained. “Every fall, we draw the lake down about three feet to control aquatic vegetation. Even during the drawdown, people can still access the boat ramps.”
With all the cover in the lake, anglers mostly throw weedless soft plastics. White and chartreuse buzzbaits sputtering through the grass may also attract attention from big bass. People also fish the deeper water in the channel with jigs and Texas rigs.
The lake contains a huge population of crawfish. At times, anglers see crawfish clinging to the bases of cypress trees. Bang crawfish-colored crankbaits off the tree trunks or run them parallel to grass lines. Spinnerbaits in crawfish colors run between the trees also work.
UPPER BARATARIA ESTUARY
The collective Louisiana Delta ranks No. 59 on the Bassmasters list of the top 100 bass waters in the United States. This includes everything from the lower Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City to the mouth of the Mississippi River near Venice. At the upper end of the Barataria Estuary near Lafitte, the Davis Pond freshwater diversion project pours Mississippi River water into brackish wetlands at the northern end of Lake Cataouatche. The influx of fresh water encouraged aquatic grass growth, creating incredible bass habitat.
The 9,280-acre Lake Cataouatche connects to the 44,800-acre Lake Salvador. Through the Intracoastal Waterway plus a labyrinth of canals and bayous, the lakes also connect to the 14,720-acre Lac des Allemands and other waters. The state stocked Florida bass into the area after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Now, the system produces many 3- to 7-pound bass with an occasional fish topping 8 pounds. It also produces huge numbers of 1- to 2-pound fish.
“In overall numbers, Lake Cataouatche comes in second behind Toledo Bend,” Reed said. “In our samples, it is incredible how many fish come out of there. It’s a shallow system, but use sonar to look for any bottom variations. A difference of 6 to 12 inches could make a difference.”
Hurricane Gustav hit the area hard in 2008. Hurricane Isaac dumped a lot of water on the system in 2012 and destroyed some grass in areas. However, anglers can still find good fishing in Lake Cataouatche, parts of Lake Salvador and some other systems.
“Before Hurricane Isaac, the area produced a lot of 6- and 7-pound bass,” Reed advised. “The saltwater and wave action knocked back a lot of weedy cover, but fishermen shouldn’t let that discourage them. It still has many good places to fish. Salvador has a lot of grass. Lake Beouf is another good area. That whole area of the middle to upper Barataria Basin is a good area to fish.”
South Louisiana wetlands typically produce abundant bass, but few giants. However, Lacassine Pool habitually produces double-digit bass with some approaching 13 pounds. The state routinely stocks large numbers of Florida bass in the impounded system.
“Lacassine Pool is still the best place to fish for big bass in southwestern Louisiana,” Reed recommended. “In 2010, Lacassine produced 10 bass over 10 pounds. We lost some fish in the 2011 drought, but we had good water in 2012 and 2013. When the water came back, it didn’t take the fish long to come back. By the end of the summer of 2013, many people were catching good limits of bass in the 12- to 14-inch range. They drought didn’t kill all the big fish, but it thinned them out. In 2013, the Pool produced a number of 8- to 9-pound bass.”
Completely within the 35,000-acre Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge near Bell City, Lacassine Pool opens for public fishing from March 15 through Oct. 15 each year. It covers about 16,000 acres of impounded marsh divided into several segments. Levees enclosed marshland to create the pool with weirs controlling water levels. The Pool averages about three feet deep, but the perimeter canals and boat trails run slightly deeper. Thickly matted grasses, canes and dollar lilies cover much of the Pool.
In such choking vegetation, anglers use many weedless spoons or soft plastic baits such as frogs, soft jerkbaits and flukes. Rig these baits without weights and with the hook points inserted into the plastic. Some anglers use heavy jigs to punch through matted grass, run buzzbaits through scattered open patches or drop Texas-rigged worms along the boat trails edges.
While these waterways offer some of the best bass fishing in Louisiana, anglers usually don’t need to travel very far from home to find bass. Some other great places to fish include Caddo Lake, Lake Bistineau, Caney Lake, Lake D’Arbonne, the Red River, Lake Kincaid, Lake Vernon, Lake Concordia, Ouachita River, Pearl River and just about any other system in the Sportsman’s Paradise.
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