By John Flores
Back in 2011, Mike Wood, at the time director of Inland Fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife, claimed that the: "The fishery just might be better than ever." Wood has since retired from the Department. Nonetheless, five years later, his words still ring true.
Wood mentioned how major flooding events benefit spawning fish of all species; when water is over the bank for months on end, particularly during the peak of the spawn, fish can spread out and have less competition when preparing beds. Also, less predation takes place. As a result, a bumper crop of fish occurs, with bass anglers benefiting. By contrast, the biggest weather-related hindrance to fisheries in Louisiana is tropical events.
"Environmental-wise, we've been lucky the last few years," said Jody David, LDWF District 6 biologist manager. "Anytime we have tropical storms they tend to flip the bottom of our lakes and backwater swamps over, depleting the oxygen. We haven't had that in awhile and in general we've had some good success throughout Louisiana when it comes to the largemouth bass spawn."
Beyond Mother Nature, a positive factor working for Louisiana waters is the LDWF fish-stocking program. According to David, some big Florida genetics have been dropped in several of the lakes in his district, including Spring Bayou, Chicot Lake and Lake Fausse Pointe.
Over the years, the LDWF has also used electrofishing to collect liver tissue to confirm that Florida largemouth bass has influenced native bass populations. In 2007, samples indicated 12 percent of fish were either pure Florida species or Louisiana native/Florida hybrid strain largemouth bass, and the numbers just seem to increase.
In fact, a recent three-year sampling conducted on Toledo Bend indicated that the lake had more one- to two-year-old Florida stain bass than seven- to eight-year-old Florida bass. Of course, most anglers just want to know where are the best places to catch a bunch of bass or a double-digit monster.
For an unprecedented second straight year, BASSMASTER has named Toledo Bend the "Best Bass Lake" in the nation, meaning this lake is a go-to location for bass anglers.
The Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program, sponsored by the Toledo Bend Lake Association has been in existence since 1992. As a reward for returning trophy largemouth bass back into the lake, bass anglers are given a free fiberglass replica of their lunker. There have been 795 lunker bass recorded since the program's inception. Some 372 replicas for largemouth bass weighing 10 pounds and over, dating back to 2005, have been awarded by the TBLA to anglers for participating in the program. Last year along, 139 replicas were issued to anglers for trophy catches. Of those, 93 bass weighed 10 pounds or more, 31 weighed 11 pounds or more, 12 were 12-plus pounds, two were in the 13-pound class and one was a whopping 14.16 pounds.
During the May 2016 BASSMASTER Elite Tournament held on Toledo Bend, Kevin VanDam averaged nearly 25 pounds of fish per day to win the event. Moreover, it's not uncommon for bass anglers to weigh in 30- to 40-pound, five-fish stringers during a tournament.
According to biologists, one reason for the recent success catching huge bass on Toledo Bend is the drought and draw down of the reservoir for an extended period between 2010 and 2012.
"That lake dropped 7 or 8 feet and dried up in a lot of areas," David said. "Then a lot of grasses grew. It's really unbelievable what's occurred. When the water came up, the fish exploded again in population."
Gerald Foulcard, tournament angler from coastal Louisiana and President of Bullet Bass Club, has fished Toledo Bend many times and is familiar with its challenges.
"It's just an awesome bass fishery with points, humps, river bends and miles and miles of shoreline," said Foulcard. "During the peak spawning period in mid-March, you can narrow your search down to the shoreline banks that produce. But, I'll look for shad movement and look for spots with grass beds. And if stumps and laydowns are in the mix, that's even better."
Foulcard also points out that during the spawn on Toledo Bend, many anglers sight fish. Though it takes patience, Foulcard says it can be productive. The key is to wait the fish out until it is so aggravated it catches the angler rather than the other way around.
"They don't want anything around their nests," said Foulcard. "Most of the time they're not even interested in eating, just moving or killing what has gotten near their bed. That's why I prefer using baits like tube jigs, lizards and creature baits. The longer I keep it in her nesting zone the better."
LAKE FAUSSE POINTE
Lake Fausse Point is a 17,000-acre system located in Iberia and St. Martin parishes. The lake is essentially a catch basin for northern runoff and is somewhat shallow compared to public systems north of I-10.
"It's a place we've put quite a few Florida fingerlings in every couple of years, but you don't have a high percentage of them like we do in other places we've stocked," said David. "And, even though it's silted in places, they're really starting to catch some nice fish — especially during the spring."
Foulcard lives in Patterson, and competes in tournaments regularly on Lake Fausse Point. According to him, since the water is stained in the spring from runoff, he overcomes the condition with big-blade spinnerbaits.
"Sometimes bigger is better," Foulcard explained. "One of the reasons I like big baits at this time year, is they provide a larger profile in the muddy water. Fish not only see the bait, but they also feel it, which could result in a strike."
Foulcard recommends buzzbaits and Ribbit Frogs during morning sessions, swapping to 8-inch Zoom lizards in June bug or watermelon-red when the bite slows.
Suggested locations to pursue largemouths are the Texaco Oilfield canals, barrow pits along the levee, Coon Slough and Sandy Cove around duck blinds, if there is enough water to get in the coves.
LACASSINE NATIONAL WILDLIFE
REFUGE POOL COMPLEX
Established in 1937, this refuge was developed with wintering waterfowl in mind. Spanning some 35,000 acres, 16,000 acres of the refuge is surrounded by levees making up a rain fed impoundment known as the "Lacassine Pool."
What makes this fishery so unique is that it is closed six months of the year, typically from October 1 through March 15. Refuge managers also restrict motor size on vessels to a maximum of 40 horsepower. Additionally, due to natural evaporation and growth of marsh grasses, quite often the impoundment can become less navigable by the time summer rolls around. The result is that largemouth bass grow big with the limited pressure.
When the lake opens, crowds line up along Illinois Plant road south of Highway 14 near Lake Arthur to get first shot at catching pool largemouth bass.
"I can tell you it's a festival," said George Melancon, LDWF biologists. "There are guys who will go out and camp out. They'll have a big party and stay up all night to be in line, so they'll be the first to launch."
According to Sean Kinney, District 5 biologist manager, sampling shows a healthy bass population. The impoundment produces lots of 1- to 3-pound fish, and routinely produces bass over 10 pounds, with the heaviest being over 13 pounds in 2016.
There are two main ways to fish the impoundment. One is to fish the deep-water canal along the levees, where anglers are more apt to catch smaller bass in higher numbers. The second is to fish the shallow flats, ponds and coves where the larger bass hang out. There are fewer fish, with an increased level of difficulty, but the higher risk produces a higher reward in terms of big bass.
Best pool baits include topwater frogs, Heddon Torpedoes, Zoom speed craws, Zoom baby brush hogs, Zoom Arkansas shiners and Culprit red shad worms.
Lacassine has two launch facilities located on the refuge itself. The refuge also sets aside a restricted canoe and kayak fishing area only and additionally allows bank fishing.
INVASIVE AQUATICS MEAN
Louisiana's semi-tropical climate helps perpetuate the problems associated with invasive aquatic plants. As a result, these plants have not only taken their toll on prime habitat, but also limited access to fisheries.
The department's main concern today is giant salvinia, an invasive species that doubles in size every 7 to 10 days during hot summer months.
The LDWF utilizes a three prong attack combating floating submerged aquatics. The use of chemical herbicides is the most common. Physical control consisting of scheduled drawdowns of lakes and impoundments is second. And, though much slower in terms of results, biological control using weevils are also utilized.
Combined, these methods only help control invasive aquatic plants, but will never eliminate the problem.
Louisianans have seen a bumper crop of big largemouth bass the past several years due to both Mother Nature's influence and continued stocking efforts throughout the state of Florida strain bass by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. What anglers should see in 2017 is simply more of the same.
Vernon Lake, near Leesville, is a lesser-known lake close to Toledo Bend that doesn't get as much attention. The lake went through a drawdown during the summer of 2016, which for the next three to five years should improve fish catches. Average fish tend to be in the 1- to 4-pound range, with some catches in the 5- to 8-pound class.
Ivan Lake, near Minden, has been totally renovated and re-flooded in 2012. Sampling has indicated bass are growing with the average size being 1 to 1.5 pounds. Some anglers have reported fish in the 3- to 5-pound range. The LDWF introduced threadfin shad to enhance forage.
Sabine Wildlife Management Area has always been a great fishery. The WMA is surrounded by waterways that include the Sabine River to the west, and Old River and Dynamite Slough and Big bayou on the east of Turner's Island. Additionally, Watson and Brennan bayous both run into the WMA. The area is tidal, therefore, best chances of catching is when water is moving.
Turkey Creek Lake, located in Franklin Parish, is approximately 3,100 acres in size. The lake has received multiple stockings of both adult and fingerling Florida bass, since going through a major draw down in 2010. The Boeuf River has backed up into the lake three times since the drawdown, which creates ideal spawning conditions.
Spring Bayou located in Avoyelles Parish has received several stockings of Florida bass over the years. The LDWF has reduced vast amounts of vegetation, and it's predicted that anglers should start seeing bigger and bigger fish.