September 28, 2010
Whether you seek fast action or trophy largemouths, Louisiana has something for you. Which rivers and lakes promise to serve up the finest bassin' during the season ahead? (February 2006)
By John N. Felsher
Photo by Ron SInfelt
Bass anglers may need to head north this spring to land limits, as Hurricane Katrina's brutal assault of last August ripped up large tracts of the Louisiana Delta between Houma and Slidell. Its salty storm surges leveled marinas and devastated bass populations across much of southeastern Louisiana, but for the most part spared areas of the state north and west of Baton Rouge, which largely escaped the destruction.
Ironically, while New Orleans flooded, many lakes and rivers in the state suffered from low water: A drought baked much of Louisiana in the late summer and early fall of 2005. Still, the oxbow lakes along the Mississippi River have excellent potential for producing lunker largemouths this spring.
"Bass populations are improving across the board in my area," said David Hickman, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist in Ferriday. "We had a drought from 1999 through early 2001, and we had a largemouth bass virus in lakes Concordia and Bruin in the summer of 2000, but the bass are coming back very well. Overall, this area is looking better every year. We are continuing to stock Florida largemouths, and we're starting to see some benefits from that, especially in Concordia."
Lake Concordia, an ancient, highly fertile oxbow near Ferriday, can produce fish exceeding 13 pounds. In 1990, the state began stocking the 1,000-acre lake with Florida-strain largemouths. The state also managed it as a "trophy" lake with a 15- to 19-inch slot limit until 2002.
The slot limit built up the number of smaller fish, almost to the point of overpopulation. Consequently, fishing suffered for years, but it began to come back strongly in 2005. Now anglers must only follow statewide regulations and need observe no special size restrictions.
"Lake Concordia has been phenomenal for big fish in 2005," Hickman said. "We are not quite seeing the numbers like before, but we're seeing as many big fish in Concordia as we've ever seen. We had quite a few bass over 10 pounds in 2005. The biggest I know about is a 12 1/2-pounder caught in March of 2005, and I heard about another 12-pounder caught in 2005. With the population thinned a little, the rest of the fish are growing faster and are healthier."
In one 2005 bass tournament on Concordia, the winner landed four bass weighing more than 38 pounds for a 9 1/2-pound average, Hickman said. In another tournament, the five fish making up the winning stringer weighed 37 pounds. The second place stringer weighed about 33 pounds with the third-place team catching 27 pounds.
Although no longer attached to the Mississippi River, this rain-fed lake still resembles the old river channel. About six miles long, narrow and relatively shallow, the lake remains largely devoid of structure except for shoreline docks, some grass patches and cypress trees. It averages about 10 to 15 feet deep, but some holes drop to more than 55 feet deep.
Grassy flats at either end attract big fish, especially during spawning season. Many bass anglers pound these flats with soft plastics, spinnerbaits or topwater baits. Since the bass feed heavily upon shad, lures that resemble baitfish work best.
Hickman also recommended Turkey Creek, a 3,000-acre impoundment about 15 miles south of Winnsboro, as an improving bass lake that produces excellent catches of bass up to 9 pounds. Flooded cypress trees and grass provide ample cover for growing bass. In the spring, flooding from the Boeuf River can make the reservoir muddy, but when the water recedes and clears, fishing improves greatly.
"Turkey Creek has always been pretty good, but it's really doing well now," Hickman explained. "The average winning weight in local tournaments is about 18 pounds. That lake hasn't had many Florida bass stocked into it, but it already produces many 8- and 9-pound fish. If we see more of the Florida gene in the bass, it will produce some fish in double digits. It's an awesome lake with a lot of potential."
Another lake that has the potential to be awesome is Lake Bruin, just north of St, Joseph. In the fall of 2005, Bruin had a drawdown, dropping the water level about 4.5 feet. One of the deepest lakes in that part of the state, the 2,342-acre oxbow averages about 20 to 30 feet deep in places, but some holes drop to more than 55 feet deep, so bass found many places to go during the drawdown. Like Concordia, shallow flats at either end of the oxbow hold decent fish when spawning season arrives.
"The drawdown should mimic the natural flood pulse that allows some bottom sediment to dry out and firm up," Hickman said. "That should help the spawning fish. We shouldn't need to restock the lake, because it's doing very well. It recovered completely from the drought."
Smaller lakes can also produce big bass. Lower Sunk Lake, an 885-acre lake on the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in southern Concordia Parish, dried up completely during the 1999-2001 drought; now refilled, and restocked with Florida bass, it produces many fish in the 5-pound range.
"Now it's like a new lake," Hickman said. "People have been catching a lot of good bass in it. We did some genetic analysis in the spring of 2005 and found that about 10 to 12 percent of the bass now have at least some Florida genes, so it's going to produce a lot of big fish in the future."
Poverty Point Reservoir, another new north Louisiana lake, opened to fishermen in April 2003. Although the 2,700-acre impoundment north of Delhi only recently joined the ranks of the state's fishing lakes, it derives its name from one of the oldest cultures in Louisiana: the Poverty Point Culture, Native Americans living in the vicinity from about 1,400 B.C. to about 700 B.C.
The lake started filling with water in 1998, five years before fishermen could visit it. In that time, the state stocked fry and older brood fish from hatcheries, so anglers can already catch fish exceeding 10 pounds.
Fishing remains great, but heavy pressure during the first years of angling opportunities "educated" many bass. Fish moved off the banks into deep water and away from anglers. The lake averages about 10 feet deep, but some holes drop to more than 20 feet. Today, many anglers fish the brushpiles and other cover the state created before flooding the lake.
D'Arbonne Lake, southeast of Farmerville, dates to 1964. Formed by the damming of Corney Bayou and Bayou D'Arbonne, this lake drains much of north-central Louisiana and spreads over
15,250 acres in Union and Lincoln parishes. In February 2000, Ed Stellner set the lake record with a 15.31-pound bass he caught in Bear Creek. The lake also produces bass in the 10- to 12-pound range.
"We haven't seen any more 15-pound bass come out of D'Arbonne Lake, but it still has major potential to produce large bass," said Mike Wood, an LDWF district fisheries biologist in Monroe. "It's not uncommon to see a 10- or an 11-pound bass come from the lake."
In the early '90s, anglers fishing Caney Lake, a 5,000-acre impoundment near Chatham, broke bass records almost as fast as people could update the books. The lake produced seven of the current top 10 Louisiana bass, including the top four, and 16 of the top 20. In February 1994, Greg Wiggins topped the list with a 15.97-pounder.
The clear lake, nearly devoid of structure, averages about 14 feet deep, with some holes dropping to more than 70 feet. In the clear water, many anglers sight-fish for lunkers, often spending hours trying to catch a single bedding fish.
The rate at which entries are made in the lunker ledger has slowed in recent years, but the lake still produces worthwhile fish, some exceeding 13 pounds. In March 2001, Kenneth Walker landed a 14.39-pound bass that currently holds 18th in the state book, the only top 20 bass from Caney since 1996.
In central Louisiana, Lake Rodemacher -- also called "CLECO Lake" after the power company that owns it and uses it to cool equipment -- contains about 3,000 acres. Officially classified as a "quality" lake, the largely open reservoir near Boyce produces many large bass, some in double digits. In the winter, the warmer water inflowing from the power plant attracts fish.
"All the lakes in my district give up some double-digit fish each year, but Rodemacher is more consistent for big bass," said Ricky Moses, an LDWF district fisheries biologist in Pineville. "Lake Rodemacher is really starting to make a comeback. We've had problems with grass carp and vegetation, but we are seeing some vegetation come back. I think the fishing will rebound for the next couple of years. The lake has a good population and a high percentage of Florida bass genes in the fish."
Moses also recommended the Red River as a prime bass producer in his district. In the 1990s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built five water-control structures along the Red River from Shreveport to Marksville. This tamed the wild and muddy river and cut it into five impoundments, or pools. The best fishing occurs in probably pools 5 and 4 southeast of Shreveport, but pools 3 and 2 can also produce some fish of substantial quality.
"Pool 3 is a little better than Pool 2," Moses said. "It has more bass habitat, more oxbows and backwaters. A lot of people fish around St. Maurice and Hampton, in oxbows that don't even have names. Bass get in the back of the oxbows to spawn. I'm expecting good things out of the Red River for 2006."
One of the best "rivers" in the state broke off from the Red River after it changed course in the 19th century. Now, the 1,275-acre Cane River runs for 35 miles near Natchitoches, and no longer connects to the Red except during times of flood. Long and narrow, the old channel averages about 12 feet deep. Lily pads, fallen trees and boat docks provide the dominant cover.
"Cane River probably has more pounds of bass than any other water in this part of the state," Moses said. "It's landlocked, but it's like a river system. It's rain-fed with some feeder creeks."
Moses says that the river has plenty of bass in the 5- to 7-pound range, thanks to the fact that it's a very fertile system with a tremendous amount of forage in the form of bluegills and shad.
In the fall of 2005, Black Lake, near Campti, went through a drawdown that dropped the 13,000-acre lake by about 4.5 feet, shrinking its area by about 40 percent. The drawdown should help spawning bass find better banks this spring.
"Following the drawdown, Black Lake will be in better shape in 2006," Moses noted. "It will have more open banks, and not as much thick vegetation. Normally, the lake averages about 8 feet deep, but it has some fairly deep holes. Fish had plenty of water during the drawdown."
The state also dropped Indian Creek, an 1,800-acre lake in Rapides Parish, about 8 feet below pool stage to control hydrilla and other aquatic plants in 2005. Hydrilla infestations had become so bad in places that the thick grass restricted access in parts of the lake.
In northwest Louisiana, 17,200-acre Lake Bistineau, near Minden, and 26,810-acre Caddo Lake, which straddles the state line near Shreveport, always produce excellent catches. Heavily wooded, these lakes can produce bass exceeding 10 pounds. Bistineau typically produces better numbers, but Caddo Lake usually produces better-quality fish. Caddo Lake produced a 16.01-pound bass in 1992. It was bigger than the state record that taken at Caney Lake -- but the angler weighed the fish in Texas.
Always a favorite, 186,000-acre Toledo Bend, along the Louisiana-Texas state line, ranks as one of the top bass reservoirs in the nation. In the spring it produces many double-digit bass, some approaching 14 pounds. In the fall of 2005, it endured something like a natural drawdown, as the drought dropped lake levels nearly 10 feet below pool stage.
Both Texas and Louisiana intensively stock Florida bass into the 65-mile long reservoir. In July 2000, Eric Weems landed the lake record, which came in at 15.32 pounds. He caught the fish in Six-Mile Creek, a major tributary on the Texas side just north of the dam.
To bolster the quality of the bass in Chicot Lake, near Ville Platte, the state imposes a 14- to 17-inch slot limit for largemouths. The 1,700 cypress-choked acres of this impoundment lie completely within the boundaries of Chicot Lake State Park and can produce fish exceeding 13 pounds. In 2003, an angler pulled a 12-pounder from the lake.
Chicot is a shallow, wooded lake filled with cover. Most anglers fish pockets in the flooded forest or grassbeds. The lake normally averages about 7 to 8 feet deep, but a few holes reach 15 feet deep in the channels. Throughout most of 2005, the lake stayed about 3.5 feet below normal.
"Chicot can produce some fish in the 10- to 11-pound range," said Jody David, LDWF fisheries biologist in Opelousas. "When the water went down in the spring of 2005, people caught a lot of big bass."
At the northern end of the Atchafalaya Basin, Henderson Lake, a 5,000-acre flooded swamp near Breaux Bridge, depends heavily upon the water level in the Atchafalaya River.
"Henderson Lake is the best bass lake in my area, with Chicot Lake a close second," said David. "Henderson produces a lot of fish. It's fed by the Atchafalaya River. When the water recedes, people catch quite a few fish, some over 9 pounds."
In the fall of 2005, much of the area dried up from the drought, which exposed ba
nks and released nutrients. That should produce excellent spawns in the spring.
Near the southern end of the massive Atchafalaya Basin (although outside the boundary levee), shallow Lake Verret can produce excellent catches. A 14,000-acre natural lake, it connects to Lake Palourde and Grassy Lake through a labyrinth of canals and bayous near Morgan City. Lake Palourde contains 11,500 acres; Grassy Lake, 1,024.
After Hurricane Andrew killed hundreds of millions of fish in the Atchafalaya Basin in 1992, the state imposed a minimum-length limit of 14 inches on bass to allow more fish in this area to spawn at least once. The state also stocked Florida bass into the huge swamp. Now anglers report catching some bass exceeding 10 pounds. Fortunately, the area largely escaped the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.
"The Atchafalaya Basin contains large numbers of fish," said Mike Walker, an LDWF district fisheries biologist in New Iberia. "The Lake Verret area has lower numbers, but slightly larger bass."
Louisiana anglers can hope to catch some good bass just about anywhere in the state not hit by Hurricane Katrina -- and they might even land a few lunkers!