September 28, 2010
What will the bassin' be like in the Bayou State this year? Read on and find out. (February 2007)
Photo by Tom Evans.
A year and a half after hurricanes Katrina and Rita blasted the Louisiana coast from Lake Charles to Slidell, the state of bass fishing is as good as it's ever been in some places -- and slowly festers along in others.
The Interstate 10/Interstate 12 line across south Louisiana serves as kind of a border between worthy bass fishing and suspect bass fishing. With the exception of a few rivers in the Florida Parishes, this line generally divides the state between the haves and have-nots. Few areas were affected by the storms north of this line, while areas southward got beaten, battered and bruised.
Northern bass fishing waters weren't totally unaffected by the storms, however. Although they didn't get smashed by wind, tidal surge or saltwater intrusion, they did see an increase in fishing pressure as southern anglers traveled north to find something to catch.
Northern anglers may find fewer boats on the water this year, though, because time, the main thing that the southern waters need to rebound, is slowly moving onward. Time will allow fresh water to push the salt back out. Time will allow spring rains to flush out systems with floodwaters. And time will allow baby bass to grow up and replace the bass that were storm casualties.
A few southern areas were already showing promise by last summer, and a few were even down right decent by the fall. Fisheries biologists across the southern part of the state spoke about the waters in their charge with a grim tone. The bad was still too fresh in their minds, the good still too far away. They couldn't suppress their optimism for too long, though, as they realized that the farther that the storm sisters recede in the rearview mirrors of their memories, the better things will get.
Northern fisheries biologists spoke with passion about the lakes in their districts, and they all had several favorites that they expect to be productive in 2007. A few of the usual favorites have had their share of ups and downs, while some of the big names are making a comeback.
This section of Louisiana arguably offers some of the best bass fishing in the state. It has a variety of waters to suit any angler's taste. However, biologist James Seales believes that a few offer anglers a better chance of getting bit.
"Caddo is always a good place to go," Seales pointed out. "The spring is a great time to fish the lake, and you always have a few trophy fish caught then. The lake is cypress studded rather than completely filled with trees like Bistineau. Spring fishing is best around the trees around the Jim's Bayou area."
Hydrilla is present in Caddo, and Seales reported that Giant Sylvania has been found, which is a pressing concern. "We making efforts to get the Sylvania and some of the hydrilla under control," he said. "But the lake is as good as it has always been. We haven't been getting any complaints from the anglers."
Lake Bistineau is coming off two back-to-back drawdowns, and according to Seales, there should be a strong spawn with some good recruitment this spring. Even though the lake has been drawn down two years in a row, guide Russ McVey sees it coming back strong.
"I've seen the lake bottom, and I've seen it 7 feet high," he said. "I've seen it have lush green grass, and I've seen it have nary a sprig. It doesn't matter what happens, though. This lake has always rebounded -- and, in my opinion, it always will."
Seales expects the Red River to be as strong as ever this year. The river gave up a giant 13-pound largemouth last year, and the proliferation of the hydrilla along with the stocking of some Florida bass makes this a potential big bass hotspot in the future.
"The best fishing generally isn't until the water stabilizes during the later part of the spring," Seales said. "But Pool 5 offers a fantastic opportunity to catch lots of fish from then on."
While a little bit more difficult to fish because of its near Arkansas highland reservoir characteristics, Lake Claiborne offers exceptional fishing for anglers who've mastered deepwater finesse techniques like Carolina-rigging and drop-shotting. Anglers who favor power-fishing techniques can find some success from February through April, when the fish are around the shallow wood cover.
One of the feel-good stories of 2007 could be the reemergence of Caney Lake in Jackson Parish. Although it's never been battered by hurricane winds, Caney has been beat-up by grass, grass carp, false accusations and Lake Fork style fishing pressure. Things have been changing lately, though, and biologist Mike Wood anticipates that Caney will be one of the best lakes around this year.
"We're getting some shallow grass back," Wood said. "That's good for novice anglers and anglers that don't want to fish open water, because it's going to bring fish back up where more people can catch them. Caney is still a good place to catch a big fish, too. There were some 12-pound fish caught last year, along with several 8s and 10s."
What impressed Wood most about Caney last year, though, was the number of small fish he saw. One of his main concerns the past few years was the survival of young fish because of the lack of cover, but now he's seeing what he wanted to see start kicking in.
Poverty Point is quickly getting a reputation as a place to catch a bunch of bass. According to Wood, the lake is loaded with 4- and 5-pound fish, and that they get pretty easy to catch from February through May.
"This is a relatively shallow, fertile lake," he said. "It maintains a nice green color all the time. Poverty Point isn't subject to many water changes, because its watershed is almost zilch. It tends to stay pretty consistent as far as water quality."
Lake D'Arbonne remains a popular fishery with the locals even though it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Just how good is D'Arbonne? Lake resident and Media Bass Tournament director Dale Taylor knows exactly how good it is. Taylor runs the annual Majestic Big Bass Classic, a 24-hour bass marathon held on the lake that hands out awards for big bass and total weight.
"It took an 8-pounder to win it this year, and our average was 2.99 pounds. There were 25 fish over 5 pounds, and the smallest fish to earn money was 3.08. We also had four five-fish stringers over 20 pounds . . . all this in the middle of July."
th big names like the Red River and Toledo Bend in its fold, central Louisiana has a rising new star at Turkey Creek near Winfield. The five-fish limits coming out of this lake will make eyes bulge and pitching thumbs itch.
"We don't have a lot of data on the lake, because we have a hard time sampling -- because there is so much cover," said biologist Dave Hickman. "There's a lot of shallow water, and it's hard to maneuver our electrofishing boats. It's also tough to run nets."
Hickman does monitor the tournament creeks, though, and he has seen some really good fish coming out of the lake the past couple of years. Some Florida bass were put in the lake a few years ago, and more were planned in 2005, but resources were diverted to south Louisiana. Hickman has been able to determine that around 13 percent of the bass population is a native-Florida genetic mix.
"Concordia has also been doing well," Hickman added. "We didn't have the monster fish last year like we did the year before, but there were some decent catches. We did shock in 2006, and we did well with the number of fish over 20 inches. That was as good as it was the year before, when everybody was catching those giants. Therefore, I don't think our population is suffering -- I just think we went through some tough fishing conditions last year."
Lake St. John has been doing well, although the lake did suffer a fish kill in 2006. Hickman didn't think that the kill was as bad as it looked, because a lot of the fish washed up in the same area, making it look worse than it was.
"We've been doing some shocking on Bruin, and it looks like that lake is in great shape," Hickman offered. "There was a great spawn up there last year, and there are a lot of little bass in the lake. The lake was drawn down during the winter of '05-'06, and that made the muddy bottoms dry up and turn into good spawning areas.
Red River pools 2 and 3 should offer some excellent action from late spring through the fall. BASSMASTER Elite Pro Jeff Connella, of Bentley, said that Pool 3 has a good mix of backwater fishing and main-river rock fishing. "I've seen a bunch of cycles on the Red since the lock and dam project was completed," he said. "Now we've got a lot of hyacinths and good grass in the backwaters. I expect the fishing to get better and better as long as the grass stays with us."
Biologist Bobby Reed declared the bright spot of southwest Louisiana to be Vernon Lake. This little gem gave up a 13-pound fish just before Hurricane Rita, and it was one of the waters least affected in the area.
"The inland lakes like Vernon, Bundick and Anacoco were least affected by Rita," Reed said. "On the other hand, the coastal stuff like the Sabine, Calcasieu and Mermentau rivers were devastated. It's going to take some time on those coastal areas because of the septic situations they experienced right after the storm. It was so bad that everything died, including the mussels and crawfish."
The big problem was caused by a combination of saltwater intrusion, wind-driven mixing and decaying organic matter that reduced oxygen levels. The result: a "gray-water" situation in which various venues were full of what amounted to sewage.
"Anacoco had a muddy-water problem and is in a drawdown, so I'd put it at the bottom of the other three as far as the forecast goes," Reed said. "Bundick had probably the highest catch rate per unit last year, and our electrofishing efforts showed a strong year-class 10- to 12-inch fish that should be 12- to 15-inch fish this year."
Reed also pointed out that Bundick has the best cover of the three, its main cover consisting of old stumps and pad flats on the humps. The shoreline vegetation, like alligator grass and primrose, also looks quite good.
"People have to look more for hills and creek channels at Vernon," Reed added. "We forwent any stocking last year because we knew that we had poor water quality because of the storm and the drought that followed. We didn't want to put fish in that, because we knew they would die, especially when the water warmed and things continued to decay."
The Lacassine Pool on the refuge was a big draw before the storm, and the water had produced some 10- and 11-pound fish. This one will be a long time recovering, however, because of the strong saltwater intrusion that killed all the freshwater vegetation.
Hurricane Rita hit this area of the state pretty hard, and several of the major bass fisheries suffered fish kills as a result. Biologist Jody David reported that Henderson had a major fish kill.
"Henderson's not only got a reduced population," he said, "but right now we've got a hydrilla problem. We applied some herbicide and lowered the water about 2 feet to knock it back a little. I expect it to be pretty clean by the spring.
"We did see a lot of young fish last year . . . young-of-the-year bass that even the crappie anglers were catching. I don't want to say it's going to be a new lake -- but we will see a boom in the next couple of years. It will be a couple of years before we start catching some nice fish, but once it starts, it should come around pretty quick.
"We've got Lake Martin in Lafayette Parish near Breaux Bridge that should be pretty good," David said. "It's only 800 acres, and it's getting some pressure, since Henderson is down, but I really expect some good things from it this year."
Pool 1 of the Red River is producing some good fish, and, according to David, some of that is the result of Phase 2 Florida bass being stocked the last four or five years.
Mike Walker from District 9 said that the Atchafalaya Basin suffered fish kills from Rita, and that the water has been low since the storms. In fact, he said, there haven't been too many successful trips since then either.
"I don't think all the fish were killed," he offered, "but I think the low water and the hot weather kind of put a damper on the fishing last year. The best thing we can get is a good spring flood. The fishing may be a little better in the spring because of the cooler weather and spawning activity, but the area needs a couple years to rebound to its pre-storm days."
The state of bass fishing around the Mississippi River has been up in the air since Hurricane Katrina. Reports of fish kills were rampant, and it looked as if bass anglers might have to travel north for a while if they wanted to continue catching fish. However, whispers hint of a strong rebound, and places like Bayou Segnette look as good as they ever have.
"Stuff on the west side of the river didn't suffer nearly as bad as the east side," reported District 8 fisheries biologist Howard Rogillio. "There was a group out of Baton Rouge that did some sampling at Cataouatche last year, and they discovered a lot of small spawn-type bass along with several larger bass in the grass. The grass will help, because it gives bass a place to spawn and hide while th
Even though Rogillio expected the west side of the river to be the better option, he did say that Delacroix had rebounded pretty well -- even though it wasn't nearly back to normal -- and added that anglers could expect a lot of small fish, which is typical after a population reduction.
Katrina also hit hotspots like the Pearl and Tchefuncte rivers, along with Bayou Lacombe, pretty hard. There are some fish to be caught this year, but, Rogillio remarked, they wouldn't be nearly as good as they were.
"It may be tough down here this year," he said, "but improvement is just down the road. We've just got to get the population back and get a few spawns behind us. Once that happens, and we get fresh water reclaiming its place and a normal forage base, the bass fishing in southeast Louisiana will be back."