Louisiana Bass: Back To Basics
October 04, 2010
Three years after the devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana's bass population is on the road to recovery -- a sure sign of fine fishing to come. (February 2008).
Photo by John Felsher.
In terms of bass populations, at least, much of Louisiana is showing signs of recovery from the storms of 2005, so anglers throughout the Sportsman's Paradise should encounter plenty of line-pullers this year. Follow along as we review the situation region by region.
The good news is that south Louisiana anglers who struggled to find bass in the past two years may see more fish in their favorite honeyholes, although they probably won't find many lunkers. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries boosted the natural recovery effort with a massive restocking effort in those areas hit hardest by the storms. Local anglers also did their share.
It generally takes between three and four years for an area to recover fully from such a catastrophe, but anglers should catch fish this spring.
Although the 2006 spawn produced very few fish in the devastated areas, the 2007 spawn produced a phenomenal amount of fish. Bass hatched since Hurricane Katrina should measure 12 inches and weigh about 2 pounds this spring. In addition to killing fish, hurricanes Katrina and Rita completely reconfigured the geography of south Louisiana by cutting new channels and blocking others, especially in the lower Pearl River delta near Slidell.
The Pearl River forms the border between Louisiana and Mississippi. Bradley Slough splits from the main channel east of Talisheek to create the West Pearl. The West Pearl actually carries the majority of the flow southward from that point.
In the zone between the rivers, which is known as Honey Island Swamp, several major streams including Middle River, West Middle River, East Middle River, Morgan Bayou, Wastehouse Bayou and Peach Lake create a wet labyrinth. South of U.S. Route 90, the land disappears into a delta marsh crisscrossed by channels.
In the upper portions of the Pearl River, toss worms near logs or drop them over the dropoff edges. During a falling tide, fish the mouths of any channels draining the swamps. Bass often gather at the mouths of these drains, waiting for the currents to bring crawfish and minnows to them. Toss a crawfish-colored, shallow-running crankbait or a chartreuse spinnerbait up these streams and work them down with the tide.
In the marshes, anglers would more likely catch numbers than lunkers. Again, fish the falling tide. Work topwater lures, buzzbaits or buzzing frogs over the grass patches. Flip worms or lizards into the deeper areas. A black and chartreuse or white beetle spinner devastates small bass, as well as large bream and crappie.
"During high tide, baitfish get in shallow areas to hide from predators, but when (the) tide falls, these areas become dry," said Sam Swett, a professional bass angler from Covington. "Falling water flushes baitfish and other creatures into deeper channels. Marsh ponds usually have a small ditch that opens into deeper water. It's like a fish funnel. Fish and bait coming out of shallow ponds must pass through those ditches. Bass wait there to eat whatever they can grab."
Katrina reconfigured much of the Delacroix-Caernarvon area as well, but it also shows great promise. Not long after the storm surge subsided, anglers could catch an occasional 3- to 5-pound bass in the marshes. Fresh, silty water coming from siphons on the Mississippi River helped to rebuild nearby marshes. That fresh flow also helped bass. However, as in many post-Katrina marshes, fishing often proves to be a hit-or-miss situation.
In the Caernarvon area, fish the dead-end canals and adjacent weedy ponds near Lake Lery or Big Mar. Top honeyholes include the Crow's Foot, where one canal splits into four, and canals near Grand Lake, Spanish Lake, Lost Lake and Little Lake.
On the west side of the Mississippi River, people began catching numbers of small fish in the upper estuary near Lac des Allemands, Lake Boeuf, Lake Cataouatche and Lake Salvador by 2007. Myriad bayous interconnected by countless canals along the Intracoastal Waterway link these marshes with those of the southern portion of the Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City.
Grass forms the dominant cover throughout most of this area. Forget deep-running crankbaits -- use buzzing frogs, weedless lizards, jerk shads or other soft-plastic lures with hook points inserted into the plastic. Skitter these over the tops of matted grass. Frequently, bass erupt through the vegetation to engulf such an offering. Anglers can penetrate vegetation with heavy jigs or work the edges with worms and spinnerbaits.
"In places where people can't even get a Texas-rigged worm to go through the grass, a Stanley Ribbit easily hops across the top," said Lonnie Stanley, a five-time Bassmaster Classic veteran and lure manufacturer. "(It's) rigged with a 3/0 to 5/0 wide-gap hook. I've caught big bass on it in very shallow water covered in grass so matted that no other bait could work in that spot."
At the lower end of the Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City, the 14,000-acre Lake Verret connects to Lake Palourde and Grassy Lake through a labyrinth of canals and bayous. Lake Palourde contains 11,500 acres and Grassy Lake covers 1,024 acres. Anglers find many fish in the lakes, marshes, swamps and dead-end canals throughout this area.
"The Lake Verret area probably has lower numbers of bass but bigger fish," said Mike Walker, an LDWF biologist in New Iberia. "The marshes in St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes have the numbers. With a minimum length limit of 14 inches in the Atchafalaya Basin, the average weight of bass harvested is right at 2 pounds, but there have been some bass over 10 pounds in the Basin due to the Florida bass stocking program. With no minimum length limit for harvested fish, marsh bass average close to 1 pound."
At the northern end of the Atchafalaya Basin near Breaux
Bridge, Henderson Lake suffered as much from drought as it did from the Hurricane Rita fish-kill. Henderson Lake spreads through about 5,000 acres of backwaters from the Atchafalaya River, much of it shallow, weedy flats. However, natural waters such as Lake Pelba and Lake Bigeaux can drop to more than 20 feet deep in places.
Canals, including the one under Interstate 10, also hold deep water. Texas Canal runs parallel to and just north of I-10. Amoco Canal runs through Henderson Lake from the levee area and connects with Texas Canal. The Boulevard Canal runs parallel to the levee along the western shoreline and connects several landings to the southern fla
"Henderson Lake is the best bass lake in my area, with Chicot Lake a close second," said Jody David, an LDWF fisheries biologist in Opelousas. "When the Atchafalaya River at Butte LaRose is around 9 or 10 feet (deep), fishing really picks up. If the river is too high, it's tough to fish. It floods at about 12 to 14 feet. The lake produced some bass in the 4-pound range since Hurricane Rita. In the past, it produced bass almost up to 10 pounds."
For monster bass, Chicot Lake, a 1,700-acre wooded jewel wholly within Chicot State Park in south-central Louisiana, produced bass weighing nearly 14 pounds in the past. Shallow and wooded, Chicot Lake averages about 7 to 8 feet deep, but a few holes reach 15 feet deep. Some cleared boat lanes provide easy maneuvering, but most of the lake looks more like a flooded forest complete with brambles, thickets and grass. Lily pads cover many areas.
The Red River cuts across Louisiana from Shreveport to the
Mississippi River near Simmesport. With about 250 river miles divided into five "pools" or managed impoundment areas, the system can offer excellent fishing. In times of low water, anglers catch plenty of fish in the main channel. During flood stages, people would probably find more action in such oxbows as Port Lake, Beehive Slough, White House Lake, Caspiana Lake, Little Ninock Lake, Red Oak Lake or the backwaters around St. Maurice and Hampton.
Fed by the Red River, the 13,000-acre Black Lake near Campti holds some monster largemouths. It went through a 40-percent drawdown in 2005, which could mean good fishing in 2008. The lake averages about 8 feet deep, but some holes contain considerably deeper water that provided refuge during the drawdown. Calvin Mundy landed a 12.76-pound bass here in May 2005.
One of the most picturesque waters in Louisiana, Cane River Lake began as part of the Red River. In the 19th century, the Red River changed course near Natchitoches, leaving a long, narrow lake that runs for 35 miles. The old oxbow averages about 12 feet deep, with some holes reaching 25 feet deep. The lake has produced bass exceeding 10 pounds.
"I know of an 8-pounder that came out of there in March 2007," said Ricky Moses, a LDWF biologist in Pineville. "(Cane River Lake) also produces some 10-pound fish. . . . It's a very fertile, productive system with a tremendous amount of bluegills and shad."
Although never officially stocked, Indian Creek Reservoir in Rapides Parish receives considerable help from a state hatchery on its shoreline. Some fish escape from the holding ponds and populate the lake. The 2,200-acre lake holds some double-digit largemouths. Ernest Johnson and Johnny Ray of Glenmora teamed up for a 14.43-pound bucketmouth here in February 2006.
West of Alexandria, Kincaid Reservoir (also "Lake Kincaid") can also produce bass in the 12-pound range. The 2,000-acre impoundment drops to a depth of 25 feet in places. Several islands provide access to both shallow and deep water. Steve Hurley of Alexandria set the largemouth record with a 12.4-pounder he caught in Kincaid in April 2001.
For winter fishing, central Louisiana anglers can't do much better than Lake Rodemacher (also called "CLECO Lake," the reference being to the power company that owns it and uses it to cool equipment). The 3,200-acre lake near Boyce provides outstanding warmwater action in the winter near the power-plant outflow.
With Florida genes in about half the bass in the lake, it can produce whoppers. David Chatelain of Pollock caught a 13.97-pounder here in March 1997.
"All the lakes in my district give up some double-digit fish each year, but Rodemacher is more consistent for big bass," Moses said. "Lake Rodemacher has a good population and a high percentage of Florida bass genes in the fish."
In western Louisiana, no lake can compete with Toledo Bend Reservoir for size, numbers or fishing opportunities. Ranking among the best bass lakes in the nation, "The Bend" stretches about 65 miles along the old Sabine River channel straddling the Louisiana-Texas state line. The lake averages about 60 feet deep, but some holes are more than 110 feet deep.
With numerous coves offering more than 1,265 miles of shorelines spread through 186,000 acres, Toledo Bend can offer anglers plenty of places to fish for bass up to 15 pounds. Both Texas and Louisiana routinely stock Florida bass into the reservoir. Some better areas for big bass include Six-Mile Creek, a major tributary on the Texas side just north of the dam, Housen Bay, Indian Creek, the 1215 Area just north of the Pendleton Bridge, the Indian Mounds, the Bubbling Wells, Sandy Creek, Tenaha Creek, Cow Bayou and any place that offers shallow water in close proximity to deep water.
In northwest Louisiana, Caddo Lake remains the best place to break the state record. The 26,810-acre lake straddling the Louisiana-Texas line actually produced a bass larger than the 15.97-pound fish Greg Wiggins pulled from Caney Lake in February 1994. In 1992, Bobby Shaver landed a 16.01-pound largemouth in Caddo Lake, but weighed it in Texas.
Caddo Lake averages about 6 feet deep, but some holes drop to about 20 feet deep. Some of these channels run 8 to 12 feet deep. Drop jigs or other soft plastic baits along the channel edges or slow-roll spinnerbaits near wood structure.
"The best bass waters in northwest Louisiana are Caddo Lake, Red River, Grand Lake and Lake Bistineau," said James Seales, an LDWF biologist in Minden. "Caddo Lake produces some trophy bass, but other waters in this area also offer a chance to catch a nice fish because of the Florida bass stockings. Bistineau is improving for bass because of a strong year-class of fish following two consecutive drawdowns."
Like Caddo, the 17,200-acre Lake Bistineau near Bossier City looks more like a flooded swamp than a lake. It averages 8 feet deep, but holes in the old Bayou Dorcheat channel can top 18 feet deep. The Rock, at a deep bend in the channel near Lake Bistineau State Park, holds fish in winter. The lake produces many fish in the 3- to 5-pound range, with some exceeding 8 pounds.
Caney Lake, a 5,000-acre impoundment near Chatham in north-central Louisiana, produced seven of the Louisiana top 10 bass, including the four largest fish, and 16 of the top 20. However, the lake hasn't produced a top 20 fish since March 2001 or a top 10 fish since July 1996.
While the lake still harbors huge fish, anglers need to work for them. The clear lake is nearly devoid of structure and averages about 14 feet deep, though some areas sink to more than 70 feet. Five major creeks enter the lake from the northeast and two more from the southwest that form structure that attracts fish.
Lake D'Arbonne, near Farmerville, has produced one top 10 bass. In February 2000, Ed Stellner landed a 15.31-pounder, which currently holds seventh place in the record book. Impounded in 1964, the 15,250-acre lake averages about 8 fe
et deep and spreads through a huge drainage in Union and Lincoln parishes. Little Corney Creek and Little D'Arbonne Bayou drop down to 30 feet deep in places, but considerable portions of the lake resemble a shallow flooded cypress swamp.
Several ancient oxbows along the Mississippi River also can produce good bass action. Long and skinny, most still resemble old river channels. Flats at either end usually hold many fish during spawning season. Better oxbows include Lake Bruin, Lake St. John and False River, but Lake Concordia produces the biggest fish.
Lake Concordia near Ferriday has produced bass exceeding 13 pounds and several in the 9- to 12-pound range since 2005. About six miles long, the lake averages about 10 to 15 feet deep, but some holes drop to more than 55 feet deep.
Coming on strong in northeast Louisiana, Poverty Point Reservoir opened to fishermen in April 2003. The 2,700-acre impoundment north of Delhi averages about 10 feet deep, but some holes drop to more than 20 feet. Anglers fish the offshore humps, submerged brushpiles, logs and stumps.
Throughout the Sportsman's Paradise, anglers should find plenty of action this year in this state so blessed with fertile waterways.