September 28, 2010
Five creeks, all within a short drive of each other, all loaded with spotted bass: a pretty good deal! (June 2007)
One of my favorites among the fish inhabiting fresh water is the spotted bass.
A member of the six species of black bass, the spot is indigenous to riverine environments. True to its character, it's found almost statewide in waters ranging from sluggish and rather grungy bayous to clear, lively upcountry "creeks" and impoundments of such waterways. But it's in our creeks that I prefer to pursue this favorite fish -- and there are good reasons for that!
Creeks are usually pretty as well as productive. Their substrates -- typically sand and pea gravel -- are easily waded. Their waters -- though perhaps stained a bit by tannin -- are comparatively clear. And their currents are just strong enough to add a little challenge to the exercise. Finally, their corridors can be quite pristine, as a number of these streams flow through sections of the Kisatchie National Forest.
If there's a problem with these little jewels -- even though most of them are listed and therefore protected within the state's Natural and Scenic Streams System -- it's access. The streams themselves may be public, but even in forestland, the land alongside them may be private. And even within forestland, few of the state, parish, and Forest Service roads that would allow an angler to gain these waters at their bridges are usually present.
However, in southern Vernon Parish, a slight anomaly in this problem actually provides abundant opportunities. Those arise not particularly as a result of numerous access points to a certain stream but because of a number of streams within a fairly small area. Beginning just west of Elizabeth some 10 miles west of Oakdale and moving west from there, first is Tenmile Creek. Then just beyond Pitkin is Sixmile Creek, followed by Whiskey (Ouiska) Chitto, Drake's Creek, and Bundick Creek. Here you can prospect a couple of promising reaches on one stream, and then, with state Highway 10 being the primary route between them all, make a short drive to another and give it a try. All are shown on the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development's Vernon Parish South Section road map, which can be purchased through the agency's Web site at www.dotd.louisiana.gov. (Click on "maps" and then follow the steps.) Once your map arrives, it's a good idea to trace the streams' courses with a blue felt-tipped pen. Then the various roads' bridge-access points will become much clearer.
While each creek has its own personality, they can all be fished in the same general manner. Although herein that effort is directed towards spotted bass, I feel I should make note of something very special that these particular streams have to offer.
That is apparently the result of all of them being within the rather isolated drainage of the Calcasieu River system. This seems to have allowed some genetic changes in another of the streams' inhabitants the longear sunfish. While these panfish are considered extremely colorful throughout their entire range, during summer spawning time the males become colorful beyond description in these streams. I'll vow that I've never seen another fish -- anywhere -- that was as beautifully colored as these can be.
Now it's time for the actual fishing part, and here I must admit that I've never prospected any of these five creeks with anything but flies -- usually poppers.
But during the warm months, two conventional-fishing lures can cover almost all of the bases. The first is a spinnerbait built around a gold size 3 safety-pin spinner, a 1/8-ounce jig-head, and a 2-inch soft-plastic "shad" in black over pearl. Vary the color of the "shad" if you must -- but don't change anything else! This lure can be worked from the water's surface down a foot or so and with a slower retrieve, but avoid bottom, as that's snag city.
The second lure is a "Tiny Torpedo" or anything in the likeness thereof, also in some shad color. And that's it: Anything else will shortly be living on borrowed time because of the timber on bottom.
For fly-fishing, use size 4 poppers during periods with what appear to be normal water levels and size 6 when it's a bit low or very clear. Both are big enough to appeal to the bass, yet not too large to deter the belligerent longears. Yellow and black is a good all-round color combo. I serve them on a short 5-weight stick that is over-lined one size, since casts are often quite short and accuracy is most important. Leaders in the 8- to 9-foot range and tapered to a 12-pound point are adequate. With poppers, mono is to be preferred to fluorocarbon.
Begin by working upstream -- against the current. Take your time and scrutinize the water ahead of you closely. The best water is from generally 2 to 4 feet deep, protected somewhat from the current, and shaded. Remember those three parameters, and prospect any water that suits them.
Typically it will occur in turns in the streambed, with the outside of the turn being deepest. That's good water if it isn't too deep; so is the shallower stretch just downstream of the point on the inside of the turn. Also, the abrupt changes in depth found at both the upstream and downstream limits of these "pools" make good feeding stations for the bass. Work the fly in such a manner as it drifts with the current through these areas.
Midstream snags that have been washed out to the appropriate depths by the current are another form of structure that should be prospected in these streams. So are the upcurrent edges of logjams, especially those that are foamy and that have collected assorted odds and ends and pieces of debris. Actually, those seem to be no-brainers, since they also collect different forms of prey, and the bass know it. Drift your popper into such a setting -- wiggling it occasionally as you do -- and you are almost guaranteed a strike!
On the other hand, short sequences of moderately soft pops with brief pauses in between them are the standard drill. These fish eat more crawfish than most Cajuns do, and since crawfish are most often found on bottom, you must draw the fish's attention to the surface.
If there's one rule for fishing creeks everywhere, it's this: If a bass knows you're around, it won't strike. Period! Take it to the bank! Therefore, you should wade slowly to prevent making waves that will alert the fish, and in reaches that permit it, get out of the water entirely in order to approach and prospect a good-looking spot. Use shoreline cover whenever possible -- and wear the camouflage shirt you normally wear for September dove-hunting. Finally, if your c
ast is a bit off-target, don't immediately snatch the fly back for another try; that will spook every fish nearby. Instead, allow the current to drift the fly a short distance away from the spot -- 10 feet or so seems adequate. Then pick it up and try again. All of that is to keep the fish from becoming suspicious that something just ain't quite right.
Follow the rules, and you stand a very good chance of enjoying that reward on any of these five creeks. One of them -- Sixmile -- has had such a noted population of these fish that it was the source of a scientific study by Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Dudley Carver. Another -- Whiskey Chitto -- has long been proclaimed as one of the best float streams in the state; its upper reaches make a fine wading creek, too. And if you want a real challenge, Drake's Creek will assuredly fill the bill. It's pretty small, but it's pretty, and it has some pretty spots in it.
Whichever ones you choose, remember: They're basically five of a kind. That's a hard hand to beat -- both in poker and in creek-fishing!
The spotted bass in these five southwest Louisiana creeks aren't huge, but they're feisty and fun to catch.
Photo by Pete Cooper Jr.