September 28, 2010
If south Louisiana largemouth are your passion, then you've come to the right place. April bass action is fast and furious on these waters.
South Louisiana overflows with opportunities to bag bass. Most people think of speckled trout, redfish and offshore action when they fish south Louisiana, but marshes, rivers and lakes from the Sabine to the Pearl provide abundant opportunities to fill livewells with largemouths. With a few exceptions, south Louisiana anglers probably won't lip many double-digit lunkers, but they should be able to put the hooks into plenty of bass this April.
Until 1999, people never really associated the south Louisiana marshes, canals, lakes, bayous and swamps with world-class bass fishing. However, 45 world-class professionals changed some minds during a national tournament held out of New Orleans.
After three days of competition, Davy Hite of Prosperity, S.C., emerged victorious. He set a tournament record with 15 bass that in the aggregate weighed 55 pounds, 10 ounces. Competitors also set records for the most fish and the most limits in a five-fish per day tournament.
Hite probed thick weeds along Bayou Boeuf near Lac des Allemands northeast of Thibodaux. He used a 1-ounce jig sweetened by a 7-inch junebug-colored creature bait to punch through thick vegetation and water hyacinths.
The success of the 1999 Classic astonished even the old-timers who fish those fertile waters every weekend. Most people knew the myriad bayous, canals, marshes and lakes contained bass, but they couldn't believe the catches made by the pros. The catches so impressed tournament officials that they decided to come back for their 2001 championship.
By 2001, though, the situation had changed dramatically. The Louisiana delta still contained many bass, but two years of brutal drought had ravaged the largemouth population. Salty Gulf of Mexico water pushed inland before Tropical Storm Allison broke the drought early in the summer of 2001 by dumping 26 inches of rain on the marshes.
The author and his son, Steven, with Steven's first bass, a 3 1/2-pounder caught in a marsh near Carlyss. Photo courtesy of John N. Felsher
At the 2001 tournament, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., won in the Bayou Black area between Houma and Morgan City. He used a black, blue and purple 1/2-ounce jig with an electric blue plastic trailer and a 1/4-ounce creature bait to nab 15 bass that together weighed 32 pounds, 5 ounces.
From the competitors' launch site at Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego, anglers could voyage indefinitely through the wet labyrinth of myriad canals, bayous and lakes. From the park, Bayou Segnette flows into Lake Salvador, a large, shallow natural lake southwest of New Orleans. Lake Cataouatche also empties into Lake Salvador.
By taking the nearby Intracoastal Waterway, people willing to burn gasoline can fish Lac des Allemands, Lake Boeuf or the lower Atchafalaya Basin. Going another way, boaters can venture to the fertile Venice marshes in the Mississippi River Delta. (An amusing Roland Martin anecdote: The angling luminary reports having set a personal one-day record for boat travel on the final day of last year's tournament - about 285 miles!)
In these waterways, anglers won't find much deep water except in some major canals or bayous. In the marshes, fish weedbeds with buzzbaits, spinnerbaits or topwaters. Later in the day, switch to Texas-rigged worms, brush hogs (creature baits) or bottom-bouncing lizards. Overabundant water hyacinths clog many canals, preventing access to shorelines. Anglers can throw jigs or worms under these dense mats, or, like Davy Hite did in 1999, punch through them. Bass hide under shady hyacinths during the blazing hot days of spring and summer.
Camps line many major waterways. Overhanging piers, boathouses and docks provide cooling shade in otherwise treeless marshes. Flipping or pitching black and blue or red shad jigs or worms under docks often provokes strikes.
CAERNARVON On the other side of the Mississippi River, anglers can fish the marshes near Caernarvon. Louisiana loses about 35 square miles of wetlands to erosion each year. To stem that loss southeast of New Orleans, authorities began diverting silty Mississippi River water through canals near Caernarvon in 1991. The freshened water pushed back brine and allowed bass numbers to expand. People bragged about catching 250 bass in a morning. Most were less than 2 pounds, but the state stocked many Florida-strain largemouths to grow to trophy status.
By the mid to late 1990s, the marshes boomed as a bass haven, its Florida bucketmouths reaching trophy dimensions. In February 1999, Kevin Gerstner landed an 11.32-pound bass from a Caernarvon canal. One year later, Charlie Thomason used a jig to entice a bass weighing 9 pounds, 13 ounces. Unfortunately, drought and fishing pressure have cooled this phenomenal honeyhole in recent years, but the area remains one of the best places in southeast Louisiana to catch a huge bass.
Shallow lagoons and canals around Lake Lery, the Crow's Foot - a branching of different canals - and thousands of other unnamed canals and lagoons provide a rich resource for growing bass. For big bass, probe overhanging bushes with black and blue jigs tipped with craw worms. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and topwaters also produce fish. In water that's often less than 2 feet deep, you can leave your deep-running crankbaits at home.
A launch off state Highway 39 at Caernarvon and several hoists along state Highway 300 offer access. For information, call Charlie Thomason at (504) 278-FISH or Allen Welch at (601) 799-0110.
VENICE MARSHES Farther down the Mississippi River, the Venice marshes can produce outstanding numbers on good days - or nothing at all on poor days. River levels go a long way toward determining bass fishing success. In general, bass action increases as water levels decrease. When levels are falling, water drains from flooded canes and backwaters. Tides also flush food from cover.
Many bassers probe canes and weedbeds with tube jigs, Texas-rigged worms, spinnerbaits, weedless spoons, buzzbaits or topwaters. Known more for quantity than for quality, the Venice marshes can produce catches of 100 bass a day. Most average 1 to 3 pounds, though a few 4- and 5-pounders can be found.
For information, call Venice Marina at (985) 534-9357 or Cypress Cove Marina at 1-800-643-4190.
LAKE MAUREPAS Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is one of the largest expanses of wilderness wetlands in Louisiana; it consists of
cypress swamps surrounding Lake Maurepas. No boat ramps launch directly into the lake, nor do any permanent dwellings (an occasional camp nestled among the cypresses excepted) mar its pristine primitivity. At Pass Manchac and Interstate 55, motorists briefly catch the only glimpse of Lake Maurepas available by car.
Manchac is a Choctaw word meaning "back door." For 200 years, ship captains looking to spare craft and crew long, torturous days of sailing against brutal Mississippi River currents would use Lake Maurepas and the passes to reach the interior. Today, bass anglers ply the rivers for largemouths. The Blind, Amite and Tickfaw rivers empty directly into Lake Maurepas. The Natalbany and Blood rivers empty into the Tickfaw River. Farther east, the Tchefuncte and Tangipahoa rivers feed Lake Pontchartrain, while Bedico Creek flows into the Tangipahoa River.
The Manchac area doesn't produce many huge bass. In the past, people caught an occasional fish breaking 9 pounds from Bedico Creek, but today's lunkers are more typically in the 6-pound class. The fish average about 2 pounds.
"If somebody wanted to catch a big bass, I would recommend hitting the upper ends of the Tickfaw or Amite river systems with jigs, worms or lizards," said Ronnie Addison, an avid angler of the Manchac waters. "I would go upstream to get into a natural water-flow situation where water is flowing regardless of what the tide is doing."
In the spring, bass hang along flats off river shorelines with access to both deep and shallow water. Entice them with jigs sweetened with craw worms or pork chunks in black, blue or purple. In the cypress tangles, toss white and chartreuse spinnerbaits.
Interstate 55 bisects the Manchac Swamp from north to south between Ponchatoula and La Place. Along the interstate, two canals parallel the highways for about 25 miles. The highway canals offer deep water and cooling shade, if people can stand the traffic noise. Hit the banks with spinnerbaits or worms and probe the bridge pilings with jigs. Launches at North Pass or Ruddock along I-55 provide access.
PEARL RIVER To the east, the Pearl River forms the Louisiana-Mississippi boundary near Slidell. The main river splits into five rivers, creating Honey Island Swamp. West Pearl carries the major flow, but West Middle, Middle and East Middle Pearl rivers branch out like arteries in a fishy maze of cypress-lined sloughs, lily pads and marshes.
Toss chartreuse or black and yellow spinnerbaits or crawfish-colored crankbaits into the mouths of creek drains or work black and blue plastic worms around fallen logs. Most of your catch will fall into the 1- to 3-pound range, but anglers can catch 7-pounders.
Several public launches enter West Pearl in Slidell. Launches along U.S. 90 enter the West and East Pearls. For information, call the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries office at the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area at (985) 646-6440.
SABINE RIVER On the other end of the state, the Sabine River forms the boundary with Texas. South of Interstate 10 at Vinton, it spreads out through freshwater, brackish and, finally, salt marshes. Numerous sloughs, feeder streams, bayous, canals and tiny tributaries flow into the main channels.
Craw worms attract numerous Kentucky/spotted bass and smaller largemouths in the upper Sabine. Some Kentucky bass break the 3-pound mark. Fish near logjams, cypress stumps, lily thickets, standing trees and other structure. Flip a worm or jig next to structure and slowly bounce it along the bottom over the dropoffs. Hot colors include red shad, tequila sunrise, junebug, black and blue or watermelon red.
In the marshes of the lower Sabine River, bass anglers won't find many wallhangers, but they can usually find line-stretchers. On a good day, anglers may tangle with dozens of feisty marsh bass and even some powerful redfish.
"The lower Sabine River is a good fishery for bass," said avid angler Bobby Kennedy of Lake Charles. "The most bass I've ever caught in one day was about 50. They were from about 1 pound to 4.5 pounds with just a couple of fish weighing more than 3 pounds. A good bass is 3.5 to 4.5 pounds. The biggest I ever caught there weighed about 5.5 pounds, but I've heard of some going almost 7 pounds."
Hot lures for the lower Sabine include black, yellow, white or chartreuse and white 1/4-ounce to 3/8-ounce spinnerbaits. In spring, many anglers throw topwaters and jerkbaits in gold with an orange belly, black and silver, gold with a black back, silver or frog patterns.
Tides rule the marshes. Numerous unnamed drains, sloughs and ditches dump into the main channels. With the falling tide comes a chuckwagon of food. Opportunistic predators gorge themselves on shad, crabs, shrimp, frogs, crawfish, minnows, mullet, menhaden, sunfish and many other morsels flushed out of these drains.
During rapidly falling water, rig a natural colored D.O.A. plastic shrimp on light tackle. Either drift it weightless down the runout with the current or add a tiny split-shot sinker. Work it almost like a wacky worm, letting it drift tantalizingly in the currents and sink naturally.
Anglers may launch at Nibletts Bluff Park off state Highway 109 near Vinton or near the Burned Out Bridge south of I-10 near Toomey. For more information, call Mark Le Leaux of Lake Charles Tackle at (337) 479-2999 or the Sabine River Authority at (800) 259-LAKE.
KINCAID LAKE/ATCHAFALAYA BASIN Near Alexandria, anglers find many excellent bass lakes and some trophies in Kincaid Lake, said Ricky Moses, an LDWF biologist in Alexandria. As grass grows increasingly profusely in Kincaid Lake, people can expect more catches of lunker bass; it produced a 12-pounder in the spring of 2001. Fish the drops with Texas-rigged worms or jigs.
To the south, the Atchafalaya Basin sprawls through more than a million acres of swamp and bottomlands. Like a leaning pyramid, it spans about 20 to 25 miles at its widest point. At Henderson Lake between Lafayette and Baton Rouge, two years of drawdowns to control hydrilla should help future bass fishing. In this backwater off the Atchafalaya River, much depends upon the river level at the Butte La Rose gauge. Anglers may catch a 10-pound bass, but most big tournament bass average less than 7 pounds.
"If the river is right, I would rank Henderson Lake in the top 5 bass lakes in Louisiana," said Jody David, a LDWF fisheries biologist in Opelousas. "When the Atchafalaya River at Butte La Rose is around 9 or 10 feet, fishing really picks up. We conduct electrofishing samples each spring and fall. The catch per unit effort of largemouth bass in Henderson is 168, which is an excellent number."
Most bassers concentrate on points or tributary mouths with crawfish- or shad-colored Rat-L-Traps, chartreuse, blue and orange crankbaits or white and chartreuse spinnerbaits with gold willow-leaf blades. Along grassy edges, drop Texas- or Carolina-rigged worms and lizards
or rattling jigs sweetened with craw worms.
"Spring can be really productive if the weather cooperates," said Kirk Benoit, a tournament angler. "During the spring, the north and south flats are very good. They hold grass and bass. I like to throw spinnerbaits and red and black or black and blue jigs. In late April, I like a chrome and blue popper for topwater action."
Several bayous and flooded natural lakes flow through the Henderson backwaters. Lake Pelba and Lake Bigeaux cross perpendicular to I-10. North of I-10, bassers find abundant cypress trees, deep-water dropoffs and tributaries holding good bass populations. Work wooded shorelines with stump-knocking crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters. Throw into the shade along the bank and work baits over dropoffs or along fallen trees. At the drops or grassy edges, bounce watermelon red, red shad, black and blue, grape or tequila sunrise worms, lizards or jigs.
For more information, call McGee's Landing at (337) 228-2384, Cypress Cove Landing at 1-800-491-4662, Basin Landing at (337) 228-7880 or Jody David at (337) 948-0255.
LAKE VERRET At the southern end of the Atchafalaya Basin, swamps near Lake Verret provide excellent opportunities to find bass - but bring plenty of gasoline. Lakes, cypress and tupelo swamps and canals form a vast fish-rich network south of Pierre Part. Shielded somewhat from the capricious river's fluctuations, bass thrive here when other parts of the Basin often struggle with spring floods.
"Lake Verret is really a massive area together with Grassy Lake, Lake Palourde and all the canal systems between them," said LDWF district biologist Mike Walker in New Iberia. "People can run for miles. Lake Verret, depending upon water levels, is one of the best places to fish in spring. It's not as affected as other parts of the Basin by river fluctuations, but the Butte La Rose gauge needs to be at least below 11 feet. At 7 feet, it really starts getting good."
Anglers seek bass around lake shorelines or points at which two canals intersect. Slow-roll spinnerbaits around flooded cypress trees or bounce jigs, worms or lizards across the bottom. Fling topwaters early and late in the day. Bass feed on abundant crawfish and shad, so throw crankbaits matching these baits. Bass generally range from 2 to 4 pounds, but people sometimes catch one approaching double-digits.
Launches along state Highway 70 near Pierre Part at Shell Beach Landing or Attakapas Landing at Napoleonville off state Highway 1 provide access. For information, call Walker at (337) 373-0032.
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