If bassin' in the waters of south Louisiana is your passion, then you've come to the right place. The area is making a big comeback this year. Here are the hotspots.
By John N. Felsher
Tropical Storm Isidore slammed into southeast Louisiana in late September 2002, followed one week later by Hurricane Lili hitting the Morgan City area.
The one-two punch dealt a blow to bass fishing in south Louisiana. Storm surges pushed salt water inland and pushed out bass. Salt water also killed aquatic grasses that provide excellent bass habitat. In fish kills that followed the storms, shad, buffalo and carp suffered the most casualties. Some bass died, too, especially in the Lake Verret, Grassy Lake and Lake Palourde area near Morgan City. Fortunately, the damage didn't equal the devastation from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
"Hurricane Lili killed millions of fish, but Hurricane Andrew killed hundreds of millions," said Tim Morrison, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist."
ATCHAFALAYA BASIN Coincidentally, a little more than one week after Hurricane Lili hammered the Atchafalaya Basin, the longest river bottom swampland in North America received a significant boost. More than 100 boats of volunteers gathered to release 25,000 4- to 6-inch Florida bass in the million-acre swamp. At six landings, anglers received bags of 50 bass and disappeared to their favorite honeyholes to release the fish.
"The only stipulation that we put on the fishermen was that they had to put the fish in public waters between the Basin levees," Morrison said. "I suspect they put some out in Grand Lake, Old River, Flat Lake and Wax Lake. The fishermen are helping their sport by creating a quality fishing area."
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
The larger bass supplement fry and fingerlings stocked annually by the LDWF. The larger fish enjoy a substantially greater survival rate than 1- or 2-inch fingerlings. The state began stocking Florida bass into the Atchafalaya Basin after Hurricane Andrew. Anglers now catch bass breaking 9 pounds, with a few topping 10 and at least one exceeding 11 pounds!
In the spring of 2002, the LDWF stocked about 900,000 Florida bass fingerlings from state hatcheries into the Atchafalaya Basin. Lake Verret near Morgan City received 149,433; Grassy Lake received 11,000.
While it took a beating from the storms, the Lake Verret area still holds good bass populations. Together with Grassy Lake, Lake Palourde, Belle River, Wax Lake Outlet and the Bayou Black area, the southern Atchafalaya Basin offers some of the best fishing in south Louisiana. A rich tapestry of cypress and tupelo gum swamps merging to marshes interlaced with bayous and canals make a fish-rich maze.
"Lake Verret is really a massive area together with Grassy Lake, Lake Palourde and all the canal systems between them. People can run for miles," said Mike Walker, LDWF district biologist in New Iberia. "Lake Verret, depending upon water levels, is one of the best places to fish in the spring. It's not as affected as other parts of the Atchafalaya 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."
The many inlets and bayous around the lake average 6 to 8 feet deep. Some cypress trees stand well out into the lakes, often marking flats or humps. Grassbeds in these areas create additional habitat. Cast spinnerbaits or buzzbaits against flooded timber or drag jigs, worms or lizards along dropoffs. Since bass feed heavily on crawfish, throw shallow-running crankbaits in red, orange or brown. Work topwaters around grassbeds early in the morning.
"I like to flip the hydrilla with black neon tubes on 20-pound line with a 7-foot medium-heavy rod," said Scott Rook, a professional bass fisherman. "I put a 5/16-ounce slip-sinker and a rattle in the tube and flip really slow and let it sink slowly."
For more information, call Mike Walker at (337) 373-0032.
HENDERSON LAKE During the October 2002 effort, the state did not release Florida bass into Henderson Lake in the northern Atchafalaya Basin. The state conducted two drawdowns in 2000 and 2001 to kill overabundant aquatic vegetation in this 5,000-acre backwater swamp between Lafayette and Baton Rouge. With several deep bayous and the Interstate Canal holding deep water, Henderson Lake should stand out for bass.
"The drawdowns helped out a lot with controlling vegetation," said Jody David, an LDWF fisheries biologist in Opelousas. "In some places, we couldn't even take fish samples because of the vegetation. If the river cooperates and we don't get any super-high water or major changes, Henderson should have a good year. If the river is right, I rank Henderson Lake in the Top 5 bass lakes in Louisiana. When the Atchafalaya River at Butte LaRose is around 9 or 10 feet, fishing really picks up."
In lakes Pelba and Bigeaux and other Henderson tributaries, fish the woody shorelines or points with crawfish- or shad-colored crankbaits and white or white and chartreuse spinnerbaits. Work the shadowy edges with topwater baits and fallen trees with Texas-rigged worms, lizards or creature baits in watermelon red, red shad, black and blue, grape or tequila sunrise.
"North Bigeaux Lake is a good place to fish," David said. "South Bigeaux, North Pelba and the Philips Canal hold decent fish. On a good day, an angler can catch 30 bass easy. Most will be about 1 to 2 pounds. A lot of bass are in the 3- to 5-pound range. A good bass would be in the 6- or 7-pound range."
At times, Henderson Lake can become quite muddy as water backs up from the Atchafalaya River. In muddy water, throw something bass can see and hear. Try big, bright baits that make a lot of noise or push a lot of water.
"One of my favorites in muddy water is a spinnerbait," said George Cochran, a successful tournament pro. "I like 3/8- to 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits with fluorescent blades because bass can really see fluorescent lures in muddy water. I'll put chartreuse fluorescent blades with a chartreuse skirt and a chartreuse curlytail worm on the back; the worm on the end slows it down. Early in the year, I like orange. It looks a little like a crawfish, and it really stands out in muddy water."
Boaters may launch at the public ramp under I-10 at Butte LaRose. Several private launches line the western levee road south of I-10 at the Henderson Exit. For information, call Jody David at (337) 948-0255.
SPANISH LAKE While not in the Atchafalaya Basin, Spa
nish Lake near New Iberia shows promise as an excellent bass lake. After problems with levees, the state re-flooded the shallow 1,400-acre lake to pool stage in 1997 and restocked it. In 2002, Spanish Lake received 125,898 Florida bass fingerlings. Some fish stocked years ago now range from 7 1/2 to 9 pounds.
"In the spring of 2001, we saw a 23.3 bass per hour catch rate in our electrosampling at Spanish Lake," Walker said. "This sample follows three years of drought and a leaky drawdown structure that dropped the water level in this relatively shallow lake to about three feet below pool stage. It should recover now that the drawdown structure has been replaced and the lake has returned to pool stage."
LOUISIANA DELTA On the other side of the Atchafalaya Basin, anglers that hit the Intracoastal Waterway can run forever through a steamy, wet labyrinth of bayous, marsh canals and natural lakes. The Lac Des Allemands/Lake Boeuf and Lake Cataouatche/Lake Salvador areas hold many lunkers.
"In the Louisiana delta, I promise you there are fish that have never seen a lure because people never venture off the main bayous," said Zell Rowland, a bass pro. "Most people who live near a lake go to the same sloughs and holes every time they fish."
Overabundant water hyacinths clog many marsh canals, preventing boat access, but providing great overhead cover to cool bass. Anglers can punch through these salad mats with heavy jigs tipped with creature baits or craw worms.
In the treeless marshes, bass also seek cool shade under camps, boathouses and docks. Flipping or pitching black and blue or red shad jigs or worms under docks often provokes strikes. Drop jigs or tubes vertically near individual pilings that may break tidal or wave action from boats and provide cover up the entire water column.
"Any piling can be good if it breaks the current," said Pete Gluszek, a professional bass fisherman. "Steel or concrete pilings don't draw as many microorganisms to them as wood, especially old wood. I like old, rotten, irregular, barnacle-encrusted wood pilings. Individual pilings might stick out a bit farther than others. A plank leaning out or broken out might create a current break that attracts fish. Key on these little subtleties."
On Bayou Lac Des Allemands, Bayou Boeuf, the Barataria Waterway or other major arteries, anglers might encounter many vertical bulkheads on industrial or private docks. These bulkheads - especially old, broken ones - often hold good fish,. Here, you should use finesse worms.
"Most people think of a bulkhead as a flat surface, but it's not," Gluszek said. "Horizontal support beams keep the bulkhead together. Corners are absolute keys. Both upstream and downstream corners create eddies that make great feeding opportunities for bass. I use plastics on a 1/16- to 1/4-ounce jighead. I simply throw the bait out and scoot it down the wall in an erratic fashion. I like it to fall slowly. Fish vertically and not horizontally."
Down the Mississippi River, the delta marshes just started to improve for bass when the storms hit. Fortunately, the awesome flow of the mighty river keeps the delta relatively fresh and full of bass. High tides push bass back into roseau canes. Falling tides bring bass and food out into the main passes and channels where fishermen can reach them.
Depending upon the Mississippi River levels, bass anglers can find either fantastic or dreadful conditions in the Delta marshes near Venice. Bass action generally increases as water levels decrease. In good conditions, anglers can catch more than 100 well-fed football-shaped bass a day with most averaging between 1 pound and 3 pounds and a few topping 5 pounds.
"Venice is probably the best fishery in Louisiana, but much depends upon the river stages," said Sam Swett, a professional fisherman from Covington. "Almost any lure works in Venice. I like to throw gold topwaters that almost look like redfish or gold shiners. Jerkbaits in shad colors work well. White spinnerbaits work. Many plastic baits work in the Venice marshes."
Water can change from salty to fresh almost within a few feet. For the best freshwater conditions, look for aquatic grasses, especially milfoil, growing next to Roseau canes. Concentrate on dead-end canals that receive less tidal flow and therefore smaller degrees of saltwater intrusion. Many canals off the Wagon Wheel offer excellent bass action under the right conditions.
For information, call Venice Marina at (985) 534-9357 or Cypress Cove Marina at 1-800-643-4190.
CAERNARVON The marshes southeast of New Orleans in the Delacroix-Caernarvon area didn't suffer as badly as the marshes on the west side of the Mississippi River, but salty water still killed some grass and bass. However, a Mississippi River diversion siphon at Caernarvon keeps the marshes somewhat fresh.
In shallow, dead-end canals, anglers flip jigs near overhanging brush around Lake Lery and find bass up to nearly 10 pounds. The state started stocking Florida bass into the Caernarvon area shortly after the river diversion project began siphoning water in 1991.
The Crow's Foot, a formation created by several canals branching off a main stem, and thousands of other unnamed canals, lagoons and ponds provide a labyrinth of marshy channels that hold bass. Fish with topwater baits, spinnerbaits or buzzbaits. Floating Texas-rigged plastic lizards also work well when fished over grassy mats.
"Bass are going to be in that thick cover," said bass pro Jim Morton. "Using unweighted plastic lizards is probably one of the best ways to fish matted grass or grass within a couple inches of the surface. It's effective because it's weedless, and I can put that bait in places where I couldn't put a spinnerbait or even a weighted plastic worm. The main asset of a weightless lizard is that it is so weedless and so light that it comes over stuff without any resistance at all in a flawless presentation. It does very well in any coastal marsh or delta situation."
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.
PONTCHARTRAIN BASIN Marshes and rivers in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin between New Orleans and Baton Rouge also hold good fishing opportunities at times. The Pearl River system flows into marshes on the northeast edge of Lake Pontchartrain. Bayou Lacombe and the Tchefuncte River enter Lake Pontchartrain and provide some deep water.
Pass Manchac and North Pass connect Lake Pontchartrain to Lake Maurepas. The Blind, Amite and Tickfaw rivers empty directly into Lake Maurepas. The Natalbany and Blood rivers empty into the Tickfaw River. Further east, the Tchefuncte and Tangipahoa rivers feed Lake Pontchartrain, while Bedico Creek flows into the Tangipahoa River. The rivers of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin don't produce many huge bass, but anglers could possibly
catch a bass in the 7- to 9-pound range in the Tickfaw River or Bedico Creek, although most bass generally weigh less than 6 pounds.
For big bass, anglers in central Louisiana might consider Chicot Lake. A designated "quality lake" stocked with Florida bass, Chicot can produce bass exceeding 13 pounds. In 2002, an angler caught an 11-pounder. Others caught a few 10-pounders and some in the 8- to 9-pound range. New gravel beds near the fishing piers in Chicot Lake State Park could improve spawning for bass as well as forage fish.
The 1,700-acre impoundment looks more like a flooded forest than a lake. Standing trees, lily pads and grass comprise the dominant cover. Chicot Lake averages about 7 to 8 feet deep, but a few holes reach 15 feet deep. Some cleared boat lanes provide easy running near the three launch ramps. Many anglers fish with topwater baits at dawn or dusk, or throw spinnerbaits or buzzbaits over the grassbeds.
For information, call Chicot Lake State Park at 1-888-677-2442.
OTHER GOOD CHOICES In Southwest Louisiana, many anglers fish the Calcasieu and Sabine rivers. The Calcasieu heads north from Lake Charles and wanders into central Louisiana. The Sabine forms the Louisiana border with Texas and also gave birth to Toledo Bend. Numerous feeder sloughs, bayous and tiny tributaries on both lakes provide a variety of different cover for bass. Many anglers toss spinnerbaits at woody cover or plop worms next to vegetation.
Near DeRidder, Vernon Lake offers promise as haven for trophy bass. The 4,600-acre lake holds many bass in the 8-pound range with some going up to 10 pounds. Many anglers fish the humps with crankbaits or Texas-rigged worms. They also concentrate on old duck blinds with white or white and chartreuse spinnerbaits.
Throughout south Louisiana, anglers should find plenty of opportunities to nab some bucketmouth bass this spring. Even a couple of nasty storms can't discourage south Louisiana bass anglers from tossing a few baits in their favorite honeyholes.
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