Don't put those bass rods away just yet! There's still plenty of great bass fishing to be had on these prime waters.
Lunkers like this big beast are out there for the catching this fall on Toledo Bend Reservoir. Photo by John N. Felsher
By John N. Felsher
As fall approaches and a slight hint of cool weather greets sportsmen, many people drop their fishing rods and start staring longingly at their bows and guns. However, if people want to catch numbers of bass - and some impressive fish along the way - they might want to keep their rods handy a while longer.
In many waters across Louisiana, threadfin shad form the main forage species for bass in the fall. Huge schools of shad congregate over major creek channels. Bass and other fish gorge themselves on shad to prepare for the winter. Bass go on feeding binges, which means that anglers can put fish in their boats quickly. Schools of bass attack shad and gulp as many as they can before the baitfish die when temperatures drop.
"Most of the time, schooling activity occurs in late summer or early fall when shad start moving into deeper water," said Sam Swett, a professional bass fisherman from Covington. "Just because you don't see fish, doesn't mean they aren't there. I use a depthfinder to find schools of shad. If I see a lot of shad, I know I'm in the right area."
"Patience is the key to catching schooling bass. Anglers need to make long casts and understand where bass might show up. It's tough to resist chasing after them, but nine times out of 10, the school reappears behind the boat. I throw a buoy marker out where the fish appeared and back off for long casts.
"Fish usually return to the same general spot," Swett continued. "What made them school over that spot once usually makes them appear again. Bass appear where they can pen shad up. Bass actually herd shad into balls and force them to the surface. That makes it easier for bass to catch them. Then, the school of shad breaks up and the process starts over again."
TOLEDO BEND RESERVOIR
Toledo Bend bass probably depend more on threadfin shad than do their counterparts in any other Louisiana water. The 186,000-acre reservoir stretches 65 miles along the Louisiana-Texas line. Although some parts of the old Sabine River channel near the dam drop to more than 110 feet deep, the lake averages about 60 feet deep with a maximum width of 15 miles. Most people fish in 35 feet of water or less. About 1,264 miles of shoreline bristle with bass habitat ranging from weeds and stumps to deep creek channels, flats and flooded wood.
Massive stockings of Florida bass by both states created a lunker factory. Almost every year since 1984, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocked about 500,000 to 1.2 million Florida bass a year into Toledo Bend. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and private agencies also stocked millions of Florida-strain largemouths.
"Our department stocks about 450,000 Florida bass fingerlings into Toledo Bend annually," said Ricky Yeldell, an LDWF fisheries biologist. "In addition, 50,000 Florida bass fry are stocked each spring into a nursery pond operated by the Sabine River Authority of Louisiana. The result of those stockings is that during 2003, 39 percent of all largemouth bass we sampled showed some degree of Florida largemouth bass influence. This bodes well for the angler hoping to catch a larger sized bass."
The south end of the lake consistently produces the largest bass. The TPWD stocks most of their Florida bass fingerlings in Six-Mile Creek and nearby Housen Bay. Other hot lunker holes include Pirate's Cove, the Bubbling Wells, Mill Creek, Indian Creek, San Miguel Creek, the 1215 flats, the Indian Mounds and Tennessee Bay. In almost any patch of water anywhere in Toledo Bend at any time, an angler could land the lunker bass of a lifetime.
Many marinas serve Toledo Bend in both Texas and Louisiana. In Louisiana, follow state Highway 191 and look for signs. For more information, call the SRA at 1-800-259-LAKE. For the LDWF, call (337) 286-5940.
GRAND BAYOU RESERVOIR
Every fall, anglers can also tangle with numerous schooling bass in John K. Kelly Grand Bayou Reservoir (usually abbreviated just to Grand Bayou). Sited near Coushatta, the impoundment offers about 2,500 acres of excellent bass fishing. The lake reached pool stage in August 1996, said James Seales, the LDWF district fisheries biologist in Minden.
A designated "quality" lake, the reservoir was formed when the state dammed Grand Bayou, a small stream running through pine forests. Anglers may keep up to eight bass per day, but only four may exceed 17 inches. Anglers must immediately release all bass between 14 and 17 inches long.
Most of the lake averages about 9 feet deep, but some holes in the old channel drop to more than 30 feet deep. Lumberjacks clearcut the lake bottom, but much of it grew back in willows, brush and pines before the lake filled. Points, creek channels, dropoffs and grassbeds comprise the dominant cover now.
"The fall is awesome on Grand Bayou," said Brantley Salter, a guide. "We get a lot of schooling fish before the water temperature drops. In the fall, we catch the biggest numbers and some big fish. I really like to use flukes because they imitate shad. I like watermelon seed because they most look like shad. I work them around grass in about a foot to 4 feet of water. I also work points and the mouths of pockets in 4 to 5 feet of water."
Originally, state biologists hoped to create a trophy fishery, but the lake reverted more to a numbers lake. Anglers can catch quite a few fish in the 2- to 5-pound range with a few up to about 7 pounds. The lake record stands at about 13 pounds.
"We stocked about 100 adult Florida brood fish in 1996," Seales said. "We've also stocked a lot of Florida bass fingerlings. For a while, we thought it had some real trophy potential. We had several bass in the 9- to 11-pound range. In the late 1990s, I think people probably caught some of the adult brood fish we stocked originally. There's still a chance of catching a trophy, but people are more likely to catch a 6- to 7-pounder now. It may not reach the trophy potential we wanted, but even if it doesn't, it's still a good fishery."
Many people stay at Grand Bayou Resort on the lake. For reservations, call Carrol Smith at 1-877-932-3821. For fishing information, call Salter at (318) 382-1312 or Seales at (318) 371-3050.
Rivers offer some of Louisiana's best fall bass fishing. Anglers can usually find a good bass river, bayou or creek within a short drive from home. Some bett
er Louisiana bass rivers include the Red, Sabine, Cane, Pearl, Tickfaw, Tangipahoa, Calcasieu, Ouachita and many others.
In the fall, rivers typically drop to their lowest levels and greatest clarity. In late summer and early fall, temperatures may remain high, but rivers with current usually hold cooler and more oxygenated water. Bass often seek honeyholes of slack water near strong currents. If people learn how to fish currents, they can usually catch river bass.
"The most important thing about rivers is knowing how to fish in a current," said George Cochran, a two-time Bassmaster Classic champion from Hot Springs, Ark. "Fishing is usually excellent on the main channels in summer and fall. Most people float downstream and bring their baits upstream. When they do that, their lure is in position to catch a fish only about 1 foot of every cast. Use the boat against the current and bring the bait parallel to the current or with the current. Fish always lay behind the structure looking upstream waiting for baitfish to come by them so they can ambush them."
The Red River probably offers the best river fishing in Louisiana, although five water control structures between Shreveport and Marksville make it seem more like a series of impoundments. In autumn, the river usually falls, pulling water from backwaters into the main channel. Fish often lurk at the mouths of oxbows and tributaries waiting to ambush bait. Fish also stack up around wing dams, or rock jetties, that help break up current.
"As the water starts cooling and the river starts dropping, the water in the oxbow lakes starts flowing into the main channel," Swett said. "Falling water flushes baitfish and other creatures into deeper channels. Small openings and cuts are like fish funnels. Bass wait right there to eat whatever they can grab. I also like to fish the wing dams and rock jetties that line the main channel with buzzbaits and citrus crankbaits."
Wing dams create current eddies on both sides. Scour holes often form at the ends of dams where current pours around them. Bass drop into these holes to escape current, looking upstream for morsels floating overhead. Work these holes with soft plastics or deep-running crankbaits. Use Carolina-rigged lizards or creature baits in red shad, watermelon, green pumpkin, junebug or black neon, depending upon water color. Run spinnerbaits parallel to jetty rocks.
"In the fall, we catch better numbers of bass," said Russ McVey of Southpaw Guide Service in Doyline. "An angler might expect to catch 12 to 25 fish on a good day. One or two might weigh around 3.5 to 4 pounds. The river can produce bass almost up to 10 pounds. That's getting better as they stock more Florida bass."
The best fishing on the Red River is in either Pool 4 or 5 just downstream from Shreveport. Many people launch at Stoner Avenue in Shreveport or Clark's Red River Marina in Elm Grove. For more info, call McVey at (318) 987-3833.
Outside Shreveport, anglers may fish the 17,200-acre Lake Bistineau near Minden or the ancient 26,810-acre Caddo Lake along the Louisiana-Texas line west of Shreveport. Heavily wooded, Lake Bistineau produces excellent numbers and some fish up to 9 pounds. For lunker lovers, Caddo Lake produces many fish breaking into double digits with some bass exceeding 16 pounds.
The marshes of southern Louisiana don't usually produce double-digit lunkers, but on a crisp fall day, anglers could easily land more than 100 scrappy 1- to 3-pound bass. Using the Intracoastal Waterway, anglers with enough horsepower and gasoline could run by boat from Texas to New Orleans and catch fish nearly anywhere between those points. Many bass anglers fish the bayous and canals of the lower Atchafalaya Basin between Morgan City and Houma.
"The Atchafalaya Basin is a very diversified area with tons of water from lakes, bayous, canals and marshes," Swett said. "If the river is high, the marsh fishing is generally better. If the river is low, the swamps are generally better. The river can rise or fall considerably almost overnight. There is a lot of different cover that holds bass. The challenge is to find which particular type of cover the fish are relating to at any time."
In the marshes east of Morgan City, the Bayou Black area often produces excellent bass catches with some fish in the 8-pound range. The area produces quite a few fish in the 2- to 6-pound range. Many people use spinnerbaits, topwaters or jigs. Other hot fall honeyholes include canals and bayous in the Lake Hackberry, Bayou Pigeon, Bayou Penchant and Bayou Sale areas. A maze of old oilfield canals often connects a multitude of shallow lakes rich in fish.
North of U.S. 90 between Morgan City and Pierre Part, much of the Atchafalaya Basin consists of cypress swamps, bayous and shallow, weedy lakes. Many anglers fish the Lake Verret-Grassy Lake-Lake Palourde swamps and nearby bayous and canals. Belle River usually provides good action. During the fall, the Atchafalaya River usually doesn't carry as much water. With the river low, bass fishing success soars.
"The Atchafalaya Basin is so big that people cannot possibly learn it all," Swett said. "They need to pick out an area, learn it and fish it thoroughly. I concentrate on things bass can use for cover, such as grass, aquatic vegetation or even deeper edges. Sometimes, I fish boat docks, stumps or fallen trees."
In woody cover, many anglers throw spinnerbaits. Some people stick to plastics, dropped next to cypress stumps or knees. In many areas, water only runs a few feet deep, so anglers find plenty of bass with topwaters or buzzbaits.
"Topwater baits are much better in the fall," Swett said. "In the fall, water starts cooling near the surface. I like to throw topwaters when the water temperature drops below 80 degrees. When it reaches the mid-50s, it becomes too cold for topwater baits. Sometimes, the surface water temperature might be cold after a front, but it's a thin layer. As long as I see shad surfacing, I'll throw topwater baits."
Marshes in the Mississippi River delta near Venice and at Lafitte or Caernarvon south of New Orleans also produce excellent bass catches when the tide flows in the right direction. As the Mississippi River drops, fishing success usually swings upward. Anglers mostly catch small bass, but they can usually catch plenty in the 2- to 4-pound range on a variety of lures. Some fish might exceed 8 pounds.
Tides often determine fishing success in shallow marshes. In general, high tides push salty water into the marshes and falling tides pull fresh water into main channels. Bass anglers can catch plenty fish and some lunkers with small white spinnerbaits, topwater baits, buzzbaits or weightless soft plastics during a falling tide outside secluded canals and ponds.
Southwest of New Orleans, anglers can sometimes find excellent fishing in the Lac des Allemands area. This shallow natural lake filled with weeds and cypress can produce fish up to 10 pounds. Many people fish Bayou des Allemands, hitting docks with spinnerbaits, crankbaits or topwaters. Others punch heavy jigs through matted water hyacinths. Sin
ce bass eat blue crabs, any lure with a sprinkling of blue might work.
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