September 28, 2010
Targeting the bass spawn across Louisiana can lead to some amazing angling. Here's your guide to identifying the timing and location of the spawn across the Bayou State. (February 2009)
By Chris Ginn
While fishing up the Corney Creek arm of Lake D'Arbonne a few spawns ago, I noticed a fish that kept swirling under the same cypress tree. After covering the 50 yards or so yards to get into casting range, I made a fateful mistake while turning to my fishing partner.
Since it's hard for Kenny Covington to tell where bass are spawning in dirty water, he tries to get them to swirl on a fast-moving lure like a spinnerbait. Photo by Chris Ginn.
"That's a caught fish!" I proudly exclaimed.
We worked on that fish for at least two hours before giving up on it. All the while we were steadily casting and changing lures, the fish continued to thumb its nose at us with swirl after swirl.
"You've got a lot more to learn about spawning fish," my partner said scoldingly. "We could probably walk up there and grab it with our hands easier than getting it to bite any of these baits scattered across the deck."
Come to think of it, we were a little bit too early for that bass actually to be spawning, a little bit too ignorant about how to catch it, and a little bit too confident that we were going to catch it just because it appeared to be on a bed. There's a lot more to catching spawning fish during the spring than meets the eye.
Louisiana is somewhat unusual in that there isn't really that much difference between fishing spawning bass anywhere from 33 degrees north latitude to the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, bass will begin spawning somewhere in south Louisiana, but the delay between south and north isn't that great.
Any spawning calendar would be measured in days rather than weeks. With that in mind, here's a breakdown of when anglers can expect bass to be spawning in their corner of the state, how to catch them when they move up and how to adjust to any variables that could throw off the bass.
If there's any part of Louisiana that you could point to as the one whose bass are the first to spawn, that would have to be the coastal marshes around New Orleans. Delacroix, Morgan City and Des Allemands have rebounded in a big way since the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Unfortunately, just as the bass fishing was beginning to get really good, another hurricane, Gustav, blew through southeast Louisiana, and reports of lots of dead bass were rampant. Thus, reported Covington bass pro Jason Pittman, the best spawn-fishing will take place in the many Florida Parish rivers that flow into Lake Pontchartrain.
"Any of them from the East Pearl west toward the Tangipahoa, Tickfaw and Amite will offer the most consistent fishing this spring," he said. "These areas weren't as affected by Hurricane Gustav as the coastal marshes, but the bass spawn in these tidal-influenced rivers is unpredictable at best."
Bass spawn in these north-shore rivers as erratically as weather moves through Louisiana. Anglers in this part of the state know what it's like to see a bass on the bed as early as late January, only to see not another one until the middle of February. The fish move up as soon as the water gets right, but variables like cold fronts, low tides or a potent combination of both can have them scratching their heads as much as it can the anglers that pursue them.
Pittman pointed out that bass typically move into any small pockets or dead-end canals off the main rivers to spawn. And, according to him, it's not uncommon to find two bass spawning in one pocket but then to see no other fish on the bed for another three or four pockets.
"These bass don't spawn on anything in particular like bass might in other waters," Pittman said. "They could be on cypress trees, laydowns, logs stumps -- whatever they find suitable for spawning in whatever pocket they decide to move into."
Since these spawning bass are so scattered and sporadic, Pittman recommends quickly covering water with fast moving baits like spinnerbaits and small crankbaits. The trick is to get a bass to give up its location with a stroke or swirl. Once a fish gives up its location anglers can circle back later and work the area more methodically with slower-moving lures like Texas-rigged soft plastics or soft sinking baits like the Senko.
"The main problem with this kind of fishing is that the north winds after a cold front can push a lot of water out of these rivers and back into the lake," Pittman added. "It becomes a scramble at that point, and all you can really do is hope that some of the bass were smart enough to spawn in deeper water."
While there aren't as many options in southwest Louisiana, this corner of the state sets up as very similar to southeast Louisiana. The only options are either the coastal marsh or the interior rivers that flow into the marsh. With the huge storm surge that pushed into the marshes from Hurricane Ike, the two main fisheries this year are the Mermentau River and the Calcasieu River.
"I took part in a study down at the Lacassine reservoir two years ago," said 10-time Louisiana BASS Federation state team qualifier Dennis Tietje. "It was to see if the area was ready to open to the public after Hurricane Rita. The one things that stands out from that study is that the 10 of us that fished for four hours found bass on the beds in late January."
The problem with the southwest Louisiana marshes, though, is that even now they don't open to the public until March 15, which is just about the end of the marsh bass spawn. So even if the marshes bounced back quickly from Ike, the rivers are still offering the most consistent, if not the only, spawning bass fishing in this part of the state.
Weather permitting, anglers can find bass spawning as early as February in the rivers. Finding the early spawners means finding pockets of shallow, clear water, which can be difficult at best with the late-winter rains that Louisiana typically gets.
"If we get a lot of rain during February it could put the spawn off as much as a month," said Tietje. "To me, this water around here isn't the kind of water bass need to spawn. But if you can find that good water, you'll find spawning fish. The best places to look for the right water is the back of the dead end canals on either the Mermentau or the Calcasieu."
Heavy rains or not, Tietje said, bass will pour into the dead-end canals by March 15. They will first move to the logs a
nd laydown trees in 5 to 6 feet of water, but they will move to the shallow sides of stumps in 2 feet of water when, finally, they actually commit to spawning.
Many of these stumps aren't visible, and anglers typically blind-cast with spinnerbaits to the bank so they can pull them to the shallow side of the stumps. This presentation puts the spinnerbait right in the strike zone without disturbing the bass too much.
"Texas-rigged Zoom Ultra Vibe Craw Worms also work well during the spawn," Tietje added, "as will Rouges fished tight to the stump if the water is clear enough. These lures work equally well on the Mermentau and Calcasieu with the main difference being that the shallow water is closer to the bank at the Calcasieu River because the canals over there are deeper right off the bank."
Moving farther north, bass in the eclectic waters of central Louisiana aren't that much different, in that they can sometimes be found spawning as early as February, just like the fish below them. However, conditions would have to be nearly perfect for them to move on this early. It's more likely that they won't spawn until March.
Pineville's Porter Trimble, host of Southern Woods & Water, observed that however different in individual characteristics as waters like Saline/Larto, the Red River, Rodemacher and Black Lake may be, they are in the same size-range. "That means that we don't get to follow the spawn from one end of the lake to the other like you might get to do at Toledo Bend," he said. "When our bass move on the beds, you can catch them from the top of the lake to the bottom, because there just isn't enough distance between the two for fish in any particular section to start any earlier than the rest."
Though most central-Louisiana bass are waiting until March, Trimble said, the fish at one lake will be spawning as early as January, because a hot-water discharge keeps this venue relatively warm through the winter.
"Lake Rodemacher -- also known as 'CLECO Lake' -- gets a jump on the rest," he said. "The water that comes out of the chute is 75 to 80 degrees, and it runs into the main lake. .€‚.€‚.€‚ While other lakes are 50 or 60 degrees, this lake is in the 70s."
The area that bass select to spawn in will depend entirely on the lake: deep inside flooded timber at CLECO, among cypress trees and knees at Black Lake, amid a hodgepodge of everything from hydrilla to bare banks to flooded bushes in Pool 3 of the Red River, and in cypresses and flooded brush at Saline/Larto.
The biggest challenge for central Louisiana anglers lies in adjusting to periods of high water. Bass will do one of two things depending on the speed at which water rises: If quickly, they'll stay on their beds, which, being in deeper water, become harder to find; if slowly, they'll push as far back into the newly flooded cover as they can get, thus making locating and catching them a difficult proposition. (The second reaction will also be seen if the water comes up quickly and stays high for a while.)
"In that case, we tie on 1-ounce jigs or Texas-rigged tubes with a heavy lead weight and sling it as far back into the brush as we can," said Trimble. "You can sometimes see bass swirling around their beds, but it's mainly a case of hoping you pull that heavy jig or tube by a fish that's on the bed."
While the spawn might start a few days earlier in south and central Louisiana than in north Louisiana, region's bass also typically wrap up their business in just a couple of weeks; compare that to the north Louisiana fish, which -- according to West Monroe angler Kenny Covington, winner of multiple regional tournaments in northeast Louisiana -- can spawn in their corner of the state for six weeks.
"You can even find them on the beds as early as February in waters like Caney Lake and Bartholomew Bayou," said Covington. "And the great thing about these early-spawning bass in those lakes is that's when you usually catch the largest bass you're going to catch all year long. Up here, I think the spawn is more a product of the photoperiod and lunar phase than water temperature, because I've caught spawning bass in water as cold as 53 degrees."
Caney Lake and Bartholomew Bayou are the best lakes in the region for actually being able to sight-fish for bedding bass, but Covington pointed out that he doesn't equate fishing for spawning bass with sight-fishing, even though bass on the beds are spawning bass.
The lakes in northeast Louisiana are generally large enough for anglers to find bass in different parts of the lake in different stages of the spawn. Take Lake D'Arbonne, for example: Bass are usually found spawning first up the Corney Creek and Little D'Arbonne arms while bass in the main lake are still in a pre-spawn pattern. Once bass in the main lake start their spawn, bass up the arms are in a post-spawn pattern.
"It's hard to say that they're done up here until the end of April," Covington said. "They may be done in one part of the lake, but if you look around you'll find them still spawning in another. I think the key up here is to cover water with a spinnerbait like a 3/8-ounce Mr. Hooty. Once you get a fish to show itself, you can then target that same fish with a Senko or a Texas-rigged lizard."
In Covington's view, the main source of any delay in northeast Louisiana's spawn will be extended periods of cloud cover. Without the sun, bass will delay laying their eggs, as they wouldn't get the required amount of sun for incubation.
Bass around Shreveport are notorious for deciding to move into shallow water all at once to spawn. As Local Lake Guide Service owner Sid Havard from Simsboro put it, "You'll be catching bass on a jig in 5 feet of water one day, and the next day you will hardly get a bite. Then you look up there in the shallow water and your guess that they moved on you is confirmed. Every day I fish during February and March, I'll zigzag from the deeper water to the shallow water until I get a bite; then I'll stay in that same depth the rest of the day."
After reviewing his fishing log, Havard can pinpoint March 10 as the date by which most bass in northwest Louisiana waters will have moved into the shallows to spawn. Although bass are generally thought of as pretty easy to catch during the spawn, Havard said, this wouldn't be the case at least for the first couple of days.
"Any of these lakes -- Bistineau, Toledo Bend, pools 4 and 5 on the Red River -- will have lots of things like birds and raccoons overhead that the bass aren't used to having to worry about," Havard remarked. "Once they get settled down, though, you can run through those shallow spawning areas with a chartreuse spinnerbait or a crawfish-colored Rat-L-Trap and wear them out."
Bass at Bistineau especially are prone to cruise a lot more often than not, and, Havard offered, a well-timed cast with a sinking soft-plastic bait like a Senko can quickly turn what many perceive to be a tough bite into almost a sure thing.
While many northwest Louisiana waters will have spawning bass by March, Havard explained, the lakes that don't have acres of cypress cover overhead will generally be the first lakes to turn on; the cypress-studded lakes take a little while longer to warm up, as they stay in the shade for most of the day.
As we learned at the top of this story, spawning fish aren't necessarily caught fish -- but if the insights shared by these expert anglers are put to use, they can put us all just a little bit ahead of the learning curve.