August 31, 2011
Virtually any fresh water in the Bayou State can hold a few trophy-sized largemouths. But when it comes to lunkers, these are the lakes you should target.
Long known as the place to catch good bass numbers, the Sportsman's Paradise produces more lunker largemouths every year. Although late winter and early spring typically produce the biggest bass each year, anglers can still catch record-book largemouths during the warmer months. Try these lakes for your Louisiana lunker.
Before May 6, 2010, few people probably ever heard of Lake Valentine in Rapides Parish. It's a 46-acre campground pond situated in the Valentine Lake Recreation Area of the Kisatchie National Forest near Gardner. On that day, though, Regina Womack put the tiny pond on the angling map.
Fishing from kayaks, Womack and her friend, Lisa Alexander, worked over a shallow grassy area in the pond. At about 8 p.m. Womack set the hook on a leviathan that slurped a plum-colored weightless worm. On Womack's meat scales, the fish weighed 16.25 pounds. That was big enough to beat the 15.97-pound reigning Louisiana state record caught by Greg Wiggins on Caney Lake in February 1994.
Unfortunately, by the time Womack weighed the fish on certified scales hours later, the behemoth registered 15.88 pounds, making it No. 2 in the Louisiana record book. Laden with roe during spawning season, the 27-inch fish with a 25-inch girth probably had weighed nearly 18 pounds.
In the 1990s, Greg Wiggin's record capped a string of monster bass taken from Caney Lake, a 5,000-acre impoundment near Chatham. From the beginning, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries stocked Florida largemouths and intensively managed the lake to produce giant bass.
As a result, for two decades, the lake dominated the Louisiana record book, and currently has contributed six to the Louisiana Top 10. The smallest weighed 15.15 pounds. However, the most recent 15-pounder hit the scales in 1996.
"We're not seeing the giants we saw in the 1990s, but it's still one of the best bets for catching a double-digit bass in Louisiana," said Ryan Daniel, a LDWF fisheries biologist in Monroe. "People still catch a lot of 10- to 12-pounders. It's produced some 13-pound bass in the past few years."
In May look for bucketmouth bass around numerous offshore humps and creek channel drop-offs. Five major creek arms enter the lake from the northeast and two from the southwest. Clear-cut prior to impoundment the lake has little structure other than bottom contours. It averages about 14 feet, but some old borrow pits drop to more than 40 feet deep. A few dredge holes near the dam dip to more than 70 feet.
"In the spring of 2009, I caught one in the 10- to 11-pound range," said Lane Brothers of Lane's Fishing Guide Service.
"Find the humps, put out a marker buoy and back off a bit," he added. "I also target tapering points. In May, I throw 4- to 6-inch lizards or Baby Brush Hogs on Carolina rigs. Jigs and worms also work well. Bounce them off the top of the humps. I've had my best luck with watermelon dipped in chartreuse. On darker days, I'll use June bug."
To contact Lane Brothers call Lane's Fishing Guide Service in Rocky Branch at (318) 726-4369.
Near Shreveport, 26,810-acre Caddo Lake straddles the Louisiana-Texas border and has produced at least two bass breaking the Louisiana state record. However, anglers launching from the Texas side caught both, so they don't qualify for the Bayou State mark.
In March 2010, Keith Burns of Linden, Texas boated the new Caddo Lake record, a 16.17-pounder. He caught the fish on a Senko near Bird Island, a prime spot for monster bass near the southern shoreline of the lake.
The other lunker was a 16.01-pounder hooked by Bobby Shaver back in April of 1992.
Among the oldest and largest natural freshwater lakes in the South, Caddo averages about six feet deep, but some holes drop to about 20 feet. Both Louisiana and Texas heavily stock these waters with Florida largemouths each year.
"Every year, we hear about quite a few bass over 10 pounds at Caddo Lake," said James Seales, an LDWF biologist in Minden. "The fishery is looking good, but we're battling giant salvinia. The cold winter of 2009-10 knocked it back significantly."
Cypress trees provide the dominant cover on the shallow, mostly flat-bottomed lake. As summer progresses, grass often grows in rings around isolated trees in 3 to 6 feet of water. For lunkers, anglers pitch plastics under the trees or in the grass.
"On Caddo Lake, a 1- or 2-foot drop or rise can really make a difference," said Paul Keith of Caddo Lake Guide Service.
"The most consistent big bass pattern in the spring or summer is casting to cypress trees," he continued. "Concentrate on the shady side of the trees. Make only one or two casts per tree and keep moving. I target isolated trees instead of clumps. If I fish clumps of trees, I fish the outside trees in deeper water."
Keith put two 12-pounders in his boat, the largest of which weighed 12.4 pounds. He also caught 11 bass in the 10- to 12-pound range.
For tempting these Caddo largemouths, he recommended fishing the Texas shore with plastics.
"Some better big-fish baits are 9- to 10-inch worms and large Brush Hogs in plum, black with red flake, watermelon red or June bug," Keith said. "Later in the summer, the grass and pads get so thick we can't fish the trees. A secondary pattern would be fishing lily patches and hydrilla along the edges of shallow water with flukes or 5- to 7-inch Senkos."
Paul Keith can be reached at Caddo Lake Guide Service by calling (318) 455-3437, or check out their Web site at www.caddolakefishing.com.
Toledo Bend probably holds more double-digit bass than any other lake in Louisiana -- mainly because it sprawls over 186,000 acres. The largest reservoir in the South runs 65 miles on the Louisiana-Texas line along the old Sabine River course and offers anglers more than 1,264 shoreline miles. The reservoir averages about 60 feet deep, but plunges to more than 110 feet deep near the dam.
"Toledo Bend is always good for big bass,
" said Ricky Yeldell, a LDWF fisheries biologist. "It produces a lot of 10-pounders each year and some up to 13 pounds. In the next few years, we expect to increase the number of Florida bass we stock each year as more fingerlings become available. I expect 2011 to be an excellent year for producing big bass in Toledo Bend."
In 2009, the reservoir produced a lunker that just missed the Louisiana Top 10 and nearly shattered the lake record. At about 7 a.m. on June 27, Donnie Gill of Leesville dragged a 7-inch Texas-rigged worm through 22 feet of water on the southwest side of the lake, enticing the 28 ½ inch long fish with the 23-inch girth. Nine hours later the fish weighed 15.03 pounds, after undoubtedly losing some weight. During the spring spawn, it probably weighed more than 17 pounds.
Although Louisiana does not keep official lake records, Gill's fish probably ranks second to a 15.32-pounder Eric Weems caught in July 2000. Weems caught his 28 1/2-inch sowbelly with the 24 1/2-inch girth on a 1-ounce green and black jig sweetened with a watermelon-colored craw worm in Six-Mile Creek on the Texas side just north of the dam.
Texas biologists release huge quantities of Florida bass into Six-Mile Creek and Housen Bay, another Texas tributary to southern Toledo Bend.
"We catch a lot of 7- to 9-pound fish with an occasional 10," said Butch Covington, a guide with an 11.23-pounder to his credit. "Every year Toledo Bend produces many bass in the 6- to 11-pound range and some bigger ones. It produced a lot of 10s and some over 12 in 2010. In tournaments, it usually takes five fish weighing 25 to 30 pounds to win."
By late spring largemouths enter their post-spawn patterns. Not all bass spawn at the same time. On such a huge reservoir, spawning lasts for months, depending upon water conditions and temperatures in specific creeks. Some bass spawn as early as January and others as late as June.
"In May, the lake level determines where big bass will be," Covington said. "If the lake is high, we fish way north of the Pendleton Bridge. The south end of the lake has many big fish, but they are much more scattered. They are more concentrated in the north. At that time of year, I like to throw medium-diving crankbaits, Caroling rigs and shaky heads in watermelon gold, red bug or green pumpkin."
For more details or to book a guided day of fishing call Butch Covington at (337) 526-1257 or visit his Web site at www.toledo-bend.net/fishing.
Divided into five pools, the Red River cuts across northwest and central Louisiana for approximately 250 miles from Shreveport to Simmesport. The river can produce good numbers of 3- to 8-pound fish with some double-digit lunkers.
Russ McVey, a guide from Doyline holds the unofficial Red River record with a 13.63-pounder he caught on a jig-and-craw worm in 2006.
"Pools 4 and 5 typically produce the best bass on the Red River because they have so much more backwater areas," McVey said. "I caught the big one in Pool 5 fishing in about 9 to 10 feet of water near some dead timber. I know of several bass over 10 pounds caught in the past couple of years. A couple came out of the same area where I caught that 13-pounder."
May usually produces greater numbers, but anglers can still find some big fish. McVey recommended tossing topwater baits around grass patches in oxbows. He prefers to fish shallow grass flats near drops or other bottom contours that give fish access to both shallow and deep water.
"I like buzzbaits and frogs in May," McVey said. "Soft jerkbaits also work very well around the grass. If the wind comes up a little bit, I'll throw a white or white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait. When fish are holding tight to cover and not aggressive, the number one bait is a Texas-rigged creature like a Brush Hog in watermelon, watermelon red or green pumpkin.
"In Pool 5, I like to fish Ninock and White House. In Pool 4, the better oxbows include the Jungle, the Little Jungle and Sullivan's," the guide concluded.
Russ McVey can be reached for guiding at (318) 464-2277, or check out Russ McVey's Guide Service online at www.redriverfishing.com.
Impounded in 1964, Lake D'Arbonne is southeast of Farmerville and put one giant bass into the record book in 2000. Ed Stellner tempted a 15.31-pound brute with a gold-and-black Suspending Rattling Rogue in Bear Creek. The 15,250-acre lake annually produces several bass in the 10- to 12-pound range.
Since then, D'Arbonne hasn't produce anything close to 15 pounds, but has given up a lot of 8- to 10-pound bass largemouths. In May some fish may still be spawning in the coves, but most have left the beds.
Looking more like a flooded swamp than a reservoir, the lake averages about 9 feet deep, but some holes in the old Corney Creek and D'Arbonne Bayou channels drop down to 30 feet deep. Wood and grass provide the dominant cover.
Flipping large creature baits to green cypress trees is a good tactics. Also, jig with trailers in black-and-blue, watermelon or green pumpkin cam draw strikes.
Docks with fishing pole holders are also good places to fish. If a dock has rod holders, the owner probably has sunk some brush or other structure nearby to hold fish.
Once the weather warms in April and May it's time to concentrate on patches of aquatic grass. Soft plastic jerkbaits draw strikes in such area.
South Louisiana wetlands typically produce excellent bass numbers, but few lunkers. However, Lacassine Pool, an impounded marsh on Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge near Bell City, habitually produces double-digit bass.
Divided into segments separated by levees, the pool covers about 16,000 acres. Weirs hold water levels at about 3 feet deep or less, but perimeter canals and boat lanes run slightly deeper. Thick grass, canes and reeds blanket the pool. Under this vegetative mat, many bass in the 8- to 12-pound range wait to ambush prey.
"Lacassine was great in 2010," said Eric Shanks, a LDWF biologist in Lake Charles. "It's the best place in south Louisiana to catch a double-digit bass. It's produced some close to 13 pounds."
For fishing the pool, think weedless. Use Texas-rigged, unweighted soft plastics like Flukes, frogs or weedless spoons. Some anglers use heavy jigs to punch through matted grass or run buzzbaits along edges.
To help keep grass under control and boat lanes open, the refuge now allows outboards up to 40 horsepower, said refuge spokesperson Diane Borden-Billiot. Previously, refuge managers onl
y allowed outboards up to 25 horsepower.
"People have been doing fairly well fishing the pool," Borden-Billiot said. "Water was good in 2010, but started getting dry toward the end of the summer. We added another levee to the center of the pool and cleaned out the perimeter canals. We haven't stocked fish in quite a long time. Some salty water got into the pool during Hurricane Rita, but the bass fared well."