Fantastic fishing, and lots of it, is found all over the Bayou State. All you need is to do some careful planning -- and to take some cues from our handy little guide. (February 2007)
In the aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina, Louisiana fisheries recovered well enough to provide plenty of opportunities to catch lunkers this year.
The twin monsters of 2005 reconfigured the swamps and marshes in the southeastern and southwestern portions of Louisiana and ruined freshwater fishing opportunities in many coastal areas, but didn't severely affect saltwater fishing. In fact, only months after the storms, many anglers reported some of the best saltwater action in a long time. With good saltwater action and inland freshwater systems unaffected by the storms, Louisiana anglers should find outstanding opportunities across most of the Sportsman's Paradise throughout 2007.
Of course, no list could accurately depict all the excellent opportunities to string fish in Louisiana, but this list gives 36 suggestions of where to find action this year. With something from every corner of the state, let's take at brief look at what's waiting for Louisiana anglers this year.
Looking for rod-bending action from really big fish, but can't make it to the coast? Head to Toledo Bend to challenge linesided line-pullers. For years, both Louisiana and Texas have stocked striped bass into the 186,000-acre reservoir overlapping state lines. Some of the monsters exceed 40 pounds. James L. Taylor landed the state record, a 47.5-pound fish while fishing the Bend in 1991. When generators at the dam create current, vertically drop chrome jigging spoons into water 20 to 45 feet deep. Also tempt big stripers with live shad. When feeding near the surface, stripers might hit shad-colored lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, bucktail jigs or topwater baits.
Lake Pontchartrain gained notoriety after inundating New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Many people feared the urban run-off would cripple the fisheries in the lake. However, the lake cleaned itself rather quickly. Today, anglers can catch big speckled trout around the bridges spanning the lake. In January 1999, Kenny Kreeger landed an 11.99-pound speck on Pontchartrain, currently ranked second in the record book. In the winter, many people flip heavy jigs to the base of the bridge pilings.
For bigger action, head into the Gulf of Mexico out of Venice to tempt wahoo. Many wahoo gather off the Mississippi River delta in the winter. Offer them live bait on drift lines or troll with spoons, divers or other plugs. On Jan. 11, 2005, David M. Wolfson landed a 120.37-pound wahoo off Venice.
The Mississippi River Delta creates one of the richest tuna fisheries in the world. Many yellowfins congregate at the Midnight Lump, an ancient salt dome about 18 miles south of the Mississippi River mouth. It rises from about 600 feet of water to crest about 185 feet below the surface.
Many anglers chum for tuna. In the chum slick, toss a chunk of bonito, pogie or mullet attached to a 14/0 circle hook tied to fluorocarbon leader. Anglers commonly catch yellowfins in the 100- to 150-pound range with a few fish breaking the 200-pound mark. On March 15, 2004, Tom Moughon landed a 235-pound yellowfin at the Lump.
Caney Lake, a 5,000-acre impoundment near Chatham, has produced 16 of the current top 20 Louisiana bass including Greg Wiggins' 15.97-pound state record. While it hasn't produced a Top 20 bass since 2001, it still holds plenty of double-digit lunkers.
Caddo Lake actually produced a larger bass than Caney's, but as the 26,810-acre lake straddles the Louisiana-Texas line, Bobby Shaver weighed his 16.01-pound bass in Texas.
Probably one of the best freshwater fisheries in the nation, Toledo Bend stretches for 65 miles along the Louisiana-Texas line. With more than 1,264 miles of shoreline, abundant weeds, humps, deep water, shallow flats, dropoffs and flooded timber, the lake offers anglers just about any type of cover a bass might want. In the spring, roe-swollen bass head to the shallows. Many anglers flip flooded brush with tubes or craw worms in 2 to 5 feet of water.
Lake D'Arbonne, a 15,000-acre lake near Farmerville, holds good numbers of crappie. Using long limber poles, anglers in the spring drop tiny jigs next to cypress trunks in two to four feet of water. Anglers catch many crappie in the 1- to 2-pound range, and a few exceeding 3 pounds.
During winter or early spring, cold north winds often blow water out of the marshes of southeast Louisiana. With little other water, speckled trout drop into numerous oilfield canals from Cocodrie to Delacroix. Drop 3/8- to 1/2-ounce jigheads sweetened with soft-plastic temptations and work them slowly along the bottom.
Sabine Lake on the Louisiana-Texas line produces huge flounders, including a 13-pound Texas state record. Fish with live minnows or grubs tipped with shrimp and bounce slowly along the bottom around numerous tributaries entering the lake from the marshes on the Louisiana side.
Bream grow thick along the woody shorelines of lakes in the southern Atchafalaya Basin near Morgan City. Shallow and entirely a natural body of water, 14,000-acre Lake Verret connects to Lake Palourde, Flat Lake, Grassy Lake and other water bodies through a labyrinth of canals and cypress-lined bayous. Drop crickets around cypress stumps or near the mouths of major tributaries.
The marshes of the Terrebonne-Barataria Estuary offer some of the best redfish opportunities found anywhere in the world. Fish the marshy ponds with topwater baits that resemble injured baitfish. Look for "tailing" fish or fish feeding near shorelines.
Each year, Calcasieu Lake, near Lake Charles produces speckled trout in the 8- to 10-pound range. Fish the scattered oyster reefs, such as those off Commissary Point or Long Point, with various topwater baits or live mullets about 5 to 6 inches long. Watch for diving birds that could indicate a feeding trout school.
For a big-game action at a small-game price, tempt huge catfish in Toledo Bend. Less than one percent of the people who fish this huge lake specifically target catfish, a greatly underexploited species. Some blue and flathead catfish exceed 80 pounds. Anglers catch many cats in the
20- to 50-pound range. Voracious predators, flatheads prefer live bait such as bluegills, shad or other catfish; blues eat just about anything.
Each spring, anglers laden with crickets visit the fertile ancient Mississippi River oxbows of eastern Louisiana. In Lakes Concordia, St. John and Bruin, anglers can load ice chests full of large bluegills and chinquapins, some approaching the 1-pound mark.
The Mississippi River produces many blue catfish in the 50- to 80-pound range, some larger. Joseph Wiggins landed a 105-pounder in June 1997. Grain loaded onto barges at elevators such as at Donaldsonville sometimes spills into the river. This attracts small fish, which attracts big cats. Use stout rods and reels loaded with quality line. Tie a barrel swivel below a slip-sinker. To the swivel, tie 2 to 3 feet of premium leader with a 6/0 to 12/0 hook. An egg-shaped slip-sinker keeps bait near the bottom, but allows a fish to take bait with little resistance.
Anglers often spot big cobia lurking near oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico off Grand Isle. Tempt them with live hardhead catfish, large red Rat-L-Traps or feather jigs. Sometimes, curious cobia follow lures or baits all the way to the boat. If so, move baits in a figure-8. Occasionally, a cobia nudges a bait to check it out. Before it does, snatch it away -- that infuriates cobia into biting.
Tripletails love to hang around floating weeds or debris, such as boards or pieces of trash. Off the Louisiana coast from the Mermentau River to the Texas state line, anglers can often see tripletails sunning themselves near floating objects about six to 12 miles offshore. Tempt them with pieces of crab or shrimp on jigheads or even work popping corks tipped with shrimp around the edges of floating grass mats.
The offshore oilfield structures between Cocodrie and Venice hold some of the best concentrations of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. Near here, Doc Kennedy landed the world record, a 50-pound, 4-ounce snapper in 1996. For big snappers, drop squid, cigar minnows or Spanish sardines into water 60 to 200 feet deep. Often, the biggest snappers won't sit on the bottom. Anglers can drop their lines in 10-second intervals to find where the biggest fish suspend.
During the day, bass anglers might not find much action in the summer heat, but under the light of the mid-summer full moon, giant bass drop a bit of their wariness. At night, Lake Vernon, a 4,600-acre reservoir near DeRidder, can produce some double-digit bucketmouths. Big bass often come into the shallows to feed at night. Fish around lighted docks or shorelines with black spinnerbaits or topwaters.
Katrina smashed through Breton Sound and the Black Lake area, but these waters can still produce awesome trout action in the summer. The storm changed the configuration of the region, but trout still gather around such old-favorite honeyholes as Battledore Reef and several rigs in about 6 to 10 feet of water. Tempt trout with suspending baits or swim baits.
Mangrove snappers lurk around the legs of offshore oil platforms in water as shallow as 20 feet deep. Anglers draw them out from the entangling steel structures with chum. Once frenzied by a chum slick, trick mangroves with live or fresh bait. Occasionally they hit plastic-tipped jigs, flies, spoons and topwaters. Anglers can find plenty of mangrove action from the Timbalier Bay area, past Grand Isle to the West Delta blocks off Venice. In the East Bay area, fish the close rigs out of Joseph's Bayou or South Pass west of the Mud Lumps. West Delta Block 79 on the western side of the Mississippi River and Main Pass Block 299 on the east side of the river typically hold good concentrations of mangroves, but anglers can usually find plenty of action around nearly any structure in 50 to 200 feet of water.
Like seagoing wolves, king mackerel attack baitfish in the Gulf of Mexico from Cameron to Venice. Many people troll with plugs, feather jigs or spoons. People also set drift lines or dangle live bait under a balloon rig.
Most people think of shallow flats when they're bream fishing. However, in hot weather, bream in Toledo Bend might drop to nearly 30 feet deep. Fish the humps and flats off the old Sabine River channel in 15 to 25 feet of water. Drop crickets, worms or other live bait vertically to the bottom and slowly work them back toward the surface.
Specks And Reds
When Louisiana anglers head for the docks at sunset, they often miss some of the best fishing of the day, especially in late summer. Many camp owners across coastal Louisiana install lights on their docks. These lights attract plankton. Plankton attracts shrimp and baitfish, which attract larger predators such as speckled trout and redfish. Lights also silhouette bait on the surface. Lurking in the darkness below, speckled trout and redfish rise to gulp any tempting silhouettes that pass overhead. The biggest fish don't always hang directly under the lights. Often, wary lunkers lurk at the edges of the light cone so cast lures beyond the lights and work them through the lights.
Lake Pontchartrain harbors some of the largest sheepshead in the state. In fact, Wayne J. Desselle landed the world record, a 21.25-pounder, where Bayou St. John enters Lake Pontchartrain inside the city limits of New Orleans. People often see monster sheepshead hovering near pilings supporting bridges crossing the lake. Freeline live shrimp next to pilings to nab these notorious nibblers.
Largely missed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita both, the Atchafalaya Basin still produces good bass catches in places like Lake Henderson, Flat Lake, Bayou Pigeon or Belle River. Throw Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits or Texas-rigged worms around weedy or woody cover during falling water situations.
Cutting across Louisiana from Shreveport to Marksville, the Red River typically drops to its lowest level during the fall. Most of the best fishing occurs in pools 4 and 5 between Coushatta and Shreveport with Pool 3 offering a close second. Fish the oxbows off the main river or tempt bass near the numerous rock wing jetties lining the main channel. Throw worms, spinnerbaits or crankbaits. Barges locking through the water control structures create additional current that stimulates feeding among bass.
Every fall, flounder move from the estuaries to the Gulf of Mexico where they spawn in deep water. Around Grand Isle and islands in the Timbalier Bay system, anglers can often find flounder congregated. Anglers can also fish for them at the mouths of numerous tributaries that feed the Barataria-Terrebonn
e Estuary system. Bounce shrimp-sweetened jigs or live minnows along weedy flats during an incoming tide.
While anglers know Toledo Bend as an outstanding bass lake, the 186,000-acre reservoir also produces good catches of crappie in the fall. The lake contains both black and white crappie with some fish exceeding 3 pounds. Fish along the old Sabine River channel just north of the Pendleton Bridge. Suspend shiners in about 20 to 30 feet of water.
For big crappie, head to the 8,000-acre labyrinth of the Lake Larto-Saline Lake complex near Pineville. Anglers often catch limits, with many fish topping 2 pounds and a few topping 3; some even report catching slabs approaching 4. Fish the deep waters of Saline Bayou and where major bayous meet the two lakes. Fish tube jigs or live shiners.
In the fall, anglers catch plenty of bass in the Ouachita River near Monroe all the way up into Arkansas. The river doesn't produce many double-digit fish, but it consistently produces bass in the 2- to 5-pound range. Fish cypress-studded oxbows off the main channel and where small tributaries merge with the main river. Throw crawfish-colored crankbaits, chartreuse and white spinnerbaits or dark plastics.
Numerous bayous, canals and lakes flow through the marshes south of Lake Borgne, creating excellent redfish habitat. From Delacroix or Hopedale, fish the mouths of passes with live mullets, shrimp, swim baits or spinnerbaits.
In winter, redfish congregate near hard structures, such as dams. Concrete dams crossing canals from Port Sulphur to Golden Meadow absorb solar heat and warm surrounding waters. Sometimes, redfish stack up in huge numbers at the base of a dam. Fish lures very slowly, barely above the bottom or hop them along the bottom.
Claiborne Lake, a 6,400-acre lake east of Homer, offers excellent fishing for winter crappie. Most fish run about a pound, but anglers sometimes catch slabs exceeding 2 pounds. Many people fish the deep water near the dam or near plastic artificial reefs dropped to attract fish. Look for baitfish schools in 20 to 35 feet of water and drop shiners just above the baitfish. Crappie often hang just under the baitfish.
Each winter, scrappy white bass by the thousands swarm out of Toledo Bend and head up the Sabine River to spawn. In the right area, an angler can load a boat with feisty white bass by throwing small crankbaits, spinners or spoons in shad colors on ultralight tackle.
Just about anywhere in the state, during any month, anglers can find something biting. If a favorite species doesn't bite in a favorite honeyhole, try something different.
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