Louisiana is known as the "Sportsman's Paradise" for a reason. From bayous to big water, here's your guide to 12 months of fantastic angling action. (February 2008).
Chester Moore Jr.
Louisiana's nickname "the Sportsman's Paradise" is a well-earned one.
Our state boasts what's arguably the best saltwater fishing in the nation in both the inshore and offshore sectors, and has always been consistently productive in freshwater areas.
Each year, anglers wonder what lies ahead for their favorite fisheries, so we put together this calendar to give you the inside scoop on five of the state's top species from the northern tip of Toledo Bend Reservoir to the Chandeleur Islands.
Crappie -- "sac-Ã -lait," as many Cajun Country residents call them -- are in good shape going into 2008, with many areas boasting the best fishing seen in many years.
Lake D'Arbonne is a popular crappie producer in the northern part of the state where the fish are sacred -- sacred enough to put a throw into an ice chest and fillet that is.
The best place to look is in the creek channels from April through mid-June. Don't fool with small, shallow ones. Look for creeks with 10 to 15 feet of water, because crappie will stay in these deeper creeks until the water temperature reaches the high 80s.
During summer, the crappie stage in the deep, cool thermocline of these creeks and then leave to feed on shad, which is their primary prey. Anglers also should be mindful that when temperatures are rising as summer approaches, crappie will migrate out of the creeks onto the main lake. This calls for a change in tactics. Main lake points and deeper areas where creeks enter the main body of the lake are now the important areas to fish.
Locating the thermocline -- the point where the water temperature changes -- in a reservoir is a great way to locate big crappie. All reservoirs stratify to some extent in the summer, and it isn't unusual to find crappie schooling in shallow water over the deepest parts of the lake, usually near a main river channel. A good rule of thumb is to fish halfway down the water column. If you're fishing in 40 feet of water, position the bait about 20 feet deep.
Red River is another good crappie area, particularly in locks 3 and 5. The fishing there is a little bit different than one can expect in the rest of the state, but nonetheless, it is productive.
The waters here can be swift, and for baitfish, this can pose a great problem. Smaller baitfish like shad have a difficult time navigating current-laden water, so they often seek refuge -- or simply end up -- in eddies that form in the river. These eddies simply are areas of slack water that might form just downstream of a logjam, in a pool off the main river channel or off a bend in a deep creek. In the past I've noted how bass like to prey on these baitfish -- but so do crappie.
Try throwing a white or pink Roadrunner in to see if you get any aggressive response. Make casts right against the bank and work from there. Many of the crappie in these eddies seem to want to hold tight to the banks and feed from there. Some of the best action is on points of the main river channel where anglers can target a variety of structure.
The Louisiana coast hosts perhaps the best redfish action to be found anywhere. Any stop from the Texas border to the Mississippi line south of Interstate 10 has the potential to pose some of the most intense, rod-bending action you have ever experienced.
Chester Moore Jr.
Cameron, both in Cameron Parish, are areas that anglers should consider fishing. Target the deep holes at the ends of jetties where there is strong current washout, as the reds congregate there in large numbers. If the deepest holes are inaccessible, you should back off and look for dips in the rocks. These dips are indicative of small spots slightly deeper than the surrounding water, and that is where the drum will be. Another sign for which to be on the lookout is vegetation growing on the bottom of the rocks. These areas often hold many small crabs on which big reds like to dine. Broken in half or fished whole, crab has a long hook life and is irresistible to the big red that catches a whiff of them.
The boat cuts at jetties also are great areas for targeting reds, particularly on a strong, moving tide. Avoid fishing right in the mouth of these areas, as boat traffic is heavy. Instead, back off and fish a few dozen yards away and be mindful of the tides. Tidal movement is a necessity and it really does not matter which tide you are fishing as long as it is moving.
Use a live croaker rigged on a circle hook or Daiichi Tru-Turn hook. Using croaker means smaller trash fish will not bother the bait, and the circle hook virtually guarantees a lip-hooked fish. That, in turn, should ensure a live release of the fish. Anglers should not be afraid to use the largest croaker they catch. I have caught bull reds using foot-long croaker. The bigger the bait, the bigger the fish, especially at the Sabine and Cameron jetties.
An overlooked but productive area is Lake Borgne. Look for the area on the main lake about a quarter-mile in front of some of the big cuts on the eastern shoreline on strong outgoing tides from summer through fall.
These reds are notoriously spooky, inspiring anglers who seek them frequently to carpet their boats so as not to make any unnecessary sounds. Feeding reds sometimes are not as easily spooked as solitary ones, but they can be. The best advice is to approach slowly with a trolling motor and stay within easy casting distance, but get no closer.
When the tide slows down, look for reds to be bunched up around small- to medium-sized schools of baitfish, attacking the remnants of its purge.
Lipless crankbaits like the Rat-L-Trap are good to throw into these areas, as are soft plastics that drop slowly like a Wedge Tail or Chatter Tube. Another good choice is a DOA Shrimp fished on the bottom and crawled at a snail's pace. Reds like to hit the bait as soon as it hits the water, but if not, be patient and fish it slowly for best results.
Louisiana has strong fishing for largemouth bass, although there are not as many huge
ones taken here as in neighboring Texas and nearby Florida. The consistency for catching "quality" fish is second to none.
Toledo Bend Reservoir offers the most diverse fishing and probably the best shot at catching a fish weighing more than 10 pounds. Toledo Bend is back from a serious drought, and the vegetation re-growth has been tremendous. Look for this spring to offer great fishing for anglers using jigs and Carolina-rigged worms up to 10 inches long fished around the outside grass lines and on the edges of the peppergrass.
During summer months, anglers should target the humps and ridges on the main body of the lake north of Huxley Bay. Fishing medium-running crankbaits like a Fat Free Shad or Bomber 9A typically is the most productive method.
As fall approaches, look for schooling activity throughout the lake, especially on the larger covers in the mid-lake zone. Slab spoons like the locally popular Rinky Dink and small spinners will produce dozens of fish up to 4 pounds, with occasional lunkers in the mix.
The locks in the Red River system are great for bass and perfect for anglers more suited to river fishing. During the spring, focus your efforts on the main points coming out of the oxbows and along staging points on the main river channel. Crankbaits and slow-sinking plastics like the Senko are great big bass-getters.
Bass anglers shouldn't overlook the Interstate 10 corridor and the "marsh bass" that congregate there. The fish usually don't grow very big here, but it is possible to catch more than 100 in a day, particularly in late summer and early spring. A watermelon-colored French fry rigged wacky-style, or a white H&H spinner can produce extraordinary numbers of bass in the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine Pool, and the marshes surrounding Calcasieu Lake, and on the perimeter of Lake Pontchartrain.
Chester Moore Jr.
In recent years, speckled trout fishing in Louisiana has exploded into an extremely popular pastime, with water body records caught in several of the top destinations. "Since Hurricane Rita, we have had what is probably the best fishing we have ever experienced. We're catching large numbers of fish and big ones as well," said. Capt. Buddy Oakes of the Hackberry Rod and Gun Club.
Big Lake (Calcasieu) is the top pick in the state for catching a wall-hanger, especially in the marshes. On the east side of the lake, the best spots are the little lakes and weirs around the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, which have been excellent in recent years. On the west side, lots of fish are around the cuts in West Cove and to the north around Lake Charles in the marsh surrounding the Intracoastal Waterway corridor. Don't let the developed look of this area fool you. Some of the most non-pristine areas hold the most fish.
On nearby Sabine Lake, anglers have dozens of miles of shoreline and hundreds of thousands of acres of perfectly pristine marsh to fish. When it's open -- up until Oct. 15 -- the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge is a top pick with areas like Bridge and Willow Bayou holding nice fish up until just after the first cold fronts. Johnson Bayou is another great spot that is not under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and it gives anglers access to lots of shallow lakes and cuts. During the summer, it has the best tidal flow on the entire Louisiana shoreline.
To the south, target Green's Bayou, which has become one of my personal favorite hotspots. It has everything a trout could want: tidal flow, shell and lots of baitfish.
The oil rigs docked in the Intracoastal Canal all along the coast are loaded with specks during the summer. The best fishing is at night under green fishing lights, allowing anglers to beat the heat.
Proper boat positioning is crucial for success at any rig. Position the boat at the corner of the down current side if possible. If the seas are not choppy, consider hooking up as close to the structure as you can safely. Game fish like speckled trout bond to the structure. My best advice for choppy waters is to get as close to the rig as possible with the bow facing into the current.
Once you are hooked up, put out a couple of green lights to lure in the trout. Rig trout that will eagerly take offerings of live bait, as well as soft plastics and small, silver spoons. The key is to fish when the water is clear. If it is sandy green or even gin clear, there likely will be trout there to catch, but if the waters are murky, chances are the action will be poor.
Chester Moore Jr.
Beginning in late March, big ling -- lemonfish and cobia -- begin moving into Louisiana waters to thrill anglers with their unusual habit of approaching boats with mouth agape.
One of the best ways to get a ling's attention is to pull up to a rig and smack the water with a paddle. If the fish appear, throw out a live crab rigged on a circle or a soft plastic.
Ling often open their large mouths to take bait in, only to spit it back out just before you set the hook. This has caused more than few anglers to lose their cool, but is also one of the charming things about the species. The best places to find them are around oil rigs, pipe stands and marker buoys out to 40 miles and as close as at the end of the jetties.
Tagging studies conducted in Florida show ling might actually be coming back to the same rigs year after year. Out of several hundred tagged in the northern Gulf, 55 were recaptured the next year and 12 of them were caught in the exact same spot where they were caught initially. Thus, the big ling that you never got to cooperate last summer might be hanging around that very same buoy or rig you saw it at last year. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, you might want to see if it's hungrier than it was last time.
It's hard to mention Louisiana fishing and not discuss catfish, which are as much a part of the state as crawfish pie and fried alligator tail.
Spring brings fantastic fishing to the Pearl River near Slidell, where rains spark serious channel cat activity in the backwaters and connecting sloughs and bayous. Channel cats are the species most affected by rain. And usually, more flow signals a better catfish bite.
One thing that I've noticed about channel cats: I always catch the most fish in the eddies that form with the flow from storms. Eddies are areas of slack water that form alongside strong
currents. A lot of small baitfish move into in the eddies because they can't negotiate the currents well, and the catfish end up in there after them.
Try fishing a chunk of cut shad or dead shrimp on a cork in these eddies. Since the currents are weaker in the eddies, you can fish a cork without much problem and draw the attention of the fish by popping it a lot.
Another good spot to target is a "riffle," which is an area where a stump or some other object doesn't stop but slows down the tidal flow just a bit. These spots, which are usually found just downstream from brush piles and in the bends of creeks, are great spots for channel cats.
Rainy day catfish feeding is not just limited to small canals and creeks. It can be just as good on big reservoirs, particularly around large feeder creeks and mud flats adjacent to deep water along shorelines. In hilly areas, immediate run-off from forests can congregate catfish in certain spots, especially in the spring when lots of bugs and other favorite catfish foods get washed downstream.
One of the most popular ways to catch big flatheads in Toledo Bend is by fishing with bullheads. Catfish will eat other catfish, and in this case, they will eat a hooked bullhead before anything else.
Anglers wanting to fish with bullheads on rod and reels have a couple of viable options. Fishing them on a Carolina rig with a circle hook rigged through the lips is popular in many waters. Some of the best spots to find them are around the mouths of creeks where they meet reservoirs, especially around brush and logjams. When using small bullheads, floating rigs can also be productive. A big saltwater popping cork is your best bet, as even small specimens can take the average bobber under.
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As you can see, from the bayous to the back bays -- where everything pulls hard and usually tastes pretty good dipped in batter and fried golden brown -- lots of choices await Louisiana anglers. l
Find more about Louisiana
fishing and hunting at:LAgameandfish.com