Largemouth bass are considered to be the premier freshwater game fish in North America. This fish is sought by anglers from Maine to Florida and west to Texas and beyond. Louisiana anglers are no different then their counterparts across the continent. Bass fishing is exciting and fun, and requires patience, knowledge of bass biology and instinct. Knowing where, how and what to cast makes a difference when fishing for bass.
By March, the north half of the state is a few weeks behind the southern half, generally as local conditions vary considerably. Southern bass are on beds, and starting to spawn, while more northern bass are holding in staging areas. Either way, bass across the state are setting up for the spring bite.
Luckily, here in the Bayou State, there is no shortage of bass waters. From corner to corner, fishing spots open to the public offer some of the finest bass fishing anywhere in the South. The opportunity to land a double-digit hog exists on nearly every bit of water in the state. However, a few bass fisheries have historically offered rich fishing and, based on management practices will likely continue to produce good numbers of heavy stringers for years to come.
TOLEDO BEND RESERVOIR
This massive reservoir covers 186,000 acres along the Texas-Louisiana state line. Formed by the Sabine River, this reservoir is known throughout the south as a bass angler's paradise. Bassmaster's ranked this lake No. 10 in 2013 and No. 14 in 2014.
March is a very popular month for bass fisherman and Toledo Bend is a favorite spring destination. In the weeks before the spawn, bass begin moving from deeper waters as temperatures begin climbing. Wise anglers will keep an eye on local weather remembering that warm springtime rains tend to warm up a lake faster than air temperature. During the pre-spawn, bass fishermen should concentrate on structures near spawning areas. In addition, fisherman should always be on the lookout for bedding bass where creeks enter the big lake.
In March, females laden with roe start moving into the shallows lake looking for spawning partners. In preparation, males have constructed nests in sand flats hoping that a female will choose his spot over the rest. By the end of May or beginning of June, bass have left the nest and become full time predators once again. A frenzy of feeding sees the bass searching out bream as these prey fish spawn, followed by easy pickings of shad. Anglers who match the baitfish will have luck.
If you do not have a boat, you still have the option of fishing for big Toledo Bend bass from the bank or piers in either North Toledo Bend State Park or South Toledo Bend Sate Park. Both facilities are located on the east bank of the lake and offer piers and plenty of shore to walk and cast.
Bank fishing requires a bit of patience and sturdy shoes, but should be considered. Carry plenty of weedless soft plastics and topwater lures. And be sure to be on the lookout for "ole' no shoulders" as he suns himself in the morning! For park addresses, directions and other information including camp rental, visit the Louisiana office of Recreation Culture and Tourism at crt.state.la.us.
CANEY CREEK LAKE
Surrounded by a forest of tall Louisiana pine, this quiet, peaceful lake nestled in the "hill country" of Jackson Parish is located just southwest of Chatham. Caney Lake, or simply Caney, as it is called by locals, was formed in the mid-1980s by the damming of Caney Creek. The lake is approximately 5,000 acres in size.
Anglers have come to find that the lake's crystal clear waters are home to big bass. In fact, according to the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, the private group charged with maintaining the state's saltwater and freshwater fishing records, six of the state's top 10 largemouth bass have come from Caney Lake.
This includes the current state record, a 15.97-pound behemoth landed in 1994. Each of the other five bass (caught between 1993 and 1996) weighed 15.15 or better.
Local anglers, like Seth Kile of West Monroe, will tell you "March is the month to catch big bass on Caney. Though, he added "big fish can be caught on the lake all year 'round, including the summer months."
Kile added that his favorite techniques include catching bass on beds using the flip-n-pitch technique.
"I move very slowly and quietly along the bank. Once I spot a bedding bass, I'll tie on a junebug lizard or salamander and pitch to clear the long grasses out from around the bed. Then I annoy the bass with my lure, hoping he bites."
The technique is known to most anglers and is successful on most lakes.
"Once bass leave the beds, I begin fishing piers and other structures," Kile said. "The lake lacks trees so submerged structure needs to be marked. By summer, water temperatures have increased and I change to spinnerbaits and similar fast retrieve lures."
In the 10 to 12 years Kile has fished the lake, he has pulled in 10.8-, 9.1- and an 8.7-pounders. He added there are much bigger bass in the lake.
Visiting anglers should consider Jimmie Davis State Park as a home base. Improved camping lots with easy access to the lake and boat launches are available for nominal lodging fees.
Another hill country lake, D'Arbonne Lake is located in Union Parish. This water body, known regionally as a nearly famous sac-a-lait fishery is clear and deep. At least one 15-pounder hauled in from D'arbonne is in the record books, according to Ryan Daniels, fisheries biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF).
"There are big bass here, and lots of structure and topography below the surface," Daniels said. "For example, creek channels enter the lake from all over. Bass love these channels, and if the spawn has passed and they are no longer in their beds, you can often find them near the thermocline, which forms in the channels."
The thermocline is the area in a lake where layers of cool water and warmer waters meet. D'Arbonne bass generally begin moving to beds when water temperatures begin climbing into the low 60s. Make long casts with light line to avoid spooking fish, making sure to throw baits past the nest. On the return, try to pull the bait near or through the nest. This should make the fish bite.
While the boaters are in the far corners of the lake, shore anglers can park trucks at the opening of Ramp Road, which is located on the north side of Highway 33 as the road crosses the main body of the lake. Sneak along the bank casting bright spinnerbaits, slowly making your way along the road (which is usually covered by trucks and trailers). Between Ramp Road and Highway 33 is a small bay, which also attracts bass.
D'Arbonne, as it is called by residents and local anglers, is the prime attraction in the town of Farmerville. Numerous boat launches are available for public use including several along highway 33 on approach into town from the south. D'Arbonne State Park is on the northwest side of the lake, and has dozens of camp sites prepared and ready for use. Follow the signs as you approach town from either direction along Highway 33 or Highway 15.
POVERTY POINT RESERVOIR
The flatlands of northeast Louisiana are home to 2,700-acre Poverty Point Reservoir, a relatively new reservoir that has only been opened to the public since 2003. The lake is named after a nearby American Indian site consisting of a complex of mounds that has been a treasure trove of artifacts. The site, Poverty Point, is a 2014 United Nations world heritage site. This means that Poverty Point is as culturally important as places like the Taj Mahal, Machu Pichu and the Great Pyramids.
The impoundment is man made, which the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries created in the basin of a bean field, built a levee and stocked the impoundment.
"Once the lake was up and running, we began stocking it with Florida bass," said Daniels. "Based on recent surveys, the population of bass appears healthy."
In the spring months, anglers look for bass bedding along the shorelines. Some fishermen look for nests and then mark them with a stick or other object. According to Daniels, the lake is shallow and relatively clean, so this technique likely works well. On the return, throw a bait that simulates crawfish to sit motionless in the nest for long periods. Very subtle movements mimic a predator, which attracts the attention of the bass guarding the nest.
"There are numerous piles of vegetation submerged in the lake," Daniels said. "These are cover for bass."
The east side of the lake was created with peninsulas and points as well as inlets, which connect "bays" to the main body of the lake. This side of the lake is slowly developing with homes, camps, piers and docks. Bass utilize this structure as well until the water warms, then head back to the deeper holes and submerged structure.
Two very nice facilities are found on the west side of the lake along Highway 17 and include fish cleaning stations and boat launches.
Ville Platte's Lake Chicot sits in a precarious spot on the edge of the piney hill country and the flat delta. The delta's influences on the lake lead to abundant cover from cypress trees and various submerged and floating vegetation. Fall drawdowns and herbicide treatment are utilized in an effort by the LDFW to control this choking vegetation.
Historically, the lake had a 14- to 17-inch slot limit, which means fish falling into that protected range had to be released immediately. However, in January 2014, the LDWF voted to remove the slot limit protections on bass in Chicot, as well as five other Louisiana lakes after biologists determined that length regulations had not been effective.
Reportedly, Chicot averages from 7 to 8 feet deep, but a few deep holes on the lake measure 15 feet in depth. Much of the shallow portion of the lake looks more like a swamp than a lake. Cypress trees dominate a vast area of the lake. Some cleared boat lanes provide easy maneuvering near the launch ramps, but between the cypress trees, large swaths of aquatic grass, flooded brambles and woody cover make fishing difficult.
With so much cover, anglers choose weedless spoons or soft plastic baits, such as frogs, soft jerkbaits and flukes. These baits can be rigged without weights and with the hook points inserted into the plastic. Also, you can use heavy jigs to punch through grass and weeds to get to the bottom where the big bass lay in weight. Red crawfish are a good option since Chicot contains a huge crawfish population. Throwing crawfish shaped plastics at the base of trees is a perfect combination to entice a big bass to bite. Chicot Lake is within 30 minutes of Lafayette, near St. Landry.
These lakes and rivers represent only a small portion of the bass waters in Louisiana. Others include Caddo Lake, Lake Claiborne, Lake Bruin, the Ouachita River, the Bon Idee River, Cross Lake and Lake Bistineau, just to name a few. Local conditions favor the local angler, who spends plenty of time on the water, researching fishing reports on the internet via forums and fishing reports.
Talk to fisheries biologists on the phone or in person at the nearest LDWF post, and converse with other anglers at the tackle shop. Records are meant to be broken and somewhere in one of our lakes, a 16-pounder is ready to be pulled in.