March 17, 2016
Bayou State anglers know that bass fishing is dang good, but the most recent list of the Bass Angler Sportsman Society's top 100 bass waters includes four Louisiana destinations, with Toledo Bend named best in the nation. Others waters making the list include Lake Bistineau at No. 27, the Red River at 77 and the Atchafalaya Basin at No. 98.
No place in the state consistently produces more monster bass than Toledo Bend. During an incredible 2015, the 186,000-acre reservoir on the Sabine River on the Louisiana-Texas border produced numerous double-digit fish, despite suffering from low water conditions in 2011. This is because the water returned in time to produce outstanding spawns in 2012 and 2013.
"March is a really good time to fish Toledo Bend for big bass," explained Jason J. Brancamp, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist in Natchitoches. "The spawn traditionally peaks in mid to late March. Toledo Bend Reservoir has been intensively managed for bass. We placed more than 30 artificial reefs in the lake, creating structure and breeding habitat."
John K. Kelly Grand Bayou, better known as Grand Bayou, also produces big fish. This 2,500-acre lake near Coushatta is stocked with Florida largemouths and reservoir produces many 6- to 10-pound fish with a few bigger ones. The lake averages about 9 feet deep, but some holes drop more than 30 feet.
"Grand Bayou Reservoir lacks both natural and artificial cover," Brancamp lamented. "However, multiple feeder creeks run into the lake and areas of hydrilla create good bass habitat. There are plans to begin an artificial reef program for the reservoir, adding additional structure."
Lake Bistineau; however, abounds with flooded timber, lily pads, creek channels and stumps, covering 17,200 acres near Minden. The shallow lake produces many bass in the 3- to 6-pound range, with a few in the 8- to 9-pound class and even an occasional double-digit fish.
Also in northwest Louisiana, Caddo Lake covers 26,810 acres on the Louisiana-Texas line west of Shreveport. Among the oldest and largest natural freshwater lakes in the South, Caddo Lake averages about 6 feet deep, but some holes drop to about 20 feet. Both states heavily stock it with Florida largemouths.
"Caddo Lake is a scenic lake with every cover type imaginable to bass anglers," stated Jeff Sibley, LDWF fisheries biologist in Minden. "Caddo Lake is a large, flooded swamp with cypress trees, stumps, submerged and floating aquatic vegetation. Caddo Lake produces several bass exceeding 12 pounds each spring. For big bass, anglers should concentrate on shallow flats with either scattered cypress trees or small, tight clusters of isolated trees."
Caddo Lake has actually produced several bass larger than the 15.97-pound Louisiana state record. In March 2010, Keith Burns landed a 16.17-pounder. However, he weighed the fish in Texas. The giant was tagged and released. A year later, an angler caught it again when it weighed 16.07 pounds. The Lake produced another 16-pounder weighed on the Texas side in April 1992.
"Caney Creek Reservoir and Caddo Lake are the top big bass lakes in northern Louisiana," Sibley said. "Both lakes have a strong Florida bass influence, thus increasing the chance to catch a trophy largemouth."
Caney Creek Reservoir, or Caney Lake, covers about 5,000 acres near Chatham. The lake averages about 14-feet deep, but a few dredge holes near the dam plunge to more than 70 feet. It regularly produces bass in the 8- to 11-pound range with occasional bigger fish. In April 2015, an angler caught a 13-pound, 10-ounce bass.
"Caney has limited cover," Sibley said. "Shoreline vegetation and piers are key locations for bass in the spring. Caney is one of the few places in Louisiana with water clear enough to effectively sight fish. Anglers should concentrate on coves on the north side of the lake, especially areas containing vegetation."
Moving more toward northeastern Louisiana, Lake D'Arbonne spreads over 15,250 acres southeast of Farmerville. Like Caddo and Bistineau, much of Lake D'Arbonne resembles a flooded cypress swamp periodically traversed by creeks. The lake averages about 9-feet deep, but some holes dip to more than 35 feet. The upper portions of the lake generally produce the biggest fish, including at least one 15-pounder. The state plans to draw down Lake D'Arbonne in the fall of 2016, but will continue stocking Florida fingerlings into the system.
"Lake D'Arbonne has good cover from various aquatic vegetation species, live cypress, abundant dead timber, piers and creek channels," said Ryan Daniel, state fisheries biologist in Monroe. "D'Arbonne produces better than average bass numbers and size."
Daniel also recommends Turkey Creek Reservoir. About one-mile wide by 10 miles long, the lake covers 4,000 acres eight miles west of Wisner. The state conducted a major drawdown of Turkey Creek in 2010, and restocked it with numerous adult Florida bass up to 5 pounds, which helped the bass population rebound tremendously.
"Both Lake D'Arbonne and Turkey Creek Lake have abundant ideal bass habitat, such as shallow and deep cover, good water quality, diverse vegetation and abundant forage," Daniel explained. "Turkey Creek is a paradise for anyone who enjoys fishing around cypress trees. Turkey Creek has many live cypress trees, stumps, duck blinds, fallen trees, logjams and floating vegetation mats."
Better known for producing big crappie, the Larto-Saline complex in central Louisiana also holds some good bass. Lake Larto, an old oxbow south of Jonesville, covers 2,325 acres. Slightly deeper and more open than Saline Lake, it extends about seven-miles long and a half-mile wide. Saline Bayou links the two lakes, with the entire system covering about 8,000 acres.
"The Larto-Saline Lake Complex should provide excellent bass fishing for the next several years," predicted Ricky Moses, LDWF fisheries biologist in Pineville. "The high water the system received in the spring of 2015 resulted in an excellent spawn. Sampling also showed an abundance of threadfin shad that will provide plenty of food for bass."
Bass find plenty places to ambush shad. The Larto-Saline Complex contains numerous shallow flats covered by water lilies. Along the shorelines, anglers find many fallen trees, stumps and other cover. In places, good aquatic grasses grow.
"Larto-Saline is known for producing good numbers of bass in the 12- to 16-inch range along with a few quality fish," Moses explained. "If water levels remain normal in the spring, anglers should find bass on the flats at the west end of Saline Lake and on the north and south ends of Larto Lake. The Shad Lake area should also produce good bass action."
In Evangeline Parish, Chicot Lake covers 1,642 acres completely within Chicot State Park near Ville Platte. It frequently produces 9- to 11-pound fish, and the lake record approached 14 pounds. The lake, which is studded with flooded timber, averages about 7 feet deep, but a few holes reach 15 feet.
"Anglers have a good chance of catching a 10-pound bass, maybe an 11-pounder, at Chicot Lake," remarked Jody David, LDWF biologist in Opelousas. "Chicot Lake has a lot of cypress and tupelo trees and aquatic vegetation."
Anglers might also want to visit Concordia Lake, an ancient 1,000-acre Mississippi River oxbow near Ferriday. More known for its bluegill population, the lake produces excellent bass catches with some in the 10- to 12-pound range. About six miles long, the lake averages 10 to 15 feet deep, but some old scour holes plunge to more than 55 feet.
"Concordia Lake is always a top destination for excellent springtime bass fishing," Moses said. "It has an excellent forage base, primarily threadfin shad and bluegill. In the spring, the best fishing typically occurs in the shallow flats on the north end."
Anglers from Shreveport to Alexandria might want to fish the Red River and its associated backwaters. Once a wild, shallow muddy ribbon often clogged with logs, the Red River now flows through five pools across about 250 miles. The tamed river produces excellent bass numbers with quite a few largemouths in the 2- to 7-pound range.
The Atchafalaya River breaks off from the Red River near where the Red and Mississippi rivers come together by Simmesport. The Atchafalaya takes 30 percent of the Mississippi River flow southwest toward Morgan City. Along the way, the great river creates the Atchafalaya Basin, the longest river-bottom swamp in North America.
More people probably see Henderson Lake in the northern Atchafalaya Basin than any other lake in Louisiana as they drive along Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. The stumpy lake spreads across about 5,000 acres during normal water periods, but river levels fluctuate wildly.
"The Atchafalaya Basin and Henderson Lake can both produce good fish," said Brac Salyers, LDWF biologist in New Iberia. "Recruitment is normally strong every year and the abundant forage base in both areas makes for healthy, robust body conditions for bass."
Henderson Lake and other parts of the Atchafalaya Basin hold abundant bass in the 1- to 3-pound range with good numbers of 4- to 5-pounders. Occasionally, someone lands a 7- to 8-pound fish. During the spring, melting snow coming down from northern states can create cold, flooded conditions that could delay the spawn. Look for sunny shallows that might warm quicker.
Near Morgan City at the southern end of the Atchafalaya Basin, a labyrinth of canals and bayous connects the 14,000-acre Lake Verret to the 11,500-acre Lake Palourde and the 1,024-acre Grassy Lake. These lakes and associated wetlands produce abundant bass in the 1- to 3-pound range, some 5- to 7-pounders and a few bigger ones.
Heading east, the Intracoastal Waterway links the Morgan City area to marshes southwest of New Orleans called the Louisiana Delta. Lakes in this area include the 44,800-acre Lake Salvador, 9,280-acre Lake Cataouatche and the 14,720-acre Lac des Allemands. At the upper Barataria Estuary near Lafitte, the Davis Pond freshwater diversion project releases Mississippi River water into brackish marshes at the northern end of Lake Cataouatche. The fertile system produces incredible numbers of bass with many in the 3- to 7-pound range and some larger fish.
People without boats might consider fishing the New Orleans City Park. One of the largest urban parks in the nation, City Park covers about 1,300 acres. The park contains about 11 miles of lagoons, canals and ponds lined by centuries-old live oaks.
"The City Park waters have a large amount of forage and good bass habitat," explained Gary S. Vitrano, LDWF biologist in Lacombe. "They have submerged aquatic vegetation and artificial reefs. The park produced some bass in the 9-pound range and good numbers. Bass in the park traditionally spawn in mid- to late March."
From the mighty rivers and sprawling lakes to the tiniest park pond or marshy pothole, Louisiana can produce fish almost everywhere. Anglers just need to head out to a likely spot and start casting.