Crimson clover is blooming, purple martins are setting up housekeeping in bird boxes and turkeys are gobbling as Louisiana welcomes another glorious spring. Bluegills and redears are swirling and swishing shallow lake bottom spawning beds, while crappie are setting up shop around shallow cypress roots, preparing to make a new crop of baby crappie.
And what about the bass? On some lakes, especially in south Louisiana, early April means the spawn is in full swing, while not quite reaching its peak in lakes to the north. Even so, April is a great time to tie into the bass of a lifetime on lakes around the Sportsman's Paradise.
We visited with inland fisheries biologist and professional bass tournament angler Alex Perret to get the skinny on which waters should produce the best bassin' action in April. Here are a few of his favorite honey-holes.
In the event you have trouble pronouncing this lake with the spelling that looks like you randomly took letters from a Scrabble set and tossed them on the floor, here's the phonetic pronunciation — Cat-ah-WATCH-ee.
"This is a natural lake that's part of the coastal marsh, but well inland," explained Perret. "Further down the lake system the water starts getting brackish, but the majority of the water is fresh."
Perret noted that this lake gets water indirectly from the Mississippi River via the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Structure, which imitates the historic spring floods that provide a flow of fresh water and nutrients from the Mississippi River.
When levees were constructed along the Big Muddy for flood control, the river's spring overflows were blocked, impeding renewal of marsh-supporting fresh water, nutrients and sediment. The Davis Pond project took care of that, providing Cataouatchee with all ingredients needed to produce an outstanding bass fishery.
"At normal pool stage, it's hard to say what the actual acreage is. You can probably access up to 100,000 acres by way of canals and freshwater marsh, but what is identified as the lake itself covers a few hundred acres," said Perret.
"The Tank Pond on the west side of the lake is a great spawning area, a part of the lake that is targeted by bass fishermen. There is good aquatic vegetation, with lots of hydrilla and milfoil over the past couple of years. As a result, the bass population, both in numbers and size, has exploded.
"Add to that the stocking of Florida-strain largemouth bass in the lake by the LDWF and it results in a phenomenal bass fishery," he added.
Kevin Van Dam, elite bass fishing professional, won the 2011 BASS Masters Classic fishing this area. He used his expertise in handling a square-bill crankbait in 3- to 4-foot water to haul in an incredible 69.11 pounds of bass from Cataouatchee. In fact, five of the top six finishers in the Classic caught their fish from this fertile lake.
"While there are some shad, the main forage base in Cataouatchee is bluegill. Looking at records for April, lots of 18- to 20-pound, five-fish limits were caught in the lake, with the best areas being the western and northern parts. Quite a few bass over 10 pounds are caught here each year, with lots between 6 and 8 pounds caught regularly," said Perret.
"If I go out in April, I'm going to be throwing a square-bill crankbait or spinnerbait with gold blades. White and chartreuse colors are always good here."
The boat ramp at Bayou Segnette State Park offers access to the lake.
This beautiful 1,542-acre lake located near Ville Platte in Evangeline Parish is studded with cypress and tupelo gum, with ample growth of hydrilla, giving bass plenty of cover. According to Perret, Chicot is capable of producing bass weighing in double-digits.
"On average," said Perret, "six to eight bass weighing over 10 pounds are caught each spring. The lake record, incidentally, is 13.53 pounds.
"When I fish Chicot, I'll usually go with a watermelon or pumpkin colored Senko or finesse worm. These colors work best because the water is generally quite clear."
Because of an abundance of aquatic vegetation, the lake sees periodic drawdowns and herbicide treatments to control growth. According to Perret, this has helped keep vegetation in check and has been effective to the point this process hasn't had to be undertaken in several years.
Access can be had at Chicot State Park located on the lake.
This mammoth pond at full pool covers 186,000 acres, but with last summer's extended drought, the lake shrank, dropping as low as 13 feet below full last October. Even so, Toledo Bend continues as one of the nation's most popular bass fishing destinations.
"During the spring spawn," Perret stated, "my favorite area to fish is the mid-lake area. You tend to catch bigger bass in that part of the lake. The area known locally as '1215,' features a big spawning flat. There are lots of hydrilla and contour changes from 7 and 8 feet up to 2 feet in that area and that's what you're looking for this time of year.
"Moving south, Housen Bay and the Indian Mound are both on the Texas side of the lake, but feature some fine spawning areas. The lake narrows here and it's a short hop over from the Louisiana side to access these prime areas.
"On up the lake," he continued, "I like to fish the Pirate's Cove area, which also has some great spawning habitat."
Perret likes to start with a lipless crankbait or a square-bill, shallow running crankbait when fishing for spawning bass.
"Red or crawfish colors seem to trigger more strikes so that's what I'll usually be throwing and I fish the grassy points and the shallow flats," he concluded.
The lake has produced a plethora of double-digit weight bass, and the lake record, weighing 15.32 pounds, was caught in 2000 by Eric Weems.
There are a number of launch sites up and down this big lake, with access depending on water levels in April. Both Toledo Bend State Parks on the north and south end of the lake offer launch facilities, as does the Pirate's Cove area.
Like Toledo Bend, Louisiana shares this lake with Texas. The Louisiana portion is located in Caddo Parish.
"This is a big 25,400-acre natural lake that, like all natural lakes, features lots of cypress and tupelo gums. It's a lake where you can tie into a really big bass," said Perret.
Indeed, the lake record was established with a bass caught on the Texas side of the lake on March 20, 2010 by Keith Burnes. It was a monster tipping the scales at 16.1 pounds. Had it been caught on the Louisiana side of the lake, it would have eclipsed the current Louisiana state record of 15.97 pounds.
"When fishing this lake, I like to throw a gold-and-black Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue around the cypresses. Should the water be unusually clear, I'll throw a silver Rogue," said Perret.
"Another good pattern for this lake is to fish the hydrilla beds with a Fluke. You're more likely to find the grass scattered, rather than being in big mats, allowing you to fish pockets and edges more effectively."
The Jeems Bayou and Japs Island are two popular spawning areas on Caddo.
Boat launch ramps are available at Caddo Lake State Park and there are two other public ramps, plus several private facilities.
"I love to fish the Red River. It's one of my favorite fishing holes in the state," said Perret. "Two special areas are Pool 5 near Shreveport and Pool 3 around Natchitoches.
"April fishing in the river can be very good, depending on river levels. Often in April, you get snowmelt up north added to spring rains that can make fishing a little tough. If the water level is normal, Pool 5 can be really good in April.
But, at this time of year, Perret doesn't fish the river itself. Instead, he concentrates on the oxbows off the main flow. The White House and Caspiana oxbows are usually very good.
"When I'm fishing the oxbows, I'm looking for depressions and drains in the shallows. Just a foot or so of elevation change can make a big difference.
"The fish come up on the little humps and fall back into the depressions. You can really work on these fish in those areas with a square-bill crankbait in chartreuse and blue."
The water is often only 3 feet deep in these places. Still, there's enough water to hold some really nice fish.
Launch access to the Red River is available in a number of locations. There is a good launch in Pool 5 just south of Bossier, one in Pool 3 at Grand Ecore, and another further down river at St. Maurice.
"You might not catch a 7-pounder on each trip, but you have a real good chance at landing several 3- to 4-pounders," said Perret.
BAYOU D'ARBONNE LAKE
Bayou D'Arbonne, a 15,250-acre lake located near Farmerville in Union Parish, is a local favorite for bass fishing in April.
Among the fishermen that visit it is Greg Terzia, a serious bass angler and owner of Terzia's Bait and Tackle in Ruston.
"If you like the suspense of putting a jig, spinnerbait or Rattlin' Rogue on the base of a cypress tree this time of year, D'Arbonne is the lake for you," Terzia offered.
"In April, I like to fish shallow, flipping the trees with a lizard or Senko. A floating Rogue is also a good bait to try this time of year.
"You can also do well sometimes on a Fluke or spinnerbait" he added. "One of the hottest lures this time of year for fish still on the beds is a Reaction Lure's Sweet Beaver in black neon or California color.
"Best areas of this lake to try this time of year are Little Bayou D'Arbonne, Corney Creek, Bear Creek, Terrel Island, Hurricane Creek and Stowe Creek," Terzia said.
Launching is available at D'Arbonne State Park on the north side of the lake, as well as the public landing at the foot of the Highway 33 bridge on the outskirts of Farmerville.
During 1993, Caney Lake, the so-called Jewel of Jackson Parish, gained national attention because of the numbers of huge bass that were pulled from the lake. In February 1993 a 15.54-pound bass was caught; in March 1993, a 15.42-pounder; in October 1993, a 15.53-pound bass was taken; and the current state record 15.97-pound lunker was caught by Greg Wiggins in February 1994. Currently, five of the top 10 bass entered into the state records were caught on Caney Lake.
Although the size of bass today does not compare with those of a decade and a half ago, the lake still regularly produces bass in the double-digit range.
So what happened to cause the decline?
In 1987, Caney Creek was dammed to form a 5,000-acre lake. When the lake filled, several ponds and streams were inundated and the mature bass they contained became lake residents. However, according to then fisheries biologist for the Monroe region and now state Inland Fisheries Director, Mike Wood, problems began occurring when fishermen complained about the overall poor quality of the bass being caught.
"The creeks had a lot of fish, but the lake was dominated by fish 8 inches long," Wood explained. "They simply didn't have anything to eat. We stocked the lake with threadfin shad in 1991 and that is what kicked the bass population into high gear."
By the mid-90s, the lake was yielding state record after state record for several years. Then hydrilla, an exotic aquatic vegetation species, became a problem. To help alleviate the problem, an ill-advised decision was made to introduce grass carp to the lake.
It wasn't just the carp. It was the unrealistic number of 12,000 carp that caused the problem. Within a few years, the voracious eaters had consumed all the aquatic vegetation in the lake, turning the former fantastic fishery into little more than a 5.000-acre bathtub.
These carp were sterile so they would eventually succumb to old age, and according to Wood, things would improve again.
"In time, the good fishing will return when carp numbers dwindle enough to allow grass to sprout again like it was," said Wood. "Caney will probably never be as good as it once was, but it will still be a trophy lake,"
Ruston's Greg Terzia picks Caney as one of his favorite lakes today, with springtime being prime time to land a lunker.
"I like to fish along the brush and stick-ups in shallow water just off the banks with a Senko or a Fluke. I fish the Senko wacky-style and fish seem to like it better," said Terzia. "If it's sunny, I like a watermelon gold color while on cloudy days, a watermelon red seems to work best.
"You can also find some post-spawn fish hanging around the secondary points and I'll use a Carolina rig for these fish," Terzia added.
There are public launches at Ebenezer Landing and at the dam, while Brown's Landing offers launching for a small fee.
While there are other bodies of water around the state offering good bass fishing in April, you can't go wrong if you target one of these waters for your springtime fishing.