Where: Valentine Lake
What: Bass (Catfish and panfish also available)
How: This little lake in the Kisatchie National Forest near Alexandria is a hidden gem for kayak anglers. Motorized boating isn’t allowed, so the 46-acre lake doesn’t get much attention from bass anglers that fish in power boats. The lake was fully under the radar until May of 2010, when Regina Womak caught the No. 2 Louisiana state record bass from her kayak on Valentine. The beast weighed in at 15.87 pounds, but reports are that if it had been weighed in sooner it would be the top bass ever caught in the state. The lake underwent a drawdown and habitat improvements several years ago, and is perfect for kayakers to catch some great bass. Although small, a depth/fish finder is a great tool to locate winter fish that are holding deep to ledges and drop-offs. Bait presentation should be precise and slow. Jigs, drop-shot worms and jigging spoons make targeting lethargic winter bass a strategic operation. Find where the fish are holding and slowly send the baits down to them. Use of slow-jigging strokes and subtle presentation helps trigger bites from inactive fish.
Launch: There is no specific boat launch since there are no motor boats allowed. Launching is by drag or carrying from designated day-use parking areas. There are also several inexpensive rustic camping sites that have launch access to the nearby lake. A few of the campsites are situated lakeside.
Insider tip: Day use is from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. and there is no cost. This is not an issue for winter fishing as later starts are better to give time for the temperature to warm up a bit.
What: Speckled trout, redfish
How: January can be a slow month, but with a warm winter so far, fishing has been fantastic. Hopedale offers close paddles and an endless choice of lagoons, bays and canals to fish under a variety of winter conditions. The best bet is for speckled trout in Hopedale Lagoon and Lake Ameda. The easiest method is to slow troll or drift soft plastics. Color selection is a matter of choice, but the general rule of clear water/lighter colors holds true. The key is using light jigheads to minimize snags as the lure is slowly pulled behind the kayak. Use a 1/8- to 1/16-ounce quality head and let out enough line to keep the lure bouncing on the bottom. Fish can be found from near the bank out to the middle, so drift or troll in straight lines. If you catch fish on a particular run, paddle wide around the area, back to the starting point and repeat. If no fish are caught, move over about 20 yards and try again. The reason this presentation is successful is because it brings the bait to the fish since they are generally less aggressive in the cold water. Try dead shrimp under a cork for redfish around drains and points along the shoreline.
Launch: There is a backdown concrete launch at the old Pip’s Place just past Hopedale Bayou. There’s a $5 honor box to pay launch fees. Access Hopedale Lagoon via a short paddle up Bayou La Loutre and through Hopedale Bayou.
Insider Tip: Launch a little later to avoid early morning duck hunters. Fish the mouth of Hopedale Bayou as it enters Hopedale Lagoon — it can often be a one-stop shop.