There are plenty voices rising above North Louisiana suggesting that Lake Claiborne, a 6,400-acre impoundment 25 miles northwest of Ruston, has become an enigma — a mystery wrapped in a riddle.

In fact, there are claims that the best Lake Claiborne has to offer is behind us.

This is what typically happens when anglers come up empty-handed and are looking for a way to excuse their poor performance. You've seen those fishing excuses T-shirts? They are a hot seller around Lake Claiborne these days.

If the lake is such a poor performer, why does almost every tournament circuit in North Louisiana begin its season there?

In the words of North Louisiana MEDIA Bass Tournament Director Dale Taylor, "Tournament directors always want to start the season at a lake where anglers can catch a lot of fish. That's why we start at Claiborne."

Wow, what a contrast to District 1 Fisheries Biologist Manager James Seales who said, "Claiborne isn't a lake that I'd recommend somebody make a long drive to fish… It is difficult to fish… It's not a trophy bass fishery."

Maybe this lake is an enigma. And since many bass anglers were puzzle fanatics when they were young, I'm sure there isn't one in the state who would mind making the drive to put together the pieces of Lake Claiborne.

It would be hard to convince Taylor that Claiborne has seen its best days.

"We started up there last February, and 38 out of 44 teams caught a limit," he said. "Monk Anderson and Scott Smith won with 21 pounds — just like the good old days."

Hmm, for there to be reminiscing about the good old days, there must have been a time recently where the fishing wasn't too good.

In fact, with the exception of 2005, Claiborne HAS fished a little tough the past few years. But has it fished tough because there aren't any fish in it anymore, or has it fished tough because hard-headed anglers fish the same old thing every time they go out, whether the bass are there or not?

Taylor believes that the later is true.

"People are complaining about the lake because they say they can't catch fish," he said. "What they fail to realize is that this isn't your typical Louisiana lake. And on top of that, the fishing is changing.

"There are fish in this lake that have never seen a bait. Understand that this lake is unlike any you're going to fish in Louisiana, quit fishing in the past, and learn some new techniques, and you're going to discover that this lake isn't so tough after all."

Characteristics

Seales said that Claiborne is a lot like an upland lake. There is a lot of deep water in the lake, and this is what makes it difficult for some to fish.

The first thing visiting anglers will notice is that Claiborne is surrounded by rolling hills. The very nature of the surrounding land should indicate that Claiborne has lots of deep water and points. The discerning eye will also realize that the hilly land indicates the lake has a rocky or sandy substrate, meaning the water will be clear.

Further investigation will reveal characteristics found at most other Louisiana lakes. Claiborne is lined with boat docks in the creeks and on the main lake. There is ample brush in the backs of the creeks, and you'll even find a few cypress trees in the backs of some of the creeks.

"And you may find some submerged grass in some of the arms," Seales added. "It's not at problematic levels, though. It's not something I'd key on when fishing because most of the fish in the lake are going to come from the channels, points and wooded cover like the docks and brushpiles."

According to Seales, Claiborne remains relatively clear throughout the year. However, the two upper creeks, D'Arbonne and Beaver, can muddy up during the late winter and early spring after heavy rains.

The lake also remains at a relatively stable level throughout the year. However, it can fluctuate from several feet above pool during rainy periods to several feet below pool during extended droughts. The lake was 4 feet low last February when the 21-pound stringer was caught.

Perhaps the most dominant feature of the lake is the many man-made brushpiles that have been scattered throughout it. Nearly every dock has brush somewhere around it, and there are several piles located near bottom changes out in deep water. The points are loaded with brush, and it isn't unusual to discover brush placed out in the middle of nowhere in an effort to keep other anglers from finding it.

"We also sank some artificial reefs near the state park," said Seales. "They are in deep water but close enough to the bank so bank-bound anglers can reach them."

Stocking up

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries has been stocking Florida bass in the lake for a number of years. Seales said he is beginning to see some show up during sampling.

"We're seeing positive results from stocking Claiborne," he said. "We've done some electrofishing, and have found that the lake continues to have a good bass population.

"You may catch some larger fish, but it's not what I would consider a trophy bass fishery. Two- to 3-pound fish are the norm, which is real nice. Hopefully, we'll see larger fish in the future from the Florida bass stockings."

There's plenty of forage in the lake to feed the growing Florida bass. Claiborne has an excellent threadfin and gizzard shad population. Bass can also dine easily on a good bream population. And, like most Louisiana lakes, there are plenty crawfish on which bass can feed.

Cracking the code

In Taylor's opinion, Lake Claiborne is a great bass lake because anglers can do anything they want to and catch fish.

"People make it hard, but it isn't," he said. "If an angler will follow the general rules of thumb about bass fishing, and let the fish tell them where to fish and what to throw, it gets a lot easier to solve the puzzle."

Another opinion that can help you unlock Lake Claiborne comes from Evinrude and Xpress Boats Pro-Staffer Sid Havard of Simsboro.

"The lake can be a little crazy," said Havard. "You can bust them up there on one day and zero the next. I love the lake, though, because you can get around it pretty easily, and there's always somewhere to get out of a strong wind. Claiborne is also real suitable for all different types of fishing whether you're fishing shallow, medium or deep."

Havard has fished the lake long enough to know that the best way to stay on the bite at Claiborne is to try the old reliable patterns while keeping an eye open to new areas and techniques that can help you stay on the fish.

Spring

Havard begins his spring days by heading to the backs of the pockets on the west side of the lake because they warm faster than the rest of the lake. His favorite areas are D'Arbonne, Isaac Creek and the Lisbon Landing area.

"The fish will get on the flats in these area," he said. "I look for 3 to 4 feet of water with lots of stumps and laying logs. Any wood cover you can see in the water is liable to hold a fish. I tend to do a lot better if I actually make my baits bump the wood. That little deflection off the cover is what triggers a lot of the bites."

Havard has come to rely on a few specific baits over the years, and believes that visiting anglers can be just as successful if they follow suit. His favorites are a chrome/blue or chrome/black Rat-L-Trap, a 1/2-ounce double willow Stanley spinnerbait, a black/gold Rattlin' Rogue, and a 7/16-ounce pumpkin Stanley jig with a pumpkin craw-worm trailer. It is the jig and craw that really gets Havard excited.

"I like to swim the jig rather than crawl it on the bottom," he said. "I cast it out like a spinnerbait and make a steady retrieve while pumping my rod tip. It never hits bottom like this, and the bass will smash it."

Other excellent spring tactics include Texas-rigged lizards fished near shallow wood cover, pink floating worms fished with a No. 4 swivel around shallow cover, and sight fishing for bedding bass with Senkos and Texas-rigged plastics.

Summer

The summer season is when an intimate knowledge of the lake comes into play. The lake is full of deep water, and that's where the fish will be during the summer. Havard believes a Carolina-rig is hard to beat when it gets hot.

"I like to throw a watermelon lizard or French Fry on a Carolina rig during the summer," he said. "A very productive way to fish it is to get 40 or 50 feet off the bank and make parallel casts off the nose of your boat in about 10 to 12 feet of water."

A Carolina rig is also excellent fished over the deep main-lake points during the summer. The key is to find something a little different on the point. It may be a brushpile or a small drop-off or bump. Anything different on the point will concentrate fish. You can also sometimes pull these fish up to the top with a popper or walking bait.

Summer is also a great time to begin your day with topwater lures. Havard said the fish will eat shad-colored Pop-Rs, clear Tiny Torpedoes, and the junior sized Spooks anywhere you can find a light breeze blowing up on a bank in the main lake.

As good as the daytime fishing can be during the summer, night fishing rules. Fish the lighted piers and dark banks with either a black neon or junebug Texas-rigged worm. Slow-rolling a black spinnerbait can also be productive at night.

Fall

Claiborne is a good fall lake because the bass will start biting with a vengeance once the water starts cooling off. There are times during the fall when Tennessee shad crankbaits will outfish everything else.

"I like to go about halfway back in a pocket and shut it down," Havard said. "I'll then start idling around until I see some activity like shad jumping around or a bass or two feeding on top. Once I see that activity, it then just becomes a matter of chunking and winding."

Fall is also the best time to find schooling bass. Havard said his favorite schooling bass lure on Claiborne is a cream/black Boy Howdy topwater lure. One of Havard's favorite places for locating schooling bass is in Isaac Creek.

"If I don't find them in there," he added, "I'll head to Sandy, and start throwing a Trap."

One of the best ways to catch a big fish during the fall, especially on sunny days, is to fish the docks with a black/blue jig with a black/blue craw-worm trailer. Havard said the secret is to fire the jig as far back under the dock as you can.

"Try to put it where nobody else is going to put it," he said. "One thing you can do to find unfished docks is to look for some that still have webs strung about on the pilings. The unbroken webs are a good indicator that it hasn't been fished.

"And don't forget to try the shallow sides of the docks. I've sometimes caught more fish off the walkways than I have the deep ends."

Winter

The jig-and-pig dominates during the winter. Havard lays down his lighter swimming jigs in favor of heavy jigs that he can work on the bottom.

"Look for deep brush during the winter," he suggested. "I've found some excellent deep brush by watching where the old crappie anglers fish, then poking around after they leave. Fifteen to 20 feet is perfect for a winter brushpile."

Havard's most productive winter jigs are black/blue and black/green, and his most productive spots are in the main lake around Horse and Bear creeks.

"I rarely fish above Bo Peterson's during the winter," he said. "I spend my time on the deeper end of the lake. There's a great spot in Horse with several white poles sticking out of the water; every one of them has brush that will hold fish at one time or another during the winter."

Havard has another winter pattern involving a crankbait. He heads to D'Arbonne with a chartreuse/blue Norman Deep Little N crankbait in hand.

"Get in the channel right there by the big point on the right as you enter the mouth of D'Arbonne," he said. "That point is known locally as Satellite Point, and the channel runs right beside it. Once you're in it, fish the crankbait in the channel all the way to the back of the creek. There are lots of winding turns, which make it tedious to follow, but each of those turns is subject to hold a big bass or two."

Dropping in

Anglers who want to consistently catch bass at Lake Claiborne need to experiment with deep-water techniques. Havard and Taylor agree that a big part of the future of the lake is learning how to drop-shot the deep areas in the main lake.

"There are fish out there in 30 to 40 feet of water that have never seen a lure," said Havard. "If a fellow will take the time to graph them and fish a drop-shot, he will kill them.

"Nobody is taking the time to learn how to do it. If you'll put in the time and learn to fish deep, you'll take everybody's money for a long time."



Anglers interested in fishing the North Louisiana division of MEDIA Bass should contact Dale Taylor at 318-368-0666 or www.mediabass.com.