Arriving at Gill's Ferry Landing in the gathering light of a summer morning, it was with a sense of urgency that I backed my boat into the water, parked my truck and headed up D'Arbonne Bayou.
It was one of those mornings that had B-A-S-S written all over it. Ditto for the spot I was fishing.
My goal was to reach the mouth of Middle Fork Bayou and beat the Saturday morning crowd to Burnt Stump slough. Luckily for me, my boat was the first to pull into the slough, although I knew I would soon have company because I could hear outboards heading my way.
During the heat of summer, this slough, which meanders from the mouth of Middle Fork to just below Gill's Ferry Landing, is one of the hottest stretches of fishing water on Lake D'Arbonne. The area features a diversity of fish-holding habitat — clumps of green cypresses, lone cypresses, stumps, logs, brush, moss, shallow water, deep water — you name it, it's there.
As I cut my engine and lowered the troll motor in the gathering light, I already had my lure of choice on one of my rods. The black buzz bait would kick off the day for me as I cast to the moss points along the slough.
It didn't take long — on my third cast, the buzz bait squeaked and sputtered on the surface as it approached a point of moss. The water exploded; the surface commotion was more than a 5-pound largemouth could stand, and he hammered the spinner.
Moving quickly from point to point, I had several more takers, although none as large as the 5-pounder.
Later in the morning, I moved to a cypress cove along the slough, flipping plastic lizards next to green cypresses with similar results. A couple more fish hit a spinnerbait cast into lanes in moss beds.
As good as was my success on this particular morning, it's just business as usual for Lake D'Arbonne during the summertime. Day in and day out, year in and year out, this is one lake that can best be described with one word — consistent.
Some time ago, I visited a North Louisiana website to read what anglers were saying about their favorite lakes and fishing holes. In an exchange of chat between anglers, the challenge was tossed out to compare area lakes for bass fishing.
One chatroom visitor hit the nail on the head, leaving little doubt as to which was his favorite lake: "The clear winner is D'Arbonne. It's hard to beat this lake because of its diverse structure and bottom contour."
He'd get no argument from those who fish D'Arbonne on a regular basis. One such angler is Ruston businessman Rodney Banks.
"Year in and year out, Lake D'Arbonne is the best bass lake inside the borders of Louisiana, except maybe Toledo Bend. Well, it may actually be better than Toledo Bend as far as more fish per acre," said Banks
Why does this 15,000-acre North Louisiana lake garner such high marks from serious bass anglers such as Banks?
"The lake drains a lot of land and has a big watershed. As a result, when there is rain within the watershed, the lake level rises rather quickly. The result is quite a bit of natural fluctuation in water level. When this happens, there is a constant inflow of nutrients into the lake, and the fish respond with good spawns and growth rates," Banks explained.
How big do fish grow in Lake D'Arbonne? Banks' personal largest bass weighed 8 pounds, 2 ounces, and was caught in 1970 up D'Arbonne Creek in the Gill's Ferry area.
However, there are reports each year, especially during the spring, of bass caught that weigh in double digits. In fact, Ruston chiropractor Tracy Smith nailed a lunker bass in 1990 on D'Arbonne that tipped the scales at 13.38 pounds, setting a new state record that stood for two years.
In February, 2000, Ed Stellner set a new lake record for D'Arbonne when he landed a 15.31-pound bass, a fish that at latest count sat in the No. 7 spot in the Louisiana state records.
Another angler who enjoys success with Lake D'Arbonne bass is former Northcentral Louisiana Bass Club president Jim O'Neal.
"This lake may not set many state records, but it has an awful lot of quality bass, those in the 3- to 6-pound range," he said.
The heat of summer can affect fishing results, even on a lake as good as D'Arbonne. I accompanied Rodney Banks on a trip to the lake one hot, sticky summer day a couple of years ago, but even under such conditions, Banks knew the lake well enough to land a respectable number of bass.
We would motor up to a spot, and Banks would point to his graph, which revealed the junction of a feeder creek running into the main channel, explaining why such junctions are good fishing holes even in the heat of summer on D'Arbonne.
"Threadfin shad tend to gather up where two streams meet. I'll use plastic worms mostly because they give me a better 'feel' of what's going on," he explained.
As we idled up to one particular stream junction, Banks was especially attentive.
"I caught a 6-pounder here a couple of weeks ago. There were smaller fish feeding on the surface, and if I'd used a surface shad-imitation lure, I'm sure I would have caught some of these fish. However, I prefer catching big fish, so I fished a plastic worm beneath the surface, and the 6-pounder took it.
"Bigger fish are rather lazy; they like to wait until a crippled shad flutters down to where they're waiting."
One of the most effective lures for summer bass on Lake D'Arbonne is the Wobblehead. The reason for its effectiveness, according to West Monroe tackle shop owner Bobby Phillips, has to do with the abundance of aquatic vegetation in the lake.
"Once the weather gets hot, bass will use the mats of moss to avoid the sun and to serve as ambush points for bream, shad and other such food sources," Phillips explained.
"When a bass sees what it thinks is a baby snake swimming by, it is just too easy a meal to pass up. They'll really nail a Wobblehead around the grass in warm weather."
There is no lure as simple to operate as the Wobblehead. It's a matter of casting out the lure, which consists of a curved piece of metal with a hook on the end to which is impaled a 6-inch straight-tail plastic worm. On retrieve, the lure waggles from side to side, just like a 6-inch water snake would swim.
As Phillips said, it's just too enticing to pass up.
In summer, one of the favorite bass-catching techniques on Lake D'Arbonne is to fish under the cover of darkness. Not only is the temperature more bearable, bass lose their wariness at night as they move onto shallow flats to feed.
Most anglers prefer fishing in the deeper, more open areas of the lake at night for safety reasons. Although bass certainly inhabit the shallows up such creeks as D'Arbonne, Corney and Stowe, boat lanes are poorly marked in the upper reaches of such creeks, and menacing stumps just beneath the surface demand that the going be slow and cautious.
Boat docks, bridge abutments and mossy flats just off main channels are favorite spots to catch a lunker bass under the cover of darkness on D'Arbonne.
To fish deeper holes at night, most anglers opt for a Texas-rigged plastic worm to fool nocturnal-feeding bass.
Lanes in moss beds located on humps near deeper water are ideally suited for anglers with buzz baits. Nothing is quite so heart-stopping as to hear a big bass explode on a sputtering buzz bait in the darkness.
O'Neal knows what to look for when it comes to picking an ideal night to nab a few D'Arbonne bass.
"If I could pick an ideal night in summer, I'd prefer that there be little or no moon. The brighter it is at night, the spookier the fish are and you have to be more careful. I've also found that fish roam around more when the moon isn't so bright. They'll more readily leave the deep water and move to shallow flats to feed when it's dark," O'Neal explained.
"I fish moss beds exclusively at night on D'Arbonne. I look for beds that are near deep water, those near creek channels and sloughs. I prefer to fish beds of grass around sloughs rather than the main channels of the lake because experience has taught me that you'll usually catch more fish there than off the main channel.
"I'll fish the deep side of the moss bed the first couple of hours after dark. As the night progresses, bass will often move on up over the moss and be really shallow. My lure of choice for fishing at night is a single-blade ½-ounce spinnerbait, black with a white trailer. I prefer either a No. 5 or 7 blade, and I won't hesitate to change from one to the other if they're not hitting the one I'm using.
"Sometimes a black buzz bait will get more strikes than a spinner, and I always have one ready on another rod. I prefer spinners and buzz baits over soft plastics, especially when I'm fishing a tournament and need to cover more water quickly."
Suggestions for an hour-by-hour bass fishing trip on Lake D'Arbonne would go something like this:
• Dawn to sunup, fish moss points with buzz baits.
• Sunup to mid-day, fish plastic worms or lizards around clumps of cypress trees in sloughs off the main channel, or cast Wobbleheads around moss or grass beds.
• Mid-day to sunset, find deeper holes in bends of creeks, and fish plastic worms or grubs.
• Late afternoon until dark, fish topwater lures or buzz baits around moss and stumps along the edge of deeper channels.
• At night, it's hard to beat a buzz bait to fish moss beds.
There may be other lakes around Louisiana that give the angler a better chance to land a bass weighing in double-digits.
Other lakes around the state are known by bass anglers around the country as big-time bass producers.
Day in and day out, however, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more consistent deliverer of quality bass anywhere in the state than Lake D'Arbonne, especially during the heat of summertime.