Depending on what type of weather Mother Nature has in store in the coming months, largemouth bass at Toledo Bend might stay somewhat shallow — or they could head for deep water.
Largemouth bass fishing in Louisiana, especially South Louisiana, is a shallow-water affair. Most fish are caught in waters 6 feet deep or less.
But 34-year-old fishing guide Darold Gleason (South Toledo Bend Guide Service, 337-397-8860) makes hunting for deep water bass with electronics his specialty in a lake big enough to be a small sea.
“Deepwater fishing takes the seasonality out of bass fishing” Gleason told me over the phone. “In the colder months, fish that don’t have access to deep water become moody in their feeding. South Louisiana doesn’t have deep water—15- to 20-plus-foot water like Toledo Bend does.”
I stayed at Cypress Bend Resort, pretty fancy digs for a crusty old outdoors writer, the night before I met Gleason. It was cold. Of course, it was late December, and December is supposed to be cold.
After meeting him at Curtis Grocery for coffee and biscuits before daylight, the full-time guide and tournament pro launched his boat in the dam area and headed to the Six Mile Creek arm on the Texas side of the big lake.
He grabbed a rod rigged with a football jig to work the deep side of a submerged ridge. On his first cast, he felt a light tap — and set the hook into a stump. He trolled over the snag to shake the lure free and a fish grabbed the jig off the stump.
“That’s a good tournament fish,” he chuckled in tournament lingo as he unhooked a 2-pounder. Anything more than 14 inches long is a “keeper” to a pro fisherman, even though Gleason never keeps bass to eat.
“Toledo Bend has a good early morning bite,” the guide noted, “so if the fish are aggressive enough I will throw a jig because the average fish is a little larger than with other baits.
“If they don’t jump on the jig, I will go to a Carolina rig.”
To his delight, he nailed nine bass on the jig. Then, without moving, he shifted to what he called his “mop-up rig,” a Carolina-rigged Baby Swamp Hog. That put five more in the boat.
“After you take the aggressive fish with a jig, going to a Carolina rig lets you catch more fish before having to leave to find new fish.”
Gleason started the day with three rigged rods on the deck. One held the football jig, one the Carolina rig and the third one featured a deep-diving crankbait.
“I make my decision on what to use based on how the fish are set up,” he said. “I use crankbaits mainly when I find a really good group of fish on the graph (fish finder screen). Typically these fish will be 2 to 3 feet off the bottom. They are off the bottom because they are actively feeding. A Cloud 9 C-15 will run about 16 feet deep and a Crush 500DD will run at 20 feet.”
When the bite played out by mid-morning, Gleason began hunting. He graphed four more spots in Six Mile Creek, and then another six. At 11:40 a.m., he left Six Mile and moved to McGee’s Flats.
But the deep ditches there showed no fish. He moved to Mill Creek, and after graphing four or five more spots, concluded, “There’s nothing worth messing with here.”
He then moved to a hump in the main lake near the dam area. “We’ve done a lot of hunting and not a lot of pecking,” he said apologetically. “That’s pretty normal for periods of weather instability.”
As he graphed the spot, he suddenly sucked in his breath. A submerged standing tree on a steep ledge along the old Sabine River channel caught his eye.
It was plastered with fish.
From the bow, it took all his skills with the trolling motor to hold the boat in position to hit the tiny target with his Carolina rig in the strong wind.
He reeled in 2-pounder after 2-pounder. Even the seasoned professional that he is was impressed.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve caught bass with the boat over 80 feet of water, casting into 10 feet of water.
“There’s a little wad of them there,” he understated.
He was levering them in like a bream fisherman with a cane pole on a spawning bed.
After unhooking and slipping another 2 ½-pound girl back into the water, he muttered in feigned disgust, “Well, we can just go to the house now. They’re all the same size here.”
Don’t fish blind
Darold Gleason never, ever fishes blind — electronics are like his right hand.
“I do not stop to fish unless I see fish on my graph,” he said. “These things do not lie. If you don’t see fish down there, they aren’t down there.”
I asked him where the fish have gone when he doesn’t spot them — they can’t just disappear.
He answered obliquely.
“When they are on these spots, they are there to eat. It’s their kitchen. How much time do you spend in your kitchen? You go into the kitchen to eat, and then spend the rest of the day in the living room and bedroom.”
He has two Lowrance HDS 12 fish finder screens mounted facing his operator’s seat. Both are on split screen. One screen is set for mapping and sonar, while the other is set for side-imaging and down-imaging.
A third screen is mounted on the bow, visible from his fishing position. It is set on mapping and 2-D sonar.
Gleason estimated that 75 of his 200 charter trips a year involve electronics training.
“A lot of people buy boats that already have the equipment, but because their time on the water is limited, they hire me to shorten their learning curve.”
Gleason spends much of his time “graphing” — looking for fish to make his trips more productive. By its simplest definition, graphing is idling back and forth over an area, staring at the screen — looking for fish.
On this day, he fished from dawn to 9:30 a.m., when the bite where he was shut off. Not until 2 p.m. did he catch another fish. The 4 ½ hours between were spent graphing.
The end result was nearly 40 keeper fish, most of them over 2 pounds.
Gleason talks winter fishing
Louisiana’s winter bass fishing is based on cold fronts, Gleason said.
“Some days in December you will be wearing shorts. Then temperatures can drop 30 degrees three days later.
“It makes it hard to pattern fish. If you get seven or eight days of nice, mild weather, water temperatures can get into the upper-50s and lower-60s. When that happens, the shallow water bite will pick up.
“Certain years will be stable rather than volatile.
“In warm winters, water temperature stays in the upper-50s. That happens half the time. In warm winters we will have a January spawn. December will have shallow pre-spawn fish.
“Cold winters are when the peak water temperature is below 52º F and as low as the low 40s. Bass then go into pre-spawn when water temperatures are rising into the mid- to upper-50s beginning in February. Spawning takes place in March and April.”
In the depth of winter, especially a cold winter, bass are located in 15 to 25 feet of water — creek channels, river ledges, humps, points and drains. The colder the weather, the deeper the fish will hold, he noted.
He finds these areas using his mapping system on his GPS. “Anytime you can find a hump or a ridge with a creek channel near it — that is a great place to begin your search.”
Pre-spawn staging takes place in 4 to 8 feet of water, and actual spawning is done in 1- to 4-foot depths.
Gleason was quick to point out that all the fish in the reservoir aren’t in one pattern at the same time.
“They spawn in waves. You can be catching pre-spawn fish in deeper water, and your buddy in another boat can be catching spawning fish on the bank.”
How does Darold find the fish?
Darold Gleason is an electronics guru, no doubt. He keeps three screens in action, one up on the bow where he fishes and two on the console facing his driver’s seat. As previously noted, he is so well known for his wizardry that many clients book him just so they can learn how to better utilize their electronics.
But the iron-gray haired, but youthful-looking man has good outdoors instincts as well. In fact, sometimes he could be considered downright “Old School.”
Take his approach to finding largemouth bass.
He looks for loons, well — birds in general, gulls, white pelicans (in the winter), and loons in particular. One loon catches his attention; a group of 10 or 15 gets him excited.
“They are a good indicator of baitfish. My feeling is that bass will push baitfish up and the loons will drive them down. I think that the loons chasing the baitfish excites the bass.
“I filmed a fishing show for TV last year in a creek arm that had gulls diving and white pelicans scooping on top of the water. When we got there loons were all over the surface, too.
“If the loons are active, a boat’s presence will not make them leave.”
Of course, finding bird activity alone is not how Gleason finds most of his bass. It’s back to electronics most of the time.
Gleason has spent countless hours graphing areas. Besides bottom contour changes, he looks for stumps and brush piles — places where bass can hide to ambush their prey. Of course, he also looks for the actual fish themselves, as well as signs of baitfish.
Put ‘em back alive
“I’d rather eat a dirty boot than a largemouth bass,” Gleason grunted.
He was only half-kidding.
The personable guide is a strong proponent of catch-and-release largemouth bass fishing.
“Toledo Bend is a treasure — a special place.
“Catch-and-release lets our big fish get bigger. My personal advice is if you are going to keep bass, keep the smaller ones and keep them after the spawn so as not to interfere with their reproductive process.”
He also noted that spotted bass, a close relative of largemouths, have become very common in the big reservoir.
“They will never grow to trophy size. Eat them. Toledo Bend offers Louisiana fishermen a chance to catch a real trophy largemouth bass.”
The guide picks his winter lures
Like many successful anglers, Gleason’s lure choices are relatively uncomplicated. Warm winters mean much of his fishing is what he calls shallow-water fishing, in 8 feet or less. In cold winters, he hits 15- to 25-foot depths hard.
- Warm Winter Lures
Gleason stressed that lure selection should be kept simple for shallow pre-spawn fish. His preferences are for lipless crankbaits (6th Sense Quake 70s and Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps), square bill crankbaits (6th Sense Crush 50s and Bandit 200s), or bladed jigs (V & M Lightning Blades and Z-Man ChatterBaits).
“Keep it simple,” he stressed over and over. “Throw your favorite crawfish colors, oranges, reds, and black , in crankbaits. For bladed jigs, my favorite colors are white or green pumpkin.”
He likes to add a Thundershad Jr. as a trailer, pearl on a white bait or Houdini on a green pumpkin bait.
Once the fish move into a spawning mode, Gleason shifts to Texas-rigged V & M J-Bug creature baits or Wild Thang Lizzies, again in white or green pumpkin. He likes white when he can see the fish on the bed and watch them eat the bait.
He will also use soft jerk baits such as V & M chopsticks or pork shad in either green pumpkin or watermelon red.
- Cold Winter Lures
Gleason uses three classes of lures for pre-spawn fishing in the greater depths necessary during a cold winter: football jigs, Carolina-rigged plastics and deep diving crankbaits.
His favorite football jig is a ¾-ounce V & M Pacemaker Flatline, with either a J-bug or a Wild Craw Jr. trailer. Both are also made by V & M Baits. He typically starts with the J-Bug, but if the fish are biting aggressively, he will shift to the Wild Craw because the claws impart more action.
Carolina rigs are one of Gleason’s workhorses. He always uses 1-ounce egg sinkers for deep pre-spawn fishing. His three favorite plastics are all made by V & M Baits: a Baby Swamp Hog in watermelon candy or green pumpkin purple haze; a Lizzie in watermelon candy or green pumpkin or a Pork Shad in watermelon candy or green candy.
His two favorite deep diving crankbaits are both made by 6th Sense — a Cloud 9 C-15 or a Crush 500DD. His go-to colors are blue-treuse shad, candy citrus shad, sexified chartreuse shad or wild lava crawfish.