This little-known gem in North Louisiana shines too bright to remain a secret any longer.
Never go against the family.
The only thing keeping me from heeding that menacing advice is that this family isn’t blood. Instead, they are an extended family of fellow fishermen who don’t want their secret to become public knowledge. I can understand that.
I don’t want it to sound like I was under immense pressure from some secret society to keep the veil over Baker’s Cut Off, but I could tell that it wasn’t considered a favorable endeavor by some of the family patriarchs.
Last-minute cancellations and foreboding late-night phone calls complete with disguised voices convinced me to go against this clandestine group’s wishes and forge ahead. I’d just have to deal with the severed goat head in my bed at a later date.
Lying in the shade of Poverty Point Reservoir, Baker’s Cut Off is easily overshadowed by its more famous neighbor to the north, mainly because of its size — or lack thereof.
Heck, even its name implies that it isn’t a vast body of water. Cut-off indicates that this bayou is little more than an isolated ditch that’s stranded in the middle of nowhere — an extremely accurate description.
“It’s really not much more than a big ditch,” said West Monroe’s Kenny Covington, who has made the short 40-minute drive to Delhi quite a few times since he first encountered Baker’s during a bass club tournament about a year ago.
The bayou, ditch or whatever you want to call it does get a little fishing pressure from the locals; however, Poverty Point Reservoir has taken the heavy burden since it opened.
“What happened,” says Covington, “is a few bass clubs have fished it over the last two or three years, and word is starting to leak out because of the reports that came from those tournaments. That’s the way these little places get noticed — word of mouth.”
Chris Ponce de Leon also found Baker’s Cut Off about a year ago, and he says that since then he hasn’t wanted to go anywhere else. He’s been making the short drive from West Monroe on an almost weekly schedule because the prizes he finds inside the package have admittedly spoiled him.
Covington and I crossed paths with Ponce de Leon while we were at Baker’s Cut Off one Saturday morning. He told us that, staying true to his ancestry, he has explored almost every nook and cranny of Baker’s.
“I know of a few 10-pound fish that have come out of here,” he stated. “And when the fishing’s hot, a 20-pound sack might not even earn a check during a tournament.”
In fact, Ponce de Leon says that he has caught at least a 4- or 5-pound fish on almost every trip he’s made to the lake. That might sound braggadocios by those not in the family, but those who have visited the lake know it isn’t bragging if you can back it up.
Baker’s Cut Off apparently was once a part of Bayou Macon, and that means it has probably been fished for longer than most people realize.
Troll along the grassy banks today, and you can almost see members of the ancient Poverty Point Culture sculling through the trees and vegetation in search of something to eat.
However, today Baker’s Cut Off is separate from Bayou Macon, and it stands as an independent body of water. Unsure of whether Baker’s was cut off naturally or by man, Covington does know that the water is used as a source of irrigation to the surrounding farmland.
He says that he’s seen a pipe on the southern end of the bayou, and has witnessed water being sucked out of the pipe.
“It has to be used to water the fields,” he stated. “I don’t know of any other reason that pipe would be there.”
However it was made and whatever its purpose, what matters to us today is that Baker’s Cut Off produces some of the finest fishing in North Louisiana. This prolific ditch may be small in size, but its largemouth run large and are eager to eat.
Covington says that the small size of Baker’s makes it easy to fish the entire lake in one day.
“You can run from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes,” he said. “That means it’s not hard to fish because you can literally hit everything in the lake and quickly uncover a productive pattern.”
Covington believes Baker’s is so productive because it has everything a bass needs to prosper. He points out that there is a distinct channel that runs through the middle of the waterway, there are flats off the channel that are covered with wood cover, and the banks are inundated with grass.
“That combination means that it doesn’t get stagnant,” said Covington. “The fish have everything they need to survive from winter through the fall. When they want to move up shallow, there’s plenty of protective cover there for them and their babies. And there’s the deep water structure that’s so important for good winter and summer fishing.”
This combination of shallow-water cover with deep-water access throughout the lake sounds like a bass fishing paradise to those who keep their noses pressed against the pages of the latest fishing magazines.
One of the better-known fishing axioms is the best shallow-water cover is that closest to deep water. Well, since Baker’s is so narrow, all the shallow water cover is close to deep water.
In fact, you can fish both the shallow cover and the deep cover from one spot. Just turn around on the deck of your boat and fish the other side.
The predominant cover in the lake is the vegetation that runs along the banks. Covington calls it alligator grass because it’s the kind of grass where he often encounters the holed-up reptiles.
“You’ll also find a few standing green cypress trees, a few stumps and a brushpile or two,” he adds. “But the main attraction has to be the grass.”
Ponce de Leon agrees, and says that he concentrates almost exclusively on the grass cover when he visits the lake.
“The grass has been great this year because it never really died back last winter,” he said. “We had good grass in March, and it only got better and thicker as the year moved on.”
The only problem that Covington sees with the abundant grass is that its loose composition doesn’t provide a very effective filtering mechanism for the water; therefore, it’s a rare day when Covington finds the water to be anything other than stained.
“All the runoff from the surrounding agricultural fields heads directly to Baker’s, so it stays pretty dirty,” he said. “During summer it can clear up some if we aren’t getting a lot of heavy rain, but it can dirty up quick after a heavy summer shower.”
Since grass is the primary cover, both Covington and Ponce de Leon spend lots of time picking it apart. It all starts in the spring for Ponce de Leon.
“This past spring we mauled them pitching to the grass,” he said. “My best plastic was a Texas-rigged YUM Craw Bug in black/blue or black/red flake, but we’ve also done extremely well on big worms, lizards and jigs.”
Covington loves the grass too, but during the spring he often targets another kind of shallow-water cover.
“The water can get way high during the spring,” he said. “Sometimes it can get so high you can’t even get your boat in, but if it only rises a few feet then you can rip them along the wood cover along the steep banks.”
In this case, Covington likes to pitch a Texas-rigged V&M Super Lizard, Corkscrew, tube or jig.
“When the water gets up there is some excellent cover along the bank,” he stated. “The fish could be anywhere from beside a hardwood tree to deep inside the heart of a bush.”
When spring turns into summer, Covington begins to concentrate more on the grass and less on the flooded wood cover. He begins his morning right around the ramp with some kind of topwater lure in hand.
“That little area around the ramp is as good a section as anywhere else in the lake,” he said. “I tend to do best on a white buzz bait, a frog-colored Spook or a shad-colored Lucky Craft Sammy.”
Covington also throws a Crazy Shad every now and then to keep them honest.
And if he believes the fish are looking up to feed but aren’t eating the topwater, he often tries a soft jerkbait like a Fluke or V&M Twitch It danced around the edges of the grass.
“I only stay with the topwater as long as I’m seeing surface activity,” said Covington. “As soon I figure out that the fish are done feeding on the surface, I put it down and pick up a Wobble Head and stick with it the rest of the day.”
Covington says that the grass covering the banks of Baker’s Cut Off isn’t what he would consider typical Wobble Head grass. He normally looks for scattered submerged grass in the form of coontail, milfoil or hydrilla.
“This stuff here grows in big mats and it covers the surface,” he stated. “You can’t work a Wobble Head over the grass here, so you have to take what you can get by working it around the edges and openings.
“This grass has a distinct edge, but it forms a lot of points and holes, and at each end of Baker’s it tends to grow like St. Augustine grass sending out runners looking for a new place to take root. They really like to get around those offshoots.”
Ponce de Leon goes a different route during the summer. Instead of fishing around the edges of the grass, he favors fishing on top of it.
“I’ve probably caught more big fish over there on a Snagproof Tournament Frog than any other lure,” he revealed. “It’s a little difficult to fish because the top of the grass mat isn’t flat. The blades stick up and it gets a little thick in some areas, but if you can get it through the thick stuff, they’ll blow up on it when it comes to a little hole or around the edge.”
Both Covington and Ponce de Leon say they have discovered that the bass in the grass show a definite tendency to follow lures away from the mat and strike out in open water.
“I think the fish have to be following it from the grass,” said Ponce de Leon. “Some days I get way more bites out in open water on the frog than I do on top of the grass. I’ve even had them hit that frog right by the boat with me sitting over about 10 feet of water and 30 feet away from the grass.”
For the same reason, Covington makes sure to work his favorite orange Wobble Head with a junebug/red V&M 8-inch Super Needle Worm all the way from the edge of the grass back to the boat.
“If I don’t get bit around the grass, I slow my retrieve down so the Wobble Head stays down where it needs to be as it gets closer to the boat,” said Covington. “Sometimes they’ll bite it directly under my boat and dang near yank the rod from my hand.”
When fall rolls around, Ponce de Leon says the bass start to really concentrate in the mouths of the few inlets that enter Baker’s.
“I sat in one of those cuts last fall with a Carolina rig and a deep-diving Strike King crankbait, and caught over 30 fish without ever moving my boat,” he said.
If conditions are such that the edge of the grass is wind-blown during the fall, Ponce de Leon says a spinnerbait waked over the top of the grass and fluttered at the edge can produce up to 40 and even 50 fish a day.
Covington says he likes to stay on the move during the fall in search of active fish willing to eat fast-moving lures.
“I think once the water starts to cool off, the fish move more to the edges of the grass or along the brush banks where they’re more susceptible to a crankbait or a spinnerbait,” he said.
Fall fishing can sometimes mean fishing dirty water, so Covington says it’s important to throw something that’s bright and puts off a lot of vibration. Two of his favorites are a firetiger Bagley Balsa BI crankbait and a firetiger spinnerbait with Colorado blades.
Fishing Baker’s Cut Off during the winter can be surprisingly good since there is a distinct channel that winds through the bayou for fishing if the water’s low and some excellent shallow water wood in case the water’s up.
“The first thing you’ve got to worry about during the winter is the water level,” said Covington. “Sometimes it can get so high you can’t get in. But if you can launch your boat, you can’t beat flipping a jig in the heavy cover because the fish will move into it even if it’s cold.”
I guess the secret society is going to fall apart now because this shining gem can no longer be covered up. So if you’re looking for something a little different, head south of Delhi and give Baker’s Cut Off a try. You’ll no doubt find out why this is one of those places that everybody fishes but nobody talks about.