Louisiana Sportsman had state experts grade Louisiana’s bass lakes on quantity, quality and potential. See how your favorite lake fared.
Considering that successful bass fishermen do their homework before going on the water, how about subjecting the many bass fisheries in Louisiana to academic standards of their own for 2003? Their grades could help anglers decide where and when to go while giving them options they may or may not have thought about before getting their hands on the 2003 Bass Report Card provided by Louisiana Sportsman. Where’s the best opportunity for quality? Quantity? Quality and quantity? Which bodies of water have the most potential for bass fishing this year?
Those are some of the questions fielded by the men who know the inner workings of the lakes, bayous, rivers and streams across the Sportsman’s Paradise. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists, who make it their job to keep their fingers on the pulse of the fisheries, were more than willing help with this Bass Report Card.
The biologists from different regions around the state graded bass fishing at a handful of the bodies of water in their respective districts. The district supervisors based their grades on creel surveys from last year, recent electrofishing samples, current conditions, etc.
Naturally, there are some bodies of water that stand out. Those are the ones getting A’s and B’s on the 2003 Bass Report Card Louisiana Bass Fishing Honor Roll.
Some of the names might surprise you and trigger a quick impulse to track down more information and point the bow of your boat in that direction. Others are probably as familiar to you as the way your trolling motor works.
One body of water that stands out from the class is D’Arbonne Lake in biologist Mike Wood’s District 2. The lake gets a B for quantity, A for quality and A+ for potential in 2003 from Wood.
“This lake compares with any in the country for 2- to 4-pound bass. It also will produce monsters. Remember the 15.31-pounder caught in 2000? It’s seventh in the LOWA listings,” Wood said recently from his district office in Monroe.
Others on the honor roll are Ouachita River, Grand Bayou Reservoir, Caddo Lake, Lake Bistineau, Lake Chicot, Lake Henderson, Bundick Lake, Vernon Lake and the fearsome foursome of Lake Concordia, Lake Bruin, Lake St. John and Turkey Creek Lake.
Some bodies of water just missed the honor but had high grades nevertheless. They were Caney Lake, Red River Pools No. 4 & 5, Red River Pool No.1, Spanish Lake near New Iberia, Anacoco Lake, Calcasieu River and Lake Martin.
Others that got passing grades are False River, Lac des Allemands, and the Lacassine Pool.
How did D’Arbonne Lake rise to such prominence in a state chock-full of bassin’ honey holes from Toledo Bend to Pearl River?
Give the people who manage the lake, including Wood, plenty of credit. The 40-year-old lake is kicking up its heels like a colt and behaving like it’s in its prime, a point that few, if any, would argue.
“LDWF management efforts are paying off in a big way. They include recommendations to limit major drawdowns, Florida largemouth bass stockings and artificial reefs,” Wood said.
Such actions have done wonders for the health of the lake and, as a result, it’s bass population.
Wood has overseen the stocking of thousands of Florida bass fingerlings and placement of three artificial reefs, which are marked with buoys.
The D’Arbonne Lake Commission, too, has done its part to make the lake’s bass fishery viable and accessible. The commission, which was scheduled to hear the latest report on the lake from Wood in late February, has enhanced access by improving nine public boat launches around the lake and by clearing and marking boat lanes.
The combination pays off.
“Last year was a very good year. When I don’t get a lot of complaints, fishing’s got to be good,” Walker said.
“There are good numbers when you catch it right,” he said, noting schooling fish action, “but this is not a lake where you consistently catch more than 10 bass.”
If you want quantity, another body of water in his district offers that capability, he said, naming the Ouachita River.
“Lots of bass are caught along the river channel and in run-outs when they’re right. They’re a mix of spotted bass and largemouth bass,” Wood said. “Larger bass (up to 7 pounds) are generally found in the more stable waters back in the sloughs off the river.”
The river’s bass fishing potential this year is very good, he said, because spring high-water periods the past several years have set the table.
But what about Caney Lake in District 2, previously notorious for giving up “hawgs.” Wood said the lake is on the comeback trail from the grass-carp nightmare of the 1990s. It has more small bass and more vegetation, he said, which are encouraging signs.
“Don’t go to Caney to catch lots of bass. You won’t. But if you want a realistic chance to catch a 10-pound bass, and you’re willing to fish away from the bank to do it, Caney’s the place for you,” he said.
“It’s a wide-open lake. You’ve got to know where to go,” he added, noting there are nine artificial reefs in place that are marked with yellow buoys.
But the spawn in the spring puts the fish on their beds, where they are easier to locate, he said.
There are success stories in other waterbodies, as well, in Louisiana. There’s one in District 5, where biologist Eric Shanks touts the presence of Bundick Lake in Southwest Louisiana.
During one of his samples last year, Shanks had an average catch of 70.8 bass per hour from the 1,750-acre lake in Beauregard Parish near Dry Creek. Approximately 40 percent of the fish were 12 inches long or longer.
That’s good news for a lake that was drawn down intentionally in 1998 and unintentionally, because a water-control structure broke in the open position, for three months in January 2001.
Some anglers had stayed away from the lake or reported unsuccessful trips. One was a department employee who lives at the lake who kept saying it needed to be stocked, Shanks said.
“What you find a lot of times, what’s there is not what fishermen are catching,” the biologist said, citing the fact fishing with artificials puts the bass at an advantage and many anglers neglect to switch tactics.
Then the department employee saw schooling bass all over the lake. Later he found what they were hitting on and during a four-month stretch last year caught and released 600 bass.
Bassin’ is best with plastic worms and buzz baits. Fishing’s good almost any time of year but better in late summer when schooling bass can be caught on Beetle Spins and small spinnerbaits.
Another District 5 honor roll hotspot is Vernon Lake. Shanks was high on the 4,200-acre lake in Vernon Parish near Leesville because it gave up an average catch of 92.6 bass per hour in samples last year, and consistently gives up bass in the 7- to 10-pound range.
“Combined with a very healthy population of fish under the 14- to 17-inch slot limit, Vernon offers some of the best fishing opportunities in our portion of the state,” he said, noting spinnerbaits are deadly in the spring, soft plastics and live bait in the summer, and crankbaits over dropoffs in the fall.
Don’t pass up a chance to fish Anacoco Lake, either, he said. The 2,600-acre Vernon Parish lake yielded an average 43.4 bass per hour in 2002, including 22 percent more than 12 inches long.
“This lake underwent a renovation project in 1999-2000, and is still showing the effects,” Shanks said. “Although the bass numbers are down significantly from what they were right after the renovation, we are getting bigger fish showing up in our samples.”
Spring and fall are the best times to fish it with deep-diving crankbaits along dropoffs in the spring and Rat-L-Traps and spinnerbaits in the fall for schooling fish.
For numbers, Calcasieu River in District 5 is hard to beat, according to Shanks. Last year there was an average catch of 107.2 bass per hour in samples, but only 7 percent were larger than 12 inches long, he said.
“The river is experiencing a boom as it recovers from saltwater intrusion from the recent drought years,” he said. “This ‘boom’ is normal after poor environmental conditions cause stress/die-offs. This means larger numbers of smaller fish are available to be caught, but large fish may be few and far between.”
Plastic worms and lizards work most of the time when fished shallow and around dropoffs, he said.
The jury’s still out on District 5’s Lacassine Pool in the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge. But things are looking up in the marsh wracked by drought in the late 1990s.
There was an average catch of 44.8 bass per hour in his samples last year, and approximately 7 percent of the population was at least 12 inches long.
“Lacassine is also currently in a recovery period from the drought years,” Shanks said, “and is undergoing the same ‘boom’ cycle as the Calcasieu. The action should only get better with time as fish populations recover and larger fish are recruited into the population.”
Special regulations on bass may be in effect when it opens in March, he said. Contact NWR headquarters at 337-774-5923 for details.
Recovery is the encouraging word in District 9, where Mike Walker anticipates good to excellent bass fishing inside the Atchafalaya Basin and Lake Verret-Grassy Lake-Lake Palourde on the Stephensville side of the West Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee. The prolonged drought also took its toll on those areas.
But they’re bouncing back strong, Walker said from his New Iberia office.
“There ain’t a whole lot that I’m doing. They’re just good areas. The only thing we’re really doing is the Florida bass program, which gives you the potential to catch bigger bass,” he said. “I think the drought had an effect. We were missing certain year classes. But it ought to be the end of that effect. Two- and 3-pound fish are back in the system.”
The Atchafalaya Basin, devastated by a massive fish kill when Hurricane Andrew hit in August 1992, has quality habitat and plenty of food for an abundance of native bass, he said. And this could be the year someone pulls a 10-pound-plus bass out of it, he said.
“More than 1 million Florida largemouth bass fingerlings were stocked in 2002. A 14-inch minimum guarantees an average size of bass harvested near 2 pounds,” Walker said.
The nation’s last great overflow swamp’s potential is so good this year because of excellent spawns in the spring of 2001 and 2002, he said.
“These year classes should be represented now in the amount of bass just under 14 inches. There may still be a reduced number of age 3- and 4-year-old bass,” he explained, “that were not spawned or survived the 1999 and 2000 drought conditions that existed, and these fish would be the ones at or over 14 inches as 3-year-old and 4-year-old fish.”
Also, he said, Florida bass fingerlings stocked in 1999 and 2000 already will be at or more than 14 inches long at a younger age than the native strain of bass.
Walker said the Lake Verret complex is a nutrient-rich environment that produces many bass. Food is plentiful and water levels are more stable than the Atchafalaya Basin, he said.
“The drought of 1999 and 2000 probably had an effect on the numbers of bass produced, but the complex should be nearing the end of the effects of that weather anomaly and production should have returned to normal in 2001 and 2002,” he said. “Some minor fish kills occurred in the system after Hurricane Lili that showed there were large numbers of bass in the canal systems surrounding Verret, Grassy and Palourde. No kills were associated with the main bodies of the major lakes.”
The water bodies there have produced some bass more than 10 pounds starting in 1998. Because Floridas have been stocked on an annual basis since then, too, and with the presence of so much food, the potential to catch “hawgs” has increased significantly, Walker said.
This may be the year a 10-pound bass or bigger is caught in Lake Dauterive-Fausse Pointe in District 9, Walker said. The lake has its troubles, he admits, but professionals and volunteers are working diligently to get it on track.
It’s been five years since Florida bass were first stocked in the lake through the first Teche Area Big Shot Tournament, a fund-raising event held in the Atchafalaya Basin. “Hawgs” started showing up in the Lake Verret area five years after the Florida strain was introduced, Walker pointed out, so the potential is there for a big one this year.
“There will be bass harvested in some areas of the lake, but a vast majority of the available habitat is unsuitable for largemouth bass. Shallow, soft-bottom areas occupy much of the habitat and bass will be concentrated in small areas that make them a target for all of the fishing pressure on the lake,” he said. “The 14-inch-minimum-length limit will help with the fishing pressure problem but may not be enough to overcome the habitat problems of the system.”
A lake to keep an eye on in District 9 is Spanish Lake near New Iberia (featured in this magazine last month for its sac-a-lait fishing), Walker said. Eight- and 9-pound bass were netted in samples in January 2002 and probably weigh more than 10 pounds this year.
Otherwise, the numbers are dwindling.
“The total number of bass in Spanish Lake has steadily declined since the willow trees in the lake died and sunk to the bottom, reducing the amount of cover for largemouth bass in the open water of the lake and concentrating them along the rocks and a few areas that have hard bottoms,” Walker said.
Duck blinds, stickups along the levee and rip-rap along the levee road hold most of the fish.
Numbers are down because the spawn is off each year.
The number of carp in the lake pumped in with the water from the Daigre Canal when the lake was filled and, also, later when an attempt to overcome effects of a drought and leaking drawdown structure have proved to be a dominant factor in the success of nesting fish in the lake. The carp have basically proved too great an obstacle for nesting fish to produce numbers of bass and bream in Spanish Lake. More than likely, the only reason that there are bass at all in the lake is due to the annual stocking program of 124,000 Florida bass fingerlings that are put in the lake.
One of the hottest bass fishing regions in the state is the one with Lake Concordia, Lake Bruin, Lake St. John and Turkey Creek Lake in District 4. Lake Bruin and Turkey Creek Lake are at the head of the pack because they have pulled out of droughts and bouts with the largemouth bass virus (LMBV) faster than the others, according to Dave Hickman.
“I gave Lake Concordia B’s mainly because it’s not as good as it used to be,” Hickman said from his Ferriday office. “Don’t get me wrong, it still has a good population of bass and still has some big fish. But before the summer of 2000, we had some outstanding electrofishing samples.
“Some people are blaming the decline on the removal of the 15- to 19-inch slot limit in January of 2002. I hate to see the lake removed from the ‘trophy lake’ program,” he continued in his report on the 1,050-acre lake in Concordia Parish, “but the truth is our samples have been off since 2001. We are seeing the effects of poor spawns and recruitment during the drought a couple of years ago.
“Concordia also lost a lot of big bass to LMBV during the summer of 2000. The good news: The bass have had good spawns the last couple of springs, and we have not had any more problems with LMBV.”
Lake Bruin, a 2,342-acre lake in Tensas Parish, seems to be recovering more quickly.
“The only thing that might have set it back some was a fish kill last fall. The lake turned over when Lili came through,” Hickman explained, “and we estimated 3,600 largemouth and 100 spotted bass died in the eastern third of the lake. Fortunately, dissolved oxygen levels in the rest of the lake were fine, and it doesn’t look like the fish kill put much of a dent in the bass population. It took over 19 pounds to win one tournament this winter.”
The lake with the most bassin’ potential in his district this year is 2,118-acre Lake St. John in Concordia Parish, he said.
“Lake St. John also suffered because of the drought. However, we don’t know of any fish kills associated with LMBV,” he said., “I gave the 2003 potential an ‘A’ because the bass have had some great spawns since the water level came back up. We didn’t sample the lake in 2002, but we had a lot of young fish show up in our electrofishing samples in the fall of 2001, so hopefully there will be plenty of catchable bass this year.”
Successful fishing patterns at those three lakes are pretty much the same, he said. During the spring, fish can be caught on the flats on the ends of the lakes with jig-n-pigs, soft plastics, spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits around grass beds and cypress trees. Summertime favorites include plastic worms, tubes and jigs around the cypress trees and crankbaits around the piers.
“On bright days, I like to rig a tube on a 1/16-ounce weedless jig and skip it under the piers,” he said.
Hickman also said to give those three lakes a try at night during the dog days of summer. Sometimes, he said, “You can wear them out under the lights if you switch baits every couple of fish.”
Spinnerbaits and jigs around cypress trees are the best bets in the fall, he said.
At Turkey Creek Lake in Franklin Parish, it often takes a 4-pound or better average to win a tournament, Hickman said. The 3,097-acre body of water has plenty of cover, too much for electrofishing samples to be taken, he said.
Cypress trees on the north end consistently produce bass in the spring and fall on jigs, worms, spinnerbaits and topwaters, he said. The channel provides a dropoff to fish with Carolina-rigged soft plastics and crankbaits in the summer and winter, he said.
Some of Louisiana’s best bass fishing is certain to be enjoyed in the central part of the state, according to Richard Moses in District 3. That’s where honor roll lakes such as Cane River, Black Lake and Red River Pools 2 and 3 give anglers the opportunity to get their line stretched.
Oh, yes, Cane River Lake in Natchitoches Parish does have some green beauties in it. Moses said it is a fertile 1,275-acre waterbody (an old Red River cutoff 35 miles long) with a huge forage base of mostly shad.
“It is one of the more consistent lakes in District 3 for bass production, and quality bass in the 3- to 5-pound range are caught regularly,” he said from his office in Pineville.
There isn’t a lot of underwater vegetation, he said about the lake he gave B’s for quality, quality and potential, because the water stays turbid most of the time. As a result, fishing around piers and trees is popular and effective.
But fishing the small pockets in the vegetation growing along the bank can be very productive. Weedless jig-n-pigs and tube lures work best there, while crankbaits and spinnerbaits in shad colors trigger strikes around the piers and trees. Also try fishing early and late with topwaters.
The up-and-coming bodies of water in his district are, without a doubt, Red River Pools 2 and 3. They got an “A” for quantity and a “B” for quality.
“Since the lock and dam was placed on the Red River, the bass fishing seems to be getting better and better every year. Many major tournaments have been held on the system from Pool at Alexandria to Pool 5 at Shreveport. If the water levels are cooperative, many five-fish stringers weighing more than 20 pounds are caught,” he said.
“One of the keys to catching fish in the river during the spring is to locate clearer water usually in the backs of the oxbows. These fish can be caught on the normal springtime baits. Later in the summer when the water quality begins to go down, fish can be located around the rock revetments along the major river channel. Fishing can be productive with shad-colored crankbaits.”
Black Lake, the largest lake in District 3 at 13,800 acres, is located east of Campti. Like Cane River Lake, it has high fertility but is subject to extreme water-level fluctuations because of the huge watershed. During heavy periods of rain, Moses said, water from the Red River backs up into the lake.
As a result, he said, fishing is at its best with jig-n-pigs and soft plastics when the water level has stabilized and is beginning to clear. Anglers should remember that the cypress tree-filled lake has few marked boat lanes and many underwater stumps.
Black Lake got straight B’s for quality, quantity and quality.
Another District 3 lake that can’t be overlooked is Rodemacher Lake (also known as Cleco Lake). The 3,070-acre lake got a B for quantity, C for quality and B for potential, the latter because Moses was impressed by the bass samples from last year.
“The 2003 potential looks very promising. The 2002 sampling indicated large numbers of bass in the 8- to 12-inch range,” Moses said. “The hot-water channel should be extremely good during the early part of the year because the water temperature is generally quite a bit warmer than the rest of the lake. The points are usually the most productive, and soft plastics rigged Carolina-style seem to consistently produce fish.”
District 1 has some bass fishing gems of its own, namely Grand Bayou Reservoir in Red River Parish near Coushatta, Caddo Lake in Caddo Parish north of Shreveport, and Lake Bistineau. They are honor-roll lakes, and Red River Pools 4 and 5 just missed despite A’s for quantity and potential.
What does Caddo Lake have going for it? James Seales said the old standby has a storied reputation for giving up monster bass in past years and still has the potential to give up “wall hangers,” which is why it got an A for quality.
“The replica program sponsored by Bass Life Associates has greatly contributed to the numbers of bass 8 pounds and up that are caught, weighed and released,” Seales said.
The 32,500-acre lake rates a B for quantity. Seales said consistently good catches of bass are made around cypress trees and submerged vegetation there.
Want a chance to tangle with a bass weighing 11 pounds or more? Grand Bayou Reservoir could be one the places to fit the bill because of a high percentage of Florida bass in the population, according to Seales.
There’s a good chance one of those hawgs will be caught in the spring, which normally is an excellent time for sticking the big ones, Seales said. The 2,500-acre lake also has good numbers of bass inside the 14- to 17-inch slot limit, and plenty of fish above, he said.
Don’t sell the Red River Pools 4 and 5 short just because they didn’t make the honor roll. Seales gave the area an impressive A+ for quantity because it has been providing anglers fantastic bass fishing action for several years.
“The best times are late spring through fall when the river levels permit safe boating,” he said.
The grade for the stretch’s potential in 2003? A lofty A.
But quality rates a C, Seales said. That may change in the future due to the introduction of Florida bass that will smack some artificials in five to six years, he said.
Two District 6 lakes are on the honor roll, and one of them got straight A’s. That’s 61-year-old Lake Chicot nestled in the rolling hills seven miles north Ville Platte.
Why? Quality-wise, approximately 1.7 million Florida bass have been stocked in the lake since 1988. And bass weighing more than 13 pounds have been caught in the 1,700-acre lake with a 14- to 17-inch slot limit.
The potential is great this year, particularly March through April and, later in the year, September through October, because creel surveys and samples last year indicated a bass population in its prime, according to Jody David. Fish with soft plastic and topwaters around Walker’s Branch on the north end and behind the Chicot State Park cabins on the south end, he advised.
Any more questions?
Don’t be surprised that Henderson Lake is on the 2003 Bass Report Card Honor Roll. The 5,000-acre overflow swamp has a very fertile backwater system with an excellent forage base, which means there are plenty of fish and, thus, a well-deserved A for quantity. David said it is a “very fertile backwater system with an excellent forage base,” which accounts for the abundance of bass.
Henderson Lake’s quality grade is a B thanks to recent stockings of Florida bass in the lake, he said.
David said the best time to fish the lake is when it’s at pool stage. Try soft plastics and crankbaits in north Lake Bigeux, South Pelba Bay and the Phillips Canal area, he suggested.
One of the most scenic, and smallest, lakes in the district is Lake Martin in St. Martin Parish near Breaux Bridge. Many young bass showed up in electrofishing samples last year, David said, and many Florida bass have been stocking in the shallow lake ringed by cypress trees.
“The future of the lake looks promising,” he said from his Opelousas office.
The best time to fish the lake is March and April, he said.
Red River Pool 1 just north of Marksville off Highway 452 missed the honor roll despite an A for quantity because of the fantastic habitat and forage base, David said.
River systems typically produce smaller fish, he said, and gave it a C for quality.
But it has a B for potential this year due to an abundance of spotted bass and largemouth bass.
Early summer and early fall are the best times to fish the stretch (when at pool stage). Crankbaits around rock weirs and oxbows off the river are the most productive areas, he said.