Bass are lining up for holiday goodies, and anglers need to know how to set a big spread for big hawgs. Here’s one expert’s menu.
Kids may be all snuggled in their beds in December, but it’s not sugarplums dancing in the heads of their bass-fishing fathers who frequent Caney Lake.
A dependable trophy lake in Jackson Parish, Caney is good all the time, but this is the month its bass begin to belly up to Christmas dinner and fatten up for the spring spawn.
Bass anglers know this is the time of the year that Santa can put a bunch of big bass in their stockings — a great time to try and break that 10-pound mark. Another plus is that fishing pressure is not as bad as you would think.
Corey Harris of West Monroe has a lot of experience on the lake. In December 2018, he landed his personal best, a 13.57-pound bass that he weighed, photographed and released right where he caught it. He also recalls with a laugh that he was the only boat on the lake on that miserable day.
From catching numerous 10-pound fish, plus his all-time best, he also teamed up with local angler Hunter Freeman a couple of years ago to boat a 5-fish limit that weighed 36.30 pounds. The two anglers caught more than 40 bass that December day, most of them weighing 4 pounds or better.
“That was an absolutely perfect day,” he said. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but it could happen again the way Caney is today.”
Knowing what made that “perfect day” can also help anglers catch their own trophy bass or huge stringer. The first tip Harris offers doesn’t have to do with water temperature or water clarity or the Solunar Tables. It has to do with the sky.
“That is the first thing I look at in December to determine how, where and what I’ll fish with: The sky. I look to the sky,” he said. “If it’s sunny, I know I need to go look for fish offshore. If it’s cloudy, I know the fish are going to be up shallow, even in the colder months.”
He describes “offshore” as water 15 to 25 feet deep. The sun also tends to keep fish bunched up on grass beds or brush tops that cover much of the lake’s bottom. He said the best areas seem to be near the bends in the creeks and channels.
When it’s cloudy, Harris said fish will stay in 6 feet of water or less pretty much all day. Fish tend to roam, however, and where you caught them yesterday, they may not be today. He has also noticed that fish may bite in different areas on different days, even though fish are still in all those areas. You just have to be methodical and find the ones that will bite.
When it comes down to it, his best days on the lake are when the weather seems to be at its most miserable.
“The second key to big bass is the grass,” Harris said. “What’s made Caney have such a remarkable comeback is that the grass is pretty much all over the lake now. That supports the whole life cycle of the lake, and that is where the bass are going to be.
“One time, they killed all the grass out of the lake, and it almost killed the lake. Now, it is flourishing, and we need to keep it that way. To try and kill the grass in Caney would be a death sentence for the best big-bass lake in Louisiana.”
Harris looks for the greener grass. The older, dying patches don’t hold very many fish, probably because the dying grass sucks oxygen out of the water and doesn’t offer as much warmth as the green, healthy grass beds.
A host of lures will catch Caney bass this time of year, but Harris has two without which he won’t go to the lake.
“There’s no doubt the two best lures at Caney are a Rat-L-Trap and a jig with a plastic trailer,” he said. “You can pound the grass beds shallow or deep with a jig, and they’ll eat it up. The best way to work it is to cast it out and slowly bounce it back across the bottom or through the holes in the grass.”
Fish love the red or crawfish colors, but they will also hit gold or silver when they are really biting. But some days they are a little more picky about how they like their Rat-L-Trap presented.
“Some days, they just want you to tick the top of the grass with the Trap and keep it moving,” Harris said. “Other days, they want it down in the grass. Let it fall in the grass and rip it out. They’ll usually hit it as you pull the bait away from the grass. Still other days, you just have to throw it out as far as you can and burn it back across the top of the grass. In December, that isn’t as common as other months, but it often produces when nothing else will.
“You just have to let the fish tell you how they want it on that particular day and part of the lake.”
Caney provides more than just big bass. If an angler wants to go catch 2- to 4-pounders, that’s a very realistic expectation, especially on cloudy days.
“What you need to do is just tie on a Rat-L-Trap and a jig and hit the shore and fish the grass,” Harris said. “Keep up with where you are catching fish, and work those areas more than once. You just have to put in some work; work a lot of shoreline and find where they are. “
Harris said to try shallow water near the bank and also out on the edges of the grass in slightly deeper water to see where the fish are, especially the ones that are biting.
Caney has two commercial landings and the Jimmie Davis State Park, offering all kinds of services and facilities for easy angler access.
What do Caney lake bass want for Christmas?
We have been good this year. This is what we want for Christmas, please.
— Caney Lake bass
When Corey Harris of West Monroe wants to unwrap a livewell full of largemouths in December, he has a whole list of lures he knows Caney Lake bass will want.
Here are his favorite baits for this time of year:
- Rat-L-Trap in white craw;
- Rat-L-Trap in original craw;
- Bill Norman DB22 in chartreuse/blue;
- Strike King 6XD in barfish;
- Profound Outdoors Xboss 25 in old blue;
- Strike King Red Eye Shad in gold;
- War Eagle Finesse Jig with Zoom twin-tail trailer in pumpkin;
- Homemade jig with Strike King Minnow trailer, black/blue;
- Homemade jig with Rage Tail Craw trailer in Okeechobee craw.
Spoon-feed Caney bass after a hard cold front
Most of Corey Harris’s approaches to December bass fishing are traditional, but he has one trick for tough conditions that catches, in his own words, “everything in the lake.”
And it works best at a time when most fishermen just stay home.
“When we have a hard cold front, I mean, one of those where it drops from 60 to 30 degrees, it’s not an ideal time to go bass fishing,” Harris said. “But that’s when I like to go, locate fish and drop a Cotton Cordell spoon right on top of their heads.”
Sudden cold weather usually catches some threadfin shad by surprise; they cannot tolerate the cold. On days after a front, Harris said you’ll see dying shad flitting on the surface before they die and sink to the bottom.
That’s where the spoon comes in. It’s the lure and technique that produced Harris’s first double-digit bass — a 10.20-pound trophy — on Caney several years ago.
“That spoon looks just like a shad dying and falling to the bottom,” Harris said. “Plus, it’s one of the easiest ways to catch bass you can think of. You just lower it down and raise it up; they do the rest. One thing to watch for: a lot of times when you are jigging it, the line will go slack. That means one has swum up to the spoon and sucked it in. And here’s another thing. Everything in the lake will hit a spoon — bass, crappie, catfish, even big old chinquapin bream.”
Harris switches to a spinning outfit for the spoon so he can use lighter line. First, lighter line gives the spoon more action. Second, a spinning outfit is easy to handle wearing gloves, which is a good thing after a hard cold front.