Creek Bound

What do you do if the weather turns sour and Toledo Bend’s main lake is too rough? Here are some tips on how to catch fish right from your cabin in the main Louisiana creeks.

A shiver coursed through my body as I stowed my gear in the cabin at Wildwood Resort, and the words of my editor sounded softly in the corners of my mind as I tightened my jacket. “You’ll be jigging with a spoon in 35 feet of water,” Todd Masson had prophesied with an evil chuckle earlier that day.

The bass had been up relatively shallow before a front blew through the state several days earlier, but Masson figured the fish would have scurried to deeper, warmer waters to wait for another warming trend.

I had laughed off his prediction even as I drove through misting rain and 40-degree temperatures on my way to Toledo Bend, but now I was starting to wonder.

The forecast for the next afternoon was for highs in the low to mid 60s, but night fell on this dreary day without the projected mid 50s being reached.

My guide, Glen Freeman of Converse, didn’t set my mind at ease when we made arrangements to meet the next morning.

“It’s going to be tough,” Freeman said. “But we’ll go out and give it a try.”

Great. Just great.

I hit the sack with visions of my trip the next day, and they weren’t very good.

The problem wasn’t all related to temperatures. Sure, the thermometer had plummeted as the late-winter front blew through, but that was only compounded by several inches of rain that was dumped on the area during the days leading up to my excursion.

“The lake’s risen about 2 feet since the weekend,” Freeman told me.

Yep, I couldn’t wait.

The only good news was that I could sleep in the next morning, since Freeman wanted to give the water some time to warm up.

As expected, cold air greeted me the following morning when I opened my cabin door. The temperature gauge in my truck read 40 degrees when I headed out.

But by 9:15, Freeman and I were idling away from the landing, bundled up against a chilly north wind and the light, intermittent mist.

Fortunately, we didn’t go far before Freeman dropped the trolling motor and began flipping some flooded brush just inside the mouth of San Miguel.

White caps could be seen forming on the main lake as the breeze picked up.

“I’d rather be out on the main-lake points, but with all that water, the fish have moved up,” Freeman said.

At least I could find some consolation in the fact that we wouldn’t be getting beaten up in the rough main lake.

The key for which this veteran Toledo Bend guide was looking was clean water, which precluded the backs of the creeks.

“Your cleaner water is going to be near the main lake,” he said.

The reason was simple — the massive run-off produced by the torrent of rain wasn’t enough to overpower the volume of water close to the main lake.

“The backs of the creeks will be very muddy, but it mixes out by the time it gets here,” Freeman explained.

But the water temperatures, hovering in the high 40s, weren’t anywhere close to suitable for spawning.

So I braced myself for a day of jigging the deeper points at the mouths of the creeks.

But Freeman said he still didn’t even think about moving out to deep-water ledges and points.

“The fish are still (in shallow); they haven’t moved far,” he said. “They’ll move off the banks some, but they stay in the area.”

That didn’t mean the fishing was going to be easy, though; the first bite didn’t come for more than an hour after we began flipping newly flooded buck brush.

As the YUM lizard Freeman favors slid out of a flooded buck brush and settled to the bottom, the line began swimming toward the boat.

The angler set the hook, and a fish that appeared to be about 4 pounds streaked up and toward the boat.

Freeman frantically struggled to gain line, but when he finally reeled in the slack, the fish was gone.

The second strike came about lunchtime, when my tube was nabbed on the edge of some brush and pulled back in.

The bass, one that again was in the 4- to 5-pound range, finally was dragged out of the tangle of wood, but it spit the hook a mere 3 feet from the boat.

Finally, Freeman hauled in a 5 1/2-pounder about 2:30 p.m.

All of the strikes came from the edge of the brush, and Freeman said that only proved his point that cold fronts don’t send Toledo Bend bass to deep-water points.

“The fish are here. They’re just back away from the brush, and they’re not biting,” he said. “But if the weather warms up a little, they’ll be right back in that brush, and the fishing will be fantastic.”

That’s a great lesson to learn for springtime fishing on The Bend, since fronts can turn the open waters of the huge reservoir into an unmanageable mess.

But how does one go about choosing where to fish without worrying about the weather?

A great way to enjoy the lake during the unpredictable spring weather is to choose one of the myriad campgrounds or resorts along one of the creeks and concentrate your efforts on the protected waters nearby.

Freeman said all of the main creeks on the Louisiana side hold quality fish this time of year that are doing one of three things — staging to spawn, spawning or coming off the spawn.

Long-time Toledo Bend guide John Dean, who now runs ReAction Lures, agreed.

“This is the only time of the year when, if you just can’t get out on the lake, you can be productive hiding in the coves and creeks,” Dean said.

The trick is to know how to fish these five creeks with confidence.

The lake can be divided into two sections with Pendleton Bridge being the defining mark, both in terms of terrain and spawning periods.

Anglers choosing the northern creeks — Lanana, San Miguel and San Patricio — should focus on two key features — bottom contours and buck brush.

That’s right, grass is not much of a factor north of the bridge.

Freeman, who makes his living on the northern section of Toledo Bend, said the relative lack of hydrilla doesn’t mean there aren’t quality fish roaming his waters.

“The main key is creek channels,” he said.

That’s because bass use these submerged waterways as thoroughfares to reach spawning grounds among the flooded brush and to move out of the shallows when mating is completed.

The spawn begins in these northern waters earlier than in the south, with bass moving up in March and spawning into the middle of April.

So by this time of the spring, Freeman is not only targeting bass in the shallows.

Fishing spawning bass isn’t very difficult in principle — Freeman simply pitches YUM lizards, tubes and spinnerbaits in and around the brush.

Again, in principle, this is easy, but landing hooked fish is another matter.

“You lose a lot of fish,” Freeman said. “They like to get right at the base of the brush to spawn.”

There are miles and miles of flooded brush, but Freeman said he carefully chooses sections that are the most likely to hold fish.

“If you know where a creek bend comes in close to the buck brush, that’s a great area,” Freeman said. “The fish move up those creeks and move into the brush.”

But as the numbers of fish in the bushes begins to wane, Freeman knows that he doesn’t have to move far — the fish have just moved right back into the creeks.

“What I target (at that point) are creek bends, any kind of hump or structure that is different,” Freeman said. “Fish key on that structure. What fish are looking for is something to rest in.”

As April ages and more fish move into the post spawn, Freeman begins relying more and more on his depth finder.

But he’s not looking for bottom features in extremely deep water yet.

The bass first congregate along the ledges, points, humps and creek channels right off the shallower spawning grounds.

“In April, I’m in 8 to 10 feet of water,” Freeman said.

It’s not until May hits, when the spawn is pretty much over in the northern waters that he moves to the major structures in deep water.

“In May we start looking for deep fish,” he said.

While each of the three major creeks north of the bridge hold fish, Freeman said San Patricio is actually his favorite.

“It’s just got … every type of structure you want,” he said. “It’s got a lot of main-lake features: It’s got ridges, points, humps and ledges.”

It also is where the first Toledo Bend spawn occurs.

“It seems that it warms up first,” Freeman explained. “The northwest wind can’t get to it.”

But heavy rains can turn much of the creek sour as muddy water pours in through the feeders.

“The creek in San Patricio is a pretty well-defined creek; it pulls in water from miles,” he said. “It has a lot more run-off than San Miguel.”

So when rains turn San Patricio to chocolate milk, Freeman just puts in on San Miguel.

“It’ll get a little stained, but it clears up quick. San Miguel is bigger, wider than San Patricio,” Freeman said.

Even in this large branch of the lake, however, rains can produce muddy water.

“It’ll muddy up toward the back of the creek, but the mouth toward the main lake stays pretty clean,” he said. “The farther north you go, the more susceptible you are to muddying up.”

Lanana has been written off by many anglers because much of it has been cleared to allow for recreational boating without worries of hitting submerged structure.

“They cut the timber, and they killed the grass a few years ago for recreational purposes,” Freeman said.

But it’s one of his aces in hole.

“The fish didn’t leave Lanana. They have just gone back to orienting on contours,” he explained.

Once the fish in this area leave the shallows by mid April, Freeman won’t be seen working Lanana’s shorelines.

Instead, he’s watching his depth finder for creek bends, points and humps.

“You’re looking for different topographical bottoms, different types of structure then,” he said.

Again, the first features that will hold fish will be in the 8- to 10-foot range, but by May the deep-water contours will be the tickets to success.

The southern lake is a different story.

The deeper waters in this section warm more slowly, pushing the spawn through May. Some fish, according to Department of Wildlife & Fisheries biologist Ricky Yeldell, will even be on beds into June.

Dean, who made his reputation pulling bass from these deeper waters, said hydrilla is the one feature that defines this part of the lake throughout the year.

That means this angler doesn’t join the legions of fishermen beating the banks during the spring — Dean is working the grass in deeper water.

“The fish will be on the inside grass line toward the bank,” he said. “These areas get a lot less pressure.”

But that line of vegetation might be well away from the visible bank, and it’s usually in 4- to 6-foot depths.

“Some of these inside grass lines might be half a mile from the bank,” Dean explained. “Basically what it is doing is following a contour.

“Whether it parallels the bank, or hits a secondary point, you want to find that inside grass line.”

At this time of year, when the growing season is just beginning, this line is submerged, so Dean relies on his depth finder to put him on fish.

“This is when a fisherman needs to be very electronics proficient,” he said.

The key is to know what to look for.

“Grass will be fuzzy; you’ll see an irregular bottom,” Dean said.

On a flasher, grass will be noted with a wider, undulating line, he said.

But Dean’s looking for more than grass — he’s searching for the grass-free patches along this inside line in which bass spawn.

“This is where the fish are going to park,” he said.

Depth finders show these areas as hard, narrow lines.

“When I see that, I turn around and go back and fish it,” Dean said.

These hard, smooth spawning areas can be of any size.

“There can be a dirt spot as big as a 100-foot diameter circle, and it can be as small as two boat lengths,” he said. “And they can be nothing bigger than the size of a 5-gallon bucket.”

And if an angler can get lucky enough to find a bare spot on top of a hump in 15 to 25 feet of water, Dean said he’s found a gold mine.

“That bald spot is where fish will spawn,” he said.

As the spring ages and the weather moderates, the water column settles out and Dean said it becomes possible to see many of these spawning areas.

“I’m not necessarily seeing the fish, but I’m seeing the spot where the fish are going to spawn,” he said.

The baits he uses aren’t standard spawning lures; there’s no Texas-rigged lizards or spinnerbaits on his deck.

“This is Carolina-rig fishing,” Dean said.

To this he adds wacky worms and crankbaits like Rogues and 7A Bombers.

Of the creeks south of Pendleton, Dean always prefers Toro.

“It’s a unique area,” he said.

The former guide said Toro features plenty of the inner grass lines he looks for, extending along the north banks from the mouth in front of the islands all the way to the back of the creek.

But Arnold Bay to the north also has plenty of area in which Dean can catch fish.

He only ventures into the depths of Toro or Negreet if things really get nasty.

“The only time I go way back into the creeks is when I’m forced to, when Mother Nature makes me,” Dean said.

In this situation, he’s still looking for a grass line, but he focuses more of his attention on the bank contours.

“I look for nothing but secondary points,” he said.

His clue to where these treasure troves of bass can be found is a very irregular-shaped bank.

“I’ll go into a shotgun pattern and hit both points, and then I go right back into the back of the cove,” Dean said.

He’s often faced with the choice between sharply diving and slowly fading banks.

Dean said he takes the sloping bank every time.

“There’s always a point off those sloping banks,” he explained. “I’ll leave the tighter banks alone and fish the flatter banks because they hold fish.”

His Carolina rig is put away for this fishing.

“I use a wacky worm,” Dean said. “I can cover a lot more water with it.”

 

Glen Freeman can be reached at (318) 567-1086; John Dean can be reached at ReAction Lures at (800) 256-2075.n

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.

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