Stay up with the owls to get in on the absolute best action of the year on this North Louisiana gem.
Dale Taylor had been slinging his black buzz bait all night long. Gayle, his wife, had turned it in long ago, and was resting peacefully on the back deck.
They were in the waning hours of a night tournament on Lake D’Arbonne, and Dale was looking for their fifth fish. He kept telling himself that if he would just keep throwing the buzzer, he would eventually catch another fish.
Dale tells himself that every time he goes night fishing.
Cast and buzz, cast and buzz, cast and buzz. The repetitiveness of the moment, along with the hypnotic buzzing sound and the late hour were making Taylor’s eyelids droop.Eventually it happened. He was roused by what sounded like somebody flushing an industrial-strength toilet. Before his mind could send the signal to his arms to set the hook, the fish jerked his rod down, nearly snatching it out of his hands.
As his near-dormant state was suddenly replaced by a blast of adrenaline, Taylor hollered for Gale to get the net. He couldn’t visually confirm how big the bass was, but the strain on his arms convinced him it was a good one.
The fish neared the side of the boat, and Taylor could finally see just what had awakened him from his near slumber.
“The fish was HUGE,” Taylor said. “Gayle was still stumbling around with the net, so I figured the best thing to do was just pull it over the side of the boat. I lifted the fish out of the water and pulled it up… I could hear the whirring of the buzzer as it flew by my ear.”
Taylor grimaced and directed a few choice words to the fish that had just pulled off his buzz bait. The fish was about 3 feet out of the water when it came unbuttoned. Taylor saw the ghostly blur of the bass falling back toward the water.
What he didn’t see was that Gayle had slipped the net under the fish before it actually got there.
“That’s night fishing on D’Arbonne,” Taylor said. “I’ve had some of the most exciting times of my fishing life out there on that lake after the sun goes down.
“I wouldn’t consider the night fishing on D’Arbonne much of a secret, though. A lot of people like to get out here and fish after dark. They all come for a reason, though. This lake is full of fish, and they love to bite at night.”
Dale and Gayle Taylor have been running tournaments in North Louisiana for several years. Together, they are the tournament directors for the North Louisiana and North Central Louisiana divisions of Media Bass, Majestic Big Bass Classic, Felsenthal Big Bass Classic and the Tuesday Evening tournaments that last all summer on D’Arbonne.
They are able to see just what kind of night fishing D’Arbonne offers while weighing fish during the Majestic tournament and the Tuesday Evening tournaments.
“The thing that makes D’Arbonne such a good night lake is the same thing that makes it a great daytime lake,” said Taylor. “And that’s the fact that it’s such a fertile lake. There are tons of shad in this lake, and there’s lots of great shallow cover for the bass.
“That’s a good combination anywhere.”
Many folks around D’Arbonne were griping earlier in the year because they weren’t catching very many fish. The Louisiana BASS Federation and the Wal-Mart BFL tournaments were dominated by low weights this past spring.
“Everybody was down on the lake,” said Taylor. “We were coming out of a drawdown, and everybody was complaining that the fish went over the spillway, or they were all caught and eaten.
“Come June, though, we proved all the naysayers wrong.”
The proof that D’Arbonne wasn’t dead came during the Majestic tournament that was held in early June. The Majestic tournament is a combination big bass and heavy stringer 24-hour tournament that has hourly weigh-ins.
This year, the tournament was won with an 11-pound fish. There were also two 8-pound fish brought to the scales.
“Out of 299 fish that we weighed in, six were over 6 pounds,” said Taylor. “We also had 13 5-pound fish weighed, and a bunch of 3s and 4s. The total weight was 886 pounds with a 2.9-pound average.
“The very next weekend, at another night tournament, there was another 11-pound fish caught with three 7s coming in.”
As you can see, D’Arbonne definitely isn’t dead. It’s just that the fish weren’t where everybody thought they were earlier in the year. The water stayed pretty cool, and the fish didn’t really start biting until about the middle of the spring.
Night fishing on Lake D’Arbonne isn’t very complicated. According to Taylor, and one of the better night anglers on the lake, Todd Thompson, night fishing on The Bone boils down to one of three baits — a spinnerbait, buzz bait or worm.
Taylor begins and ends his nights with a buzz bait. In fact, he rarely puts the buzzer down.
“I’ve always felt that if you can get five bites on the buzz bait at night,” he said, “you’ll have five heavyweights.”
D’Arbonne used to be considered one of the finest nighttime buzz-bait lakes in the nation by the regulars that experienced it firsthand. This was back in the ’80s and ’90s when the lake was loaded with grass.
The grass isn’t as prominent as it was back then, but that doesn’t mean the buzz bait has soured — it’s just that you have to cover more water to make it work.
The lake is loaded with rolling ridges, and the bass will move up on these high spots after the sun goes down to grab some grub. These spots aren’t loaded with grass nowadays, but if you can find scattered patches of grass, you’ll find the fish.
“More often than not,” said Taylor, “I actually do best on the buzz bait when I just get on a bank and put my trolling motor down. I think the key to the buzz bait bite today is keeping the thing in the water. They aren’t as concentrated as they used to be. You’ve got to stay on the move.”
Color doesn’t seem to matter as much as sound, according to Taylor. Black is a typical favorite, but pure white can work just as well.
The key to attracting bass on the buzzer at night, however, is the chirp the blade makes as it rotates around the wire.
Buzz baits are known for getting this seductive sound just before they fall apart from use. You can accelerate the process by sticking your favorite buzz bait out the window as you drive down the road. Also, try crimping the rivet to make it stationary at the end of the frame. This makes the blade sound off as it rubs against it.
Thompson, a competitor in the Central Division of the EverStart Tournament Trail, has come to rely on a unique buzz bait for his night fishing — the Boogerman.
“That bait has a flat, lead head,” he said. “This actually accomplished two things. It helps keep the bait up at slower speeds, and it creates a sultry clacking sound from the blade scraping the head.”
While the buzz bait is known as a bait that catches fewer but larger fish, the spinnerbait is just the opposite. A blade will catch big fish too, but it excels at catching numbers of quality keepers in the 3- to 4-pound range.
“A lot of anglers are really successful with a spinnerbait,” said Taylor. “They’re at their best when fished over the tops of ridges and high spots near the channel, or up on the grass flats in either Little D’Arbonne or Corney.”
The actual spinnerbait to throw hasn’t been nearly as important as the blade hanging from it. One of the old favorite spinnerbaits was a locally made lure dubbed The Judge, but The Judge always performed best with a No. 5 Hildebrandt Colorado blade.
The Judge has given way to a new version called The Jury, and the No. 5 blade is still there.
“A No. 5 blade dominates,” said Taylor. “Sometimes you may have to drop to a 4.5, or go up to a 6, but the 5 will be the ticket more often than not.”
Thompson agreed with Taylor about blade size. However, he added that changing blade size according to the calendar could keep you on the blade bite all summer long.
“I always start the night fishing season with a No. 5 blade,” he said. “But I’ll switch to a No. 6 later in the summer. For some reason, the fish at D’Arbonne just seem to get on the bigger blade later in the year.”
Blade color actually is more important to an angler than it is the fish, according to Taylor.
“Some say silver on dark nights and gold when the moon’s out,” he said. “Personally, I’ve never really seen that much difference. I think the vibration the blade puts out is what the fish key on.
“I would suggest playing around with blade color a little. However, rather than allowing the sky to dictate what blade you use, let the bass tell you.”
While D’Arbonne is best known as a spinnerbait and buzz bait lake for night fishing, Thompson says you shouldn’t forget about the standard Texas-rigged worm.
“I look for brushpiles around docks that have lights on them,” he said. “If they’re close to the channel, so much the better. Bass will move off the channel at night and pull up to those piles when the water starts cooling off.
“I’ve noticed there’s usually a one-hour lull after the sun goes down until the worm bite begins. I think the fish have to adjust to the diminishing light level.”
Thompson typically depends on big worms to entice the biggest bass. His most productive color on D’Arbonne has been red shad, but he’s found that these fish also love plum.
“It’s gotten to the point where you can go from not getting bit on red shad to immediately catching them once you switch to plum,” he said.
Whether fishing the spinnerbait, buzz bait or worm, Taylor makes sure to target two areas that he considers “must fish” spots when night fishing D’Arbonne.
Not surprisingly, one is up Little D’Arbonne, and the other is up Corney.
“Going up Little D’Arbonne, I like the area around Cypress Island and the Tech Flats,” he said. “There are a lot of lily pads in these areas — great for a buzz bait or spinnerbait.
“Actually, the south bank from the mouth of Little D’Arbonne near Folly Beach up to the old Redden’s Camp across from the new state park is great at night.”
Moving up Corney, Taylor says the grass flats from the Highway 2 Bridge up to Boatwright Creek are extremely productive.
“Corney tends to be a little clearer,” Taylor said, “so you’ve got to be a little stealthier when fishing up there.”
Taylor added that the worm fishermen typically head toward the spillway and fish the Yacht Club area and Massengills. There are a lot of lighted docks in these areas that have deep water nearby.
“Other than those areas,” he said, “I’d suggest fishing the Bear Creek and Terrell Island areas. There are some good spinnerbait ridges in those areas, and they produce well at times.”
Some anglers believe knowing where to go at D’Arbonne isn’t nearly as important as knowing when to go. Some say dark nights are best… some say the fishing is better when the moon is bright.
Like the blade-color debate, Taylor doesn’t buy into this argument.
“I like to fish at night,” he said. “I don’t care if the moon’s up or not. However, if the moon is out, it’s really important to fish the shadows just like you would during the day. Bass will position in the shade to hide from whatever it is they’re trying to eat.”
Taylor did point out something he’s noticed about the moon that could help you on your next trip. He says that if the moon begins to go down early in the morning around 3 or 4 o’clock, there will be a flurry of activity as it starts to get dark.
Other than that, Taylor and Thompson believe they can catch fish on any night because fish get more active and feed after the sun goes down.
And both agree that there’s no place they’d rather be during the summer than D’Arbonne after dark.
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