Louisiana is divided into districts, each of which has some real gems waiting for bass fishermen.
If the drought defined the late 1990s, it looks like a dramatic recovery in the state’s bass fisheries will be the defining factor of the early 2000s. Waterways like Toledo Bend, Lake Concordia and Venice are all in prime condition, with bass populations exploding and big fish again beginning to surface.
Hydrilla beds that shrank and, in some cases, seemed to disappear are topping out.
Largemouth bass virus, although still present, has gone dormant as fish shrug off the stresses of the drought.
So a decision has to be made: Where should you go fishing?
Here’s a rundown of the state’s fisheries biologists’ top picks throughout the state.
Three waterways stand out in Northwest Louisiana: Grand Bayou, the Red River and Caddo Lake.
Of the three, it’s Caddo to which anglers can turn for the best shot at trophy bass, district biologist James Seales said.
“The Louisiana record (15.97 pounds) has been surpassed on Caddo, but it was caught in Texas,” Seales said.
Because it is a border lake, only those fish that are caught on the Louisiana side can be entered into the state record books.
“All it takes is for that fish to swim a couple of miles to be a Louisiana record,” Seales said.
But Seales said the year-in-year-out quality fishing is due, in large part, to the strong catch-and-release ethic practiced by area anglers.
“Bass Life Associates has a replica program, and I think any fish that’s 8 pounds or over gets some reimbursement,” he said. “That’s encouraged a lot of people to release those big fish.
“That’s what it takes. There’s so much fishing pressure nowadays; you’ve got to have catch and release to move enough fish into those older age classes.”
Putting your lure in front of a double-digit bass is made easier because of the generous amounts of aquatic vegetation in the lake.
“One thing that’s really good on Caddo is the fish are concentrated on grass,” Seales said. “When you find grass, you generally find the fish.”
Some of the best habitat, however, is found on the Texas side of the lake, he explained.
But the fish are there to be caught.
Grand Bayou also offers anglers great opportunities to catch numbers of quality fish, but not necessarily trophies, Seales said.
“We haven’t seen the trophy fish show up like we hoped,” he said.
There were some really big fish pulled from the waters after the reservoir opened in 1996, but Seales said those probably resulted from the stocking of 100 adult brood bass.
But the potential is there to move from catching numbers of fish up to 5 pounds to harvesting double-digit lunkers.
“We do have a fairly good percentage of Florida genes,” Seales said.
He admitted that one limiting factor could be the relatively low fertility of the water.
“It’s fairly fertile, but it’s not the best,” he said. “It’s up in the upper end of the watershed, so there’s less watershed and less nutrients flowing into the lake.”
However, Seales said their sampling data doesn’t necessarily show problems with the growth rates.
“We’re not seeing a lot of older fish,” he explained.
What this suggests is that, unlike on Caddo, anglers are keeping fish when they surpass the 14- to 17-inch slot limit.
“I don’t think we have the same catch-and-release sentiment like we have over in Caddo,” Seales said.
Fishing outside of the spawn can be a bit difficult, since there is little structure to which fish orient.
“The area was clear cut before it was impounded, and it grew up in soft woods,” Seales said. “Most of that has rotted away.”
Successful anglers work their depth finders to locate distinct creek channels, humps and points, Seales said.
Working these areas with crankbaits and Carolina rigs should yield results.
“There is some grass — some hydrilla and some native grasses — on the upper end,” he said. “But that’s about it.”
The Red River’s Pools 4 and 5, which stretch from Coushatta to Shreveport, offer numerous fishing choices.
The locking of the once muddy river created bass habitat over a wide area, as fields and stands of trees flooded. It also allowed access to many oxbows that had for years been landlocked.
Although a lot of the standing timber isn’t visible any longer, Seales said there is still some great fishing on the pools.
“It’s got an awful lot of bass habitat,” he said.
As the flooded trees rotted, the tops fell, leaving jumbles of laydowns in which bass can hide.
And vertical structure is provided by the stumps and trunks of those rotted trees.
“There’s still a good bit of it under the water,” Seales said. “It’s open water; you can see across it.
“But the bigger trees are still there.”
In other words, don’t go blowing across a seemingly open backwater area.
“You’ve got all that underwater structure,” Seales said.
The key to the consistency of the bass fishing in these pools stems directly from the river, which still flows through the locks.
“You’ve got all those nutrients up above (the upper lock), and this is the first set of locks it comes to,” Seales said. “We see water clearing up in some parts of the area at some times of the year, but it still seems to be pretty fertile.”
Spring fishing is generally best in the backwaters and oxbows, Seales said.
There is some concern with the longevity of these backwater areas, however.
“We are seeing some siltation that is affecting boat traffic in the backwaters and impacting some of the nursery areas,” Seales said. “We’re already seeing problems getting into areas you used to be able to get into.”
Unfortunately, these areas may one day be inaccessible.
“We’re keeping an eye on it,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s much we can do about it, but it is a concern of mine.”
This is where the water is clearest and, because there is less current, warms up the fastest.
But as bass leave their beds and the water continues to heat up, dissolved oxygen levels fall, and fish look for more accommodating waters.
“The fish move out of those backwater areas and back to the river,” Seales explained. “That’s when the rock rip rap provides good fishing.”
Bouncing crankbaits and spinnerbaits down these rocks can result in numerous hookups.
A relatively new lake tops the offerings in Northeast Louisiana.
Poverty Point, which opened in 2001 as an added attraction to the Poverty Point State Park, immediately became a favorite fishing hole for area anglers.
The lake is located about three miles north of Delhi.
“The fish are growing like crazy,” DWF’s Mike Wood said. “We’ve got a lot of 2-year-old fish that are 3 to 4 pounds, and that’s fast growth.”
Wood said he expected the fishery to blossom because of the so-called “new-reservoir effect.” This simply means nutrients from the freshly covered soil are released into the lake, producing prime conditions.
The same is true on older lakes that have been refilled following a drawdown.
So anglers began pulling chunky bass from the waters of Poverty Point, and Wood said there was even an 8-pounder landed.
“That came from adult brood stock that we released in the lake,” he said.
But the excellent fishing should continue this year.
The best time to take advantage of the lake’s great fishery is during the spring, when bass pull up on the banks to spawn.
“That’s when the bass are concentrated and can be easily found,” Wood said.
After that, however, the bass scatter, and fishing becomes more difficult.
“The lake doesn’t have a lot of structure, so the fish are harder to catch after they move off the banks,” Wood explained. “There are tops out there, and the fish are out there; it’s just harder to find them.”
Regulations mandate a five-bass daily limit, with all fish between 14 and 17 inches being released.
Those wanting to make more than a day trip to Poverty Point can stay right on the lake shore in one of four lodges.
Each lodge sleeps 10, and rents for $90 per night. Included in the two-bedroom facilities are full kitchens, bathrooms, screened porches and open decks.
Lodge guests can even keep their boats in a covered dock across the lake from the cabins.
For more information, call the state park at (800) 474-0392.
One of the district’s most consistent bass producers remains Lake D’Arbonne at Farmerville, Wood said.
“Every year several anglers will catch 10-pounders,” he said. “We had a 13-pounder caught about three years ago.
“It certainly will produce big fish.”
Obviously, the spawn is the best time of the year to put a lunker in your boat, but Wood said double-digit bass are generally caught throughout the year.
“It’s not unusual to catch a large-frame, skinny fish that goes over 10 pounds,” the biologist said. “These are grass fish, and grass fish are really, really chunky.”
Annual stockings of Florida bass account for D’Arbonne’s production of hefty bass, and Wood said he expects more fingerlings to be poured into the lake this year.
“We’ve gotten a lot for a little effort,” he said.
What has really made the stockings so successful despite the fact that the lake isn’t part of the state’s quality or trophy lake system has been the prime habitat conditions.
The lake has plenty of aquatic vegetation, which increases two important elements.
“Habitat: That’s the key,” Wood said. “You can have regulations on a lake and not have habitat, and you’re not going to catch big fish.”
Wood also pointed to a lake that will surprise many anglers, even though it produced the current state-record largemouth.
“Caney Lake is on the road back,” Wood said. “I see more grass there than I did last year.”
The habitat still hasn’t returned to anywhere near pre-1994 conditions. The Department of Wildlife & Fisheries released large numbers of triploid carp into the lake that year in an attempt to control the spread of hydrilla, and the result was a lake devoid of vegetation.
But Wood said many carp have been killed, and the voracious vegetarians that survived efforts to take them out have begun dying of old age.
“Ten years is the point when you expect these fish to be dying from age or disease,” he explained. “With fewer fish, we’re starting to see some grass come back.”
The absence of grass produced two results: Fish scattered, and the lake could hold fewer bass because there was less habitat.
But there still are some big fish in the lake, and with the re-emergence of aquatic vegetation, the years ahead look promising.
“I’m not going to make any predictions, but I think it’s a matter of time,” Wood said.
However, he said anglers should not expect or want to one day see the lake choked with thousands of acres of hydrilla. Instead, a maximum of about 20 percent coverage should yield optimal conditions.
“You can get too much grass,” he said. “When that happens, the fishery declines.
“It’s harder for the fishermen to get to the bass, but it’s also harder for fish to find food.”
Cane River is a bit of a hidden jewel, running about 35 miles right through the heart of Natchitoches.
“That is always my No. 1 lake,” biologist Ricky Moses said. “We’re seeing sample rates of 160 to 180 bass per hour.
“A lot of those bass are running 3 to 5 pounds.”
That seems shocking, since the landlocked river is only 1,275 acres — not even half as wide as the Red River’s main channel — but Moses said he thinks he knows why it’s so productive.
“There’s a lot of agricultural farming in that area, and it all drains into the river,” he said. “I think a lot of fertilizer and a lot of nutrients get put into that system.”
And he’s not basing that only on recent sample rates.
“You can look at the data going back 20 years, and it hasn’t changed,” Moses said. “I think what’s holding the quality of the bass up is the agricultural runoff.”
This glowing report might come as a surprise to many anglers, who have complained to Moses that fishing is difficult.
But the biologist said that’s probably due, again, to the fertility of the system.
“The problem, I think, is there’s so many shad in that thing that bass don’t have to work very hard to get a meal,” Moses said.
Spring fishing is predictable, with boat docks and any vegetation being prime targets, Moses said.
“The north end is shallower, so it’s good for spring fishing,” he explained.
Creature baits, Rogues and dark-colored jigs are productive lures.
Summertime fishing moves back to deeper water.
“The farther down (the river) you go, the deeper it gets,” Moses said.
The narrow band of water has distinct drop-offs, so pulling Carolina rigs and crankbaits off these shelves should produce hits.
Also, any tops in 10 to 12 feet of water are likely to hold bass.
Saline Lake is another good option for the area’s bass anglers.
“Saline Lake has come on since the 1997 drawdown and five years of stocking,” Moses said.
While vegetation in the Natchitoches Parish reservoir is “a little bad,” there have been some tremendous fish pulled from its waters.
“In the fall there were five bass over 10 pounds caught,” Moses said. “We have not had that in the past.”
The lake is on a rotation that calls for stocking every third year, but that has been enough to add a small but measurable Florida gene to the populations.
The lake has an average depth of only 7 feet, but the old bayou channel running through the lake measures 12 to 14 feet deep.
That provides plenty of habitat for fish throughout the year.
Bass will be in the grass and flooded cypress during the spring, but should pull out to the deeper water as the shallows heat up.
There often is some current flowing through the lake, so Moses said anglers can take advantage of that.
“Anywhere you’ve got a big cypress standing out in that channel creating a kind of point, when you get a little current, those bass stack up there,” he said.
Spinnerbaits and plastics will tempt these bass.
The Red River’s third pool still offer good bass fishing, Moses said.
“There’s more oxbows and back waters on that pool than on Pool 2,” he said. “Our sampling also shows there’s a better population in Pool 3.”
Moses pointed to the St. Maurice and Harrington oxbows in particular as excellent springtime choices.
“This time of year, you just about have to get in the oxbows,” he said. “The water is never going to be clear, but it’s going to be clearer than the river.”
As with the northern pools, summertime fishing means staying in the moving, deeper water.
“You’ve got to pull back to the river and fish the revetments,” Moses said. “The dissolved oxygen levels fall in the oxbows, so you’ve got to pull back in that moving water in the river.”
He recommended bouncing crankbaits and spinnerbaits down the rocks to catch these bass.
“Anything that looks silvery, flashy like a shad,” Moses said.
The Mississippi oxbows really took a pounding during the drought years of the late 1990s, with the stresses of low water being compounded by outbreaks of largemouth bass virus.
“We saw more bass die at one time at Lake Bruin,” district biologist Mike Ewing said. “At Concordia, we didn’t see any large numbers of bass dead. It was a long, drawn-out thing.”
Lake St. John fell somewhere in between.
The result was the same, however.
“LMBV really killed some of the better fish,” Ewing said.
Ewing said LMBV still is present, but apparently isn’t doing much harm.
“It seems that when they get those other stresses, that’s when LMBV kills them,” he said.
Now that the lakes are back at pool, the bass populations seem to be bouncing back nicely.
“In 2001, we had a good, wet year and a good spawn pretty much across the board,” Ewing said. “The numbers are coming back up. The age structure is coming back up.”
And there are still some very nice fish in the lakes.
“We netted one (during sampling) over 10 pounds in Concordia,” Ewing said. “We released her, so we know she’s still out there.
“There’s still some big bass.”
Ewing said the benefit of fishing these oxbows is that water levels are pretty constant.
“There’s not a lot of fluctuation, so the conditions remain pretty consistent,” he said.
As in years past, the northern shallows are probably the best choices for spring fishing, said biologist Dave Hickman, who fishes the lakes hard when he’s not working.
His favorite type of lures are wacky worms and flukes.
“They really work great, especially on the north end of Concordia,” Hickman said.
Rat-L-Traps and Rogues fished over the grass beds also can be effective.
Another trick he’s found useful is throwing a dropshot.
“You can hold the lure on that bed and aggravate them into biting,” Hickman said.
Summertime fishing moves back to deeper water, with drop-offs, deeper cypress trees and boat docks being good bets, he said.
The Saline/Larto complex also holds possibilities, Ewing said.
“They’re really good when you get that water right,” he said.
This is another fairly shallow water system, with spring floods pushing into cypress trees and providing perfect spawn conditions.
The increase in water surface and spawning habitat has been essential to maintaining a quality fishery, Ewing said.
“When it floods the woods like that, you get good reproduction,” he explained.
Finding clear water among the flooded trees can produce numbers of bites, with plastics, jigs and spinnerbaits being good bets.
But it’s when the water falls back to pool that fishing can be exciting.
“When the water starts to fall and returns back to pool, the fish pull back to the drop-offs of those bayou channels running down through the lake,” Ewing said. “That concentrates the fish.”
These fish can be taken by dragging lures over the edges of the channels.
However, the complex has a large watershed, so heavy rains can quickly raise the level and create muddy conditions.
“It’s hard to predict,” Ewing said. “Someone traveling a long way should call ahead to one of the local bait shops and find out the condition of the water.”
A real sleeper opportunity in the district is found along Bayou Macon, Ewing said
There are three small “cutoffs” that were created when the bayou was channelized to improve water flow.
“They’re fished mostly by the locals, and they don’t talk about them much,” Ewing said.
But these 300-acre-or-smaller oxbows, especially the one known as Baker’s Cutoff, offer surprisingly good bass fishing.
“We turned up some pretty good bass in those lakes,” Ewing said.
Some Florida bass had been stocked in these small, little-known waters.
“They seem to have taken well,” Ewing said.
The oxbows are fairly deep and provide plenty of structure for anglers to target.
“They’re not one of those lakes you want to run a boat in,” Ewing chuckled. “There’s a lot of snags.”
And each lake is equipped with a boat ramp that provides easy access.
“They’re kind of out of the way, but each has a pretty decent concrete ramp,” he said.
Call the district office at (318) 757-4571 for directions.
Vernon Lake northwest of Leesville is a real sleeping giant, and the locals are keeping as quiet as possible about it.
The lake is part of the state’s Quality Lake Program, so it receives large annual stockings of Florida-gene bass. That effort is finally reaping rewards.
“A couple of 12-pounders were caught out of there by some locals last year, so the years of stocking are paying off,” district biologist Bobby Reed said. “I’m expecting someone to catch some 12s or maybe a 13.”
The lake is much like a small Toledo Bend, with similar topography and timber poking through the water’s surface.
“It’s one of those lakes where I never break a wake,” Reed said. “That’s a good way to lose a lower unit or the whole unit.”
Fortunately, there’s really no need — all anglers have to do is launch their boats, drop their trolling motors and start fishing.
Flipping the stumps and standing timber can provide great fishing, but Reed said a great way to catch quality fish that don’t receive as much pressure is to look for the humps and drop-offs in the deep water.
“When you come up in the shallows, it comes up abruptly,” he said. “You might be in 10 feet of water in the front of the boat, and at the back of the boat, you might be in 50 feet.”
Of course, the shallow banks are going to be the ticket for spawning fish, with bass moving deeper to find cooler water after the summer heat sets in.
Neighboring Anacoco Lake received its fourth consecutive annual stocking of Florida bass, which come on the heals of a renovation program aimed at optimizing the old reservoir’s fishery.
Everything has come together, and Reed said he would definitely recommend Anacoco as a place to land numbers of quality bass.
“There are some good 4- to 5-pound fish in there, if you know where to find them,” he said.
The standing timber that once was such a prominent feature on this lake has rotted away, leaving little in the way cover.
“You can’t count on any kind of vertical structure except duck blinds, but duck blinds will hold fish,” Reed said.
Most of the fishing, however, will be centered around open-water humps and along old creek channels.
The predominant forage for bass is shad, so Reed recommended using baits such as Rat-L-Traps.
“Any silver minnow imitation,” he said.
Bundicks Lake also is high on Reed’s list, but he admitted it’s not a reservoir on which a newcomer is just going to start catching fish.
“That’s one of those lakes you have to spend some time on to know it,” he explained.
The problem is that it’s fairly shallow, and the only structure around which to fish is some rotten stumps in shallow areas and old creek channels.
Complicating the fishing is the fact that the reservoir collects water from all over, and is extremely prone to flooding.
“It’s got a tremendous watershed, and it floods all the time,” Reed said. “All of a sudden, you get a slug of water, and it’ll wash the plankton right out of the lake.”
Anglers in the know, however, catch regular limits by timing their trips carefully.
“The locals watch the solunar tables carefully, and they know the times they can go out and catch a limit and be back at the dock in a few hours,” Reed said.
This probably isn’t a great place to choose to catch beastly bass, but there are some quality bass mixed in with the healthy numbers.
“There is a good percentage of fish over 5 pounds,” Reed said. “It’s nothing like Vernon, but there are some 5-pounders.”
Chicot Lake is probably the best pick this district has to offer.
Hydrilla has been an ongoing problem, mainly in the northern end of the lake, but biologist Jody David said herbicide treatment has controlled the infestation and maintained the fishery.
“It did a world of good, but it’s going to come right back,” David said.
Periodic herbicidal treatments will be undertaken to keep the vegetation from becoming too thick.
“We’re not going to let this one get out of hand,” David said.
The biologist said he expected last year’s good fishing to continue.
“There was a 12-pounder caught last year that went into the Lunker Program,” David said. “I expect the same thing this year.
“With the hydrilla reduced in the northern part of the lake, anglers will be able to get to a lot of those spots that hold these big fish.”
A long-term stocking program, through which Florida bass have been released into Chicot every year since 1988, is the key to production of heavy bass.
David said sampling shows a 50-percent influence of the fast-growing gene, with about 12 percent of the bass population being pure Floridas.
Henderson Lake is on the rebound from several years of struggling back from the effects of the drought and an infestation of hydrilla.
“The numbers are up again,” David said.
The drought whacked the fish populations, and then the lake was pulled down during 2000 and 2001.
“We couldn’t get to our (sampling) stations in 2001 and 2002 because there was 50 feet of hydrilla,” David said.
Only one of those drawndowns was effective because the Mississippi River, which influences water levels in Henderson, jumped back up.
But instead of turning back to drawdowns, Sen. Craig Romero (R-New Iberia) stepped in and secured $1 million for herbicide treatment.
Those treatments have brought the vegetation under control for the time being, but David said he expected a prolonged battle against the fast-growing hydrilla.
“It’s going to be very hard to control,” he said. “We’re going to fight hydrilla forever now.”
In the meantime, however, the fishery has really responded to the improved conditions.
“We’ve got a lot of young fish in the system,” he explained. “There’s a lot of those 10- to 14-inch fish out there.”
And age/growth data collected by David’s office indicates that the bass in the area are right on target.
“When those fish hit 14 inches, they’re in that 3-year-old class of fish,” he said. “That’s right where they ought to be.”
Although David expects a majority of bass catches this year to be smaller fish, he said some of the big, quality bass anglers were landing before the drought are still out there.
“We’ve got some nice fish in Henderson. We really do,” he said.
An overlooked lake that has the potential to produce some double-digit bass is Lake Martin outside of Breaux Bridge.
The lake is only 800 acres, but David said there are some monsters lurking in the waters.
“We netted a 10-pounder in there,” he said.
The little waterbody suffered water-quality problems during the past few years, but David said there are plans to construct a new water-control structure on the south end of the lake to allow more effective drawdowns.
“It’s slowly coming back,” he explained.
False River remains a standout in this region, which stretches from St. Francisville to Washington Parish and south to include the Des Allemands system.
“People complain that they can’t catch fish on False River, but we see (bass) in our research,” biologist Mark Lawson said.
The lake still struggles with a relative lack of vegetation, but Lawson said the waters around the docks are teeming with fish.
“Just going around the piers and shocking, it’s amazing, and we’re shocking in the daytime,” he said. “I’d hate to shock at night and see what was there.
“The fish are there, and they look very good; they’re very healthy,” Lawson said.
One of the difficulties with catching bass is that the forage base is very high.
“They don’t have to bite,” he said.
But the historic fishing pressure could also play a role.
“They might be pretty educated fish,” Lawson said.
And in spite of the fact that there is a light “fluff” of sediments that don’t seem to settle out, and which could affect visibility, Lawson said the water quality is very good.
He also said work is under way to lower the amount of runoff nutrients spilling into the lake from the numerous farming properties within the watershed.
“The cows are being moved back from the streams that drain into the lake,” Lawson explained.
Work to remedy the sedimentation problems on the north and south flats is on hold right now, however, because of funding problems.
“There was $750,000 to study siltation removal, but only $50,000 has been delivered,” Lawson said.
Regardless, there is quality fishing to be had on this popular lake.
The Bayou Des Allemands system remains in very good shape, as well.
“The Davis Pond (Freshwater Diversion) is being operated now, and I’m waiting on that area to turn on,” Lawson said.
The diversion is designed to allow as much as 10,000 cubic feet per second of water to flow from the Mississippi River into the upper Barataria Basin, but problems with the ponding area have limited the facility’s use to about 2,500 cfs.
That has been enough, however, to give Lake Cataouache a boost.
“The vegetation in Lake Cataouatche is very healthy,” Lawson said.
In fact, the grass that had been devastated during the drought is coming along fine now.
“I don’t know if it’s completely back, but there’s plenty of habitat now,” he explained.
Anglers shouldn’t expect the diversion to impact much up Bayou Des Allemands, though.
“It will definitely have some impact on Lake Cataouatche and Lake Salvador, but to do anything in the Des Allemands system, you’d have to have tides and winds to push (the river water) 18 miles northwest,” Lawson said.
The system has experienced some possible water quality issues, but sampling results have been good.
“I’ve seen a lot of black water. It just doesn’t look that nice,” Lawson said. “But there’s been no fish kills reported.”
The health of the bass population was clarified last year after one of the tropical storms passed through.
“We went out after the storm, and a lot of the places that we normally sampled were full of poor water,” Lawson said. “You wouldn’t expect bass to be in there.”
However, when Lawson and his team stopped at the mouths of canals along the main bayou, they found plenty of healthy fish.
“They were stacked up in the bayou,” he said.
There are really only three quality bass-fishing choices in this area: Caernarvon, Venice and Pearl River.
Caernarvon has been a roller coaster in recent years, with the drought producing river stages so low that the diversion could rarely be utilized to freshen the system.
So the area that once produced lunker bass suffered.
But biologist Howard Rogillio said that should be turning around.
“The anglers are talking about the fishing being much better this year,” Rogillio said. said.
One of the main reasons is that the river has been high enough for the diversion to move fresh river water into the Caernarvon system, and the habitat has responded.
“They’re talking about the grass growing back in some areas,” Rogillio said.
That helps filter water, and it provides cover for bait and ambush points for bass.
Some anglers in recent years have complained that the freshwater diversion is messing up the spawn because too much muddy water is introduced to the area, but Rogillio said that shouldn’t bother the fish.
“The fish are there,” he said. “The production is there. They spawn in the Mississippi River.
“Even if it is messing things up a little bit, the fish are still healthy and they will spawn.”
Rogillio also said he’s expecting some big fish to begin showing up, thanks to stockings of Phase II Florida bass. These juvenile bass measure about 6 inches, so survivability is much higher than inch-long fingerlings.
“Fifty to 500 times more fish survive past one year,” he explained. “When we stocked fingerlings, they just disappeared.”
The stockings of larger bass has really boosted the Florida gene pool in the area’s population. Rogillio estimated that there was about a 10-percent presence of the fast-growing gene.
Venice also has made a major comeback after bottoming out after Hurricane Georges blasted past the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Last year, there were heavy stringers pulled from the water on a regular basis, including the winning three-day bag during the Bassmasters Classic.
Rogillio said anglers have the river to thank for those fish.
“That’s all natural stocking,” he said.
The key is to find clean, fresh water around all of the passes.
During the spring, backwater areas are going to be most productive. Prime targets are the Wagon Wheel, the northern shore of the Highline Pond, Delta Duck, and the downriver area between South Pass and Loomis Pass.
As the season ages and temperatures rise, bass will be looking for cool water.
That means they’ll be in the canes during high water, but they can only stay there for so long.
Once the tide begins to pull out and the water in the canes becomes too shallow, bass are going to pull to the edges.
Pitching lures and concentrating on grass beds in ponds once the water has bottomed out can produce big bites.
During the heat of the summer, look for bass to pull closer to the passes.
Rogillio said the lower Pearl River, which had suffered because of the prolonged drought in the late 1990s, has finally showed signed of recovery.
“Last year’s sampling showed a much healthier fishery than we’ve ever seen before,” he explained.
While this area isn’t likely to produce lunkers, anglers should be able to catch numbers of fish with some decent bass mixed in.
The most productive areas are going to be along the banks of the river, particularly near any cuts.
“That’s where you have a little bit cleaner water coming into the river,” Rogillio said.
The various canals, such as the Indian Village complex, also should be productive.
Of course, the Atchafalaya Basin is on the top of this district’s list of productive water systems.
The huge complex of bayous, rivers and lakes is filled with bass, and biologist Mike Walker expects big things this year.
“It’s in good shape,” he said. “I suspect that if the water had been right for this FLW (Tour, held Feb. 11-14), we’d have seen some good weights.”
Many anglers have complained about the sheer numbers of bass that measure just short of the 14-inch minimum under which the Basin is managed, but Walker said that sampling shows these aren’t stunted fish.
“If we were stunting the growth, growth rates over all the year classes would have steadily declined, and they have not,” he said.
For a complete discussion of the Atchafalaya Basin’s bass fishery, see the February 2004 issue of Louisiana Sportsman.
Lake Verret, just to the east of the Basin, is another lake that Walker expects to produce nice bass.
“I’ve always felt there are better fish in Verret than in the Basin,” he said. “And it’s always had good numbers of fish.”
That’s because the lake is not influenced greatly by the Atchafalaya River, so the water is generally more stable.
A real diamond in the rough, however, is 1,200-acre Spanish Lake outside of New Iberia.
“We netted three fish over 9 pounds. We also picked up a couple of 8s, 7s and some 5s.”
All of those fish, caught during January, were released after being weighed and measured.
“One of them was 4 ounces short of 10 pounds, and the egg mass wasn’t there yet,” Walker said. “Around March, there’s going to be a 10-pound fish swimming around Spanish Lake.”
And that’s on a lake with almost no fishing pressure, a fact attributed to the relatively small bass population, despite stockings of about 800,000 Florida bass since 1997.
“The numbers aren’t great,” Walker admitted.
But anglers looking to put a bonafide trophy on the wall might want to spend some time there.
“It’s going to take somebody who’s after a 10-pound fish, and he’s not bothered that he’s fished six hours without catching a fish,” Walker said.
One limiting factor is that night fishing on the lake is prohibited, but Walker said there is a proposal to change that.
Night fishing could be the ticket.
“We caught those big fish in January, and we ran our nets at night,” he said. “I think these fish are moving around at night, feeding.”
It’s no surprise that the largest reservoir in the state has also been the most popular for years.
After all, the population of bass is very healthy, and there are some genuine lunkers prowling the waters.
The past couple of years, though, anglers have struggled, complaining the massive hydrilla beds that once carpeted the lakes floor were gone.
Biologist Ricky Yeldell theorized that the low water levels related to the drought along with the cyclical nature of any vegetation’s growth pattern combined to stunt the hydrilla.
“It never was gone, but it was greatly reduced,” Yeldell said. “We’re dealing with the most successful plant on the face of the earth.
“It’s not going to just give up and go away.”
In any case, he said anglers should worry no longer.
“It’s just about bank to bank in some spots,” Yeldell said. “In others it’s certainly not what it was, but it’s on it’s way back.
“In Pirates Cove, it’s solid out to 18 to 20 feet.”
The good news is that the health of Toledo Bend’s bass population has rebounded after a slide during the past three or four years.
“We’re actually seeing a slight increase in the numbers of bass,” Yeldell said of his sampling efforts.
And the big girls are still swimming about.
“We’re getting a few nice fish in our gill nets,” he said.
There already had been two double-digit bass caught by early February, with one topping 13 pounds.
“I think you’re going to see some nice fish this year,” Yeldell said.
In addition, anglers should enjoy catching numbers of fish.
“We have a very high population of short fish,” he explained.
Bass measuring fewer than 14 inches must be released.
Yeldell said some anglers have been complaining about the high number of undersized bass, but he explained that the population of small fish simply proves the reservoir is doing well.
“In our opinion, it’s a reflection of the good spawning conditions (in the lake), and we’re getting a lot of recruitment,” he said. “You’re supposed to have more small fish than large fish.
“You really should be encouraged by that, because it means you have a healthy (overall) population.”