This Baton Rouge-area oxbow lake makes a Rubik’s Cube seem elementary, but for those who know the code, it’s a joy to unlock.
Just at the edge of the shadow cast by Baton Rouge lies one of the most underestimated lakes in the entire state of Louisiana. In fact, anglers traveling up from the capitol city to False River probably bad-mouth it when they return home because they didn’t catch very many fish.
The bad-mouthing must not have much effect, though, because as sure as Jim Hawthorn bleeds purple and gold, there will be another long line of bass boats traveling up Highway 1 the next Saturday morning. Some will get lucky enough to catch a few fish, but others will return home with empty livewells and even emptier promises of never returning.
The reputation of False River changes the closer you get to New Roads. In fact, the locals who fish the lake every weekend know that the “River” isn’t a tough place to fish. You’ve just got to know where to go and what to throw.
False River’s reputation is quickly changing from a lake for losers to a pond to be proud of. Just look at the size of the fish that have been pulled from her waters recently by those who know the intricacies of the lake.
“It’s starting to turn into a big-fish lake,” said False River expert Ken Vosburg. “It seems like there’s a 10-pounder caught every spring. This year alone, there have been seven or eight 10-pounders that I know of. There’s probably been more than that caught, though.
“I walked into a taxidermists the other day, and he had three 10s in there that he said came from False River this past spring.”
The future of False River wasn’t so rosy just a few short years ago. Chad Vosburg, Ken’s brother and Skeeter State Team member, said two forces coincided back in 1998 to sour the fishing for a while.
“It used to be a slot lake,” Chad Vosburg said. “It wasn’t anything to go out there and catch 20 to 30 fish that were 16 to 17 inches. However, they lifted the slot in 1998. Ken and I won the first tournament on the lake after the slot was lifted with 27 pounds. It seems like it kind of went downhill after that.”
About the same time the slot limit was lifted, the lake suffered through the largemouth bass virus that was hitting most of the oxbow lakes up and down the Mississippi River.
“For whatever reason, it started coming back around 2002,” Chad Vosburg said. “It’s been getting better and better ever since, and it’s just exploded the last year or two.”
A quick glance at False River won’t get too many veteran bass anglers overly excited. The lake looks more like a water skier’s paradise than a largemouth honey hole, and there aren’t even any cypress trees in the lake. I know that’s hard to believe about a Louisiana oxbow lake.
The obvious cover is the numerous piers and boat houses that line almost every inch of the shore. Farther observation reveals that many of these man-made wooden structures also have plenty of planted wood cover underneath them in the form of brushpiles.
While the lake doesn’t offer a variety of cover for bass to hang around, there are a few more characteristics of the lake that visiting bass anglers should be aware of.
“There are some canals off the sides of the lakes that can really produce a lot of fish at times,” Ken Vosburg said. “In fact, the canals are probably the easiest places to fish on the lake because there’s less room for the fish to roam.”
The canal that gets the most attention from bass anglers is Bayou Chenal on the island side of the south end of the lake. There are actually two canals in this area that offer plenty of fishing opportunities.
“Bayou Chenal veers off to the right as soon as you enter this little backwater,” Ken Vosburg said. “The one that goes straight is known locally as the discharge. It drains a bunch of fields and tends to get too muddy to fish after a big rain.”
Other than the piers and the canals, the only option available to bass anglers is the flats on either end of the lake and the channel that runs along the New Roads side.
“There’s a lot of sunken tops that anglers have put out over the years on the edges of the channel as it winds through the flats,” Ken Vosburg said. “Most of them are in 7 to 10 feet of water on the edge of the drop that falls into about 15 feet at the bottom of the channel.”
The primary bass forage in False River is gizzard shad and bream. Ken Vosburg can recall several fish that he’s had to pull either a bream or shad out of their mouths just to be able to measure them on a Golden Rule measuring stick.
“I’m convinced that these bass are mainly eating bream,” he said. “In fact, I believe that bass smash my favorite False River bait, a jig, because they think it looks more like a bream than a crawfish.”
Ken added that crawfish could make up a large portion of their diet during the early spring. He’s pulled up a few tree limbs on the flats that had broken loose from somebody’s brushpile, and they were loaded with small crawfish that fell off as he pulled the limb from the water.
• Spring – One of the first patterns Chad Vosburg looks for in spring is bass moving up on the bulkheads and seawalls in 2 to 3 feet of water. He said the move to the walls typically takes place when the water hits 60 to 62 degrees.
“That water on those walls warms up a little earlier than some of the other stuff because they’ll hold heat from the sun and radiate it back out into the water,” he said. “I look for this pattern in the mid-lake area because those fish don’t have many other options.
“The lake is 14 miles long, but I think the fish in the middle 12 miles don’t all go to the canals to spawn. There’s nothing much but piers and bulkheads in that section, and that’s what they use.”
Ken Vosburg’s primary baits on the seawalls are a black/blue/chartreuse 3/8-ounce Slam Dunk Thumper Jig and a chartreuse/white 3/8-ounce spinnerbait with green iodized blades.
Since they fish together a lot at False River, Ken’s spring patterns mirror Chad’s. However, there are a few extra techniques that Ken Vosburg employees.
“There isn’t a better pattern at False River during a cold and windy spring day than fishing a 1/2-ounce Rat-L-Trap between the piers,” he said. “I love a chrome/black Trap, and I’ll sometimes even try a 3/4-ounce model just to see if I can get a bigger bite. I primarily fish the Trap all along the bank between the piers. You can also do well with it back in Bayou Chenal around the bridges.”
Ken Vosburg also mentioned that two more deadly tactics during the spring are swimming a jigworm or jerking a suspending Rogue on the shady sides of the piers in April and May after the spawn.
• Summer – Once July rolls around on False River, it’s time to break out the Texas-rigged plastics and crankbaits.
“A good thing to start off with in the summer is a chartreuse/white War Eagle spinnerbait with green iodized blades fished on the piers and seawalls,” Ken Vosburg said. “The key to this bite is to count it down to the bottom and move it just fast enough to keep the blades turning. This slow-rolling technique will catch some big fish.”
As the sun comes on up and begins peaking over the treetops, Ken said he likes to fish baits that maintain constant bottom contact. Texas rigs and Carolina rigs become his primary weapons, but he’ll also try bumping a crankbait along the bottom.
“A Carolina rig will catch a bunch of fish starting about May,” he said. “Centipedes and finesse worms work well, and watermelon or watermelon red are my two most productive colors. Red shad is a good worm color to try on the Texas rig. And don’t forget to try a lizard during the summer. Most people stop throwing it after spring, but it works here in June and July.”
One of Chad Vosburg’s favorite patterns for the summer is fishing the deep piers on the New Roads side of the lake with a Bagley DBIII crankbait. The piers around the Yacht Club are some of his most productive.
“You want a bait you can get down to around 10 or 12 feet,” he said. “It’s important to get it down so you can tick the top of the brush or bump the bottom of the posts under the piers. That’s a great way to get a reaction bite when it’s hot out.”
Summer is also a good time to try topwater baits early in the day. Chad favors a Zara Spook fished around the banks, and Ken likes a Lunker Lure buzzbait in the canals.
• Fall – Ken Vosburg is a big fan of fall on False River because fishing patterns are almost identical to the spring patterns. Of course, the big difference is that the bass aren’t spawning. But the fact that they’re feeding heavily more than makes up for that.
“I go back to the jigs in the fall and bring in a few crankbaits,” he said. “I like cranks like a Bandit, a DBIII or a Bomber 8A during the fall. Probably my most productive fall crankbait is a baby bass-colored Bomber.”
One of the added attractions of fall fishing is the schooling bass that pop up in front of the piers. Ken Vosburg said most of the schooling happens in October and November, and these fish are pretty easy to catch.
“You can catch those schooling fish by throwing a crankbait right through the schooling action,” he said.
Chad Vosburg also targets schooling bass during the fall. He likes to get on the flats in 4 or 5 feet of water and look for shad flicking about.
“Sometimes you can see the bass busting,” he said. “But sometimes you’ll just see some shad jumping around. The best time to look for the schooling action is after the first few cool fronts blow through.
“My favorite way to catch these fish is on a Rat-L-Trap. A Trap works well on the fish you can see busting and on those you can’t see. Once you get a bite, you can drop anchor and sit there and work on them for a while.”
• Winter – Things slow down a bit at False River during December and January. The key to catching fish during the coldest part of the year is to slow your baits down — way down.
“About all I’ll fish during the winter is a 1/2-ounce black/blue jig and a Trap,” said Ken Vosburg. “You’ve got to crawl that jig through the brush around the docks on the New Roads side. It’s important to mentally visualize what your bait is doing this time of year because a bite can be very light.”
Perhaps the best winter fishing occurs on those unseasonably mild days for which Louisiana is famous. A mild day with spitting rain and strong winds is the perfect time for throwing a Trap between the docks and on the flats.
“You can also catch a few fish Carolina rigging the ends of the deep docks and in the deep hole in the Lighthouse Canal,” Ken Vosburg added.
The jig is up
The Vosburg brothers are successful at False River because of their ability to fish a jig. In fact, Chad tells anybody who’ll listen that the key to their big catches is that they pick up a jig and never put it down.
“We select jig size based on what the wind lets us get away with,” he said. “We normally fish a 3/8-ounce jig, but we won’t hesitate to go up to a 1/2- or 5/8-ounce if it’s necessary. It’s important that you maintain contact with your jig at all times, that’s why we pick a jig heavy enough for us to feel based on the conditions.”
Chad Vosburg says they fish the Slam Dunk jig because of its ability to come through the heavy brush that it frequently finds itself in. Both anglers favor either a black/blue/chartreuse or a black/blue/purple jig with a sapphire Zoom Super Chunk trailer.
“We’ve told so many people what we do over the years that I think nobody really believes us when we tell them what we do,” Ken Vosburg said. “This is some good information we’re passing along. But it’s up to the anglers to actually go put it into practice and to focus on fishing.”