Catching a spring toad doesn’t mean driving to North Louisiana. Instead, head to Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge for some quality big-bass action.
Most bass anglers drool at the prospects of catching double-digit fish.
And lately, the chances of doing so are sky high at Toledo Bend, where 60 lunkers were taken in 2013-14.
But that’s not the only reservoir that holds huge fish.
Take Poverty Point Reservoir in Delhi for example: A 14.08-pounder was taken Jan. 12 by angler David Houston of Winnsboro.
And there have been other double-digit fish caught at that reservoir in the last few years.
But if you live in Southwest Louisiana, you don’t have to drive hours from home to put your lure in front of lunkers.
Instead, head south of Lake Arthur to a 16,164-acre grassy patch known as the Laccassine Pool nestled within Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, where a number of bass weighing between 8 and 12 pounds were taken the 1990s.
The reigning record came March 15, 2013, when Luke Bouillion set the hook on a fish that weighed 13 pound, 12 ounces at a local grocery store, according to refuge manager Richard Meyers.
“Later that evening, the fish officially weighed 12.87 pounds on a state certified scale, but I have good reason to believe that the first weighing was close to accurate,” Meyers said.
OK, so these fish aren’t the normal marsh bass found in many other brackish water locations along the coast. That’s because the pool is a leveed freshwater impoundment.
And it’s closed to fishing from Oct. 16 through March 14 each year —and that means March 15 provides an opportunity for anglers to fish for bass that have forgotten what an artificial lure even looks like.
Sulphur’s Johnny Watkins knows the behavior and habits of Lacassine’s largemouths very well. The 37-year-old bass angler has fished the impoundment since he was 13.
“The pool has certainly changed a lot in the last few years,” Watkins said. “We used to go out there and catch 20 to 30 bass on a good day, with some very big ones in the catch.
“Now you have to adjust your expectations to catching maybe 10 good fish a day.”
The Lacassine Pool suffered from a severe drought in 1999-2000, and then another significant dry period in 2010-11 after recovering somewhat from Hurricane Rita in 2005.
But Watkins said it has recovered to a large extent.
“It’s still really amazing to me how quickly this place has rebounded, considering all the impacts from the droughts and storms,” he said.
That said, he is a staunch catch-and-release advocate.
“I still advise anglers here to continue releasing bass because, in my opinion, the pool still needs a little more time to repopulate,” Watkins said. “But if we continue to get a break from drought and storms, it should soon get great again.”
Since 2000, Watkins has taken four bass over 10 pounds in the pool — his largest two weighing 10 1/2 and 10.8 pounds. He has also taken a few 9-pounders, and several 8s.
“I caught several 7- and 8-pounders in 2013, but last year my visits were limited there, although I did catch a few good fish,” he said.
Watkins recalled a March day several years ago when he caught and released five bass that collectively would have weighed over 45 pounds.
“On that day, I began at the west launch and fished South Pond, Little North Lake and North Lake,” he said. “I found bedding bass in pockets that I caught, weighed and released.”
When the day was over, Watkins had taken a 10 1/2-pounder, a 9.12, a 9.4, a 9.1 and an 8.12-pounder.
He caught most of the fish on large, Texas-rigged lizards, with the only exception being the 10 1/2-pounder which he used a Texas-rigged Stanley Ribbit.
“And that’s what so special about fishing bedding bass,” Watkins said. “Each one will not behave the same, and will respond to lures and their presentation differently. I actually had to leave the 9.1-pounder and come back to work her again when she was in a better mood to bite.
“The 10 1/2-pounder needed a larger-profile lure, and Texas-rigging the larger Ribbit worked. But I always run that Ribbit on top for the vast majority of the bass I catch.”
Watkins knows that working bedding bass can be a chore, so he doesn’t do it during every springtime visit to Lacassine Pool.
“That was just an exceptional day out there,” he said. “I could see the fish and there was very little fishing pressure on that day.
“But I just don’t go out there always planning to sight-fish for bass.”
Watkins said first-time anglers should just to go fish and not worry about fish on the beds.
“Start in Little North Lake on the west side first, although early it can get some pressure,” he said. “About three to four days after (the March 15 opening), boats start to spread out. But on the weekends you can still expect quite a bit of fishing pressure.
“Then I would recommend heading out to Little North Lake and eventually South Pond.”
Lacassine Pool bass-fishing strategies and lures
With so much vegetation, plastics should be on top of any Lacassine Pool angler’s list.
But there are few relatively open pockets deeper than the 2-foot depths the pool averages.
“I have been successful with Zoom Flukes, Stanley Ribbits, Texas-rigged lizards and, most recently, Hale Lures’ new SideTrac Shad and Mud Puppies,” Sulphur’s Johnny Watkins said. “Casting the Stanley Ribbit and Top Toad can certainly get bites even early in March when there is just little emerging vegetation.”
Watkins makes long casts with the frog immitations, which are rigged on 5/0 Owner hooks attached to 65-pound PowerPro braid. He uses heavy action 7-foot Shimano rods and Curado reels.
Hook quality is very important, Watkins said, since thin-wire hooks have a tendency to bend when dragging larger bass through the masses of vegetation.
The angler said he is always ready with a follow-up presentation in case a fish misses his topwater offering.
“If you are throwing a Ribbit in sparse cover or in open water and get a blowup and miss the fish, then I’d follow up with a bait like a Texas-rigged and weedless SideTrac and try to get the bass to eat,” Watkins said. “If a bass blows up on your bait in the pads and misses it, there will normally be a hole in the pads where the blow up occurred,.
“It is crucial to get another bait in there as soon as possible; that fish is usually still within a few feet of where it initially hit.”
To work a lure into such thick salad, Watkins turns to heavy weights.
“ I’ll normally punch that bait with a ¾-ounce sinker using six or seven casts around the spot where the fish first blew up before I move on,” he said. “You can also work those SideTracs like you would a Fluke with slack in your line. Cover as much area as you can and be thorough.”
He’ll use a spinnerbait when the wind is blowing, and there are key locations he targets with these flashy baits.
“If you can find clusters of five to six lily pads, these are choice places to cast spinnerbaits, as bass will often use these clusters to ambush baitfish,” Watkins said.
He also encouraged anglers to fish the perimeter canal, which usually is deeper. The depth in this canal is 4 to 6 feet.
“Within the ring canal, throw that SideTrac Puppy in there and shimmy it along the edges of the canal,” Watkins said. “You can dead-stick it, twitch it once or twice and let it fall for about a five-count.
“On the outside edges of the canal, you will have reeds and lily pads, and then it starts to drop off. Often that’s where I will get strikes.”
It’s worth noting, however, that fish run smaller in the canal.
“I usually find smaller fish in the canal, but every now and then you can catch a 6- or 7-pounder doing this,” he said.
Lacassine Pool fishing regulations
The daily creel limit for bass is 10 per day with no length limit.
However, a regulation enacted in 2014 prohibited anglers from staying overnight on roads entering Lacassine Pool, manager Richard Meyers.
“Last year there weren’t as many vehicles lined up to get in early,” Meyers said.
Rules stipulate that boats cannot enter the refuge earlier than an hour before legal sunrise and must be removed no later than an hour after legal sunset.
Fishing cannot begin until legal sunrise and must end at legal sunset.
For full regulations, log onto www.fws.gov/southeast/pubs/SWLAcomplex_Fish.pdf. A map of the area with directions and landings also accompany the regulations.
Push poles a necessity at Lacassine Pool
Lacassine Pool has much to owe to its coontail, hydrilla, water lilies, alligator grass and maidencane that offers plenty of cover in which bass can hide.
But as the weather warms that same cover can make it difficult for anglers to get around.
So push poles are advised.
The fact is that biologists are in a constant battle against some of the more noxious of these plants, specifically salvinia, alligator weed and water hyacinths.
So a program was launched last month to help push back some of the growth — in one area, at least.
“We’re looking at a top burn in Unit G2 (southwestern portion) scheduled for February,” refuge manager Richard Meyers said. “This will open that area up quite a bit.”
Lacassine Pool bass genetics
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Eric Shanks said that, although affected by the drought of 2010-11, bass stocks appear to be rebounding quickly.
“Fish do survive,” Shanks said. “Size structure can be affected for a little while, but they can rebound and return to normal. I am expecting a little better year than last year.”
Another factor that affects bass size is the abundance of Florida genetics in Lacassine Pool bass.
Since 1985, combined stocking by the LDWF, and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service has droped more than 1 million Florida bass into the pool, according to LDWF data.
The last genetic analysis of bass sampled in the Pool in 2009 indicated Florida genetic influence in 52 percent of bass sampled.
“Some of the big fish we sampled are also native bass, as indicated by a 9-pounder there,” Shanks said. “We only see a small percentage of pure Floridas, and most of the genetic influence comes from the (hybrid) generations.”