The Pearl River hasn’t changed much over the years, meaning it offers bass fishing just like it used to be.
As the Pearl River flows past the town of Bogalusa on its way to Lake Borgne, the winding path provides a state line for Louisiana and Mississippi, but the scenic beauty offered by the river is boundless.
Cypress and tupelo trees cover most of the banks as the river winds and divides the states. Wildlife is abundant. Alligators, wood ducks, raccoons and other creatures draw many visitors to the local swamp tours.
Fishing along the three pools from Bogalusa south provides many choices, including catfish, bass, bream and crappie.
But beauty can only take an angler so far. Fishermen who want beauty can head to the beach during spring break. Those who go to the Pearl, however, have bass not beauty on their brains. These fish hit like prizefighters and pull like stampeding elephants. A bass that lives in the strong current of the Pearl River is built to fight, and is mad at anything that swims past its hiding spot.
The Pearl is divided into two types of water — still and current. The river itself has a strong current, while the canal systems and many oxbows and tributaries offer great still-water fishing.
Poole’s Bluff is just south of Bogalusa and north of Lock Three. The Lock Two region provides access to the canal dug to ease navigation of the river and the Bogue Chitto River.
Lock Three Landing is the entry for the second section of the lock system.
Pool One begins at Lock One, which is located north of the town of Pearl River. The Lock One area empties into the West Pearl branch of the river.
All pools are accessible by launch, and the locks are rarely used by boaters. Poole’s Bluff, the area above Lock Three, has a long canal that is less affected by the strong currents of the river. The lower branches of the river have many tributaries that flow through tree-studded swamps and bayous.
Cover on the system is abundant. From large cypress and gum trees, fallen trees, and old stumps to grass beds and large lily pads, bass habitat is rich.
In some areas the river is deep and twisting. In other sections it is shallow and swift.
During high-water periods, monitoring the flood stage and river levels is critical to the angler because high water floods the forest along the river. Bass move into the flooded swamp, making them nearly impossible to catch.
The Pearl is known locally for its healthy, abundant bass population. The constant current of the Pearl produces a strong fish that averages around 2 pounds. Fish larger than 5 pounds are considered valuable during local tournaments, but an occasional 7- or 8-pound fish is brought to the scales.
Retired Wildlife and Fisheries agent Wayne Morris knows better than anyone the great fishing opportunities of the Pearl River. Morris spent his career working up and down the river. A long, distinguished tournament record on the river proves he has the insight to bass fishing in this corner of the state. The Poole’s Bluff launch is close to home for the retired angler.
“Late spring is a great time for bass fishing,” said Morris, a member of the Bogalusa Bass Club since 1978. “Bass are finished spawning and feeding on schools of shad.”
The oxbows and canals hold large schools of shad. The cover is abundant from tree tops to stumps. When the conditions come together, the Poole’s Bluff area offers some great fishing with stringers of 17 pounds or more needed to win local events.
“My favorite bait this time of year is a crankbait,” Morris said. “Crankbaits like the Luhr Jensen Speed Trap and Bandit crankbait cover plenty of water. Anything that mimics a shad will draw strikes.”
After years on the water, the retired agent knows where to find a few productive stumps. Trees that fall into the canal are a secondary plan for the angler. Casting to cover and searching the spots with a crankbait helps him find concentrations of bass.
“After catching a few fish with the crankbait, a lizard or Senko-type bait is a great follow-up tactic,” he said. “Slowly work the plastic around the cover. Keep the lure in contact with the wood. Plastics sometimes add a few more fish to the stringer.”
Topwater baits are another favorite for bass anglers. The stillwater spots along the Pearl River Canal are great places to fling a popper or prop bait. Morris begins the early morning working topwater baits around fallen trees and other cover. Carefully working in and around the cover, a well-placed topwater plug brings the bass out of the cover.
“Early morning strikes on top are exciting,” he said. “Be sure to bring some stout equipment to pull the bass out of the cover. Just about any prop bait, walking bait or popper will produce. The key is placing the lure in the cover and getting the fish out after the strike.”
As the day wears on, Morris might try the lily pads in the area. Pads provide excellent shade and cover for midday bass. Isolated cypress trees and a mixture of lily pads make another great junction that might hold a few fish. Areas with a food supply and pads always require close inspection.
Since late spring is the time when shad spawn, the small baitfish hang out near pad fields because the aquatic plants make excellent nursery grounds. When the timing and cover come together, the fishing action turns as hot as a May afternoon.
“Lizards and Senkos work well in the pads,” Morris said. “Anything that comes through the pads without hanging up is a good choice. Use a light sinker with the lizards, and work the area slowly.”
Farther south along Interstate-10 and Highway 90, an angler finds the same great bass fishing with many of the same choices as the areas above each lock. Below Lock One the river divides into the East and West branches. The West Pearl River has very strong current, but the East Pearl section is wider and deeper and, consequently, slower. Fishing on both branches is equally great.
Local angler Rodney Teel spends time practicing his craft and fishing tournaments on the lower Pearl.
“When the river starts falling, the action is awesome,” explains Teel, a Bud Light and Challenger Rod Team member. “The water pulls out of the woods forcing the fish back into the river.”
As the river falls to a normal pool, the door to the flooded forest closes. Fish lose the protection of the impenetrable swamp. The lower water levels concentrate the fish along river banks, tributaries and bayous of the lower Pearl.
Monitoring various websites for the Pearl River stages helps anglers decide when the time is right. Bogalusa and Pearl River have gauges that give readings for each pool or lock section. A falling reading on the gauges alerts local anglers that it’s time to load the boat and head to the river.
“Main river points to small drains become prime spots when the water begins to fall,” said Teel, president of a local club, Lighthouse Bassmasters. “Fish leave the woods through the many small creeks and branches. The fish stage in the mouths of the branches or drains. The main river holds fish on points, where major arms or creeks meet the big river.”
Cover in the lower section includes trees, stumps, fallen trees and more. The strong current creates eddies around stumps and logs. Points and mouths of small creeks provide protection from the strong current. These natural calm spots hold bass that wait to ambush passing bait.
Reading the river is important. Key areas to producing a quick limit are slack-water areas. Any reverse or break in the flow of the river caused by cover is a spot that might hold a fish. Logs, trees, and stumps break the current. A change in the direction of the river below a point or curve slows the current to a desirable speed.
“Crankbaits, worms, jigs and spinnerbaits are great choices for the lower Pearl,” said Teel. “Berkley Frenzy and Texas-rigged PowerBaits fished around points in the late spring are good choices. Be sure to fish in the areas where the water slows. Any cover like stumps or logs often makes a good spot better. The bass want a hiding spot from the strong current.”
The river has numerous oxbows and other backwater regions without current. Late spring is a prime time to search the slack water before the heat of summer drives the fish to the main river. Grass beds and other cover line the shore of these backwater spots.
Crankbaits and spinnerbaits keep the search pace up, but plastics also have their place in the backwater. The slower presentation offers a tempting meal for lazy bass hiding around trees and grass beds.
Another option for the angler is the West Pearl. A strong current makes this battery-eating river tough to fish. Local anglers opt out of their bass boat for smaller boats. Large boats have a difficult time keeping pace with the powerful current. Smaller boats have less draft and need less thrust to fight the current.
The fishing is just as good if not better in the strong current. A well-placed offering is often rewarded with a hard-pulling fish.
“The primary lure on the West Pearl is a jig,” Teel said. “A 1/2-ounce jig will handle the current. Swimming the jig around log jams and other cover is a productive way to catch big fish. Dropping the jig behind logs or the cover that breaks the current is an effective technique.”
Banks under cut with years of current hold fish on the West Pearl. Add in a few stumps and logs, and the bank becomes a must-fish spot. The moving water keeps the temperature from heating up. When spring turns to summer, the moving water stays cooler than other parts of the river, and is attractive to spotted bass as well as largemouths.
“Another place for anglers to hunt for bass is the south area of the West Pearl, where the big lily pads grow,” Teel said. “Frogs and rats on top of the pads and plastics below the pads are another way to catch fish on the Pearl. When the sun heats up the water, the big pads provide some excellent shade.”
The lower section of the river widens, and the current slows if flooding is not present. The bank is lined with very large lily pads. The miles of pads provide a home to baitfish and bass. Anglers know the stalks and overhead shield the pads afford should not be overlooked.
Flooding is a common problem for any river system. Strong rains muddy the water and push it over the banks. Since fishing is a percentage game, the less water you have to search through the better your chances at success.
Check the river stages at the Louisiana Sportsman website (https://www.louisianasportsman.com) before you plan a trip. Falling water is a signal to gather the rods.
Baits needed for the Pearl are standard weaponry for most bass anglers. Crankbaits, plastics, jigs and spinnerbaits work well. Other choices such as buzz baits, prop baits and frogs make a trip exciting. Shad, bream and crawfish patterns work, so bring your favorite lure for a test. Weedless jigs and plastics are a must for working heavy cover like stumps and trees found in abundance along the banks of the river. Lure choices are dictated by current, water color and cover.
The Pearl River is as wild as it has been for years, and its bass population is healthy. These qualities make the Pearl a beauty in any bass angler’s eyes.