This lake is coming back from the dead, and there are few better options for bass anglers this time of year.
I kept my eye on Porter Trimble’s water temperature gauge as he maneuvered his big Nitro 929 bass boat across the surface of CLECO Lake. The air temperature was in the lower 60s, and there had been enough cold nights to drop the water temperature into the 50s. CLECO Lake was also on the back end of almost a week’s worth of a cold, soaking rain that should have put even the most brazen bass into a cold-water coma. There were enough negative outside variables to make me think I would have to come back another time.
Trimble made a sweeping turn into a nondescript ditch. He seemed to fixate on my face as I kept my eyes on the temperature gauge. It didn’t take long for him to get the reaction he was looking for as my jaw dropped. I watched the liquid-crystal digits start rising … 60, 65, 70, 75.
“This is why CLECO is such a popular winter lake,” Trimble said. “The water in this ditch stays in the 70-degree range all winter long. You can catch bass in this chute like you would during the spring at any other lake in Louisiana. In fact, while spring and fall see the most intense fishing pressure at other area lakes, this lake gets full of anglers during the winter.”
As we motored farther up the chute, we moved through a bend, and I saw the reason for the warm water rising from the horizon. CLECO was in the process of cooling its power plant, and the warm water rushed out from under a bridge in the back.
Not only was the water coming out of the plant warm, it seemed as if the surrounding air was warmed by the glowing yellow hue of the plant itself. Trimble pulled up next to the bridge, and we began chunking medium-diving crankbaits to the warm current.
CLECO Lake is also known as Lake Rodemacher. In fact, that’s how it’s identified on most maps. It’s more commonly referred to as CLECO Lake because of its use by the power company.
The big lake is full of bass-attracting cover.
“We were running a little fast this morning,” Trimble said, “but I wouldn’t recommend somebody run the lake because there is so much wood cover here. You can run the hot-water chute, but I’d keep it down in the cold water part.”
Trimble pointed out that the lake used to be full of grass, and that it was known for producing some monster bass. However, the grass started getting jammed in the power plant generators, so grass carp were introduced to the lake. They have apparently done their job because there didn’t seem to be much visible grass in the lake.
“This lake kind of followed the same timeline as Caney,” Trimble said. “It exploded with grass and big bass, carp were introduced, the grass went away, and fishing got tougher but not impossible.”
There weren’t too many boats on the lake that day, but Trimble said CLECO gets more pressure from December through February than it does any other time of year because of the warmer water.
“You’ll catch a lot of fish in the 14- to 17-inch slot,” he continued. “But it’s a great place to have a good time. The overall reputation of the lake really depends on whom you talk to. The hot-water anglers catch a lot of small fish, while the cold-water guys don’t catch as many, but they catch bigger fish.”
LDWF district fisheries biologist Ricky Moses is based in Pineville, and he believes that Rodemacher is on the fast track for rebounding from a few down years.
“Rodemacher is a great place to catch a big bass,” Moses said. “We had a few problems with vegetation and grass carp in the past, but there is some grass starting to come back. The lake has a good bass population and a good number of Florida bass genes in the lake.”
• Spring — CLECO fishes like most any other lake in Louisiana during the spring. Bass in the cold-water section move shallow to spawn, and it’s one of the best times for the bank beaters to get out and catch some fish.
Trimble said that even though the shallow water would produce some fish during the spring, the flooded timber in 15 feet of water would produce some of the biggest bags of bass during this time.
“It’s easy to pass on the trees when you see them so deep,” Trimble said. “But almost all of the 20-pound-plus bags I’ve seen come out of this lake have come from those trees. Those trees have root balls around 5 feet deep, and bass will spawn all over those roots.”
Trimble targets the spawning bass on the trees by slow-rolling a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait or pulling a medium-diving crankbait around the roots. He also experiments with a jig or a Texas-rigged soft plastic, which he winds up fishing with more of a swimming pattern that a straight pitching pattern.
“You may have to fish around a little bit to figure out what those tree fish want,” Trimble added. “But once you figure it out, you can load the boat with some big bass.”
Anglers can also get on the banks that have logjams on them and catch bass that are spawning around the logs. The water typically doesn’t get clear enough to sight fish, but bedding fish sometimes give themselves away by pushing minnows and bream off their beds.
“While the cold water area fishes like a typical lake during the spring,” Trimble continued, “the warm-water chute bass are almost in a summer pattern.
“You’ll often catch a lot of smaller bass over there during the summer by Carolina-rigging the points with a chartreuse pepper centipede. Anglers may also even see some schooling action there during the spring.”
• Summer — The majority of the bass patterns move offshore during the summer, and deep-water techniques become more productive. While they can’t be seen from the surface, there are some big brushpiles that were bulldozed before the lake was filled, and there is a pretty good creek channel that winds its way through the middle of the lake.
Trimble concentrates almost entirely on the cold-water section of the lake during the summer because the hot-water chute just gets too hot for his taste. There are some fish to be caught in the hot-water chute on Carolina rigs and crankbaits, but the cold-water fish are a little bit more predictable, and bigger, during the summer.
“You’ve got to be pretty good with your electronics,” Trimble said, “but you can get on the creek and fish the edges of it. I say you’ve got to be good with your electronics because the creek isn’t marked, and it isn’t very wide. It used to be easy to follow when there was grass in the lake because it would grow right up to the edge of the creek and stop. That was a dead give away as to where the creek ran.”
Trimble looks for sections of the creek where it falls from 12 to 15 feet deep down to 25 feet or more. Most of the creek features only about a 5-foot drop-off from the ledge to the bottom of the creek, so the big bass find the more extreme drop more to their liking.
“I like to pull a deep-diving crankbait like a DD22 off the edge of that lip,” Trimble said. “They’ll also bite on a Carolina-rigged green pumpkin plastic.
“But my favorite way to catch the bigger fish out there on the channel is on a big Texas-rigged worm because I can drop it off the edge and vertically fish it all the way down the edge of the creek to the bottom. With my boat in the middle of the creek, I can easily throw to either side and reach the lip.”
The hot-water chute has lots of schooling action during the summer, and Trimble said the only difference between this schooling action and that during the spring is that the fish tend to run a little bigger during the summer.
“You can catch them up to 3 pounds in the schools,” Trimble said. “You can’t run and gun these fish, though, like you might at another lake. You’ve got to shut down way away from them and idle in.”
Other options during the summer are fishing the shallow, sandy banks with a topwater like a Spook or buzz bait first thing in the morning and fishing a frog in the lily pads if any are present.
• Fall — Fall is Trimble’s least favorite season to fish the lake. It’s not because the fish aren’t biting, because they are. It’s just that he prefers other lakes in Central Louisiana that really turn on once the water temperature starts dropping.
“There’s a big flat in the southwest corner of the lake called the Pepper Patch,” Trimble said. “It’s just a shallow area that is full of scattered wood cover. Bass will move up on it en masse once the fronts start rolling through. They’re just following the baitfish.”
Trimble prefers moving quickly across the flat and throwing spinnerbaits around the stumps and laydowns. He likes to throw a double willow blade combination, believing that it more closely mimics the shad that are congregated on the flat.
“You can also pick up some fish early and late on a buzz bait,” he added. “I really like a triple-wing buzzer because it lets me keep it on top while keeping it moving slowly.”
These shallow-water presentations also work well in other parts of the lake. Trimble suggested looking for shallow coves that have scattered wood cover and banks that are loaded with logjams.
“I tend to stay out of the hot-water chute during the fall because the water tends to still be really hot coming out of the summer,” he said. “You can still catch them in there on Carolina rigs and crankbaits, but there are better options in the rest of the lake.”
• Winter — This is when all the forces of nature have trouble turning off the bass bite at CLECO Lake, especially the cold. Anglers new to CLECO will be just as surprised as I was when they see their temperature gauge as they head into the chute.
“The warm-water chute goes all the way back to the power plant,” Trimble said. “It’s not just a straight ditch, though. There are some good pockets off the chute, and each of the points created at the mouths of those pockets can get loaded with fish. They tend to run a little small, but you can catch a ton of them. You may catch 10 under the slot for ever one you catch in the slot.”
Trimble likes to fish the points with a Carolina-rigged chartreuse pepper, green pumpkin or watermelon centipede. He also drags a 200-Series Bandit across the points, and the selects colors based on the water color — chartreuse patterns in muddy water and shad patterns in clear water.
“Even though the hot-water chute is good during the winter,” Trimble said, “I would still rather get out there in the cold-water side and poke around to see if I can catch a big fish. Guys who brave the cold water and fish the deep timber with DD22s and DD14s can often pull in some lunker bass. A 3/4-ounce spinnerbait also works well slow-rolled around the root systems.”
Trimble also takes the time to work the wood cover with jigs and soft plastics. One of his favorite things to do for a big bite is to crawl a black/brown/amber jig around the bases of the deep trees.
Not only can CLECO withstand the cold temperatures, it can also rebound quickly from heavy rains. Trimble said the lake has a good runoff that helps all the new water flow out of there pretty quickly.
CLECO Lake may not be very big, and it might not attract much attention, but it is capable of producing some consistent action with a better-than-average chance at a big fish.
Try it this winter, and you’ll find it to your liking. You may not be able to feel your fingers or your toes, but you can bet the bass aren’t feeling the chill. And once they start biting, you’ll forget all about your own discomfort.
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