Most Lake D’Arbonne anglers head offshore for summertime bass, but this accomplished fisherman stays shallow and does what he knows best — catch quality fish.
Before David Harrell even carried the big bass to the scales that Saturday, he had an inkling about what his friends were going to say.
Harrell hoped the fish in his sack would go 8 pounds and top the 200-man field of the annual two-day Majestic Big Bass tournament on Lake D’Arbonne last summer.
David was right on both counts.
He had to wait almost 18 hours to find out that the 7.36-pounder was, indeed, the tournament winner.
But the ribbing? It started immediately.
“I didn’t even have to wait to see if I won or not,” Harrell said. “It started Saturday. Everybody started ribbing me about having an unfair advantage in catching the fish because I get to see where everybody else is catching them all the time.
“I knew it was coming.”
But he took it in stride.
His alleged advantage for busting the big bass? Harrell is an enforcement agent with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Monroe. He takes his job watching out for fish, game and sportsmen very seriously.
He also stakes out big bass seriously.
He’s quiet and humble when asked to talk about it, though. In fact, he actually said he was lucky to catch that fish.
He said if he had any advantage other than being a good fisherman, he would have won the event long ago.
“I’ve been fishing this tournament for so long without winning any money that I guess with entry fees, gas, baits and all that, this will just about let me break even,” Harrell joked.
Harrell isn’t a pro fisherman. He has no patches on his shirt. No trophies in his case. He’s just like most of the other bass anglers out there — and isn’t ashamed to admit it.
“I just like to fish for bass,” he said. “I’ve caught my share of big ones, but I like them all. The big ones are just a bonus.”
Although Harrell hasn’t caught an elusive double-digit bass, he has come close many times, mostly on his home lake of D’Arbonne.
“For me, it’s simply being in the right spot at the right time,” he said. “The more time you spend fishing, the better the odds that you are going to catch a big one.”
Harrell isn’t one to follow the crowd. In fact, while most summertime fishermen chase lunkers in deep water near the old river channels, Harrell sticks with what he knows best.
“I grew up fishing shallow water around grass and trees. I still do that today,” Harrell said. “Granted, you have to fish early and late to have your best chance for big ones in the summer, but the big bass are there.”
David isn’t talking after-breakfast early; he’s talking running-lights-on early. In other words, being in your spot at the break of first day ready to cast.
The two most-important ingredients for big bass? Time and patience, Harrell said.
That’s how he caught his most-famous big bass last summer.
At 5:30 a.m., while folks were still asleep, Harrell motored into Stowe Creek, cut off his motor on the edge of a big grass bed and readied to catch a big one.
He had seen a couple of big fish in the spot earlier in the week. Unfortunately, somebody else did, too.
And it didn’t bother them that he was already there, sitting on the spot with his boat’s running lights still on — they pulled up right in front of him about 10 yards away and started fishing.
Harrell was aggravated, but he turned and started fishing the other way down the grass bed.
On his third cast, the angler slew the Goliath of a bass when the fish smashed his buzz bait, and a couple of minutes later David’s disgust turned to joy.
“I was so excited I could hardly breathe when I got her in the boat,” he said. “I don’t know who those other guys were, but if they wouldn’t have cut me off, I probably wouldn’t have caught that fish.”
Time and patience paid off.
And a bit of luck, too
Harrell’s favorite overall lure for fishing summer bass is a Texas-rigged Zoom or Culprit plastic worm. For D’Arbonne, he would take some sort of watermelon color lure above all others.
But he never goes out in his boat without two other lures tied on: a Carolina-rigged worm and a chrome/blue Rattle Trap.
Those lures will catch fish in just about any summer condition.
Unless, of course, you are on one of those early morning grass beds.
“There’s no question there: I’d throw a buzz bait and work it back as slow as I could and keep the blades turning,” Harrell said.
His favorite buzz bait? The ones he finds in the sale bin or on the bottom row at the local discount store.
What matters most is getting the blades to squeak just a little.
Finding fish on the grass beds isn’t magic, either. He just starts on one end and works his way to the other.
“I’ll fish 200 yards without a bite, and then catch three or four in one place,” Harrell said. “Maybe there’s a stump under the grass or a little indention. Maybe it’s just a place the bass like. Who knows?”
Most folks have given up flipping trees by this time of year, but not Harrell. He sticks with laying a worm by the roots of cypress trees just about all year long.
“Trees are just like grass beds,” he said. “You may fish 50 without a bite, then find three in a row that all hold big fish.
“Fish as many trees as you can, and when you do catch one, try and find more trees like that one in that depth of water.
Time and patience.
While Harrell doesn’t fish boat docks much at all — especially not in the summer — the deeper ones do produce some good fish.
Other productive areas are old sloughs with laydowns and stumps, and the edged of the old river channel itself.
The best way to catch fish there is with a deep-diving crankbait. Shad colors or chartreuse/blueback are top choices this time of year.
But you have to hit the structure with the crankbait just right.
Some of those areas take even too much time and patience for Harrell, who likes to see what he’s fishing.
“I stick with what I know and don’t try to do everything in the book,” he said. “That’s just the way I do it, and it has worked with me. Some of the best advice I ever got was to do what you have confidence in.
“That’s what I do.”
David’s big bass in the Majestic tournament got him the most attention, but it wasn’t the biggest bass he caught last summer. I had seen him on the lake with another monster bass that probably topped 8 pounds; had it been in the spring, it might have gone 10.
“I caught her down on the big lake on a worm, and she put up some kind of fight,” David said. “She was long and could have held even more weight.”
He took some pictures and put her back in.”
Who knows? With time and patience, they might meet once again. And the next time, the fish might have grown, giving him the satisfaction of finally reaching that double-digit mark on bass.