The return of hydrilla has Caney Lake back producing trophy largemouth bass as it has in the past
On almost a weekly basis, Hunter Freeman of Monroe hooks up his bass boat, filled with his best tackle and gear, and hits the road, driving straight away from some of the best big-bass fishing in the country.
That’s correct; he drives away from some of the biggest bass around.
That’s because Freeman is entering his second year as a full-time pro on the FLW Tour, and his fishing takes him all around the country. When it doesn’t, he likes to spend his “days off” going down the road to nearby Caney Lake to thump the big bass he leaves behind for the pro circuit.
Freeman knows that if Caney Lake covered 25,000 acres instead of 5,800, it might be known as the best big-bass lake in the country.
“Sometimes, it’s tough to leave,” he said. “Last year, I was catching 30 pounds every morning, and they were really biting, but we had a tour event, and I had to leave them.”
The best days for the crown jewel of Louisiana’s trophy bass lakes have been in the rear-view mirror for a few years, but that is turning around, especially for bass in the 8- to 11-pound range. Big bass fishing is still as good as it gets in Louisiana, but in just a matter of years, Caney may be back to producing bass in the state’s 15-pound club, Hunter said. Six of the state’s biggest bass have come from Caney, but most of them were years ago. Several recent catches indicate the old Caney may be about to be made new.
“There’s no doubt why we are seeing the resurgence of really big bass,” said Freeman, who guides out of Lily Pad Airbnb when he’s not tournament fishing. “It’s the hydrilla. It puts the whole food chain on steroids. The shad have a place to spawn. The bream have a place to hide. All the food that a bass eats suddenly becomes more prolific and healthy. And so do the big bass. I think in the next three or four years, we’ll see the 15-pounders start showing up again if they leave it alone and don’t try to kill the grass.”
Slot limits were recently removed at Caney because of the expanding bass population and a culture of releasing big fish back into the lake.
“It takes a bass 10 years or so to get to 13 to 15 pounds, so it’s up to anglers to do their part,” Freeman said.
February is a the time when the last of the prespawn bass are finding hard spots like old road beds, clay points and humps around the point of a drain or stump lines as staging spots. For those fish, Freeman likes to pitch a Bryant’s custom football jig in green pumpkin and blue with an Xcite Raptor Jr. Craw Tail. He will also do a lot of deep-cranking with a Salmo Rattlin’ Hornet 6 in his favorite chartreuse/blue color.
As they move shallow, the key is grass lines. Bass will mostly be on the inside or outside grass lines, relating to some sort of drain or depth change, Freeman said. Either staging or shallow, the big ones on Caney tend to bunch up early in the year, and that’s a good thing for anglers when they find them.
Fishing is good this time of year with a Carolina rig. One of Freeman’s first choices around grass is the Xcite Hawgalicious in green pumpkin, a bait that resembles a bream. One of the most-popular grass lures at Caney is a red Rat-L-Trap, which anglers across the grass beds; when it snags a bit, they rip it out, and that’s when bass nail it.
Caney is home to one of the best parks in Louisiana: Jimmie Davis State Park. It has two boat launches, 11 fishing piers and numerous amenities for fishermen. There are also public launches at Ebenezer Landing and the dam, and two full-service marinas also operate on Caney: Brown’s Landing on the north end and Hooks Marina at the spillway.
Caney dominates Louisiana’s Top 10
Despite a long drought of record-setting bass catches, Caney Lake still beats the competition when it comes to trophy largemouth bass from Louisiana waters. The 15.97-pound lunker caught by Greg Wiggins on Caney in February 1994 still stands as the lake and state record.
Six of the state’s Top 10 largemouth — all over 15 pounds — have been caught in this small impoundment formed by damming Caney Creek in 1986. Many anglers feel that if managed correctly the next couple of years, Caney anglers can put some new entries on this chart. Here’s a look at Louisiana’s biggest of the bigs:
Hunter, the fisherman
Hunter Freeman is one of the growing numbers of young bass fishermen competing on professional circuits. He got his start as a member of the University of Louisiana-Monroe college team; he won the FLW College Championship and a berth in the FLW Cup in 2018.
In 2019, his rookie season, he fished 18 FLW pro events and won $33,000, including a top-10 finish at the FLW Lake Seminole event. His main sponsors are Bass Cat Boats, Falcon Rods and Xcite baits. When he isn’t fishing pro tournaments, he guides on Caney Lake near his home in Monroe.
Freeman said Caney Lake has helped shape his fishing career.
“Caney Lake holds a special place for me because it’s a mini-reservoir that has bass shallow, deep, on humps, in the grass, and it’s a place where I was able to use my electronics to find fish and stay on them, just like we have to do on much larger bodies of water,” he said. “She’s a finicky one. One day, you can go out and catch five fish weighing 35 pounds, and the next, you might not get a bite. She’ll humble you in a hurry.”
Freeman is one of 11 Louisiana anglers who qualified to fish the FLW circuit in 2020. The others are: Randy Allen of Gilliam, Randy Despino of Colfax, David Gleason of Many, Nick LeBrun of Bossier City, Colby Miller of Elmer, Chris Neau of New Orleans, Jake Ormond of Sterlington, Drew Ratley of Shreveport, Clark Reehm of Elm Grove and Tyler Stewart of West Monroe.