This lake doen’t get the praise of some other Louisiana gems – and that’s just the way regulars like it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth installment of a 12-part series exploring the best bass-fishing areas in the Bayou State.
Greatness often goes undiscovered.
Whether it purposely flies under the radar, or it just hasn’t had its big break yet, greatness often goes the way of starving artists surrounded by their masterpieces. They may have a small cult following, but there aren’t too many people outside that circle who know about them.
So goes 15,000-acre Lake D’Arbonne in Union Parish. It is a great lake, but it has gone relatively undiscovered in a state with big names like Toledo Bend and Caney Lake. In fact, it’s been said around North Louisiana that if D’Arbonne were over 100,000 acres, nobody would have ever heard about Toledo Bend.
Maybe D’Arbonne just wants to fly under the radar. Maybe its desire to go incognito is what makes it great. Maybe D’Arbonne wants to keep its greatness to itself and its cult following of devoted anglers.
Just how great is D’Arbonne? Lake resident and Media Bass Tournament Director Dale Taylor knows. Besides putting on the tournaments, Taylor also runs the annual Majestic Big Bass Classic, a 24-hour bass marathon that awards big bass and total weight.
“An 11-pound fish won big bass last year,” Taylor said. “We also had a couple 8s and a few 7. There were also 13 5-pound fish brought in last year. There were 886 pounds brought in for a 2.9-pound average.
“It took an 8-pounder to win it this year, but the average jumped up to 2.99 pounds. There were 25 fish over 5 pounds, and the smallest fish to earn money was 3.08. We also had four five-fish stringers over 20 pounds. All this in the middle of June.”
On the upswing
Lake D’Arbonne has had its share of ups and downs over the years, but that is typical of any lake that is 41 years old. The last two years have seen the lake on an upswing, though, and Taylor said he sees it staying strong into the foreseeable future.
“A lot of the lake’s fishing fortune has been based on the presence of grass over the years,” Taylor said. “It started showing up again last year. It’s been about six or seven years since we had this kind of good grass like coontail. And to make it even better, we’re starting to see some hydrilla showing up in two main arms.”
Another angler who feels D’Arbonne is as good now as it has ever been is Mike Owens, a regular in the North Louisiana tournament scene. He has had a lot of clutch performances at D’Arbonne.
“I think it’s the best Louisiana lake for catching quality fish,” he said. “You can go and catch a big one just about any time of year. You can also develop many different patterns. You don’t have to relate to any one thing because there’s so much structure and cover that you can fish it just about any way you want and stand a chance of busting a big one.”
The Highway 33 Bridge that crosses the lake at its middle divides Lake D’Arbonne. Below the bridge is considered the Big Lake or Main Lake, and it consists mainly of sprawling flats with numerous channel holes, sloughs, ridges, boat docks and a few cypress trees.
The primary feeder creeks in the Big Lake are Stowe, Bear and Hurricane. Each has a good combination of docks, trees and grass. Stowe is the largest of the creeks and has the most cover.
“It used to be that Stowe Creek could make you a hero or a zero,” said Owens. “It wasn’t marked very well, and you were pretty much dedicated for the day once you got back in there.
“It’s got new markers, though, so you can get in there and check it and get out quickly if they aren’t biting. It’s a great spot for catching some giant fish from January to the first of March.”
The section above the Highway 33 Bridge consists of the two main feeder creeks — Corney and Little D’Arbonne. There are also a few smaller creeks that spill into the lake above the bridge that can be dynamite because they are less obvious.
The creek arms have the same kind of cover as the Big Lake, but there are more trees and grass with fewer docks. Everything tends to get compressed up the creek arms too, with the creeks gradually narrowing until they are actually contained within their own banks and look more like bayous.
Cypress Island and The Mixing Hole are the most famous areas up the Little D’Arbonne arm. Cypress Island is a mass of shallow cypress trees that explodes when the water is about a foot high, and The Mixing Hole has it all — channel holes, current holes, grass, trees, ridges and brush.
The two most famous areas up Corney are Boatwright Creek and an area simply known as The Flats. Boatwright is a large flat with cypress trees and acres of grass flats. It also has a few sloughs and depressions running through the flat making it a good big fish area because of the readily available deep water. The Flats area is about a mile below Boatwright. It’s a wide-open area of shallow grass flats with isolated wood cover.
• Spring — It’s difficult to cover all the patterns that work well during the spring at D’Arbonne. However, there are two primary patterns that will work for novice and expert alike.
“The first one has got to be a Rogue on the cypress trees,” said Taylor. “That bite actually starts earlier than people realize. Anywhere from late January through February is prime Rogue time.”
While many anglers think of the Rogue as a search bait, D’Arbonne veterans consider it more of a target bait. It produces best when fished next to cypress trees, and one of the prime Rogue spots is Lost Lake up the Corney Arm.
“The closer you can get it to the tree the better,” Taylor said. “Jerk it under, and let it float back to the top. They’ll usually eat it as soon as you jerk it under the water. It’s a slow and methodical way to fish, but it will catch some giant bass. Gold/black works well in low light, and chrome/blue works better in sunny conditions.”
The second pattern to try in spring is a jig or soft plastic on the cypress trees. A lot of fish will spawn on the bases of the trees or around the knees, and putting a bait tight to a tree is a great way to get bit.
“I stick with two jig colors,” Owens said. “Black/blue/purple works best for me when it’s still cold in February, and I switch over to what we call the D’Arbonne color, pumpkin/black/chartreuse, once the water gets above 50 degrees. The only change I make in muddy water is to add a rattle to a black/blue jig.”
While a jig works well all over the lake, it is Cypress Island that has the reputation for producing some giant fish when the lake is about a foot high. The big bass will get back in the island around the little cypress trees. It’s hard fishing, but it can pay off in a big way.
• Summer — While there are some fish that will always stay shallow after the spawn, most bass will move offshore, where they will position along the channel or on the flats about the end of May. The primary patterns revolve around those that allow anglers to quickly comb the channel and those that best cover the grass flats.
“I always start a summer morning looking for a topwater bite on the grass flats,” said Owens. “You can usually find a few good fish on the edges of the grass closest to the channel. These are usually some of the fish that moved in at night to feed, but that haven’t moved back to the channel yet.”
Owens throws Chug Bugs and buzz baits around the edges of the grass, and he’ll stick with it for about an hour or two depending on the light level. The brighter it gets, the more he wants to move to the channel. Of course, there are some patterns that will continue to work around the grass well into the day.
“Everybody up here knows about the Wobble Head,” said Owens. “It works best around trees in 4 or 5 foot that have just a little bit of grass around them. Red with a natural worm is the old standby, but red with a grape worm or orange with a natural worm can also be hot. Try the flats up Corney and around the Mixing Hole up Little D’Arbonne.”
Another hot grass pattern is throwing the new frogs like the Stanley Ribbit. Taylor said the frogs are hot because they are basically buzz baits that can go anywhere a regular buzzer can’t. Couple that with the fact that not a lot of anglers have the confidence to throw a frog all day long, and you’ve got a great big-fish bait for those that are committed to throwing it.
Anglers dredging the channel holes do best with a combination of Carolina rigs and deep-diving crankbaits like the Norman DD22. The best channel holes are areas that feature something a little different like an outside bend where a creek or slough dumps into the main channel.
“The DD22 bite usually begins around May with the perch-colored baits like firetiger or blue/chartreuse,” said Taylor. “They they’ll switch to the whites and shad colors later in the summer after the bass start focusing on shad.”
Soft plastics on the Carolina rigs can be just about anything an angler has confidence in, but there are a few standards that work well most all the time. Try finesse worms, centipedes, Baby Brush Hogs and lizards in cotton candy, watermelon red and watermelon blue.
• Fall — Bass are going to be after shad during the fall months, and Taylor said the best way to find both is to look for the white birds sitting on stumps out on the flats.
“That’s a definite giveaway,” he said. “The shad will be moving up the arms during the fall, and the bass are going to follow them. Those birds will help you eliminate a lot of non-productive water. Get out there in those areas, and try fishing a Wobble Head or a topwater like a Chug Bug around the grass.”
Taylor pointed out that anglers pulling up old, dead grass should find a new fishing spot. He’s not sure exactly why, but experience has taught him that bass just aren’t in areas with dying grass.
Owens said his most-productive fall patterns are also based on the shad, but he favors getting in the backs of little pockets where bass can trap giant schools of shad.
“I’ll take a small Splatter Back crankbait and run through the backs of the pockets in the creek arms,” said Owens. “You can sometimes back off the bank a little and throw a Carolina rig in the middle of the pockets with a cotton candy finesse worm if it’s clear and a watermelon/blue or watermelon/red if it’s stained.”
Another fall hotspot is way up the Corney arm near Hog Pen Landing, where the creek is contained within its own banks. Owens heads that way to fish the little drains and cuts with a crankbait or Carolina rig after a rain.
• Winter — Both anglers agree that the way to go during the winter is to tie on a heavy jig, and look for a big bite.
Taylor believes the best way to catch a big bass is to fish a 1/2-ounce jig-and-pig around the trees up Corney that are in 5 to 7 feet of water.
“Look for the bigger trees that have the doughnut bottoms,” he said. “Make sure you fish it out 4 or 5 feet away from the base of the tree to hit the fish that are hanging out around the cypress knees.”
“It sounds like a contradiction to the big-bait, big-winter-bass theory,” Owens added, “but a little finesse jig works wonders around the deeper docks down on the Big Lake during winter. This is a good way to catch fish in the toughest of winter conditions.”
Owens and Taylor said deep-water winter patterns like spoons and Little Georges are also productive on the lake, although few anglers actually fish them anymore. Bass tend to stack up in the deep water under the bridges, and they are suckers for either lure shaking in their faces.
If you want to catch fish when everybody else is striking out, there are a couple different ways you can do it. The first is to fish the channel holes in the Big Lake with a Carolina-rigged Brush Hog — the big one, not the baby one.
Position your boat on the shallow flat near a channel hole and cast to the middle of the channel. This ensures your bait will hit the strike zone of bass that are hanging out in the bottom of the channel near the edge of the lip.
The other way to catch them under tough conditions is to head up the arms and bump watermelon or rootbeer grubs off the bottom on the downcurrent side of a channel point that has current washing across the top of it.
Bass will hide behind the lip of the channel and move up to feed in baitfish washing by in the current. They’ll usually hit the grubs as they’re falling back to the bottom.
While the D’Arbonne cult would rather the water body stay incognito, it is too good a lake to continue to fly under the radar. Its greatness can’t go unexplored forever. Discover the lake today, and you’ll likely be a part of its cult following tomorrow.
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