Finicky But Fun

Chicot Lake bass are persnickety, but if you present the right lures the way they want them, you’re in for a real treat.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a Louisiana Sportsman classic. It first appeared in the magazine in February 2001. The information contained in it is as useful today as it was when it first ran. Some anglers extol its virtues. Others can be heard swearing over its finickiness.

My response is simple … Fish HARD!

Take last February as an example.

Here I am at the Opelousas Daily World newspaper and my boss approaches me with a sparkle in his eye.

“Chris, let’s go fishing for those big bass at Chicot!” suggested Chris Bond, Daily World publisher.

I wanted to hide.

I knew Bond was accustomed to fishing and CATCHING many bass in his private lake in Mississippi or during great falling-water moments at Old River north of Baton Rouge.

“Now, Mr. Bond, these fish are NOT pond bass, river bass or marsh bass,” I said. “These fish are finicky, wary reservoir bass that live in clear water. Plus, they’re mostly Florida-strain, which makes them even harder to catch.”

“But we’re going, and we’re taking Bobby Latiolais, my brother-in-law,” Bond said with a grin.

Well then, what’s a gainfully employed outdoor writer to do when his boss tells him to go fishing?

Simply comply (and pray).

Well, it was terrible.

I had heard of a good fish estimated to be over 12 pounds that was taken earlier in the week, and I knew where and with what it was taken.

So we fished.

And fished.

And fished.

After several hours, we could only score four small bass. Latiolais caught the largest on a plastic worm, while Bond used spinnerbaits to entice two bass near the Pine Island area.

More than likely, these fish were males that were out protecting spawning sites due to the warmer-than-average temperatures encountered last winter.

And to add salt to our festering, no-fish wounds, we spied 43- year old Kenneth Courville of Opelousas tearing them up!

It was Feb. 5, a Saturday, and Courville had landed two nice fish, one that weighed more than 6 pounds, and the other that tipped the scales at 5.5 pounds.

But there was more.

Courville had taken many others in the 14- to 17-inch slot, and others that he simply didn’t weigh that day. But it was my good fortune to have my camera, and I snapped photos of the two largest fish.

My boss, of course, saw him catch these fish.

“What’s the matter with you, outdoor writer?” Bond asked.

“Hey boss, look,” I pleaded. “I told you these fish were here, but I can’t help it if they don’t like what we’re throwing at them today!”

And no, I didn’t get a pink slip later in the week.

That’s pretty much how it can be on any given day at Chicot.

For the novice to the area, 1,642-acre Chicot Lake is located just north of Ville Platte within Chicot State Park. It’s a cypress/tupelo gum-studded reservoir with gin-clear water on its northern end. Besides being filled with a combination of 1.5 million Florida bass fry, fingerlings and adults since 1988, agents enforce a daily creel limit of eight, with a slot limit of 14-17 inches — a Quality Lake designation.

In other words, all bass within 14-17 inches must be released immediately. However, four fish may be kept that exceed 17 inches.

“In terms of genetics, our electrofishing studies indicate the presence of the Florida strain in about 50 percent of the fish sampled,” said Jody David, inland fisheries supervisor with Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (DWF).

“That’s a great indication that the lunker trait is taking root, and we hope for even larger fish in the future. I’m now expecting a few over 13 pounds in 2001, not entirely discounting a 15-pound fish or better.

“And since the summer of 1999, there have been at least five fish taken over 13 pounds that I know of, as well as a few 11s, 10s and 9s.

“In 1998, we had one that went more than 12 pounds, as well as several in the 7- to 10-pound range. In 1997, we had an 11.2-pounder, three over 10, as well as others ranging from 7 to 9 pounds.”

David said that bass in the 4- and 5-pound range are common.

The current Chicot Lake record bass, taken by Trampis Williamson of Pine Prairie in 1997, stands at 13.63 pounds. The fish enabled the angler to earn $1,000 in Chicot State Park’s Big Bass Contest for the 1996-97 season. The bass was released, allowing Williamson to enjoy a free replica of his prized fish.

In 1997-98, Stacy Granger of Mamou landed a 13.15-pound bass and the $1,000 top prize with Michael Reilly of Ville Platte taking home $500 for the second-place catch weighing in at 12.89 pounds. Granger’s bass was caught in July of 1997 and Reilly’s in April of 1998. Year two of the contest ran from July 1, 1997, through June 30, 1998.

Mark Cary of Cary’s Sporting Goods in Ville Platte agrees with David. Cary said he’s seen vast improvements at the lake since DWF began stocking Florida bass in 1988.

“We’ve seen many large Florida bass here at the store,” said Cary. “I think it was in 1997 that we weighed 30 bass over 9 pounds. For a while there, there was a fish weighed in here between 9 and 11 pounds at least once a week.”

Obviously, this is serious trophy bass angling by anyone’s standards. So the next question to answer is how to catch them.

Courville, who works at Guaranty Glass in Opelousas, knows well. He collaborates with a few chosen friends in his business circle, one who holds the current Chicot Lake record.

“I’ve fished Chicot for more than seven years, spending 90 percent of my spring and summer angling time there,” he said. “And I know it certainly can be a tough lake to fish at times, especially with the warm winter and drought we had last year.”

Courville recommends that anglers visit Chicot in February and March and fish two to three days after a cold front.

“I’d go in there and concentrate on the north end of the lake near the Branch, Turtle Cove and the areas near the North Landing,” he said.

With the cold winter, Courville said he expects the spawn to occur a little later than usual, probably in March.

“But you can certainly catch big fish that are fattening up right before the spawn on the north end,” he said. “You want to stay in water depths ranging from 4 to 6 feet, where I have taken many good fish.”

Courville’s said the pre-spawn bass on Chicot are taking shad and minnows early in the morning and later in the afternoons. His favorite soft plastics to throw this time of the year are Zoom’s Flukes and Super Flukes.

“You want to pitch them near the bases of cypresses and along the deeper lake channels, especially where there is hydrilla,” he recommended. “And you want to slow down your fishing quite a bit. These bass like extremely slow presentations. I’ll even use screw-in Gambler slip sinkers on the Flukes.”

Colors can be very important. Courville will throw watermelon-red Flukes with chartreuse-dyed tails or just plain neon Flukes.

“You want to work edges really well, constantly pitching these baits along the edges of trees and grass,” he said. “Later in the day as the sun warms the water, I’ll start throwing a 3/8- ounce, black/blue/purple rattling Strike King jig — especially in February.”

Another bait of choice is a black/red flake Zoom Brush Hog.

The angler also says that a gold Rogue fished over lake channels on the northwestern end can be productive for pre-spawn bass. As the waters warm up in late January and well into February, spinnerbaits and crankbaits can be equally as productive.

“I can’t overemphasize to slow down your baits when you fish Chicot,” he said. ““I’ll even slow-roll white/chartreuse, double-willowleaf Louisiana Lightning spinnerbaits on the bottom right above the grass and hydrilla.”

He will put No. 3 and 4 willowleaf blades on his spinnerbaits for that purpose.

In March, Courville will cast crankbaits near trees and along the shoreline. His preferred plugs are the Strike King Pro-series in Tiger Stripe (chartreuse-black stripe, orange belly).

As for tackle, he prefers sensitive All Star rods and the new fluorocarbon-coated P-line in small diameters. He’ll use 20-pound test for jigs, and slightly lighter line for crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

David said mid-February through mid-March is the peak time to catch bass in Chicot Lake.

“As far as I can estimate, this period appears to be the peak spawning time,” he said.

Anglers should search for sunny areas along the cypress trees in the Branch and Turtle Island Cove areas. David likes to throw jigs, Brush Hogs and Sling Shots, since crawfish are the second most prevalent food source.

Juvenile bluegills make up the majority of the lunker bass’ diet in Chicot Lake.

“I would also advise anglers to visit the Branch, Turtle Island Cove and the ridges near Pine Island across from Area II landing,” said David. “We found good spawning fish in the area.”

David said he would use plastic jerkbaits such as Flukes, in areas of submerged grass in 4 to 6 feet of water.

Later in the day, he recommends switching to 4-inch plastic worms with red metal flakes on Carolina rigs.

David and others believe now that this lake is destined to break into trophy fever, especially since the stocking and management of Florida bass.

Courville’s advice is three-fold.

“No. 1, learn the lake,” he urges. “No. 2, be patient and fish slow. No. 3, ask locals for assistance, especially since they’re the most productive anglers on the lake.”

Chicot Lake has other amenities to attract anglers without boats. Two 400-foot walk-on piers were built and put near the North and South Landings. Rows of Christmas trees were placed along the edges of the pier on the northern end. Here, panfish anglers without boats can obtain access to some fishing opportunities on the lake.

For lagniappe, beautiful Chicot State Park consistently ranks as one of Louisiana’s most-visited state parks, averaging more than 200,000 visitors annually since 1994. The 6,400-acre site offers rental cabins and group camps, as well as primitive and improved campsites, hiking trails, Olympic swimming pool, group shelters and picnic areas.

For more information, write or call Chicot State Park, Route 3, Box 494 Ville Platte, LA 70586; Phone: (337) 363-2503; Reservations: (337) 363-2403.

About Chris Berzas 368 Articles
Chris Berzas has fished and hunted in the Bayou State ever since he could hold a rod and shoot a shotgun. Berzas has been a freelancer featured in newspapers, magazines, television and DVDs since 1989.

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