These five lakes are packed with hard-fighting panfish
Real fishing heroes aren’t made at the Bassmasters Classic or the FLW Championship. Real fishing heroes are made on ponds, lakes and creeks all across the United States every day as parents and grandparents take a kid on their first fishing trip.
More often than not, these first trips involve cane poles, bobbers and a mess of bream rather than metalflake boats, $15-dollar lures and just a smattering of bites.
A child who watches a red-and-white bobber jiggling and sink for the first time turns to his parent or grandparent with a gleam in his eyes and immediately forges a bond with that person that the child will remember forever.
Even if these little anglers go on to be seduced by the glam fishing world, they’ll always enjoy telling the story of their first fish, and they will fondly remember the fishing hero who helped them reel it in.
Take my 3-year-old son Matthew for instance. His first fishing trip was to Caney Lake in April of 2005. The chinquapin had been on the beds thick the weekend before, and I convinced Capal, his grandfather on his mother’s side, to tag along for the ride.
The chinquapin weren’t kind that day. A little cool snap pushed them deeper, and it became more like work as I searched in vain for a few bites. I’m not sure if I was trying to find some fish so Matthew could catch one, or if I was trying to find them to impress Capal with my obviously well-cultivated fishing skills.
Looking back, I’d have to say it was the latter because Capal said something that has been played over and over in my mind ever since.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about that boy. I don’t care if I get a bite. Just make sure he has fun.”
Matthew’s first trip with Capal turned out to be his last. Capal passed away only one month later.
I’ll never forget that my son caught his first bream with his grandfather’s help. A year later, Matthew recalls that Capal helped him catch that chinquapin. It’s my job to make sure time doesn’t erase that memory.
I’ll also never forget the advice my father-in-law gave me that day. It’s not about us. It’s about them. And April is a great month to introduce “them” to bream fishing. Chinquapin and bluegill are moving into shallow water all across North Louisiana this month to spawn. There’s no better time to see that gleam in your child’s eyes and become immortalized in his or her mind as a fishing hero.
Here are a few sure bream bets.
Caney was once the undisputed heavyweight champion of Louisiana bass lakes. Now, it is the king of the chinquapin lakes. The big redears grow to mammoth sizes. Two-pound fish don’t even garner a second glance.
Caney guide Eddie Halbrook religiously keeps a fishing log, and a close examination of it reveals that the chinquapin have moved up the second week of April every year for the past five years.
“These fish have been in deep water around the mussel beds most of the winter,” he said. “When the water starts warming, they move up the creek channels, then turn off to their spawning areas. I’ve found that they return to the same areas over and over again.
“You can actually start catching them a little early if you fish the 12-foot water out by the channel. From there, they move up to about 8 feet, then in to 3 feet where they spawn.
“Once the chinquapins move in to spawn, they stay until they complete their business. It generally takes a two-week period for them to move in, spawn and get out. That’s why it’s so important to be there when they move up. If you wait too long, you’ll miss out.”
Halbrook pointed out a few places where eager anglers could find some chinquapin beds. He said any of the creeks on the north side of the lake are good, but specifically identified Smith Branch, Boggy and Clear Branch.
“Those three are best because there are more dollar pads in those creeks than any of the others,” said Halbrook. “Even though those three are best for me, you can go to the backs of any of those creeks on the north side and catch some fish.
“I tend to stay away from the south side during the spawn because there aren’t as many dollar pads over there. The key to finding good beds is a mixture of pads and stick-ups.”
Halbrook said he knows 22 areas around the lake where he can find big chinquapin on the beds. However, if you don’t have his experience, you’ll have to do a little work to locate them. One of the oldest, and some say most exact, ways to find them is by using your nose.
“You can smell bedding chinquapin,” Halbrook said. “They smell like fresh-cut grass to me. When I’m looking for new beds, I’ll actually idle upwind and sniff them out like a bloodhound.”
Of course, the other way to find them is to fish around a while until you catch a few. If you get in a bed of big ones, you’ll know it quick enough. These chinquapin are aggressive, and they aren’t going to let a bait sit there very long without eating it. In fact, Halbrook says that if you get in a good bed, you’ll start off catching the big ones right from the start.
“I like to use cold worms for the chinquapin,” he said. “You’ll do best if you put a really big gob of worms on. And I recommend using a long-shanked hook because the fish will swallow the hook pretty far, and a long shank gives you something to grab to get the hook out.”
Click here to read the rest of this article, which first appeared in the April 2006 issue of Louisiana Sportsman. Don’t forget to subscribe today to ensure you don’t miss a single information-packed issue.
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