Bussey Brake re-opening has party-like atmosphere

The author even got in on the new Bussey Brake action with this lunker caught on a crankbait.
The author even got in on the new Bussey Brake action with this lunker caught on a crankbait.

It was a fishing party. There’s not much better way to describe it. And if there was ever any doubt that fishermen are a crazy bunch, the re-opening of Bussey Brake Reservoir north of Bastrop on Wednesday, July 15, pretty much proved it.

The gates on the 2,200 acre reservoir were set to be unlocked at 6 a.m. for public fishing for the first time in almost 10 years. At 1:05 a.m., 28-year-old Jeremy Cooper and his dad, James, of nearby Beekman, arrived at the gate to be first in line. They barely made it. Three more boatloads of friends showed up in the next few minutes.

“Us and some friends had started messing with each other about who was going to be first and the time kept getting moved earlier and earlier. We finally decided we would get there at 1 a.m. so we could be first. We slept in the truck a little bit and then visited with the other early birds. It was worth it.”

Jeremy Cooper was first in at the “new” Bussey” and it paid off with some good bass like these he and his father caught flipping brush with plastics.
Jeremy Cooper was first in at the “new” Bussey” and it paid off with some good bass like these he and his father caught flipping brush with plastics.

The fishing

By the time the gates were opened at daylight, an estimated 50 boats were already in line and up to 100 boats visited the lake the first day. And the procession continued all morning, in spite of near 100 degree weather and uncertainty about what the new lake would be like. The lake was originally opened to public fishing 60 years ago. It has been closed for renovations the past eight years. Among the re-opening morning attendees were Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries personnel like biologist Ryan Daniel, who oversaw the lake’s redevelopment, and Bastrop-Morehouse Chamber of Commerce Director Dorothy Ford.

The fishermen were happy.

“It was better than I could even imagine,” said Cooper, an Entergy power plant employee. “There is so much structure out there — trees, lily pads, all kinds of grass and brush everywhere. We caught a lot of bass, probably five in the 4- to 5-pound range and 20-25 over the 16-inch slot limit. We started off with frogs and were getting a lot of short bites. Then we moved to flipping and when we got up in the cover with them, we start catching them.”

Structure for developing a strong fishery was once absent from Bussey, but no more. The lake is now full of all kinds of structure, like this brush and lily pad field.
Structure for developing a strong fishery was once absent from Bussey, but no more. The lake is now full of all kinds of structure, like this brush and lily pad field.

Other anglers reported some good re-opening day catches as well, especially for bass and big bluegill. The crappie fishing was tough, but that could be expected this time of year. Fishermen also caught fish off the new fishing pier at the main dock and the two refurbished piers on the lake.

If you plan on fishing Bussey, here are some things you’ll need to consider, Daniels said.

Things to consider

  • Bussey is the first and only LDWF Fisheries WMA. You do have to fill out a WMA self-clearing permit before fishing. You can do that on paper at the boat dock kiosk or on the LDWF app.
  • Know and follow limits and size restrictions. Take a measuring tape of some sort if you plan to keep any bass or crappie.
  • Special fishing regulations have been put in place to protect the young and expanding fishery and to ensure a quality fishing experience for all anglers. These regulations are as follows: Black Bass: 5 daily with a 16-inch maximum length limit with the exception that one bass over 16 inches may be kept; Crappie: 25 daily with a 10-inch minimum length limit; Bream: 50 daily with no size restrictions; state regulations are in effect for all other species. All fishing gears other than rod-n-reel or cane pole are prohibited.
  • The reservoir now has three marked boat lanes, one on each side and one in the center of the lake to improve access. There is also a new windbreak in front of the launch which protects anglers from winds while loading and unloading.
  • The lake is still two feet below desired pool stage. Water only enters the reservoir through pumping from Bayou Bartholomew or by rainfall.

The new Bussey Brake

A new crop of young anglers got to fish the reservoir this time around, like Dylan Bachot, who caught this Bussey Brake brute.
A new crop of young anglers got to fish the reservoir this time around, like Dylan Bachot, who caught this Bussey Brake brute.

Bussey today looks nothing like the “old” Bussey. The water is much clearer, not muddied by overpopulations of rough fish. The old lake was full of stumps, but appeared pretty much wide open. The stumps remain, but much of the lake now resembles a maze of willow lined bayous and cuts like you see in the Atchafalaya Basin. In other spots, the huge lily pad fields look like some big Florida lake. And the brush and wide variety of aquatic vegetation looks a lot like shallow areas of Toledo Bend in the early days. That’s pretty good company for a fishing lake.

Fishing Bussey again is on the bucket list of hundreds of local anglers, including the author of this article, who fished on Bussey on the original opening day with his father, W.C. Haddox, 60 years ago in a 12-foot aluminum boat with no outboard or trolling motor.

Daniel says the fishing at Bussey should just continue to get better over the next three to five years. While it has been heavily stocked, including a big group of 3-5 pound hatchery brood stock of largemouths three years ago, upcoming spawns should really fill up the lake’s expansive cover. International Paper donated Bussey Brake to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) on Nov. 5, 2012. It is estimated that the reservoir is worth as much as $5 million in today’s market. Bussey was constructed in the late 1950’s as an alternative water source for the company’s Louisiana Mill.

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Kinny Haddox
About Kinny Haddox 350 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.

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