Bussey Brake rebirth project nearing completion

An aerial view of the main dock area shows the area where most of the remaining work is being undertaken.
An aerial view of the main dock area shows the area where most of the remaining work is being undertaken.

A fishing pier. A pump. A big pile of dirt and rock. And some water. Lots of water.

That’s what’s left to complete one of the decade’s most anticipated outdoor projects in north Louisiana — the rebirth and reopening of the 2,200 acre Bussey Brake Reservoir north of Bastrop in Morehouse Parish. Built in the late 1950’s, the lake was a prime fishery for bass, bream, crappie and catfish for more than 50 years before age, lack of structure and overpopulations of trash fish made it unproductive.

The list is short, but the main ingredient is installation and operation of a new pump to fill the reservoir from Bayou Bartholomew, which runs beside the lake. If work goes as planned, the pump should be in action early this fall and the lake filled enough to open back to the public by early 2020. Over half of the lake has sat empty for several years allowing thick new growth on the lake bottom, which will make it almost like a brand new reservoir when it is reflooded.

Winter crappie

“The contractors are about halfway through with the new wave break in front of the main launch area and the new fishing pier,” said Ryan Daniel, biologist with the LDWF District II office in Monroe who is overseeing the rebirth. “The new wave break will make the lake safer and they’ve also dug a deep pit there that should hold winter crappie just like the old deep hole in front of the main dock used to.”

While much of the lake is empty, big pockets of water like this one have been stocked with fish and will provide a good breeding stock to maintain great fish populations.
While much of the lake is empty, big pockets of water like this one have been stocked with fish and will provide a good breeding stock to maintain great fish populations.

The new pump should be completed in September, Daniel said. It will take a few months to fill the lake, but once there is enough water to safely launch boats, the LDWF will open it up.

Here’s another bit of good news. Bass, some over three pounds, were first stocked in 2016. Other bass, bream, and crappie have been stocked at fingerling sizes the past several years. Some of these are already catchable size fish.

New pier

Daniel has big plans for the lake. Boat lanes are already marked with pilings and there will be a new handicap accessible pier next to the new boat dock. Daniel said they are also looking at putting in a kayak or small boat access area on the south end of the lake.  Size and creel limits will be managed to provide fun fishing and maximize the sustained populations of gamefish.

Construction of the fishing pier at the main Bussey dock is about halfway to completion. Notice the trees and undergrowth in the background, which will provide excellent habitat for fishing when the lake is reflooded.

“The area is a WMA and will be equipped with a self-clearing kiosk.  Only a fishing license or Wild Louisiana stamp are necessary to use the WMA.  No hunting is scheduled yet and there will be no camping,” he said.

Daniel estimates that more than a million dollars have been spent on the restoration, mostly Sport Fish Restoration funds generated by taxes on sporting goods.

The good old days…

Many a Louisiana sportsman learned how to bait a hook or land a bass in the “good old days” of Bussey Brake. When it was first opened, there were no other big reservoirs in the state. Bussey was a trendsetter.

The catches were phenomenal. It was the showplace of the LDWF working to manage the lake with International Paper. Famous anglers like Bill Dance came and fished it. Outdoor writer and TV personality Grits Gresham did photo shoots and filmed shows there.

It was part of growing up in Morehouse Parish. I grew up fishing there with my parents, when only aluminum boats and trolling motors were allowed.

Harry Hawthorne with a Bussey bass in this vintage 1960’s photo.
Harry Hawthorne with a Bussey bass in this vintage 1960’s photo.

The good old days were often documented, like in the photo with this article showing former Bastrop City Attorney Harry Hawthorne with a string of Bussey bass.

For fishermen, Bussey was as big a part of growing up in Morehouse Parish as going to school or to work. I grew up fishing there with my parents, when only aluminum boats and trolling motors were allowed. I spent many a day on the lake after stopping by Witherington’s Amaco and Bait Stand, where I used to buy 100 crickets, a bag of ice, two gallons of gas, a Dr. Pepper and a Mars bar for $1.00 on the way to Bussey.

And they just put it on my tab.

Kinny Haddox
About Kinny Haddox 265 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 40 years. He also publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com. He and his wife, DiAnne, live on Lake D’Arbonne in Farmerville.