The plug was pulled on Lake D’Arbonne in September, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fish it this month. In fact, what it really means is that crappie will be concentrated and vulnerable to anglers’ baits. Here’s how to mop up.
They are going to have to do a lot more than just drain Lake D’Arbonne to keep Ronnie Turner from chasing crappie this December.
The West Monroe angler isn’t going to suspend the crappie season just because the lake is missing a little water.
Actually, the lake is not being drained: It is just being lowered 5 feet for the quadrennial drawdown to allow property owners to work on docks, piers and the like, and also to help keep aquatic vegetation under control.
That leaves plenty of water to fish — and might even make crappie easier to find.
One thing is for sure: Anglers like Turner who regularly fish this 16,000-acre crappie spa are looking forward to this winter.
“I think the biggest difference is we are going to see the fish go into the deeper water and suspend sooner than usual, and if it gets really cold while the lake is down, it should make fishing even better than usual because the fish will bunch up more,” Turner said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Before he even talks about the hows and whys of fishing the drawdown, however, he offers up a bit of advice on how to ensure the fishing bonanza lasts.
“Fishermen need to be good sportsmen if they really get on the fish,” Turner said. “Just because you can catch a limit doesn’t mean you have to keep them all. Leave some for later.
“It’s important that we do that for this lake.”
With that said, leveraging the smaller lake for plenty of fishing action is a matter of understanding what the fish will be doing as water levels recede.
“What I’m expecting this month and next is that the crappie will transition to deeper water earlier,” Turner explained. “As the water drops, the shad will move deeper, and with the shad come the crappie.
“The shad feed on the plankton, and the current from the drawdown will stir up the plankton in the deeper water.”
The biggest thing anglers here will have to do is figure out exactly where in the deeper water the crappie will go. Turner said that, if it is a warm winter, fish will probably hang nearer to the edges of the channel, which will be 20-25 feet deep this year — 5 feet shallower than usual.
If it turns cold quickly, the fish will probably suspend in the middle of the channels.
“Typically, if it is not really cold and the water temperatures stay above 40 to 45 degrees, the fish will not move far from the edges of the channels,” he said. “If the water temperatures are near 40, the fish will hang in the middles of the flooded channels.
“They will stay in those areas before beginning transitioning to spawning when the water gets up near 60 degrees.”
Either way, Turner has one tip for catching some of the big slabs for which this lake is famous, no matter what the conditions.
“Use your electronics,” he said. “Pay attention to what you see on the screen: the water temp and the depth. When you see balls of shad, there will be crappie real close.
“You many not always see the crappie, depending on what type of unit you have, but when you see the shad, fish that area hard.”
One situation that will be challenging for D’Arbonne anglers in December and January is what fish will do when they actually leave the channel if it warms up. Traditionally, there are lots of 12- to 14-foot-deep flats along the old river channels where fish chase shad on occasion.
This year, those flats will only be 7 to 9 feet deep, too shallow for cold-weather crappie, Turner said.
“If that happens, you’ll have to find them in the deeper flats elsewhere, or in the creek channels coming into the main channel,” he said. “Again, electronics are the key to finding out where to fish.”
While finding crappie is not always easy, when they decide to bite, it’s not that hard to catch them this time of year. Often the bite is a little more subtle, but it is consistent just the same.
Turner likes to use an eight-pole spider rig technique with two fishermen in the front of the boat manning four poles each.
Some anglers don’t like spider rigs, but Turner said it allows him to find the right depth and colors of lures that will catch a good mess of fish.
Sometimes, if the bite is really light, he will simply go to two poles held in his hands. That’s because there are times when if you don’t feel the “tap” on your bait this time of year, the fish will spit it out before you have time to set the hook, he explained.
He’s always willing to hold two poles if that is the case.
“You can’t go wrong with Bobby Garland- or Bonehead-type jigs, and any of the basic colors like monkey milk, bluegrass or blue thunder will work almost anytime,” Turner said. “And don’t forget pink: I fish a lot of pink heads on the jigs and the plastic trailers.”
There’s something else he won’t go to the lake without: shiners.
“If I’m going fishing for crappie, I’m going to have shiners in the boat,” Turner said. “Sometimes I fish them on a jighead, sometimes a plain hook and sometimes as a trailer.
“But I’m going to use shiners. I just believe in them.”
Fishing pressure on D’Arbonne is usually pretty heavy during a drawdown, so he urged fishermen to be safe and be patient.
There also are literally thousands of stumps starting to show — or they mght be just under the water’s surface. And just because a boat lane is marked by poles, it doesn’t always mean it is deep enough to run this time of the year.
So boaters should be careful when navigating the lake. There’s a simple solution to dealing with all those challenges.
“Better safe than sorry,” Turner said.