Easy to fish and accessible to everyone, gravel pits provide unbeatable autumn action.
Although he was under near-constant investigation for misappropriation of state funds, Huey P. Long did use some of that money like it was meant to be used by paving nearly 3,000 miles of roads and giving free books to students throughout the state.
Even though I am a teacher in the Louisiana public school system, I am most thankful that Long used some of that money to pave the roads.
You see, by doing so, Long inadvertently created some of the best fish habitat anywhere in the state. All that concrete and blacktop had to have rocks to make it structurally sound, and all those miles of roads required a lot of rocks.
The easiest place to get those rocks was to dig big holes in the landscape of Louisiana, move the dirt aside and gather the rocks underneath. Through their digging these mining operations created what is commonly known as a borrow pit, strip mine or gravel pit.
When the workers were done with the pits, they were eventually abandoned and left for nature to reclaim. Somewhere along the way, fish were introduced to the pits, and they found them to their liking never knowing they had Long to thank.
These pits are located all along the highways and interstates that crisscross Louisiana. A lot of them are still in plain sight of the roads.
Some pits were created, through, by gravel companies purchasing land and setting up their private mining operations. Having grown up in Washington Parish between Franklinton and Bogalusa, I know all too well what these pits look like.
By the same process, when these companies are finished mining an area, they abandon the pits which are again left for nature to reclaim and for fish to flourish.
Both of these types of pits can offer some great fishing after they have gone through some initial form of stocking and a period of maturation. The pits near streams typically are stocked naturally through periods of high water, and the gravel companies sometimes stock the landlocked pits as they leave.
No mater what you call them or where you find them, these pits provide some of the best and easiest fishing to be found in the state.
Many of the pits were dug near waterways and connected by canals to the main stream or river. Some weren’t connected to the streams, but were dug close enough that the process of erosion has created access points along the banks of the pits.
Some of these pits dug around the streams were never connected and are still bound by the banks around their perimeter. However, they are close enough to waterways that when the water rises, it makes access as easy as stepping on a trolling motor or sculling a paddle.
Kevin Prestridge has been fishing these kinds of pits long enough he has figured out how to gain access to them. He typically fishes the pits along Bayou Dorcheet near Minden, and he knows the ins and outs of most of them, but he doesn’t let unfamiliarity with a pit run him off.
“If you know of a pit that you’d like to fish,” said Prestridge, “and you’re not sure if it’s public access, I’d suggest going to the Tax Assessors Office of that particular parish and ask to see the Plat Books. Those books show every bit of land in a parish, and who pays the taxes on it.”
Prestridge says that sometimes you’ll find that a company owns the property and sometimes it may be a private landowner.
“Either way,” he says, “you’ve got to put on a happy face and start knocking on doors.”
Prestridge says that if you find that a company owns the property, you should try calling their personnel office to find out who handles their land, then make a call to or visit that person.
“If you find out a private landowner has the property, then put on an even happier face and make a visit,” Prestridge added. “Most folks won’t have a problem with you fishing the pits on their land as long as you approach them nice and you don’t do anything to lose their trust.”
Most of these gavel pits around the state would look very similar if viewed from the air or if you could see them bare without any water. Since they were pretty much created the same way, they all have the same kinds of depths, cover and structure.
One of Prestridge’s favorite structures in a gravel pit is the islands that are often found in the middle of the pits. He says these islands were created when the dirt was being pumped from the bottom of the pit and piled up on the other side of the pumping machines.
“That dirt got piled up pretty high in some spots,” says Prestridge, “and over the years it settled and compacted into hills within the confines of the pit. Those hills are now either underwater humps or actual islands out in the pits.”
Prestridge says he favors the islands that are a part of bar pits still connected to live streams and river.
“Those pits are still controlled by the ebb and flow of the creeks, so they rise when the creek rises and fall when it falls,” he stated.
“As the water fluctuates, the fish like to stack up in the cuts between the islands because that creates a funneling effect that they use to their feeding advantage.”
If the water is falling, Prestridge says he finds the fish stacked up on the creek side of the cuts. And if it’s raising, they stack up on the opposite side.
Considering that the gravel pits were dug by machinery, they typically have a bowl shaped bottom without much structure other than the humps or islands.
One of Prestridge’s friends and fellow pit enthusiast Sid Havard of Simsborro says that most of the pits he’s fished over the years have a very narrow band of shallow water around the banks that quickly falls off uniformly to 8 to 10 feet or even deeper, depending on how deep the pit was dug.
“There’s not much shallow water to fish,” said Havard, “but that can actually work to your advantage because when the fish are wanting to be in shallow water to feed or spawn, they don’t have too many options available to them. And that makes the shallow fish pretty easy to target.”
Prestridge’s favorite time to target pits is when the fish are in shallow water.
“I normally hit them pretty hard during spring and fall,” he said. “And during the summer, I fish them from about daybreak until about nine then again about three or four hours before sunset.”
These are all times when Prestridge expects the fish to be on that little narrow band of shallow water. He admits that fish can be caught deep, but he considers pit fishing too much fun to put in the extra work to catch them deep.
“I never have any reason to go deep because I target times that they’re up shallow,” he said. “But I know you can slow down and fish the deep water to possibly pick up a better fish or two.”
During the spring, Prestridge says he normally can find bass bedding along the bank in the pits.
“Those clean beds shine like new money,” he said. “I like to keep an eye open as I ease down the bank and make several casts to the beds before I get too close to them.”
A hard jerkbait like a Rapala or a Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue is just about all Prestridge needs to pick those fish off the beds. His best retrieve is to snap it down right over the bed where he hesitates a second.
“That’s usually about all they can stand,” said Prestridge.
Some other effective lures along the shallow areas during the spring are small spinnerbaits, floating worm rigs and lightly weighted Texas-rigged soft plastics.
Once summer rolls around, Prestridge says he loves to begin his mornings with a swimming worm rig. It’s actually one of those tourist-looking worms with a small propeller-type spinner in front. He fishes the rig much like a spinnerbait by casting it out and swimming it back with a slow, steady retrieve.
Another of his favorite techniques for morning-time fishing during the summer is what he calls high-jacking.
“Some people may know it as doodle-socking or jigger-poling,” said Prestridge. “I use an 8- to 10-foot-long jig pole and tie a short length of braided line to the end of it. One of my best rigs for the gravel pits is to thread a chartreuse skirt over a treble hook and tie that directly to my line.”
Prestridge eases down the bank with his pole held just high enough for the skirted hook to rest on the surface. He constantly taps the base of his rod to impart an erratic action to his makeshift lure.
“Sometimes you can work it in a figure-8,” he said. “And you might want to try something like a Zara Spook to see if it works. This is a heart-stopping way to fish because the fish will literally appear out of nowhere and smash the lure. It’ll dang near scare the life out of you.”
Prestridge also favors small beetle spin-type spinnerbaits fished in the shallow water during the lowlight summer period.
“I like that thing because it will flat catch any kind of fish in those pits,” he says. “If I’m struggling to get bit, I’ll tie on that spinner and just concentrate on catching a mess of fish that could include anything from crappie to bream to bass.”
During the fall, Prestridge admits a good squirrel season keeps him off the pits; however, if a warm spell hits during the fall, he heads right back.
“In that situation, I usually find the bass to be pretty aggressive,” he said. “And since that’s the case, I throw topwaters like Tiny Torpedoes and fast-moving lures like that little spinner.”
Even though most of these pits don’t have very much structure or cover, Havard says he’s found one piece of cover that he considers a sure-fire bet with pit fishing.
“Every now and then, you’ll come across a tree on the bank that has been felled by a beaver,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll see it still connected where he’s been gnawing on it. I almost always catch a fish in that kind of situation by pitching a small Texas-rigged soft plastic to the submerged top or fish over the top of it with a clear Tiny Torpedo.”
The nature of the gravel pit ponds makes them the realm of small boats, canoes or pirogues.
“This isn’t the place for a big boat,” said Prestridge. “First off, you’ll rarely be able to get them in there because either they’re totally landlocked and don’t have ramps or the canals leading into those connected to the creeks aren’t big enough to maneuver a big boat.”
That’s why Prestridge often loads his pirogue or 10-foot pond boat into his big rig and carries it as far as he can. He’ll then tie up his big boat and maneuver into the hard-to-reach pits in the small craft.
“It’s one of the most enjoyable ways to fish that I’ve ever found,” said Prestridge. “You don’t need a lot of equipment, and you don’t need a big boat. Heck, you don’t need a boat at all to fish the landlocked ones as long as you have permission to fish them.
“Just make sure to try to keep a low profile, stay as silent as you can and make a lot of casts. If you can do that, you’ll catch a lot of fish and you’ll be glad you took the time to take a pit stop.”