Toledo Bend dreams come true

Jerry Thompson with two Toledo Bend slabs on one of his pontoon guide boats. (Photo courtesy Living the Dream)

Living the Dream Guide Service on Toledo Bend formed first as Jerry Thompson’s dream. But its reach has gone much further. After 22 years in the business, Thompson’s dream is fulfilled beyond what he ever imagined.

Along the way, he, his family and fellow guides have also fulfilled fishing hopes and dreams of more than 100,000 others that wanted to go fishing.

“We pride ourselves in being able to consistently put clients on fish and catch fish, but it is a lot more than just a fishing trip,” said Thompson, owner and head captain of the Many business. It’s also about the experience, good times, education, bonding and getting some mighty fine table fare, especially for the crappie anglers.

“We far exceeded my dream. We have touched a lot of people and helped them reach some of their dreams, too. Every trip is special, but there are a lot of trips when I or one of the other guides come in and we smile and are reminded, ‘this is why we do this’ and that helps fulfill our dream, too.”

A family affair

Their accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed either. In 2021, the Louisiana Tourism Association presented an award as Attraction of the Year to LTD Guide Service. Since Louisiana is a giant tourism state, that’s a trophy for sure. LTD is a family affair, owned and operated by Gloria and Jerry Thompson. Their grown children, Brandi and Matthew Loetscher, also play prominent roles. Matthew is one of the guides, specializing in bass fishing. He also goes to other lakes at certain times of the year to guide.

When the fish are biting, it’s a boatload of fun and crappie this time of year for LTD customers. (Photo courtesy Living the Dream)

Thompson spent six months developing a business plan while working at his job in the poultry business in northern Arkansas. He had it all set, but couldn’t come up with a name he liked, and he wouldn’t pull the trigger.

“It came to me one day in the shower….Living the Dream,” he said with a laugh. “That was it. It was the missing piece. I was still wet when I called my boss and gave my notice, sold everything I had except my fishing gear and headed to Toledo Bend.”

He started with just himself and long-time friend and guide Jim Shanley. Now he has 17 guides, books 2,000 guide trips a year and even has a marina that LTD runs out of.

He and clients have caught so many fish there’s no way even to guess how many. But he’s still willing to share information about how to catch them, whether you are a client or not. Today, Jerry specializes in the crappie and Matt is the bass guru. While they do rotate, those are their favorites.

“Too many folks make this too complicated,” he said. “We just keep it simple. We use live minnows, a hook and a weight, which varies in size based on how deep we have to go.”

Spring crappie

His best fishing tip for other fishermen chasing crappie in late April and March?

“There are plenty of places to catch fish, but one spot that is easy to find is one of the public structures built and maintained by the state,” he said. “There are maps of those structure locations and you can find them using the GPS on your phone or your boats electronics. This time of year through the early summer, there will be fish on every one of those structures.”

The second “hotspot” is really easy to find. It’s the three-mile long Pendleton Bridge that spans the middle of the lake on the highway between Many and Milan, Texas.

There’s work to be done once the fishing day ends well, which means cleaning crappie for supper. (Photo courtesy Living the Dream)

“It can get crowded, but Pendleton Bridge in April is one of the most productive places on the lake,” he said. And since the lake is one of the best crappie lakes in the country, that super spot just could be the best crappie hole in the country, he added.

“Crappie are on it from one end to the other,” he said. “The crappie fishermen are, too.”

Hidden hotspot

You can fish the bridge one of two ways, he said. First, fish hang around the pilings themselves. But you can’t see the best spot under the bridge.

“Each one of those pilings has a cross member down about 12 feet underwater,” he said. “Those are easy to find and since they are all at the same depth, it makes it easy to stay on the crappie. I would seriously say that 90 percent of the fish caught around the bridge are caught on those cross members.”

This is the kind of bass that makes guiding fun for LTD’s Matthew Loetscher and his clients on Toledo Bend.

For nightowls, the Toledo Bend Lake Association has also put lights under the bridge on the Louisiana side and that keeps the crappie bite available  24 hours a day.

His No. 1 tip for people unfamiliar with the lake, or those that don’t have days to find the fish, is also simple.

“Hire a good reputable guide,” he said. “Hire one that somebody you know has used or has a good reputation for success. That’s not a sales pitch. If you don’t want to have to spend most of your time finding fish or figuring out how to catch them, let a guide show you. You can learn a lot by spending the day on the water with a guide.”

Now, about those bass

Toledo Bend has long been ranked as one of the top lakes in the country, so it’s a prime spot for Matthew Loetscher to ply his trade. And he does it very well. He was chosen the No. 1 bass guide in Louisiana during 2019. And even though he graduated from college with a business management degree, it didn’t take him long to return to the thing he really loved.

“Fishing has always been my passion,” Matthew said. “Obviously I grew up around it and as I started working my way through college, guiding helped me along. I didn’t intend to do it full-time after college, but after looking at some other pretty good jobs, I was already so immersed in the fishing world, I could go nowhere else. It has always provided for me.”

He is also glad to share his tips and favorite baits for the Bend.

“April is a special time for bass fishing,” he said. “You’ve got some bass still involved in the spawn, some on beds and some in transition out to the flats and points and things. Then, you’ve also got the shad spawn about to start. When it does, the two head butt right in the middle.”

It’s the best of both worlds and an excellent adventure for bass anglers. When the shad spawn, it’s time for topwater baits around the grass, which is returning to the lake. Topwater lures, frogs, weightless worms — it’s time for them, especially early. It’s great for clients, even those who struggle, because they can at least see the explosive strikes even if they don’t hook up.

Lures of choice

His lures change this time of the year depending on how deep he fishes, but he has some go-to-lures that he says you can’t go wrong with at Toledo Bend.

What he calls stick worms — like a Senko or Bass Assassin, can be fished 100 different ways from top to bottom of the water column. He also likes regular worms from six to eight inches long.

“The key with worms, no matter how big or how shallow or deep you fish them is to keep them in contact with the bottom,”  Loetscher said. “You can fish them with a slow dragging motion or a steady hop. Try it different ways until the bass tell you what to do.”

When fishing plastics at Toledo Bend, it’s hard to go wrong with plum, watermelon and watermelon red.

Matthew Loetscher shows a handful of his favorite lures for catching largemouth on Toledo Bend. (Photo courtesy Living the Dream)

A Stanley spinnerbait is a staple at Toledo and Loetscher likes white with a white or translucent skirt with two silver willow leaf blades. The more it looks like a shad, the better. And it’s a killer near the grass. He also keeps deep diving crankbaits like a Strike King 6XD or shallower version in Sexy Shad color available for fishing when the bass move out to cleaner areas. Lipless crankbaits will drag bass out of the grass in a hurry. One of his top ones is the chrome Boo-Yah lipless cranker. He said fish it anywhere, grass or open water, five feet or 25 feet deep. Fish love it.

Never a bad time

Loetscher’s best piece of advice is don’t get caught up in old wive’s tales about when to fish.

“Fish live in these waters 365 days a year and at least some of them have to eat every one of those days,” he said. “There are some tough days because of weather, but no bad times of the year to go fishing.”

Both anglers agree that forward facing sonar has been life changing for them and other fishermen. Basically, they help eliminate bad water and find the fish without hours of searching with lures and guessing what’s down there. They still don’t catch fish. You have to be a fisherman to make them work, they say.

“My dream came true way beyond my wildest expectations,” Thompson said. “And even though it isn’t a fishing tip, I would say this to anybody. If you’ve got a dream you want to pursue, then make a plan and do it. We only have one shot at our dreams most of the time. Make your own opportunities.”

And making your dream come true also requires one key ingredient.

“They say if you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life. Well, that’s not true. It’s work. It’s always been a lot of work. But it’s enjoyable work,” he said, adding that there are some bad days in anything. But never bad enough to make him think about giving it up.

About Kinny Haddox 595 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.