Knee-Deep in fish

Beat the heat by dipping into a North Louisiana creek, where the waters are cool and action is unstoppable.

Don’t you love those dog days of summer? The electricity meter is spinning like crazy trying to keep up with the humming air-conditioning unit, and the very thought of spending a day in the boat is about as appealing as a root canal. But take heart. Some of the Bayou State’s hottest (as in “excellent”) fishing occurs when it feels like Baghdad in August. If you just can’t bring yourself to risk sunstroke on the lake and you still need a fishing fix, head to one of the many small streams that crisscross North Louisiana for some cool wading and fast action.

I grew up in Winn Parish hunting and fishing on Dugdemona River. A summer ritual was to grab a cane pole and a coffee can full of worms, and head to the swamp. The water is low that time of year, and we could wade back and forth across the creek to hit the deep holes in the bends and load up on channel cats.

Wade fishing is still popular on Dugdemona, although the technique has changed. Casting rods and artificial lures have replaced the cane pole and worms, and bass and bream are now the quarry of choice.

Dugdemona is not the only stream suitable for this type of wade fishing. Saline Bayou, Kisatchie Bayou, Fish Creek, Castor Creek and many others also offer fine late-summer angling. Many, like Dugdemona and Saline, alternate between so-called “big water” and “little water.”

Big water is wide, slow and deep, while little water is shallow and narrow with a current. From July through September, the latter is especially productive because it can be easily waded, the water is cool and the fish are hungry.

One appealing thing about wade fishing is its simplicity. Fishing attire includes a hat, a pair of loose-fitting pants (to fit water bottles in the pockets) and old tennis shoes. Choice of tackle and lure depends on what type of action you prefer.

Bobby Joe Chandler and sons, Cale and Craig, often fish the little water on Saline and Dugdemona.

“We mostly bass fish,” explained Chandler, “and use conventional baitcasting tackle with 8-pound line, just like you’d use fishing from a boat on Saline Lake.”

The Chandlers have specific tastes when it comes to lures.

“Craig’s and Cale’s favorite bait is a buzz bait tossed around sunken tops, cypress trees and stumps,” Chandler said. “White or chartreuse or a mixture of both is real good. If those don’t work, try a black buzz bait or a black worm.

“I like to use a crankbait that floats and then runs shallow on the retrieve, like the Bandit 100 series in crawfish color.”

The small creeks are loaded with both largemouth and Kentucky bass, and they can hold surprisingly big fish. That’s one reason Chandler likes to use baitcasting tackle.

“If you’re using an ultralight rig and snag one of those large, red-eyed Kentucky bass, he’s going to break off. Last summer Craig and Cale caught a number of bass between 4 and 6 pounds. But the only thing you can catch those big ones on are buzz baits or maybe a black worm. You won’t catch very many sometimes, but they will be good ones,” he said.

Personally, I’m looking for fast action more than large fish. My preferred tackle is a 6-foot ultralight spinning rig with 6-pound line. Any small spinner such as a Beetle Spin will work, but the smaller the better. A perfect combination is an H&H jig spinner with a 1/32-ounce plain crappie jighead attached to it. Gold spinners will catch fish, but experience has shown silver is by far the best.

Crappie tube jigs complete the lure. Color doesn’t seem to matter too much, but the black/chartreuse is hard to beat. I make up three or four such spinners, and keep them and extra tube jigs in a prescription medicine bottle in my pocket. It’s not necessary to carry a lot of extra tackle because if you get hung up you can just wade over and unhook the spinner.

The small crappie jig may seem an odd choice, but it’s the best for catching the myriad bream, crappie, goggle-eye, chinquapin and catfish that call the little water home. It also will land a surprisingly large fish. I’ve caught bass up to 3 pounds on the little hook.

People who wade fish use one of two tactics. Some prefer to fish mostly from the bank and only wade when they want to get to the other side to try a different spot. However, if conditions permit, you will catch more fish if you get into the creek. These small streams usually have long stretches of high bank that are difficult to fish from. If you don’t get into the water, you will miss out on fishing some very productive places.

It may be just psychological, but it’s better to just wade in immediately. It seems if you start out fishing from the bank, you become reluctant to get wet and pass up many good spots. By getting wet right off, you don’t hesitate to wade over to a good-looking spot.

Be careful when wading, but don’t be intimidated. Ease into the water with your feet parallel to the bank to prevent them from sliding out from under you in the mud. Once in the water, shuffle along, feeling ahead for underwater logs, stumps, and sunken limbs. Be particularly careful about stepping over logs because deeper holes sometimes form on the upstream side. If you start to overheat, simply sit down and enjoy the cool water before moving on.

Always try to fish moving upstream. Cast ahead in a fan pattern, and bring the bait back with the current or across it. Because of overhanging limbs, most casts will only be 10 to 20 feet. Pay extra attention to such obvious structure as cypress knees, logs, tree tops and stumps. A favorite hideout for bass is on the downstream side of logs, so always make several casts parallel to any log you come across.

The sheer number of fish that can be caught is mind boggling, and I’ve often wondered how a knee-deep creek barely 15 feet wide can hold so many. They are usually on the small side but are incredibly aggressive.

The bass and bream act as if they are starved to death and hit the spinner like piranhas, but they inevitably are fat and chunky. Catching and releasing 100 in a couple of hours is common on a good day.

I think Dugdemona, by far, is the best wade-fishing stream in North Louisiana. It starts west of Ruston in the Jackson-Bienville Wildlife Management Area, and slowly winds south past Jonesboro-Hodge and Winnfield to merge with Castor Creek and form Little River.

The only problem with Dugdemona is that most of the creek is bordered by private land, and getting access can be a problem if you are not a deer lease member. However, there are two areas where the creek is bordered by Kisatchie National Forest.

Driving west from Dodson on Highway 126, turn north on Highway 501 at Brewton’s Mill, go about 1 ½ miles, and take the improved road to the right to Dugdemona. In this area, the creek is mostly big water that is too deep to wade, although it can be fished from the bank.

There is one good wading area just upstream from the road. This shallow stretch is covered in cypress trees and knees, and has a mucky bottom, but it contains a lot of fish. On my last trip there, I stood knee deep amongst the cypress knees, and caught a number of small bass and goggle eye without moving 10 feet.

A better place to wade Dugdemona is north of Calvin. Take Highway 501 north and then turn right on the Carter Crossing Road. Kisatchie borders the creek on the west bank for a short distance above and below the Carter Crossing bridge. This is typical little water, and in late summer it is barely knee deep, but it holds lots of small bream.

A few miles west of Dugdemona is another fine wading stream that has plenty of public access. Saline Bayou is a designated scenic river, and is bordered on both sides by Kisatchie Forest from Highway 126 south to Saline Lake. There are four access points: the Highway 126 bridge, the Pear Field Landing and Salt Works off Highway 1233, and the Highway 156 Bridge east of Goldonna. All have signs on the highway to direct anglers to the landings.

The first three access miles of wade fishing, but Saline is almost entirely big water below the Goldonna bridge. It is not well suited for wading but can be fished from the bank, and large numbers of fish are caught there from small boats.

Saline is different in some respects from Dugdemona. It’s a bit larger, the water is clearer, the banks are steeper, and it has a sandy bottom. Chandler also noted another noticeable difference.

“Saline water is cold, real cold, so we usually fish from the bank and just wade when we want to get to the other side,” he said.

Another unique thing about Saline Bayou is the large number of wild catalpa trees that line its bank. I have often heard it pays to fish under their overhanging limbs because the fish eat the worms that fall in the water.

I never really thought catalpa worms could survive in the woods with all the birds, so I considered it an old wives’ tale and never paid them much attention.

That changed one day when my fishing buddy Jim Brister and I were walking back to the truck. He suddenly stopped and said, “Look at this.”

When I turned around, Jim was standing next to a 10-foot catalpa tree examining one of the leaves. A small catalpa worm was eating away, and there were a number of others scattered across the tree. Since then, I always make a cast or two beneath any catalpa tree I see.

My favorite Saline water begins about a quarter mile downstream from the Highway 126 bridge. One of my last trips there was quite memorable. After reaching the little water, I made my first cast across a sunken tree top in a deep pool. The small spinner was immediately hammered by a hand-sized chinquapin. My second cast landed its twin. A couple of casts later, and I was fighting a small Kentucky bass. Over the next two hours, I fished a quarter mile stretch and wound up catching and releasing about 20 bass and assorted bream.

There is also good wading water upstream from the Pear Field landing. On one trip the fishing was rather slow, but I kept at it until I reached a sharp curve. Noticing ripples coming from around the bend, I eased up to see an otter playing around a log that ran into the water.

My first cast to the log snagged a small largemouth bass. My second cast did the same. Two casts later and a huge, beautifully speckled “redbelly” bream snatched the spinner and took my line in crazy circles until I finally wrestled him in. Within five minutes, I landed and released eight bass and bream on either side of the log.

Just getting out in the woods to see otter and such is one reason Jim and I make wade fishing an annual outing. One of our best trips was to Dugdemona one extremely hot, muggy afternoon in August.

Parking the truck on a small pipeline, we cut through the woods to start fishing at a tree top that is always productive.

Leading the way, I got within sight of the top when something caught my eye. An immature otter was gliding in and around the limbs hunting dinner.

“Jim,” I hissed, “ease up here and look at this.”

Jim came up and then whispered, “There’s another one.”

Sure enough, a twin was working the far side of the top.

“Look there,” I pointed to yet another.

We soon counted five young otter frolicking around the top.

After enjoying the show for a few moments, we moved up to the top and sent the critters scurrying in every direction. Jim began untangling his line that had fouled on the way in, so I popped off, “Let me show you how it’s done” and cast into the top.

A bright-colored bream smacked the spinner just as I began the retrieve. Two more casts landed identical fish in size and color.

“Dang!” Jim cried, “I’ve got to get going.”

He quickly got untangled, made a cast, and was reeling in his own bream. We spent the next two hours leapfrogging upstream and caught and released about 160 assorted fish between us.

The simplicity of wade fishing and its fast action also makes it a good way to introduce someone to Louisiana’s outdoors. I usually take Don Willett, an old college buddy, out when he visits from Texas. Don is a history professor at Texas A&M-Galveston who grew up on the Gulf Coast and served in the Merchant Marines. Louisiana bayous are not exactly his comfort zone, so he didn’t know what to expect the first time I took him deep into Dugdemona swamp.

After walking some distance through the woods, we finally got to the creek. While I was getting ready to make my first cast, Don stood there with a puzzled look on his face. Staring at the water, he asked somewhat hesitantly, “Is this it?”

I had been bragging about Dugdemona’s outstanding fishing for years, but this was not what Don expected. With a running start, you could just about jump across the creek where we stood.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “It may not look like much, but it holds plenty of fish.”

Actually, I was a little worried. A recent rain had caused a significant rise, and I wasn’t sure if we’d have any luck. But we immediately began catching bream and bass, and Don worked his way upstream out of sight. Later, I caught up with him as he was taking off a small bass.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Fine,” he said, “except for the big snake I stepped over while ago, and the coon that ambled right by me.”

Don was definitely out of his element, but he enjoyed the outing so much we try to go back whenever he visits. On that particular trip, he also captured the essence of wade fishing small creeks. Something grabbed Don’s spinner and dragged it all through the cypress knees before he finally landed it. Expecting a bass, he was surprised to lift out a small, thrashing redbelly bream. Unhooking it, Don examined it closely and said, “What they lack in size, they sure make up in vigor!”

The bite on small creeks can be so fast and furious I sometimes wonder if the fish might start attacking us. They seem to work themselves into a feeding frenzy, and you may catch a half-dozen in one spot.

Once while standing knee deep next to a cypress tree, I heard Jim across the creek mutter, “Dang it!”

Looking up, I saw him working on a bird’s nest of a backlash. After an appropriate amount of ribbing, I went back to fishing, and in a minute heard Jim state in disbelief, “I’ve got a fish!”

His spinner was dangling in the water between his legs while he worked on the backlash, and a small bass grabbed it.

A few minutes later, I caught another bass and tossed him back. As soon as he hit the water, the bass darted straight toward Jim’s bait on the other side of the creek and took it. The little bass was caught and released by both of us in just a few seconds.

On another occasion a small bream I hooked was zigzagging around the creek as I reeled him in. Suddenly, a large bass gulped him down in a swirl of water. There was little I could do with my ultra light rig to prevent him from heading straight for a cypress knee and breaking off. This has actually happened several times, but it’s the price you pay for using light tackle.

Two other streams that can be productive wade fishing waters are Fish Creek near Pollock and Kisatchie Bayou near Flora, south of Natchitoches. Fish Creek runs through the Little River Wildlife Management Area, and I discovered it quite by accident. For years, I drove down the winding creek when entering the WMA but never considered fishing it because it was so small and the banks were so steep.

Recently, out of curiosity, I decided to give it a try. After parking alongside the road, I worked my way down the steep bank, and started fishing a deep-looking hole. Within moments, a 1-pound largemouth was on. I continued moving upstream and eventually landed half a dozen bass and several medium-sized bream.

Fish Creek is rather difficult to navigate, but it is easily accessible and obviously holds some nice bass and bream.

Kisatchie Bayou is a better-known stream that winds through the Red Dirt area of Kisatchie Forest in western Louisiana. A beautiful body of water, it is rather unique for North Louisiana because it has large white sand bars, rocky outcroppings and even waterfalls. Access is easy at Red Dirt campground.

The bayou is very shallow in places, but deeper pools occur regularly that hold Kentucky bass and bream. Kisatchie’s beauty makes it a wonderful stream to fish whether you catch anything or not.

With a little scouting, many other hidden jewels like these can be found. Wade fishing is a great way to beat the heat and get away from the jet skis and bass boats that tear up the lakes this time of year. And in the right creek, you might just find yourself knee deep in fish.

About Terry L. Jones 116 Articles
A native of Winn Parish, Terry L. Jones has enjoyed hunting and fishing North Louisiana’s woods and water for 50 years. He lives in West Monroe with his wife, Carol.