I’m blessed to live in Louisiana. As an angler I have access to some of the best waters in the country for a dozen or more fresh and saltwater species. Picking my 10 favorite places has been no easy task.
Photo: Steve Bowman
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Nevertheless, that’s what I was asked to do so that’s what I’ve done.
Photo: Steve Bowman
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The Atchafalaya Basin
I don’t know where to start here. This massive swamp is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been. It’s more like a jungle in South America than a place in the United States.
The bass are numerous but they aren’t all that big. A 2 pounder is about what you can expect except in the spring when a few 20 pound sacks are brought to the scales. Most of them are caught power fishing. Flipping plastics with heavy weights is the usual approach. It’s not unusual to catch a dozen from one flooded point or small hump. Panfish are plentiful, too. Again, they won’t be giants but there will be lots of them.
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If you fish the Atchafalaya Basin, you can expect to see alligators and snakes bigger than anywhere else as well as every conceivable kind of animal and bird. Bring your camera because you’ll see things you’ve never seen before. You’ll want to show your buddies.
As extraordinary as it is this is a body of water that should be taken seriously. The only maps I know about are aerial photos. Make sure you have a good one and mark your departure point accurately. After that, pay careful attention to where you are and how to get back. And keep in mind that the water levels change constantly. Just because there was water under you on Monday somewhere doesn’t mean it’ll be there on Wednesday.
I’ve fished the Atchafalaya Basin all my life. It’s an experience like no other. Every angler on earth should do it at least once.
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Caney Lake is the destination for big bass hunters. It’s small, around 5,000 acres, but it’s the best place in Louisiana to catch a 10 pounder, or better. In fact, the majority of the biggest bass caught recently in the state have come from its waters. The biggest weighed over 15 pounds. But don’t expect to catch bass off and on all day when you visit. This is not a numbers lake.
Photo: Billy Hathorn
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It’s an easy lake to fish. There’s only a little bit of water over 15 feet deep and the giants will pretty much bite all the traditional bass lures you already own. At the same time it’s protected from the weather and easy to run. Put all of this together and you can see why Caney Lake is one of my favorite places to bass fish.
It’s rural. Don’t expect much in the way of amenities other than a place to stay and a good meal early in the morning and late in the evening.
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I’d describe Lake D’Arbonne as a small Toledo Bend. It’s a lowland reservoir with expansive flats, standing timber and cypress trees. The best way I know to fish it is to look around and find something you like. Then throw a spinnerbait at it. You’ll catch one, and maybe it’ll push the 15 pound mark set by other anglers over the years.
The really great thing about it is that it has a lot of protected water so wind is never a problem like it can be on Toledo Bend.
Photo: Cecil R. Theaux
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The crappie fishing is great and, if you decide to take a break, you can always go to Monroe or West Monroe for the day. Both are decent size cities with hotels, restaurants and malls as good as any you’ll find anywhere in the country.
Along with access to metropolitan areas it’s a nice place for a winter trip if you live where there’s snow and cold north winds.
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Delacroix is much like Venice except that the water is brackish and it’s more like a shallow, grassy pond. Despite very little true freshwater the bass are plentiful, but don’t expect to catch the numbers you will at Venice. They tend to be bigger, though. And, it’s one of the best places I know about to fish for bass and redfish together. You never know for sure what you’ve hooked until you see it.
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If you want, you can always run out to the Chandeleur Islands and test your skills in true saltwater. Or, make your trip a cast and blast adventure. Hunt ducks and hogs in the morning and fish in the afternoon.
Delacroix is a great winter destination. The climate is mild and there are plenty of places to stay and plenty of restaurants.
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They call Grand Isle the Cajun Bahamas, and for good reason. The beaches are gorgeous, the hotels and restaurants first-class and the atmosphere serene. There are fishing piers everywhere and plenty of ramps so that you can stay away from the wind if it kicks up. It’s also known as a really nice kayak destination. They hold several tournaments there every year.
Photo: Ellis Lucia / Times Picayune Archive
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But it’s the speckled trout fishing that put it on my list. It’s a world-class trout fishery with high numbers and heavy weights. I’ve never fished anywhere quite like it. In fairness, though, there are lots of other saltwater species that live in the area. If trout aren’t your thing you have plenty of other options.
Grand Isle is an excellent choice for a fishing trip, a family vacation, or both. I’ve done them all.
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The Mississippi River Oxbows
The Mississippi River Oxbows that I’m talking about are in the northeastern part of the state on the western side of the river. There are four of them that deserve a mention — Bruin, Concordia, St. John’s and Providence. They’re all within a few minutes of each other except for Providence which is about an hour away from the other three.
The bass that live in these oxbows will push 8 to 10 pounds during January through April but at other times a 5 or 6 pounder is considered a good fish. The average is probably closer to 3 pounds. The size of the bass isn’t what these small lakes are all about, however. It’s their beauty.
Photo: Dennis Reicke
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They basically all look the same. The water’s emerald green and stable, there are huge cypress trees everywhere and the Spanish moss hangs off of almost all of them. If you think about what Louisiana should look like, this is it.
They are all on the same road and it has several fish camps and small restaurants along its way. This can be a fun trip but it gets really hot in the summer. Late fall, winter and early spring are more pleasant.
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Poverty Point isn’t very old but it’s quickly become one of my favorites. (My boat was the second one ever launched on the lake.) It’s a flat, shallow Mississippi Delta body of water with a slot limit that makes the possibility of boating the bass of a lifetime a real possibility.
There are miles and miles of levy on one side that sort of marks everything and makes navigation easy. It’s an easy lake to learn. Just throw a spinnerbait at whatever looks good. You’ll catch a few. If the bite slows, you can always fish the dozens and dozens of docks along the shore.
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That’s my take on the bass fishing. The thing that really sets Poverty Point apart, however, is its trophy crappie population in the winter. Chunks around 2 pounds are considered ordinary. It’ll take one noticeably bigger than that to turn heads at the dock.
The water usually stays in pretty good shape but a strong north wind can dirty it up quickly. That’ll make the fishing tougher, but not impossible.
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Saline Larto Complex
The Saline Larto Complex is a collection of lakes, channels and swamps that looks and fishes similar to the Atchafalaya Basin. The bass are plentiful and so are the crappie. Most of the bass will weigh between 3 and 6 pounds. The crappie will go a pound or a little better. There’s no way you can call them giants but they do fight hard and taste good.
The way to attack the bass living in this complex is with a frog and a flipping stick. You can catch bass all day — regardless of the weather — bouncing a frog around the shallow vegetation and wood. If you get tired of doing that, switch to a big plastic and a heavy weight. Flip it into whatever cover catches your eye.
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This area is also home to some of the best public hunting land in the state. High numbers of ducks are harvested every year and whitetail deer in the 200-inch class are killed. Here in Louisiana that’s a big deer, one to be proud of taking.
The Saline Larto Complex is in a rural part of the state. Don’t expect to find much other than fish camps, hunting camps and small restaurants.
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Any angler who’s ever caught a largemouth bass has heard about Toledo Bend. It’s one of the premier largemouth bass fisheries in the world. It’ll produce numbers as well as heavyweights.
You sometimes have to deal with the wind, however. The best option is to trailer your boat to a creek — they’re bigger than many rivers and there’s always a ramp close to where you want to fish — and launch locally. Then just stay in the creek for the day.
Photo: Chris Mitchell
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In fact, this is probably your best option if you don’t know the lake regardless of the wind. It can be treacherous. Do not run outside the channel markers, never and not for any reason. If you do, the timber will get your prop or lower unit. I know about that.
Largemouth bass are only a part of the story, however. The truth is Toledo Bend might be a better crappie fishery than bass fishery. Huge limits are caught year round. The crappie fishing is so good that a lot of the guides have gone to party barges so they can carry more anglers. And yes, most of the anglers onboard catch their limit early in the day.
There are lots and lots of places to stay around the lake and there’s usually a place to eat close by, too.
Photo: James Overstreet
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Venice is one of the most unique places to fish in the world. It’s the only place I know of where an angler can fish for yellowfin tuna or blue marlin in the morning, eat lunch and then go back out into the river and catch a limit of quality largemouth.
Close to the Gulf of Mexico shoreline and on up the Mississippi River the water stratifies with freshwater on top and saltwater underneath it. In all the other places I know about the waters blend together to make a brackish mix.
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I’ve fished this area for years. It’s common to catch a good largemouth on one cast and a saltwater fish on the next. I once caught a 40 pound jack crevalle along with several largemouth on consecutive casts, from the same spot and on the same lure — a pearl white, Strike King KVD Sexy Frog.
Venice is for anglers. There isn’t much for the rest of the family unless they like to fish. There are plenty of places to stay however, and a number of good restaurants.