As your boat drifts silently along a shady bayou, it seems as though you have nature all to yourself. Elegant birds tiptoe in the shallows, looking for a meal. Along the banks, critters scamper through the leaves. Suddenly, you feel that familiar thrill. A tug at the line bends your fishing pole. You begin turning the reel and the battle is on.
When it comes to freshwater fishing, Louisiana’s system of waterways is unmatched in the United States. Yet, because the state’s coastal and offshore waters are among the most productive in the world, people sometimes overlook the riches of our inland waters.
The Mississippi River and the Red River feed a system of smaller rivers, lakes, bayous and streams that streak the landscape. These waterways teem with aquatic life. Man-made reservoirs – such as Poverty Point in northeast Louisiana and the sprawling Toledo Bend Reservoir along the western boundary – expand the bounty. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries keeps state reservoirs well-stocked, and their constant waters allow bass to grow to extraordinary size. The state record, set at “big bass central” – Caney Lake in north Louisiana's Jackson Parish – weighed almost 16 pounds. But you can reel in big ones throughout Louisiana.
In 2010, a woman fishing from a kayak on little Valentine Lake, in central Louisiana’s Kisatchee National Forest, nearly matched the state record. Farther south, the extraordinary Atchafalaya Basin absorbs about one-third of the Mississippi River’s waterflow. The Atchafalaya River and its mystery-maze of bayous form a unique and productive environment. This is crawfishing country, but dozens of fish species – including the Louisiana standbys of bass, white perch, also known as crappie, and catfish – crowd its waters.
Unlike the reservoirs, though, the fortunes of sport fishermen here rise and fall with the basin’s yearly cycles of flooding (in winter and spring) and de-watering (in summer and fall). Mike Wood, biologist director of Wildlife & Fisheries’ Inland Fisheries Division, sees Louisiana as the perfect cold-weather destination for anglers. “For a traveler who wants to fish in 50-degree weather in the winter, there’s a ton of stuff in a very unique habitat,” he says. “It’s a nice area, the folks are nice and the food is great. There’s just nothing wrong with it.”
Wood also recommends that visitors to New Orleans bring their rods and reels. The lagoons of New Orleans’ City Park, for example, are hopping with bass. The bass-fishing world often gives its seal of approval to the state’s offerings: Greater New Orleans and Shreveport-Bossier City are popular host locations for the annual Bassmaster Classic, a veritable Super Bowl of bass fishing.