article by Dan Chason
Nature has a way of purging itself. Most of us struggled with sand bags, poly pipe and shovels to protect our homes while we watched area lakes rise to unprecedented levels. Although the flood created catastrophic property damage to our area, it has created a new challenge for area anglers. The high water could not have come at a worse time for small impoundments where the bass spawn was coming to its peak. In larger impoundments, the results were similar but both have created a new challenge for anglers.
We have not had a normal water rate for some time. Fresh water is the spawning fish’s worst enemy as many will absorb eggs and not lay them. This effect won’t be felt until next year and all eyes will be on how devastating this high water actually was for our area lakes. Lakes such as D’Arbonne will be most affected as it drains into D’Arbonne Bayou and into the Ouachita River. Fish will be relocated, scattered and it may take a while before we truly know how fish were affected.
When fishing high water, the golden rule is follow the current. If the water is rising, backs of creeks and tributaries will be the optimum place to fish for bass. Crappie will stabilize first and can be found on the drops and brush lines near deep water. It will take longer for both species to return to normal patterns as fresh water brings not only a bounty of bait fish, it also rearranges brush and cover that anglers rely on to fill their live wells.
Fishing rivers will be much different. The smart angler will realign their thinking and look at backwater areas much as they would if the river were at pool stage. The current breaks and structure will still be key but the old reliable holes will change. There will be new wash-outs, new brush and blown tops that have been reset in areas that once were not considered top fishing holes. Finding these is as simple as reading banks and watching the depth finder/graph to determine how the high water has affected the area. Once the water settles back to close to pool stage, the old summer patterns will return and fishing will return to a somewhat normal pattern.
Crappie fishing should be awesome this year, as we did have a complete spawn before all of the water came. The secret to locating schools of crappie this month is to find brush and bait. My option has always been to place man-made crappie tops. These tops can be any variety with my favorite being willow. The willows should not be cut until they bloom. The better the leaf structure, the better the top will perform. Place these tops adjacent to creeks, and remember to use plenty of weight to keep them down. I use wire ties instead of string, as they last longer and are easier to fish. Remember to place these willow tops as they naturally stand. Pulling a jig through the top “with the grain” of the limbs, prevents hang ups. I do not use Christmas trees of cedar or pine. These last a long time but they typically fall over and do not retain their leaves to promote plankton and algae growth which draws the bait. The absolute best time to rely on artificial brush or brush tops is after a long, high water event, such as the one we have just endured.
The catfish spawn starts this month, and hopefully we will have a banner year. Even in high water, the cats will find shallow trees and cover in shallow water to spawn. The trick to finding spawning cats in all of our waterways is to find the original bank. Cats instinctively know that when they lock onto the bed and spawn that they will always have water if they do their deed on the original bank. This is also the time for some brave souls to grab catfish. The same applies for this sport. With lots of wood rearranged and new holes born from moving water, catfishing should be the best it has been in years.
On a side note, please remember one key thing in high water situations: Current kills. I was fishing the Ouachita River many years ago in high water. I was in a 20 foot boat and was concentrating on fishing, when the back of my boat hit a major current line. The boat crashed into a tree, pummeling me into the water. I felt pretty secure in this boat and never dreamed that the current could have ever made my boat move the way it did. Had it not been for my life preserver, I would not be writing this article. If you are in current, wear your PFD. Don’t assume that because you are in a large boat that disaster cannot occur. It does, can and will.
Fishing in new water can be a challenge. The main objective is to figure out how the fish have configured in their new environment brought on by Mother Nature. While it can be challenging, it can be very rewarding. Spend more time looking and scouting and you can find those new honey holes. It may be an old tree that has fallen or a new ditch that was created by the water shed. Keep your eyes open, your graph on and of course that life preserver on. Good luck and good fishing.