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Bistineau Bass  at Cabela's

Bistineau Bass

Author: John N. Felsher

Russ McVey, of Southpaw Guide Service, idled up to a cypress slough draining swamps on Lake Bistineau. Wisps of morning fog spiraled off the cool water.

Russ McVey and a nice bass.
"This is a good place for bass," he said. "I'm going to throw a shad-colored crankbait. Fish feed in the mouth of this slough. They hide in the cypress trees and wait for shad to pass by them. When they do, they dash out and ambush them." McVey tossed his shallow-running crankbait into the surprisingly clear green waters. Almost immediately, he yanked back with a chunky 2-pound football-shaped largemouth struggling on the end of his line.

"That's a good way to start the day," he exclaimed.

Noted more for its abundant bass than lunkers, Lake Bistineau, east of Bossier City, is one of the oldest lakes in Louisiana. Occasionally, an angler lips an 8- to 10-pound lunker. No bass will ever starve in this 17,500-acre cypress-studded lake. They gorge themselves on abundant shad, crawfish and bream. "Bistineau consistently produces 3- to 5-pound bass," said James Seales, a fisheries biologist in the Minden office of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "In tournaments, the lake beats most lakes with 20- to 25-pound stringers on five-fish limits being fairly common."

In the future, Lake Bistineau might become even better. Annual stockings of Florida-strain largemouths since 1998 might grow some whoppers in a few years. "The biggest fish I caught at Bistineau was a 7.5-pounder," McVey recalled. "The biggest Bistineau bass that I've ever personally seen was a 9-pounder, but I know of some fish over 10 pounds that have been caught. With the Florida bass stockings, Bistineau will become one of the premier bass lakes in Louisiana because there is so much cover and forage in this old lake."

Really more of a growing flooded cypress swamp than an impoundment, Lake Bistineau dates back centuries. About 600 years ago, "The Great Raft" blocked the nearby Red River. This jumble of fallen trees, mud and debris extended into Arkansas. Water backed up into the swamps, forming Lake Bistineau, Bayou Dorcheat and Loggy Bayou. With the river channel blocked, the Red River attempted to change course through the Bistineau swamp. Foaming currents bubbled over logs, causing Indians to name the place, "Bestino," or "Big Broth Lake." French settlers changed the spelling to "Bistineau."

By 1833, the U.S. Army assigned Capt. Henry Miller Shreve, for whom Shreveport was named, the chore of breaking up The Great Raft and restoring the flow of the Red River. The task took almost 40 years to complete. In 1935, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began building a dam on Bayou Dorcheat. Improvements to the dam in 1951 increased the lake acreage to about 17,500 with an average depth of about eight feet, although some holes plunge to more than 20 feet deep.

Today, the lake attracts numerous anglers and duck hunters. One of the most picturesque lakes in Louisiana, it spreads out through myriad arms, or sloughs and wraps around clusters of Spanish moss shrouded cypress strands, called brakes. "About five main feeder creeks enter the lake," McVey explained. "The feeder creeks are good at certain times of the year, but the main lake has the best fishing. Fish relate to cypress trees, especially in the spring. Cypress trees have massive root systems beneath the water. Fish get under them for cover and shade. A lot of bream and crawfish hide in those roots and the bass come in to hunt them."
Spinnerbaits pay off
With so much cover, fish can hide anywhere. In some areas, no boat ever penetrated the thick cover. Each tree looks like it should hold a lunker.

"In many areas, bass never see lures," McVey said. "Everything on the lake looks like it should hold fish, but certain areas hold more fish according to the season. If I can pattern fish on a particular type of tree or structure, that eliminates a lot of guesswork, but it changes from day to day."

After leaving the first slough, we concentrated on old duck blinds and sunken boathouses. I pulled another 2-pound bass out of an old duck blind when it struck a white and green Cabela's Triple Take spinnerbait.

"For some reason, old duck blinds and boathouses hold fish in the fall better than at other times," McVey said. "In the fall, fish pull away from cypress trees and congregate around dead timber, such as stumps, sunken duck blinds or boathouses. They hit white and chartreuse spinnerbaits. I also use a 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap or a deep-diving Fat Free Shad. I fish those along points where sloughs dump into the channel in eight to 10 feet of water."

In the summer and winter, McVey goes deep. He fishes the outside bends along the main channel in 15 to 20 feet of water. Often, he tosses his own Southpaw jigs into these holes to attract big fish.

"One of the deepest places on the lake is near the Port of Bistineau," he said. "It has about 15 to 18 feet of water. The Rock also has deep water. It's in a big channel bend south of Lake Bistineau State Park. The waters around the state park are some of the prime bass areas on the lake. People don't have to run far to find good fishing."

With the afternoon waning, we tried one last shoreline before heading home. McVey dropped a black and blue worm near a cypress tree and pulled out a 3-pound bass. "That's how I like it," he said. "A bass on the first cast and one on the last cast."

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