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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Caney Lake Offered Great Action
Long Before Big Bass were Stocked

Caney Lake was one of my favorite late-summer fishing spots in the 1950s. The small impoundment in northern Louisiana was the site of a camp operated for the benefit of church groups.

Several years in a row I had the pleasure of attending camp there in late summer. Each time, my week there corresponded with a hatch of Mayflies.

The insects would appear in a stand of willows whose branches hung out over the water at the end of a point of land. Largemouth bass and bluegills always showed up about sunset to feed on the struggling bugs as they hit the water.

The first time I discovered the frenzy of feeding activity, I had no fishing tackle. So I scoured the camp and came up with string, made a hook from a straight pin and used a willow limb for a pole. Using grasshoppers for bait, I managed to get a lot of strikes and caught a couple of fish.

The following year, I took a flyrod and a couple of popping bugs to camp. I caught bass and big bream every evening while everyone else attended vespers and participated in other camp activities.

The bass that hit my popping bugs were mostly the 14- and 15-inch, 1-pound-class fish that keep kids with flyrods happy. A time or two, I caught bass there that approached 3 pounds. But I was always happy because of the fast action I got from the small ones.

The stocking of Florida-strain largemouth bass has changed Caney Lake, according to recent stories coming out of Louisiana. The action may still be great on topwater lures in summer. But now it is possible to catch an occasional lunker.

Caney Lake reportedly has produced nine of the top 10 largemouth bass taken from Louisiana water, including one at 15.97 pounds.

In the 50s, Louisiana fishermen considered a 5-pound bass a lunker, worth sending to the taxidermist, if a person could afford such luxury.

Now, 5-pounders are routinely caught from many Louisiana lakes and streams. The damming of the Sabine River along the western border of the state to create Toledo Bend Reservoir in the 1960s started the boom in big Louisiana bass. But stocking Florida-strain bass was the factor that spread the boom to many other waterways.

The next big boom in Louisiana fishing likely will occur on the Red River. A series of locks and dams will create a string of lakes on the muddy, shallow river. The new impoundments will hold clear water and offer the opportunity for fishing comparable to that on the Arkansas River navigation system.

If I were young and energetic and still felt a compulsion to fish daily, as I did for most of my 53 years, I'd move to the land where my father grew up, only five miles from Red River as the crow flies, and start a guide service and compete in the numerous tournaments that undoubtedly will be held on the river system in coming years.

Even duck hunting in the area likely will improve as the Red River becomes a series of lakes. The artificially high water levels will no doubt destroy bottomland hardwood timber in some backwater areas, but overall habitat conditions for waterfowl likely will improve.

The Red, like the Arkansas, is a river capable of being improved by navigation work. The Ouachita, the White and many other rivers in this part of the country, however, are damaged when man starts changing them.

I can hardly wait for the Red River lakes to become a reality. Meanwhile, I think I'll plan a Labor Day trip to Caney Lake and see if any of those big Florida-strain largemouths will hit a popping bug.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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