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Bussey Brake: Old being made new

After the drive just north of Bastrop, I stopped first on the south end of Bussey Brake and walked up the levee at the old water pumping station. Wow. The lake is empty, except a few deep holes near the intake and outtake areas, a few spots out in the lake and a couple of old slough areas. The birds were having a heyday!

I saw an old burned stump where we always caught a bass or two. The deep channel at the KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAman-made windbreak was still holding a bit of water, another former hotspot for fishing. I drove to the main dock and saw more of the same. There were footprints where bass had once schooled. Only a few feet of water remained in the deep hole where literally thousands of crappie have been caught right in front of the lake’s lone launch ramp.

This is the new Bussey? No. This is the last breath of the “old” Bussey. It’s in the midst of a remake that should make the little 2,200 acre lake a prime hotspot for all kinds of fish in two or three years. How long it will last this time is anybody’s guess. The first time around, the good times lasted more than 30 years.

A steady decline in fish populations over the past few decades was bad, but the lake couldn’t really be managed for fisheries because it was an emergency water supply for local paper mills. When they were shuttered, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was able to acquire the lake. Draining it is the first step to making it “new”.

The vision is to return Bussey Brake to the high quality recreational fishery that generations of northeast Louisiana anglers fondly remember and now that recreational fishing is the primary management goal, the LDWF intends to apply basic stewardship practices to maintain a healthy fishery indefinitely. That’s a good thing.

Draining the lake is allowing removal of all kinds of rough fish and improvement of fish habitat for future gamefish populations. Scheduled work in the next 12 months includes construction of boat lanes, pump improvements and wave-break barriers to protect the boat launch area. There is no natural drainage into the lake, which is completely surrounded by a man-made rock lined levee. Water to fill the “new” lake will mostly have to be pumped in from Bayou Bartholomew, which flows beside the reservoir’s Eastern border. The lake has never been completely drained in its 50-year history.

Following that, final removal of fish, especially an overpopulation of unwanted Asian carp, in remaining waters will be completed. Then the gates will be closed, the lake refilled and restocked with desirable gamefish. By early 2016, LDWF hopes to have successful sampling to confirm the establishment of a healthy fish population.

I can’t wait. I was lucky enough to be there with my Dad on opening day in the early 1960′s. We hauled a borrowed boat on a car-top carrier with only an electric motor, the old kind that was big as a three-horse. I think we had three cane poles and one cricket box. Our ice chest was made of aluminum. Our lunch was viennas, hoop cheese and a fresh tomato. We drank our Coke out of a six-ounce glass bottle. I’ll never forget those days. And I’d love to be able to wet a hook on the opening day of the sequel as well. I’d never forget that, either.

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