Quick, name the three most popular types of fish to catch on Lake D’Arbonne.
Well, it’s a safe bet that if you didn’t read the headline above, you would NEVER name jackfish (chain pickerel), walleye or striped bass as the favorites of ANY fishermen on Lake D’Arbonne. Ever. But as we look back at the first 50 years of the big water in Union Parish, all three fish played a role, especially in the early years. No kidding.
Did you know that in the spring of 1965 an experimental stocking of walleye from Nebraska and striped bass from South Carolina was undertaken by the LDWF. Between 1965 and 1971 a total of 3.6 million walleye fry, 92,000 walleye fingerlings and 365,994 striped bass were stocked in the lake? The jackfish were native to both the bayous that were flooded to make the lake and thrived in the upper arms of the lake in the shallow grassy flats.
I was fortunate to have been on trips when we caught some of all three in the early years, two species by accident and one species that almost caused an accident.
I can’t remember the fisherman I went with, but I was doing an article for the Monroe newspaper on
striped bass back in the late 1970’s. We put in at the spillway and trolled six-inch Magnum Hedden white Hellbender lures across the dropoffs of the main river channel in the open water in front of the dam. They dove 18-20 feet deep. If you have ever fished with a Hellbender, you know that reeling one in is the equivalent of doing 20 curls with a 20 pound barbell on your right arm. You can imagine what it was like trolling with one of those suckers.
Anyway, we caught several big striped bass in the 15-20 pound range that morning and lots of smaller ones. The fish pulled like a freight train and took 10-15 minutes to land. And netting them was almost like taking your life in your hands. I can remember netting one of the larger ones – he barely fit halfway into the bass net and when he started cutting up, he and I both nearly went in the lake. He would have been happy. Me, not.
As for walleye, we were fishing a winter bass tournament and tried a fancy new lure called the Johnson’s Silver Spoon on the edge of the channel on the big lake. I read about it in BASSMaster magazine and picked up a couple at Howard Brothers. We didn’t catch any bass, but we hit one spot and caught three or four nice walleye. We had no idea what they were and surmised that they must have been left behind by some alien spacecraft. I didn’t find out until years later that they tasted better than any other kind of fish we had in the lake.
And finally, the chain pickerel. We called them jackfish. Well, bass fishermen added another first name and jackfish was there “back” name. They were basically viewed as a nuisance. Here’s why. Back in the day, jackfish were pretty plentiful about the same time as Jim Bagley introduced the Balsa B bass lure. Now the Balsa B was the Cadillac of bass baits. And they cost nearly $3 each, which was $2 more than any other bass bait. You do the math counting inflation….But, man, they would catch bass. And man, did the jackfish love them. That made bass fishermen like me hate jackfish. Balsa B lures were made of balsa wood and covered with a thin clear plastic-like coating. When a toothy jackfish took a bite, it’s sharp teeth poked through the plastic and into the balsa wood. Then water got in and a few casts later, the expensive lure ran every which way but right and was basically useless. A jackfish could also take the skirt right off a spinnerbait and shred it before you could reel it in.
So much for my fishing stories. Tomorrow we’ll get the lowdown on these three species in Lake D’Arbonne from a fisheries biologist’s viewpoint. Stay tuned.