I don’t have a comprehensive fishing report to offer you, but man, there were a lot of fish caught and 50+ years worth of fishing trips taken at the D’Arbonne Diner one day last week.
That’s when life-long fishing partners Bobby McCullin and Rodney Colvin pulled up to the table with me and started sharing old fishing tales, especially about Lake D’Arbonne in “the good old days”. A couple of times, we were about to go over the limit, but don’t worry. There was a game warden there, enforcement agent David Harrell who introduced me to them.
Let’s start with a question. Have you ever ridden across Lake D’Arbonne, looked at the big camps and houses along the shore and watched the big boats zip up and down the lake, dodging massive fields of underwater stumps that were once towering trees, and wondered, “What was this like 50 years ago?”
Perhaps you should. They say you don’t know where you are going until you know where you have been. Bobby and Rodney were fishing the “lake” before it was even a lake.
In the early days, the fished up Corney Creek when it was just that, a creek. It was, at first, in an old wooden boat, then as time progressed an aluminum one with a one-handed wooden trolling motor — better known as a paddle. Their fishing exploits grew as the lake did.
What was it like “back in the day”? Here are a few insights from the fish saavy duo:
* When they went fishing in the early days, it was usually from the bank, with a flyrod and with worms dug from under pieces of strategically placed tin, or worse, from under piles of dried cow manure. There were no crickets for sale in those days. The main catch was bream, but an occasional spotted bass or largemouth. But whatever they caught, they ate.
“Because we were hungry,” Rodney says.
* They began fishing up Corney Creek for years before the lake was formed and even after it, Bobby said he didn’t go down to the big waters of the new lake for years. When he finally did, his first impression was that it was way too much water for them. But after seeing big wads of schooling bass, that big expanse of water suddenly seemed okay in his book.
* It’s hard for us to believe looking at the lake now, but in the early days, you could not see across the lake from a boat anywhere. There were thick stands of timber and they were still green for years. Brush around the bank and in the shallows stayed green even longer. There were some areas cleared out for boat runs and ski areas and the like. And some of the best fishing was around the big underwater log piles that were created by that clearing. Loggers just piled the timber in the lake. It was prime fishing structure for decades. Those have rotted away or silted over today
* The new lake brought tons of commerce. Many of the names of establishments aren’t familiar to us today. Of course, the area where D’Arbonne Diner and D’Arbonne Motel are today are still referred to as “Jake’s”, an old marina that had a store out on a floating dock at one time. They rented boats for $2 a day. One day there was a big bass tournament there and as the floating dock filled up with fishermen, it began to sink. The scrambled to the bank or back in their boats, but it left the store floor wet for a day or so.
There was Massengale’s, which was located near where Henry’s Cabins now sit. You could camp, buy bait and food and rent a place to stay there. The old boat house is still there but is private today. There was even a store and boat rental place up on Stowe Creek called Pleasure Island Marina. Up Corney, where Lester’s is today, the place was called D’Arbonne Village. There was even a spot up Little D’Arbonne called Redden’s. It’s still called that today, but it’s just a small ramp. Over the years, anglers from the area had too many opportunities to buy things where they lived and they didn’t have to take a chance on finding it at the lake. So it became harder and harder for these spots to survive.
* Bobby and Rodney first hooked up as fishing partners when they graduated from high school together in Ruston. They’re both in their 70’s now and have been fishing together “forever”. even though both attest to the fact that the other one can be “hardheaded” at times. But what are fishing buddies far? When they made the transition to bass fishing, things were a lot more simple. The main baits were a Tiny Torpedo or Lucky 13 topwater, a Hot Spot crankbait (the forerunner of the Rattletrap) and a plain Spotted Creme worm. As time went on the muscle-building Mudbug crankbait came along. Reeling one of them all day long was an early day Cardio workout. Later Creme also came out with worms with a huge upgrade — tiny spinners on the front of the pre-hooked rig! One of the biggest changes besides the amount of tackle today is the way that bass anglers fish a plastic worm. Today, as soon as a fishermen feels a “tap” on the worm, he sets the hook hard. Back in the day, Bobby and Rodney would feel a fish, then open the bail of the reel and let it swim for what seemed like minutes before setting the hook. By the time they landed fish, the bass had it in his stomach. There wasn’t much catch and release in those days (refer to previous comment, “We were hungry“). If you can find an old pack of those worms, you’ll see that was printed on the package as the recommended method for catching fish on the worm.
* What, you want more? Both of them agree that probably the biggest change in the lake other than the trees turning into stumps and the much larger numbers of fishermen we have today. But they also notice the fact that bass don’t school on the lake like they used to. Most think it is the strain of bass has become so predominately Florida bass. But regardless of the reason, Bobby recalled one day they made the long long trip down to the spillway to fish the big open area in front of the dam. When they unloaded the boat, there were literally acres of bass schooling. When you threw that Hot Spot out, it didn’t take long to catch a two-man limit of 30 bass. Oh yes, that’s another change. The limit in those days was 15 per fisherman.
There’s a whole book for the writing with these two fine anglers, but obviously space is limited here. We can’t even get into their younger days when they called places like “Hilly” and “White Lightning Road” (yes, of course it was named that because, once again, back in the day, they used to run Moonshine up the long straight road!). And don’t get me wrong. These guy’s fishing days aren’t in the past. They go two and three times a week. And they get results, as shown below with this whopper that Bobby caught!
They were fishing the lake before it was a lake.