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Lake life

Welcome back, Bussey Brake

This is what much of Bussey Brake now looks like

Woo hoo! I got a big bucket check this week.

The check had no monetary value, but was a valuable check off my “bucket” list. I got to spend a morning on Bussey Brake getting an on-the-water look at what “new” Bussey is like to provide a preview for lakedarbonnelife.com readers. Thanks to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and biologist Ryan Daniel for the opportunity.

Bussey, a 2,200 acre lake just five miles north of Bastrop, opens to the public Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 6 a.m.

I got to make this special trip as an outdoor writer who not only covers Bussey, but has had it be a big part of my life for some 50 years plus, both personally and professionally. Considering how many other folks like me have fishing at Bussey again on their bucket list, it should be a busy, busy place at daylight Wednesday morning. And in days to come. Once the gate is opened on the state’s only fisheries Wildlife Management Area, it will be open seven days a week, 24 hours a day unless special circumstances dictate otherwise.

Ryan Daniels and the special Bussey fish regulations. PLEASE NOTE this original sign says crappie must be a 10 inch maximum. THAT SHOULD SAY 10 INCH MINIMUM

If you plan on being there Wednesday or any day, make sure you heed this important information from Ryan.

  • Be aware that you will have to fill out a WMA self-clearing permit before fishing. You can do that on paper at the boat dock or on the LDWF app ( ** see more at the very end of this article ** ).
  • Know and follow limits and size restrictions. Take a measuring tape of some sort if you plan to keep any bass or crappie. Enforcement agents will be monitoring this closely.
  • The fish population, though not fully mature, is able to sustain fishing at this time. Special fishing regulations have been put in place on Bussey Brake to protect the young and expanding fishery, and to hopefully ensure a quality fishing experience for all anglers. These regulations are as follows: Black Bass: 5 daily with a 16-inch maximum length limit with the exception that one bass over 16 inches may be kept; Crappie: 25 daily with a 10-inch minimum length limit; Bream: 50 daily with no size restrictions; state regulations are in effect for all other species. All fishing gears other than rod-n-reel or cane pole are prohibited.
  • Bring your favorite baits and patience. I imagine there will be quite a crowd on hand opening day. Be patient and safe. Make it fun.
  • You will find several things new on the reservoir, including marked boat lanes for the first time ever. While these boat lanes are safe for running, they may also have people fishing on the edges. Be courteous. Slow down and stop your wake. There’s also a new windbreak in front of the launch which protects anglers from winds while loading and unloading.
  • Be ready to see a new Bussey that does not look in any way like the old Bussey. Even the water seems to be a prettier blue. It’s kind of shocking, to be honest. The old lake appeared mostly wide open, but with huge stump fields right under the surface. The stump fields are still there, but much of the lake now resembles a maze of willow lined bayous and cuts like you see in the Atchafalaya Basin. In other spots, the huge lilly pad fields look like some big Florida lake. And the brush and wide variety of aquatic vegetation looks a lot like shallow areas of Toledo Bend in the early days. That’s pretty good company.
  • Fishing will probably be tough right now. No, fishing will be tough right now. Make sure you realize that. There is a lot more water than there are fish. Read that again. Ryan accurately calls Bussey “an emerging fishery”, which means it’s just getting started. There are some great fish in the lake, but there are long stretches with no fish. Where there are fish, there’s an abundance of cover that gives them lots of places to hide. You’ll understand more when you go, or look at the pictures below. If this were a tennis match, it would definitely be ADVANTAGE, FISH! Long term, that’s a good thing.
  • An example. I was expecting to fish some around the rock-lined levee. That’s a laugh. The levee rocks are not even visible because of a thick layer of grown up willows and other brush that grew up around the edge during the drawdown. Great for fish. Tough for fishermen.
Yes, Bussey still has some chunks like this one caught and released back into the waters last week by the author

More good news? Bussey will continue to get better and better. In the next 3-5 years, it should peak as a fantastic reservoir. There have been a ton of bass, bream, crappie fingerlings and shad stocked there. Three years ago, some hatchery brood fish — bass in the 3-5 pound range, were stocked. We caught (and released) several good bass, including one that was probably one of those original brood bass. If you catch a big one, you should consider releasing it. You can only keep one bass over 16 inches each day anyway. In fact, the more fish of every kind that you release, the sooner the lake will reach it’s potential. The fish looked great. They were all like what my grandma used to call me… “healthy“. If you catch a tagged bass, let LDWF know. Some of the original brood stock were tagged and it would be nice to know if they are caught.

Old man alert: There are no restrooms. The old restroom building is there, but it is not functioning. No WMA’s have restrooms. That may change in the future, but there are none right now.

The gatekeeper

This one’s important: The main boat dock area and piers are guarded by a 9-foot alligator that shows no fear. He swam right up to our boat like “what are you doing here?” There are other gators around the reservoir and if you throw a buzz bait, they’ll follow it right up to the shaft on your trolling motor. If you reel it too slow, you will no longer have a buzz bait. Don’t mess around with them, okay?

All this information won’t help you catch a fish, but it will help you be prepared for what to expect on a trip to Bussey. And believe me, it’s worth it. I have to say, I was more excited about what I saw than I had even imagined. It’s going to be something special. And the best is yet to come. Bussey should be an economic boost to a community that can really use it and is a rare fishing treasure. And there was very little expense to general taxpayers. The lake was donated and the improvements were paid for by federal tax dollars generated from taxes on outdoor licenses and equipment.

The water is still low by a little more than two feet. There is a gauge on the boat mooring pier that shows the water almost to 98. When it hits 100, which may be next year, it will be at pool stage. The 100 represents 100 feet above sea level, not 100 percent full, even though it will be!

Fishing tips? I don’t know. We just kept plugging away until we found a few places with fish. We had more luck on the bass than the bream. But we did spend much more time fishing for them. We spotted lots of crappie on the electronics but didn’t catch any in very limited time trying. It was a 100 degree mid-day in July. I wouldn’t have bit either if I were a crappie. We didn’t bream fish long, but didn’t find any big ones, either. They are there, though. The day that we fished was a one-star day on the Solunar chart and we were about six hours after the major biting time. As an even more scientific note, the cows that I saw on the way to the lake were all laying down!

The baits? The bass we caught hit everything from spinnerbaits to crankbaits to worms to creature baits. And I even caught one on a crappie jig.

We’ll have more later. I end this today with something better than my words. Pictures. I hope you enjoy. And I hope you enjoy Bussey Brake. Help take care of it. And oh, yes…

Welcome back, Bussey Brake.

Did somebody say fish the “lilly pads?”
Ryan Daniel with two healthy Bussey bass
The new boat lanes are great. There is one on the east side of the lake, one in the middle and one on the west side. The official boat lanes are marked with poles. Bussey isn’t made for boat racing, so be careful and considerate.
Look closely. That’s a buzz bait Ryan is reeling in and that isn’t a bass right behind it. It’s a six-foot gator.
Above and below — the structure at Bussey is amazing….brush, trees, lilly pads and all kind of aquatic vegetation which provides great habitat for a growing fish population
Bussey boat lanes marked in red (LDWF graphic). You can also find an open boat lane on the north side of the lake that extends around the northwest corner where dirt was dug out to build the original levees.

Since Bussey Brake is a WMA, all the standard WMA regulations will apply. Visitors will have to check in and fill out a self-clearing permit at a kiosk before they visit the lake. Please note that Bussey Brake is NOT currently listed as a selection on the WMA app. It will be added at a later date when the app is updated. In addition, visitors will need to insure they are properly licensed. For more information about license and permit requirements, visit:

https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/wmarefugeconservation-area-licenses-and-permits

There’s more water in Bussey than fish right now, but if you find them, you’ll have a blast. These were caught, photographed and put back in the lake.
Note: International Paper donated Bussey Brake and Wham Brake reservoirs to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) on Nov. 5, 2012.  The total donation was valued at almost $8 million and could be worth as much as $10 million in today’s market. Bussey is a fishing reservoir and Wham a duck habitat. Bussey Brake was constructed in the mid 1950’s by IP as an alternative water source for the Louisiana Mill. International Paper owned 620 acres of the reservoir site with the remaining lake under leases with third parties, which were transferred to LDWF.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Welcome back, Bussey Brake

  1. Fished from the bank the day it opened. Wish I could be there tomorrow. Thanks to Ryan for all his hard work.

    Posted by Jim Bickley | July 14, 2020, 12:3611:35 pm
  2. That was a great article and pictures. Looking forward to fun times again at Bussey.

    Posted by Dorothy Ford | July 13, 2020, 12:364:18 pm
  3. Brings back great memories when I fished there over 50 years ago. Great to see it brought back to life. Great pictures of the new Bussey.

    Posted by Paul Folse | July 12, 2020, 12:368:34 pm
  4. great pics, great fish.

    Posted by Emil Turner | July 12, 2020, 12:367:59 pm

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