Why fishermen are destroying Toledo Bend (and how they’re doing it)

Fishermen are destroying the largemouth bass population at Toledo Bend

I just got back from spending just under 2 weeks in Texas and Louisiana.  I originally went for the Bassmaster Classic (congrats Jordan Lee), but had an opportunity to stay behind after and fish some of the legendary lakes there and shoot some video.  Like everyone else, I’d heard about the lakes there and their reputation for big bass and couldn’t miss a chance at a double-digit largemouth (Toledo Bend has twice been ranked the #1 lake for Largemouth Bass fishing).  But not only did I not get a double digit, we really struggled to catch fish of any size at all.  And we weren’t alone.  In fact, that was part of the problem.  Or should I say MANY problems.

Texas

My first day of fishing we went to a small private lake that I promised I’d only refer to as J1T8 which stands for Jim’s 1st Texas 8lber.  I’m sure a six year old can figure out why I named it that.  I have some great video footage of that fish.  I caught it flipping a jig in about 12 feet of water.  As soon as I set the hook it took me into a submerged tree that I hadn’t seen and I could feel it wrapping me around the branches.  After about a 30 second fight I managed to pull the fish out of the tree.  It was a great test for my new fluorocarbon line, KIMURA.

giant texas largemouth bass

Flip a jig in Texas, catch an 8lber.

RAYBURN

The second stop I made was to Sam Rayburn with Emily Hamilton.  To be honest I hadn’t planned to fish that lake at all, but she told me I had to.  “Y’all need to go to Rayburn, Rayburn’s on fire.”  Haha, I can still hear her saying that.  She wasn’t the only one though.  Everywhere we went at the classic we heard the same thing from people:  Toledo Bend is horrible, go to Rayburn.  You start to wonder if it’s just a line people are spreading to keep outsiders away from TB.  So we go to Rayburn and we catch probably 15 fish in 5 hours, our biggest was probably around 4lbs.  Now if we were at any lake in Upstate NY, I’d probably feel like we did ok.  Like the day was alright.  But after everything I had heard I was pretty sure that I wasn’t coming back to Rayburn again during this trip, and we headed to Toledo Bend.  We fished the rest of the day there but only caught about 4 fish and what we saw was really horrible.

Me and Emily Hamilton at Toledo Bend.

Toledo Bend

Now before any of you start giving me a hard time about fishing Toledo Bend a week before the Elites, you need to understand how big it is.  At 185,000 acres, it’s hard to envision if you haven’t been there.  The bays alone are bigger than some lakes.  To put the size into perspective for you, there are 111 anglers on the Elite Series this year, and that means that in theory each one of them has over 1,600 acres to fish by themselves.  In comparison, Oneida Lake (where there have been many Elite events) is less than 60,000 acres.  So needless to say, my 4 days of running around there did nothing to hurt them.  Especially since there aren’t really any fish to be caught there like there were.

That’s right.  Toledo Bend is being destroyed.  We stayed on the north end of the lake, near Zwolle, which is above the bridge, about a 15 minute drive from Toledo Town and Tackle (which, is a killer bait shop and their link is at the end of this article).  The north end of the lake was heavily treated to kill an invasive grass known as the giant salvinia plant and it was only suppose to impact this grass and not the hay grass, hydrilla, or milfoil.  What was ironic to me, was that people down there saw the hydrilla as the golden goose, something heaven sent for bass.  While despite the pleas of many fishermen in NY, it’s still being killed here and considered a danger.

Click to read about GIANT smallmouth bass!

GRASS

However, the treatment killed all the grass.  And I mean ALL OF IT.  I got a local to open up a little bit about it after telling him we hadn’t caught more than 4 fish a day for 2 days and he said we needed to go south.  He admitted that there are very sparse patches of grass in the north that are hard to find, but that if you find them they actually have more fish than the south, but that it would take you forever to find them without years of fishing knowledge on the lake.  So we headed south.  And the bays there, Housen and Six Mile, are loaded with grass.  But what you’ll see at the launch will make you want to puke.  There are piles, and piles of fish heads in the water.  Remains of largemouth bass 5-10lbs that were caught and filleted.  No body of water can sustain that over time.

I know some people will try to argue that this has been happening here since the beginning of time, and that it’s a way of life in Louisiana, but if you talk to some of the local tournament anglers there you’ll hear a different story.  That it’s not what it was two years ago.  That the grass killing, and overharvesting has destroyed it.  Lance Duff told me “I used to go out and catch a bass over 7lbs every time I went fishing.  It was easy.  I haven’t caught one fish over 7 this whole year.”  When we were fishing up north we maybe saw 10 boats a day.  Which is what I expected for a weekday.  But when we went to Housen and Six Mile, we saw at least 200.

On a Wednesday.

Toledo Bend Boat launch

Toledo Bend Boat launch 

OVERFISHING

I get that the invasive grass had to be destroyed.  To hear what it does, and how fast it spreads is terrifying.  But to see what that lake looks like in the north end above the bridge is freakin scary.  It’s a ghost town.  And running to the south is not easy.  The lake looks to be about 8-10 feet low.  So even the lanes that are marked where you should be able to run safely from trees are dangerous.  Someone next week will win a brand new lower unit.  That’s a fact.

What I don’t get is the harvesting of those big fish.  Even in warm areas, you’re looking at 7 years of absolute perfect conditions for one small fry to reach sharelunker status.  So the more you take them away, the more you’ll make it impossible to achieve.  It really bothered me seeing those fish heads in the water.  I couldn’t even photograph it.  If it weren’t for the gators eating them, what you’d see after a week would be horrific.  To be honest with you, it made me take a step back and ask myself if I was helping the sport by writing about lakes and how to catch fish there, or if I was contributing to what I saw.  If what I’m doing is fostering this kind of harvesting.

That’s a hard thing to have to ask yourself.  Did you cause the death you’re seeing.  At Toledo Bend no, not directly.  And in general I know I didn’t tell anyone to eat those fish.  Nor do I have the right to tell people with a license not to keep a legal limit.  But as a person who loves this sport, and who doesn’t eat fish, I beg people not to continue harvesting the largemouth bass in the way that they are right now.

PREDICTION

So you can call me a dumb yankee (that’s a mild rendition of what I heard when I asked why this guy was taking a knife to a fish that was well over 8lbs), but I think the Elites will show what I saw.  Toledo Bend is not the number 1 largemouth bass lake.  It’s not even in the top ten anymore.  I think that if the winner has 72 pounds it’ll be a lot.

Special thanks to Elite Tungsten, Chip Genaro, and Toledo Town and Tackle.

Comments (20)

  1. Douglas Wallis
    April 01, 2017

    I’ve

    Reply
  2. KT allison
    April 02, 2017

    toled

    Reply
  3. Eason Dowden
    April 04, 2017

    Jim

    I Bet you $100 and a Steak Dinner that is will take over 85lbs to win and maybe over 80lbs for top 5. Th lake conditions are not ideal and I wish the powers that be would leave the vegetation alone… but Toledo is Still Very !ood! ! A bad day on Toledo does not mean it is not a Great Fishery, it just means that you did not stay long enough to figure them out.

    Reply
    • Rootjk
      April 04, 2017

      Hey I’m not saying that the lake wasn’t off, I wouldn’t know. I just wrote what I saw. No grass up north, lots of big largemouth bass heads at the ramps, and hundreds of boats in Housen on a weekday. I was there 5 days, and I wasn’t the only guy who was struggling. But all that aside, I’ll take your bet. And since I’ll be back in November, we can settle up then.

      Reply
      • Eason Dowden
        April 07, 2017

        Sounds good! Just look up my name online to find my number. I work at a Real Estate office on Toledo Bend and am easy to find. Fall is a great time to fish here. A lot less boat traffic. Looks like it may end up being in between our guessed weight.

        Reply
        • Rootjk
          April 07, 2017

          10-4. Just remember this is like the Price is Right. If you overbid, you lose lol!

    • Rootjk
      April 09, 2017

      Eason, I’ll take that $100 via paypal, and I look forward to that steak dinner this fall! 🙂

      Reply
      • Eason Dowden
        April 10, 2017

        If it would have been slightly closer to my number than yours, I may would have protested. But as yours was closer, you did win the wager. However… there will be no PayPal involved. Come see me and get a pic of your Note as I pass it to you. Give me a couple days’ notice and I’ll take you out on the lake and show you a great lake and catch a few.
        As we all know, weather can play a role on fishing. The strong Low Pressure System did a lot of damage to the bight this week and an early prolonged Spring this year has nothing normal. But all this aside the lake is still Great! Maybe not going to be ranked #1 a third year… but that’s what lakes do, they cycle. Toledo Bend always stays close to the Top!

        Reply
        • Rootjk
          April 11, 2017

          You’d have lost that protest. You said:
          “I Bet you $100 and a Steak Dinner that is will take over 85lbs to win…” which means that if the winner had 84.999999999 you lost. I’ll see you this fall. I’m comin to get that C-note!

  4. Ryan
    April 04, 2017

    Haha. I guess you thought 8 pounders were gonna be jumping in the boat. It’s not a place you just pull up to and catch em. Gotta figure it out. The lake is also at or close to full pool. Not anywhere near 8-10 ft low. Get the facts straight before you decide to post an article like this please.

    Reply
    • Rootjk
      April 04, 2017

      It’s funny that you would say that. I didn’t expect them to jump in the boat, but if it’s the number 1 bass lake in America, what do you expect? Why would you expect it to be no different than a lake that didn’t even make the top 100 list? Also, there was a TON of rain that fell at the end of my trip, and after I left. The lake was not near full pool while I was fishing. Even a blind man could see the water line on the banks. But I’ll admit that the south end was much closer to full pool than the north end was, but even the south end was lower than it would be full. My facts were accurate.

      Reply
      • Jordan
        April 05, 2017

        How would the south end be closer to full pool then the north end? Especially if the lake is one lake… also, when you posted this article, the lake was roughly 3-4ft low… as someone that went to school in east texas, and frequently fished this lake I can assure you it takes more than 5 day’s to understand the areas that hold fish and the areas that don’t. To me, this article is bashing one of the best lakes in the country. But I will agree, the lake is a lot better when the grass is there, but it doesn’t mean the fishing sucks all around. I’m with Eason, I bet it will easily take 80lbs to be in the top 5, if not more. Also, I find it funny that a non-native Texan like yourself is the one behind this article, I would take it a little more serious if it were someone that fished the lake day in and day out through out the year

        Reply
        • Rootjk
          April 06, 2017

          This might be hard to explain, but it’s a river system with a dam, is it not? So if the water starts to lower, the further you get from the dam, the lower you will see the water level. the level at the dam will be the last to decrease. So if you take a measurement at the dam, it might say it’s full, and simultaneously be 2 feet low at the north end. So that is how you will see different levels the further north you go.
          Also, your logic that I’m an outsider and therefore can’t form an intelligent thought or know how to fish is ludicrous. If you really think that you have to be a local to have any knowledge then there’s really nothing more for us to discuss.

  5. Ryan
    April 04, 2017

    It’ll take 20+ per day to win the event. And that’s probably on the lighter side.

    Reply
    • Rootjk
      April 04, 2017

      We’ll see. I don’t see anyone getting near 100 like they did the last time. And a lot of guys are going to struggle. The funny thing is, people are going to watch what they do and where they go, and they won’t leave them alone or give them any room. If a guy has a good day, he can expect to find 20 guys on his spot the next day, and none of them are gonna move for him.

      Reply
      • Jordan
        April 06, 2017

        Well, after day 1 we’ve got 7 that weighed in over 20lbs, almost 90% weighed a limit… Your theory aint holding up

        Reply
        • Rootjk
          April 06, 2017

          I’m glad you brought that up because I was really hoping someone would. Let’s break it down, A is 2016 B is 2017:

          A 7 guys weighed 20lb bags on day 1.
          B 12 guys weighed 20lb bags on day 1.

          A Leader has 25
          B Leader had 29 (almost 30)

          A 20th place has 17-1
          B 20th place had 18 1/2

          A 13 guys failed to weigh in limits
          B 9 guys failed to weigh in limits

          A Average fish and limit for the guys in the top 20: 3.80, 19
          B Average fish and limit for the guys in the top 20: 4.34, 21.7
          (by the way I didn’t even count the oz, just the pounds)

          For the record, I never said “the lake sucks”. I said the lake is in trouble. What happened today was guys had spots to themselves. The locals that watched them moved in on their spots after they left, and will be there before the official launch in the morning. You’ll see a big drop off tomorrow. KVD won with almost 100 last year. No way in hell that’s gonna happen this week.

  6. Shane Gilley
    May 23, 2017

    Been fishing Toledo for 35 years and what you said rootjk is spot on!

    Reply
    • Rootjk
      May 23, 2017

      Man I can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear that, and at the same time it’s good to hear from those of you who are willing to admit to what’s going on down there. I just hope something is done about it before it’s too late.

      Reply

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