Exclusive: Toledo Bend earns Bassmaster’s No. 1 fishery

Jimmy Watson, Louisiana

Shreveport Times

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/local/2015/06/16/exclusive-toledo-bend-earns-bassmasters-fishery/28847615/

Consistently a premier stop for ardent and recreational anglers alike, Toledo Bend Reservoir is about to get catapulted into the stratosphere when “Bassmaster” Magazine announces on Thursday the fishery has been selected the No. 1 bass fishing lake in the country.

After an exhaustive amount of research, email queries and personal interviews with anglers throughout the United States, Toledo topped as many as 230 potential fisheries to be named the best-of-the-best according to “Bassmaster” Magazine editor James Hall.

“It’s a great honor. It’s not easy to have the numbers to grab the No. 1 spot,” Hall told The Times. “Toledo Bend is a tremendous big bass factory right now. It’s the first time a lake below the Mason Dixon line has been No. 1 since our inaugural list. But the data from Toledo was so overwhelmingly impressive that the South rose again.”

With the area still reeling from the devastation left by the flood of 2015, northwest Louisiana needed some positive news from one of its fisheries and Toledo Bend Reservoir delivered in a big way.

The 185,000-acre fishery spanning the border of Louisiana and Texas is the fourth lake in the country to receive the No. 1 designation joining Falcon Lake (Texas) in 2012, Lake St. Clair (Michigan) in 2013 and Sturgeon Bay (Michigan) in 2014 as the previous top-rated bass producers.

The fourth installment of the top 100 best bass lakes in the U.S. will be released nationwide by BASS on Thursday. The news comes as no surprise to Louisiana Bassmaster Elite pro Greg Hackney of Gonzales, who has enjoyed success throughout his stellar career on Toledo.

“Early in my career it was known to produce big numbers of bass, but it has turned into the premier bass fishing lake in the country, and it’s exciting to see,” said Hackney, the 2014 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. “I have some friends who were catching 8- to 9-pounders there just a few years ago. Now, no one pays any attention unless it’s a double-digit weight.”

To uncover the country’s top bass fishery, Bassmaster officials polled fish and wildlife departments across the country, hundreds of BASS Nation presidents and conservation directors and the 600,000 BASS Facebook fans to come up with a master list of venues to consider.

After researching data on the Internet, the list of candidates is sent to the 3,500-member BASS Council Panel.

“It’s a very elite group of anglers from across the country who fish a lot,” Hall said. “They helped organize the top 100 into what we felt was a solid ranking. To put an exclamation and polish on the final list, I have a group of about 15 people — kinda of a blue-ribbon panel of industry guys, media and anglers — who fish all over the country, who look it over. Some lakes moved up, some moved down. Everyone signed off on it.”

Toledo finished ahead of Sturgeon Bay, Lake St. Clair, the California Delta and Sam Rayburn Reservoir in the list. Additional Louisiana venues making the top 100 list were Lake Bistineau (No. 27), the Red River (77) and the Atchafayala Basin (98).

John Toliver has lived on Toledo since 2008 when he retired from the U.S. Forest Service and wanted a quiet, serene place to fill the remainder of his time. He and his wife built a log home in a five-fingered cove in the mid-lake area about a mile south of the Pendleton Bridge on the Louisiana side. He has since become president of the Toledo Bend Lake Association.

Toliver was part of a recent celebration when the TBLA awarded trophy bass replicas to a record 81 anglers who caught and released alive a bass weighing at least 10 pounds. That number of trophy bass has increased each of the last three years.

“Who knows what the coming year holds, but when we hit 81, that number surprised me,” Toliver said. “It’s been about 13 or 14 years since the Florida bass were added and after going through the drought in 2011, the lake is probably in better condition than it’s ever been. There are lots of aquatic plants, plenty of bait fish and the water level is remaining consistent.”

Thanks to the No. 1 ranking, Toledo could see a rush of anglers from across the country wanting to check out what helped it earn the top spot. Hall said there were dramatic increases of visitors following the No. 1 release on the previous three fisheries.

“And that’s something we have to be mindful of. When we named St. Clair No. 1, I received reports back from a number of guides who said the overflow parking for all the ramps had to be opened,” Hall said. “There were lines and it put a significant amount of pressure on that lake. We try to make sure when we name a lake No. 1 that it can withstand some pressure without being harmed.”

Handling pressure is something Toledo has become accustomed to over the years. Hall calls it “a mammoth lake.”

“There are some parts that are very difficult to fish because of all the timber in it. That’s probably one of the reasons it has remained so productive. There are acres and acres that will never be fished,” he said. “It provides sanctuary for largemouth to go in there and breed and chill out without a lot of pressure on them.”

That’s why Hackney and other pros love it when they see Toledo Bend show up on their Elite Series schedule for the next season.

“Honestly, I don’t know why it isn’t on our schedule every year because it’s so big and vast and allows us to use any technique they like to be successful,” Hackney said. “It’s one of my favorites, so I hate it when it isn’t on the schedule.”

Hall is likely to be angling in Minnesota or some remote part of the country when Bassmaster’s Top 100 list is released Thursday because he knows there will be some angry emails from lake supporters who wanted their fishery higher on the list.

“Yeah. That’s what’s so fun about it. No matter how much information we get or how scientific we try to be, it’s all still subjective and up in the air. It’s worth debating,” Hall said. “Creating a conversation about fishing is what we really hope to do. We’ve had multiple guys say their goal in life is to fish the Top 100. They start making their rounds. That’s what I’m doing right now.”

Twitter: @JimmyWatson6

BASSMASTER Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes (2015)

1. Toledo Bend, Texas/Louisiana [185,000 acres]

2. Sturgeon Bay (Lake Michigan), Wisconsin [from Little Sturgeon Bay to Fish Creek]

3. Lake St. Clair, Michigan [430 square miles]

4. California Delta, California [1,100 square miles]

5. Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas [114,500 acres]

6. Lake Guntersville, Alabama [70,000 acres]

7. Green Bay (Lake Michigan), Wisconsin [up to Little Sturgeon Bay]

8. Thousand Islands (St. Lawrence River), New York [50-mile stretch]

9. Clear Lake, California [43,785 acres]

10. Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota [132,000 acres]

11. Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho [25,000 acres]

12. Kentucky/Barkley lakes, Tennessee/Kentucky [160,309 acres and 58,000 acres,­ respectively]

13. Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma [46,500 acres]

14. Lake Champlain, New York/Vermont [490 square miles]

15. Lake Fork Reservoir, Texas [27,690 acres]

16. Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida [22,700 acres]

17. Grand Traverse Bay (Lake Michigan), Michigan [32 miles long, 10 miles wide]

18. Rainy Lake, Minnesota [360 square miles]

19. Lake Erie, New York [30-mile radius from Buffalo]

20. Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota [14,528 acres]

21. Lake Eufaula, Alabama/Georgia [46,000 acres]

22. Lake Erie, Ohio [30-mile radius of Sandusky]

23. Lake Havasu, Arizona [19,300 acres]

24. Candlewood Lake, Connecticut [5,420 acres]

25. Presque Isle Bay, Pennsylvania [5.8 square miles]

26. Lake Okeechobee, Florida [730 square miles]

27. Lake Bistineau, Louisiana [15,550 acres]

28. Lake Charlevoix, Michigan [17,200 acres]

29. Santee Cooper lakes (Marion and Moultrie), South Carolina [110,000 acres and 60,000 acres, respectively]

30. Rodman Reservoir, Florida [13,000 acres]

31. Lake Ray Roberts, Texas [29,350 acres]

32. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri [54,000 acres]

33. Cobbosseecontee Lake, Maine [5,540 acres]

34. Lake Dardanelle, Arkansas [40,000 acres]

35. Alexandria Chain of Lakes, Minnesota [417 acres to 2,520 acres, depending on the lake]

36. Pickwick Lake, Alabama/Mississippi/Tennessee [43,100 acres]

37. Lake Berryessa, California [20,700 acres]

38. Lake Seminole, Georgia/Florida [37,500 acres]

39. China Lake, Maine [3,845 acres]

40. Oneida Lake, New York [79.8 square miles]

41. Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee [36,240 acres]

42. Falcon Lake, Texas [83,654 acres]

43. Potholes Reservoir, Washington [14,281 acres]

44. Bull Shoals Lake, Arkansas [45,150 acres]

45. Burt/Mullett lakes, Michigan [17,120 acres and 16,630 acres, respectively]

46. Leech Lake, Minnesota [103,000 acres]

47. Randleman Lake, North Carolina [3,007 acres]

48. Lake Murray, South Carolina [50,000 acres]

49. Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia [20,600 acres]

50. Lake Conroe, Texas [21,000 acres]

51. Shasta Lake, California [30,000 acres]

52. Mississippi River Pools 4-10, Iowa/Wisconsin/Minnesota [Hager City, Wis., to Harpers Ferry, Iowa]

53. Columbia River, Oregon/Washington [15-mile stretch between the Dalles and Hood rivers]

54. Lay Lake, Alabama [12,000 acres]

55. Bullards Bar, California [16 miles long]

56. St. Johns River, Florida [310 miles long]

57. Upper Chesapeake Bay, Maryland [the entire bay is more than 64,000 square miles, but the best fishing is in the top one-third]

58. Bays de Noc, Michigan [Escanaba to Little Summer Island]

59. Brownlee Reservoir, Idaho/Oregon [15,000 acres]

60. High Rock Lake, North Carolina [15,180 acres]

61. Cayuga Lake, New York [38 miles long, 3 1/2 miles wide]

62. Fayette County Reservoir, Texas [2,400 acres]

63. Pymatuning Reservoir, Pennsylvania/Ohio [17,088 acres]

64. Lake Hudson, Oklahoma [12,000 acres]

65. Squam Lake, New Hampshire [6,791 acres]

66. Lake Audubon, North Dakota [14,739 acres]

67. West Okoboji Lake, Iowa [3,847 acres]

68. Konowa Reservoir, Oklahoma [1,350 acres]

69. Saginaw Bay, Michigan [1,143 square miles]

70. Newton Lake, Illinois [1,775 acres]

71. Pardee Reservoir, California [2,257 acres]

72. Millwood Lake, Arkansas [29,200 acres]

73. Lake Texoma, Oklahoma/Texas [89,000 acres]

74. Dworshak Reservoir, Idaho [17,090 acres]

75. Lake O’ the Arbuckles, Oklahoma [2,350 acres]

76. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire [20 miles long, 9 miles wide]

77. Red River, Louisiana [125-mile stretch from Shreveport to Alexandria]

78. Lewis and Clark Lake, Nebraska/South Dakota [31,000 acres]

79. Chautauqua Lake, New York [13,156 acres]

80. Cooper River, South Carolina [30-mile stretch below Lake Moultrie dam]

81. Dale Hollow Reservoir, Tennessee/Kentucky [27,700 acres]

82. Stonewall Jackson Lake, West Virginia [2,630 acres]

83. Apache Lake, Arizona [2,568 acres]

84. Noxon Rapids Reservoir, Montana [30 miles long, 2 miles wide]

85. Lake Istokpoga, Florida [26,762 acres]

86. Squaw Creek Reservoir, Texas [3,275 acres]

87. Lake Hartwell, Georgia/South Carolina [56,000 acres]

88. Lake Ouachita, Arkansas [40,000 acres]

89. Lake Lanier, Georgia [38,000 acres]

90. Old Hickory Lake, Tennessee [22,500 acres]

91. Lake Bomoseen, Vermont [2,400 acres]

92. Kezar Lake, Maine [2,510 acres]

93. Logan Martin Lake, Alabama [17,000 acres]

94. Lake Cumberland, Kentucky [65,530 acres]

95. Watauga Lake, Tennessee [6,430 acres]

96. Lake Wateree, South Carolina [13,700 acres]

97. Ross Barnett Reservoir, Mississippi [33,000 acres]

98. Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana [260,000 acres, but only 30 percent is fishable]

99. Harlan County Reservoir, Nebraska [13,000 acres]

100. Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts [38.6 square miles]