How Toledo Bend became a true trophy destination
Toledo Bend Reservoir, located on the Louisiana Texas boundary, has set a historic record as Bassmaster magazine named this great fishery the Number 1 Bass Fishing Lake in the Nation for a second year in a row. This has not happened since the program began. Bassmaster noted Toledo Bend as the “first dynasty.”
Toledo Bend Reservoir began as a concept for water conservation and economic development in 1949, with feasibility studies eventually warranting legislative support. Louisiana legislators in a small flotilla of boats, wound its way down the Sabine River, across the Gulf of Mexico, up the Atchafalaya River and finally up the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge with one goal in mind: convince newly elected Gov. Jimmie Davis to support the building of the Toledo Bend Reservoir.
A savvy Toledo Bend supporter handed the governor a jug of Sabine River water emblazoned with the words “Let’s build Toledo Bend” just as a newspaper photographer snapped a photo.
When that image appeared on the front page of the newspaper the next morning, Davis was unable to disown the project. And that was one of the early major steps toward the construction of the nation’s largest reservoir built without federal funding.
At the time, no one could have envisioned the impact the 186,000-acre Toledo Bend would have on the local communities in Louisiana and Texas, and the country. For nearly 50 years, it has produced environmentally friendly hydro-electricity while attracting untold numbers of anglers to its fish-filled waters.
And this year Toledo Bend, continues to produce double-digit fish in numbers unimaginable by the reservoir’s founding fathers, helping it to become the Number 1 Bass Fishing Lake in the United States by Bassmaster magazine for the second year in a row.
Additionally, Bassmaster Elite Series tournament is returning to Toledo Bend April 6-9, 2017. “We expect this to be the most exciting time B.A.S.S. has ever experienced on Toledo Bend,” said Linda Curtis-Sparks of Toledo Bend Lake Country, host of the event. “Anticipation is already high to see what records may be set during the spawning season with the best fisherman in the nation at the No. 1 bass fishing lake in the nation. Louisiana welcomes them.”
Beginning With Some Trees and a Little Fish Story
But there’s more to the story of how Toledo Bend rose from simply being the largest man-made body of water in the South to a trophy fishery that annually draws thousands of anglers from around the country.
First is the structure of the lake.
“This is a very unusual lake by the very nature of what it is,” long-time guide John Dean Jr. noted. “It’s a flooded forest.”
Toledo Bend Lake Country’s Linda Curtis-Sparks, who has championed the reservoir since 1989, noted this structure as one of the things that makes the lake so productive.
For 25 years, the lake has consistently ranked as a top fishing destination among traveling anglers who enjoyed a vibrant fishery. Hundreds of tournaments have been held annually, and even national circuits including Bassmaster and FLW have made regular stops. The move from a great fishery to the nation’s No. 1 fishery really began in 1990, when the Sabine River Authority of Louisiana, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Toledo Bend Lake Association (TBLA) began pumping more than 30 million Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings into the massive reservoir. The effectiveness of placing fast growing Florida Bass into the lake can be seen in the numbers of double-digit fish entered into the TBLA’s Toledo Bend Lunker program, which offers free replicas to every angler who catches a bass larger than 10 pounds, enters it into the program, and agrees to release it.
Since the Lunker Program’s founding in 1993 through August 2016, 819 double-digit bass have been caught, entered into the Texas and Louisiana lunker program, and released back into the lake to continue the trophy legacy.
Mother Nature Steps In
In 2011, the lake began bottoming out. Marinas closed because boats could only launch at a handful of sites. And, once anglers finally got on the water, it was tough navigating because stumps were a danger even in the boat lanes.
Water levels fell to a mere 155 feet mean sea level – less than 10 feet above the reservoir’s initial height.
Then Mother Nature stepped in, dropping enough rain to send water levels soaring to the normal operating level of more than 168 feet.
The natural drawdown exposed the shoreline and allowed vegetation to grow, and fisheries managers encouraged anglers to be patient because great things were going to happen when the lake returned to normal.
“The biologists told us it would be almost like a new impoundment,” Curtis-Sparks said.
“It was a coming together of an ideal habitat and ideal genes to create the environment for these bass,” noted lead biologist Kristie Butler at the Louisiana Booker-Fowler Hatchery.
And, just as predicted, the fishery exploded when the drought broke and water levels soared.
Trophy bass began showing up almost immediately. In 2012, the year the lake refilled, 29 double-digit bass were recorded. That number more than doubled the following year, with 59 bass topping the 10-pound mark registered into the Lunker Program.
Lunkers are presented each May by the Toledo Bend Lake Association. 62 lunkers were landed in 2013-2014, 82 in 2014-2015, 139 in 2015-2016, and since May 15, 2016, 12 lunkers have started the 2016-2017 list.
It’s that production of 10-pound-plus bass that caught the eye of Bassmaster magazine, culminating in the naming of Toledo Bend as the nation’s Number 1 Bass Fishing Lake in 2015 and 2016. The higher production of lunkers, high spring tournament results such as 38.15 lbs. for 5 fish, and catches as large as 42 lbs. kept the largest man-made lake in the South number one for a second year. Kevin VanDam who won the Bassmaster Elite Tournament in May called the area, “…the best big-bass factory in the nation.”
But Curtis-Sparks said the trophy fishery would not have been possible without the dedication of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, SRA of Louisiana, and generations of volunteers with TBLA who ensured work never stopped.
“You didn’t have the same drivers all the way through this,” she said. “People just caught the passion. It was a constant effort, and new people just continue stepping up.”
Toledo Bend factoids:
Size: 186,000 acres
Length: 76 miles
Year stocking began: 1990
Number of Florida bass stocked: 29,600,068
Number of double-digit bass (through August 2016): 15
Lake record: 15.33 pounds