(12/04/2001)... Betwixt the chill of a predawn fog and the rising warmth of the early winters morning sun, my fishing guide slowly maneuvers the bow of his sleek 21 foot Skeeter /Yamaha guide-boat towards the northbound lane, and as we enter into the well-marked boating lane of the Sabine River channel we begin picking up speed as he throttles past buoy markers. Snuggling into the warmer comforts of my parka I brace for the twenty minute boat-run to "The Chicken Coop".
"We had just launched out of Pendleton Harbor Marina, which is located on the Texas side of Pendleton Bridge, and my Louisiana fishing friends, Noe Garcia and Dallas Breaux, were treating me with a trip into the infamous "Chicken Coop" crappie fishing area of Lake Toledo Bend.
"It’s really not a chicken coop per-say, informs Noe Garcia, "but just an area of the lake that often produces some really incredible Winter Crappie fishing action for those anglers who don’t mind fishing in Winter chills to catch some crappie, or as we say in Louisiana, Sacalait, for the supper table. "The Chicken Coop’s name, Noe further told, "derived from a long fishing pier that once jutted out into the Sabine River channel, which had several fishing shanties built along it that resembled little chicken coop-like structures.
Often written about in numerous magazines, newspapers, and tabloids by a outdoor writers, the "Chicken Coop" fishing area is located on the Texas side of the lake betwixt buoy markers #56 and #61, which is situated along the deepwater stretch that abuts the high cliffs of Newells Fishing World along the Sabine River channel in the mid-lake area just north of the Pendleton Bridge. During the cold of winter, when the water temperature dips below the 55-degree mark, the shad, a species of food fish within the river system, begin to school up into tight balls for protection against the chill of the dropping water temps, which creates a virtual feast for other fish such as black bass, white bass, yellow bass, and crappie, or Sacalait that feed on these tightly balled up schools of shad.
"This becomes a winter fishing bonanza for us, Noe explains, "as the sacalait begin to form up into huge schools within these deepwater river channel areas to feed on the shad, as well as to find protection against the chill of the dropping lake water temperatures.
"There have been times, Dallas Breaux recalled, "when back in those times when we had no fishing limits on the sacalait, that anglers once filled their coolers, fish baskets, and boats up with fish. "Yes, for sure, Noe added, "that’s when it was possible to come out here and catch anywhere from 200 to 300 sacalait per fishing trip.
"But due to the concentrated fishing pressures caused by such a bonanza, Noe Garcia informed, "the sacalait were sheltered with enforced fishing limits and protective game-fish laws to avoid over-fishing. "Yes they were, Dallas explained, "as Texas fishing laws now enforce a ten inch minimum and 25 fish maximum daily bag limit, with Louisiana laws supporting 50 crappie per day limits with no size minimums. "But, as of today, December 1st, Dallas further noted, a special "winter limit" is enforced by the Texas rules which allows for anglers to keep the first 25 crappie caught per-day here on Toledo Bend, which must be kept "regardless" of size. "This new winter-time ruling is to help protect the crappie fishery as most crappie caught from the deeper waters seldom survive release due to shock and air bladder problems. "In the past, Noe informed, "When these smaller crappie were caught and released we usually had a massive fish kill from those smaller crappie releases as most anglers tried to catch the larger crappie. So this new winter rule is designed to offset the winterkill ratio and to protect the crappie fishery.
"In being that Lake Toledo Bend is a shared border lake, with Texas on the west bank and Louisiana on the east bank, Noe informed, "which holds over 185,000 acres of water that stretches 97 miles and harbors over 1,200 miles of shoreline, Texas and Louisiana share in their game-fish laws that support angler friendly rules and regulations. "But we still have some differences between the two states on fishery controls, "so my advice, Noe stated, "would be to carefully read about those differences before enjoying your fishing trip on our lake. "OR", Dallas interjected, "you can contact a fishing-guide on the lake and let them provide you with a trouble free and worry free fishing trip."You betcha’, Noe smiles as he throttles down to make a turn into our fishing area.
Moving into the "Chicken Coop", Noe slowly maneuvered us along the high cliff area that abuts along the edges of the deepwater river channel until he spots what he is looking for. "The depth here is 32 feet, Noe advised, "which sharply drops off into the deeper 45’ to 50’ depths of the river channel. "Right now the fish seem to be holding along the edges of the break-line between the shore-slopes and the drop-offs into the river channel, Noe informed after scanning his fish recorders, "so lets try fishing here by these tree-stumps.
Mooring up to some broken stumps jutting out from the surface of a long creek-point, we all begin grabbing our fishing gear and start rigging up to test the waters of the coop.
Fishing gear here doesn’t have to be fancy as tangle-free Zebco spin-casting rigs are used for fishing a straight up & down method for catching these wintertime sacalait. Our simple fishing rig consists of using a #8 Aberdeen hooks with small split-shots attached to the line 8 inches above the hooks. Best bait here are always small live shiner minnows hooked just below the dorsal fin, but for those of you who enjoy fishing artificial baits such as micro-jigs with soft plastic tubes or twister baits, hair or feather jigs, or even roadrunner or flip-tail type lures can also join in on the fun as they all seem to work.
"It’s not very long before the action started after Noe and Dallas got into a friendly argument over "just-who" left the breakfast sandwiches and coffee back in the truck at the ramp, "when Dallas’s rod suddenly dipped and vibrated to our first catch of the morning which had striped markings of gold and silver. "Bar-fish, yelps Noe as he dodged the scrappy looking fish being landed. "These are bonus fish, Dallas advised, "yeah sure, Noe grinned!! But we would see several of these Bar-fish catches, as well as other species such as black bass, white bass, catfish, and bream.
But before Dallas could re-bait and re-cast, Noe’s rod suddenly dipped as he swung in our first sacalait of the day, "black crappie, Noe alerted as he quickly stowed a 12 inch keeper into the live-well before re-baiting and re-casting within 2.8 seconds. "The water temp here, Noe advised me, "is only 60 degrees, so we won’t be seeing the kind of action that would occur with colder waters, "So we probably won’t be catching the really larger "slab" sacalait that the Bend is noted for, but mostly the schooling Sacalait of between 8 to 12 inchers.
Toledo Bend has long been noted as a Mecca for crappie anglers as the lake has produced numerous "slabs" of 3 lbs or better, with several 4 -lb plus "mega-crappie" being caught over the years. But despite these four-pound "muy grandes", of which this writer/angler has personally witnessed several catches over the years, but with most of them going unrecorded for lake record titles. "But despite this drawback Toledo Bend presently holds a 3.69 â€“lb Texas State record black crappie with a "tentative" 2.88 â€“lb lake record white crappie. And one noteworthy Louisiana cane-pole catch of a black crappie is now listed as a world record at 6.0 â€“lbs. "THAT’S A SIX POUND CRAPPIE FOLKS"â€¦"Pretty Awesome!!"
"Although the "Chicken Coop" area has been written about by most outdoor writers, Noe advised, "the entire length of Toledo Bend supports a tremendous crappie fishery all year long, "but the Chicken Coop" has always been the winter-time Mecca for most hard corps sacalait anglers. "And as is often voiced by Cajuns for such fun-filled times ...... "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler"......
After that fun-filled phrase, which means "Let the Good Times Roll", we gather up our bakers dozen sacalait catch, strap down our fishing gear, and head back to reclaim our forgotten breakfast of sandwiches and coffee that "some-one" had left at the boat-ramp.
Those of you who wish to enjoy some "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler" for some Chicken Coop Sacalait contact Noe Garcia, a Dawson Marine Pro/Guide, at (318)-645-4029-