NOTE: Today most people only know that Caney Creek Reservoir and Caney Lake State Park is considered one of the jewels of Sportsman’s Paradise, as the state is called. Few remember the countless trials, tribulations, pitfalls and roadblocks that had to be overcome or the role that Woody McDonald played in changing the woods into water. This week: Little causes lots of problems
The year was 1993. The dream was now a reality. Caney Lake had become the water world playground and fishing mecca that it was hoped to be. It had also turned out to be boom to the local business world as scores of fun seekers and fishermen flocked to the new jewel of the Piney Woods. Lake related businesses had opened along the highways that allowed access to the outdoor paradise.
he housing industry was in full bloom as homes and camps were continuing to be built on virtually every shoreline. The towns of Jonesboro and Chatham were also enjoying the benefits the lake brought as restaurants, convenience stores, hardware stores and “big box” locations like Walmart were all enjoying the large throng of visitors that flocked to the lake daily.
“It had become everything we had hoped and dreamed it would be,” beamed McDonald in reflection. “The lake not only proved to be a great place to live but along with the state park a wonderful place to camp, fish or just enjoy being on the water.”
There were several reasons that Caney Lake was flourishing. One was the design that McDonald, Jackson Parish Lake Commission and the state Public Works department had carved out. With the five creeks being feeders, the shape of the lake resembled a hand with five outreaching tributaries surrounding a large open area. This lent to the perfect harmony of fishing and boating activities. Another was the popularity that Jimmie Davis State Park was gaining. The park offered tremendous amenities that included meeting houses, cabins, RV and tent sites and a swimming area complete with showers.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the increasing popularity was the decision to stock the lake with the Florida Strain bass that was said to have the potential to grow upwards of twenty pounds. At first many were skeptical of the claim, but by the early 1990’s lunkers started being landed that weighed in the 7, 8 and 9 pound range. Among anglers, who had before deemed a five-pound bass a trophy, what started as tepid excitement grew into a rabid frenzy never before seen at a fishery in north Louisiana.
James Eddie and Sharon Brown, owners of Brown’s Landing located on Hwy 4, started putting pictures of anglers and their catch on the wall for all to see. This was followed by a large aquarium being built in their store/restaurant where a few of the incredibly large bass were put on display. Folks came from miles around just to stand there and gawk at the “Caney Creatures.”
As the fish started to grow even larger, so did the popularity of the lake. Using the terminology of today, Caney Lake went “viral” in March of 1992 when Brian Davis caught a 14.31 pounder that set a new state record. The mark lasted only until June of that year when another Florida Strain bass was caught out of University Like in Baton Rouge that topped the scales at 15.38 pounds but Caney Lake was just beginning to make it’s mark on the state record chart.
In February of 1993, Caney Lake reclaimed the top spot on the state record bass chart when Tommy Foster hauled in a 15.54 pounder. By year’s end, six more “monsters” in the 14 and 15 pound range had been caught giving Caney Lake the distinction of being home to seven of eight of the biggest bass ever caught in Louisiana.
Almost exactly one year later to when Caney’s first state record was registered, Greg Wiggins of Winnfield landed his iconic 15.97 pound catch that still today ranks as the largest bass ever caught in Louisiana.
For the angling community It was the best of times. For those who owned homes on the lake or enjoyed swimming and other water play in the lake, it was the worst. This was because of the unplanned introduction by boaters from other areas of the United States of Hydrilla, or water thyme as it is commonly called, into the waterway.
At first for the fishermen, Hydrilla, was like a Godsend. It provided the perfect cover and breeding grounds for not only the “Florida bred’s, but other species as well. As one lake guide said at the time “it put the whole food chain on steroids.” Once the submersed perennial herb took root in the shallows of the lake bed the size and numbers of the bass strain grew exponentially.
Lending credence to the old saying that “too much of good thing is a bad thing,” the unabated perineal submersed herb soon started to act like the fictional creature Godzilla as it was destroying all the amenities the lake had to offer. Boat channels became clogged to the point that you couldn’t run through it. All over the lake docks, piers, boat launches and swimming areas started to get choked off due to the thick grass.
This led to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries being asked to help control the growth. It was decided by LDWF Marine Biologist, Janice Little, to not chemically attack the species of grass but to control the growth through the use of grass eating carp.
Little decided to make an initial deposit of three-inch fingerlings in the lake. After several months and no indication that things were getting better, the thought circulated that maybe the “three inchers” were getting eaten by the bass and larger carp needed to be injected. This resulted in Little and the LDWF coming back and putting six- inch carp in the waterway.
What wasn’t realized at the time was that the smaller carp were doing their job, they were just so little that it took time for them to make a dent in the Hydrilla. Once the “double dose” of grass eaters went to work the results were much more than what was hoped for. Not only did the Hydrilla start to disappear, so did other forms of grass. As the carp, which have no natural enemies and grow to unbelievable sizes, continued to feast on the grass, in short order the bottom of the lake looked like a dessert.
Once the calender rolled into the “new Millenium,”, by all accounts Caney Lake was dead. The once thriving businesses connected to the great fishing were now being shuttered as the number of visitors started dwindling to virtually nothing.
Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th century English poet, coined the phrase “all good things must come to an end.” It seemed to be a fitting description of the birth, growth and decline of Caney Lake. Many simply accepted the fact and chose to revel in the lake’s past glory.
Fortunately, there were others who refused to let the shine of the “jewel of the Piney Woods” fade into oblivion.
Next week: FINAL EDITION! The Recovery of Caney Lake!