Caddo Lake

January 2020, Volume 109

Dating back long before the 1800’s Caddo Lake (previously known as Ferry Lake) is a natural lake formed from low lying areas that backed up from the Red River Basin due to the many log jams and that impeded flow prior to the clearing of the Great Raft by Captain Henry Miller Shreve during the 1830’s, and final clearing by Lieutenant Eugene Woodruff in 1873.  Based on prior studies of aging trees in the current basin, the earliest continual standing water was found to have occurred around the late 1700’s.  The original Great Raft, of prominence in Caddo Indian mythology, grew to an expansive 160+ miles at its peak.  The Great Raft was cleared up to the mouth of 12 Mile Bayou, which is the pathway Caddo Lake overflow takes to the Red River basin.  It has been supposed that in addition to the low lying area and the backwater flooding from the Great Raft, the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 caused further subsidence, enlarging the low lying area we now know as Caddo Lake.  With the final clearing of the log jam the water levels in Caddo Lake and the other low lying waterbodies resided as the area flooding was reduced.  During this time there were several major changes with the area.  The first change with the clearing of the Great Raft, the water levels fell making the area more accessible, and shortly thereafter oil was discovered in the area.  This discovery resulted in the world’s first over-water oil well in 1911.  Hundreds of wells have been drilled in Caddo Lake and the immediately surrounding area.  It wasn’t until Cypress Bayou was impounded in 1914 that Caddo Lake was reformed into roughly the basin we know it to occupy today.  The impoundment ended another lucrative activity on the lake which was fresh water pearl harvesting, by raising the water elevation making the mussel beds inaccessible to harvest.    

 

The impounding of Cypress Bayou in 1914 was completed under the authority of the River and Harbor Act of June 25, 1910 under the auspice of the Cypress Bayou and Waterway Navigation Project.  Further work was done in 1971 when a new dam was installed just down-stream of the original, due to the age of the original structure.  The current impoundment has a spillway elevation of 168.5’, providing stable water levels in Caddo Lake, which may have seasonal fluctuations from 167.5’ to 171.5’ MSL.  The current footprint of Caddo Lake provides drainage retention of approximately 2,812 square miles of surrounding lands, into a lake measuring approximately 27,000 acres at pool stage.  Operations and maintenance of the split level spillway is performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The spillway is split into two levels with 860 linear feet at 167.5’ MSL and 1,540 linear feet at 170.5’ MSL. 

 

With management of elevations by USACE, the lake itself is managed under the authority of the Caddo Lake Watershed District Commission.  The commission was created in 1995 by the State Legislature.  The lake is split nearly evenly by the Louisiana and Texas State Line.  Approximately 206 miles of shoreline criss-cross the Texas/Louisiana border.  While a large lake, Caddo Lake is a very shallow lake with an average depth of only 4.8 feet at pool stage.  The lake has some deeper areas with a maximum overall depth of 27 feet. 

With the shallow waters, and the historical activities on the lake, navigation of the lake can be hazardous.  The lake has several well marked boat roads, and it is strongly advised they be strictly adhered to.  Even when on some of the boat roads, hazards such as oil wells, suckle rods, rebar marking stumps, and stumps within a few feet of the edge of the boat.  In addition to the navigation challenges, there has been some aquatic vegetation challenges throughout the entire history of the lake.  Early on, native vegetation abounded in the lake since impoundment.  Early on these vegetation issues were held in check by the annual flooding of the lake, but the flow regime was changed with the upstream impoundment of Lake O’ the Pines in 1959, allowing more vegetative growth.  Since the 1940’s water hyacinth has presented issues, despite attempts to control with weevils.  Hydrilla has presented some issues on the lake since the early 1990’s.  Giant Salvinia was found in 2006 and has continued to play a role in the overall nuisance vegetation on the lake.  All of the vegetations are managed with herbicide and weevils and their prevalence has increased and decreased over the years, primarily determined by how cold or how mild the winters are, which keep the Salvinia in check. 

 

Despite the challenges, the lake remains a fisherman’s paradise and provides great opportunity to take bass, perch, bream, and catfish.  With bass being the primary trophy fish sought on the lake, a robust stocking program began in the late 1970s and continues to this day.  The most recent available information is found in the table with respect to the number of fingerlings and fry stocked over the years.  There have been millions of largemouth bass, particularly the Florida Largemouth strain that have been stocked since the 1970’s.  This has produced a population with Florida bass reaching nearly 10% at times, but maintaining a steady 2-7%, and a hybrid population nearing 30%, showing successful stocking in the population.  Contributing to the population, the lake has had various creel and slot limits over the years.  The current largemouth restrictions are a 14”-18” protected slot, with a daily creel limit of 8, no more than 4 of which may be over the 18” slot.  Which begs the question, what happens if you catch 5 overs in a tournament?  Caddo is certainly a lake that feat is possible on, with bags reported on the lake over the years going easily into the 40 pound range and higher.  Single bass weights in double digits are caught on the lake yearly with a lake record in excess of 16 pounds. 

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Summer sunrise on Caddo fishing with Benton Bass Club.

Caddo Lake Spillway releasing floodwaters into Twelvemile Bayou in November 2018.

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An over-water oil well sits literally a few feet wide of a marked boat road on Caddo Lake; a common site on portions of the lake.

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Waiting for safe light to blastoff on Caddo Lake with Benton Bass Club.

The lake is consistently one of the best bass venues in Louisiana, which is difficult to achieve with Toledo and other major bass factories.  Adding to the allure of the lake is the abundance of facilities available.  Based on recent maps, on the Louisiana side of the lake there are at least two free launches, and a couple of paid launches.  One launch, located at Earl G. Williamson Park boasts an abundance of parking, a nearby park, fishing pier, and much more.  Even with the abundance of prime fishing spots across the state,  you have to make a stop at Caddo Lake and Geaux Bassin’ in the Boot!

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Overcast sunrise on New Years Day 2020 starting the year off right with a fruit jar on beautiful Caddo Lake.

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Caddo Lake stocking history based on the most recently available data from LDWF.