CATCHING A BRAKE
Bussey Brake WMA A Long Time In The Making But Public Will Enjoy The Improvements
story by Sherry Morton, LDWF Public Information
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is close to finalizing an overhaul of the lake at the Bussey Brake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) - and the renovation project is making quite a splash in Morehouse Parish.
“A lot of people are calling every day wanting to know the status of the project,” said Ryan Daniel, the District 2 Inland Fisheries Biologist Manager for LDWF who has managed the project since its inception. “The whole town of Bastrop is buzzing with excitement.”
The WMA features a 2,200-acre freshwater lake and 400 acres of surrounding forest land. The waterbody was originally constructed in the mid-1950s by International Paper to serve as an alternative water source for the mill. The paper mill always allowed fishing in the lake.
“It was a very good fishery from the 60s through the 80s, though the fishing had declined in years prior to the renovation,” Daniel said.
When the paper mill closed in 2010, the company subsequently donated the reservoir to LDWF. In 2013, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission designated the area as the Bussey Brake Wildlife Management Area. LDWF went to work developing a plan to renovate the reservoir in order to make improvements that would benefit the public.
In 2016, LDWF began the renovation project. The first step was to drain the lake. Doing this allowed for removal of the existing fish population, which was made up of an overabundance of rough fish such as carp and buffalo. It also allowed the bottom of the lake to dry out, thereby improving fishery conditions.
“A lot of times the old lakes have muck built up on the bottom,” Daniel said. “This doesn’t provide for a good spawning habitat. When you allow sunshine to reach the lake bottom, it dries it out and improves the habitat once the lake gets refilled.”
Once the lake was drained, construction began on several renovation projects. Renovations have taken longer than expected, as LDWF has encountered quite a few challenges throughout the process, particularly with the pumping station, which is located in Bayou Bartholomew.
“In March 2016, right before we were about to begin construction on the boat lanes, there was an all-time record flood in that area,” Daniel said. “Several feet of water got into the lake bottom, and we had to drain it all over again. That set the construction start date back several months.
“Floodwater also impacted the pumping station and the old pump motor was damaged, requiring a new pump to be purchased and constructed on site. Despite such, all phases of construction were completed in late 2019, and we started the process of refilling the lake.
“And this year (2020), just as we were preparing to open the lake, water again got into the pumping station, causing us to cease pumping (which is necessary to refill the lake) and make preparations to remove the motor. Luckily, we ended up not having to take it out.”
Though there have been several challenges along the way, Daniel said he believes it will be worth the wait.
“When Bussey Brake reopens to the public, they are going to be excited,” Daniel said. “It won’t be anything they will recognize when they get out there. It will be like fishing a brand new lake again. In addition to the construction improvements, many fairly large trees have grown in the lake and it looks like beautiful fish habitat.”
The renovations are nearly all complete and LDWF is in the process of refilling the lake. LDWF plans to re-open the property to the public when the water levels reach the “management pool stage,” which is approximately 100 feet mean sea level (MSL). This will allow for safe boat launches and navigation, as well as the use of the newly installed fishing piers. The department will give ample notice to the public prior to the opening date.
When the lake is re-opened, fishing regulations will be different than the statewide regulations. The purpose of these regulations, which were announced at the February Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting, is to protect the young fishery from being overharvested, and ensure that the population has a chance to expand and flourish in the lake. Details about the regulations for the WMA:
-Bass will have a five-fish daily creel limit (state limit is 10). Anglers will be allowed to keep one bass over 16 inches long, but the rest will be limited to a 16-inch maximum length.
-Crappie will have a 25-fish daily creel limit, with a 10-inch minimum length.
-Bream (bluegill and red-ear sunfish) will have a 50-fish daily creel, with no size restrictions.
-Rod and reel will be the only fishing gear allowed at the WMA; no other types of gear, such as trot lines or nets, will be allowed.
Since it is a WMA, all the standard WMA regulations will apply. Visitors will have to check in and fill out a self-clearing permit at a kiosk before they visit the lake. (Please note that Bussey Brake is not currently listed as a selection on the WMA app. It will be added at a later date, when the app is updated.) In addition, visitors will need to ensure they are properly licensed. For more information about license and permit requirements, visit www.wlf.la.gov/page/wmarefugeconservation-area-licenses-and-permits.
Enhancements to Bussey Brake WMA
- Improved fisheries. LDWF began stocking the lake with fish in 2017 and will continue stocking it until the lake reaches its carrying capacity and the fish are reproducing on their own. Fish being stocked in the lake include largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and red-ear sunfish.
-Boat lanes. The Bussey Brake lake is full of stumps. The new boat lanes will guide boaters through a stump-free path, allowing for faster and safer navigation. “Before, there were never any marked lanes, so people just had to idle around slowly and carefully,” Daniel said. “But now, we have cut big wide lanes through the stump field, and have marked them so folks will be able to drive around safely and travel across the lake much quicker and safer than they could before.”
- A new mooring dock. This dock will be located next to the boat ramp, allowing people to tie off their boats while they park their vehicles.
-A new, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-accessible fishing pier. The two piers that were already in place will still be open to fishing as well.
-A wave break. The purpose of this large earth mound with a flat top is to protect the boat launch area. People will also be allowed to fish from the wave break.
-Improved lighting at the boat launch, fishing pier and mooring dock area.
-Improved parking. The parking lot is being expanded and improved with new gravel.
-Designated trail. The entire lake is surrounded by a ring levee. There will be an 8-mile trail atop the levee that surrounds the entire lake. Pedestrians, horses and bicycles will be allowed on the trail – but no motorized vehicles.
-Control structure improvements. Including general maintenance and new debris grates to keep logs out.
For more information about the Bussey Brake WMA, contact Ryan Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 318-343-4044.
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