Act of Providence

Editor's note: Anglers across the U.S. are buying fishing licenses in record numbers. Following is a story in our new series, Fishing America, representing a slice of American angling pursuits.

LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. — Pirates are linked to the naming of the oldest Louisiana city north of Natchitoches. And so is the town's main attraction.


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In the late 1700s, there was an infamous bend in the Mississippi River where a pirate named Bunch would ambush longboats transporting goods. If the traders happened to make it past Bunch's Bend without being robbed, or killed, they would say they "made it to Providence," invoking God's superintendence.

The trading community that also served as a starting point for many pioneers heading west was flooded and people moved Providence three times. Now located on Highway 65 and behind massive levees, the town takes the other part of its name from a picturesque oxbow there, ergo Lake Providence.

The pirates are long gone, but there's still ambushing in the fishing. Aged Cypress trees with knees sticking out from the water provide cover for fish and fisherman alike.

Cousins Blake Johnson, 14 and Lane Lewis, 13, who said they might as well be brothers, have fished it much of their young lives.

"Since we were able to walk, probably," Lewis said. "We come here almost every weekend."

Their great grandfather's house, which was passed down to their grandmother, is a stone's throw from the water. They take their poles and tackle box the short walk to Lake Providence's banks probably three or four times a week.

On a sunny summer afternoon, the two shared a Zebco 337 as Lewis forgot his rod and reel. They fished for white perch and crappie but wouldn't necessarily throw back anything else caught with their Gulp! minnow cast out past the knees with a bobber and no weight.

"We're getting nibbles but nothing sucked it down yet," said Lewis, noting they had only been there half an hour.

That made Johnson open his tackle box to change lures. He says he buys most lures, like rattletraps and soft plastics, at Wal-Mart, but gets live bait like minnows and crickets at a small shop right on the lake. Johnson also uses an Ugly Stik rod with an open-face reel he picked up across the state at the Bass Pro Shop in Shreveport.

He said he had recently returned from a trip to Mammoth Springs, Ark., where he fished 8 to 10 hours each day over five days and ate a bunch of baked trout.

"We went fly fishing for a week. We've been doing it for about three years now," he said.

Lewis tells of his most recent outing on Lake Providence. Pointing across the lake, he said cork and worms induced eight catfish into their creel, his largest being a six-pounder.

"When my dad's off work, we get out here on the boat," said Johnson, who added he's caught catfish as big as his cousin's and has a 7-pound bass to his credit. His big bass story is of a relative who pulled in a 16-pounder from an area pond.

With a huge lake full of game fish staring them in the face, both said they fish mostly for enjoyment — "it just depends on how much we have in freezer," Johnson said. "If we're going to fry fish, we'll keep them" — and both believe they will fish for life.