Caddo Lake holds the record as the largest natural freshwater lake in the South and the largest Cypress forest in the world. This expansive lake covers more than 26,000 acres on the Texas and Louisiana border. Caddo gives the appearance of two waterways: open waters on the Louisiana side, and a primeval maze of jungle-like vegetation draped in Spanish moss on the Texas side. It has no horsepower limit, but limited depth and hazards on the Texas side argue for small boats and motors. The Louisiana side supports nearly any size of boat and motor.
The "birth" of the lake dates back several hundred years when a 100-mile log jam, known as the "Great Raft," caused the Red River to overflow its banks. Caddo Lake gets its name from the Caddo Indians who inhabited the area from the 16th century until they were driven from the area in the 19th century.
Navigation on the lake began around 1845 with the steamboat industry. Steamboat traffic increased until the gradual removal of the "Great Raft" on the Red River was completed in 1873, decreasing water levels each year. Fishermen discovered that the bottom of drained lake was full of freshwater mussels that produced beautiful freshwater pearls. The pearling industry came to an abrupt end when the first dam and navigation channel from Mooringsport, Louisiana to Jefferson, Texas were completed in 1914. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a modified Caddo Lake Dam from 1968 to 1971 for navigation, flood control, water supply, recreation, and commercial fishing.
Caddo is an internationally protected wetland under the RAMSAR treaty (signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971). This treaty provides for international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources. The Natural Resource Management Mission of the Army Corps of Engineers balances conservation of the lake's ecosystem with current and future public outdoor recreation. The Corps operates a day use recreation area below Caddo Lake Dam near the outlet channel. Bank fishing is permitted at the outlet channel and along the dam road. Lake waters flow over the dam into Twelve Mile Bayou; the Bayou has small boat ramps to access fishing and hunting areas.
Parks and Facilities
Caddo's Louisiana side is open and expansive with depths reaching 20 feet or more. The Caddo Parish Department of Parks and Recreation operates several parks on the lake. The Earl G. Williamson Park is a 40- acre facility with a public boat ramp, 450-foot fishing pier, paved parking areas, restrooms with showers, RV camper hook-ups, areas for tent camping, extensive picnic facilities, two playgrounds, volleyball nets, a lighted ball field, lighted tennis courts and a swimming area. A park ranger lives on the premises. The park also hosts annual events such as the "Get Hooked on Fishing Day" in June and the "Christmas on Caddo" fireworks each December. The Horace M. Downs Park, located near the dam, offers shaded picnic sites with tables and grills.
Boaters, landlubbers, and film makers alike are captivated by the Texas side of Caddo Lake with Spanish moss draping from ancient bald cypress trees. This side of the lake is a shallow and shadowy labyrinth of marked and unmarked waterways, bayous, sloughs, islands, and canals. The ancient cypress trees, 250 to 400 years old, filter out much of the sunlight. Much of the water's surface is covered in lily pads with white and yellow blooms.
Navigating the lake's Texas side can be confusing, so the State has marked 42 miles of "boat routes." Boaters should look for the wooden, creosote-covered poles with letters and arrows pointing to the boating lane. Following the arrows will help boaters avoid the massive stumps that lurk beneath the water -- the lake's depth averages just 4-5 feet. Flat-bottom boats, canoes, and pontoon boats are best for navigating through the Texas side. Alternatively, visitors may choose a pontoon or steamboat tour of the lake.
Fishing is excellent with 71 species of fish. Prominent species include largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, chain pickerel, white and yellow bass, and sunfish. Anglers have reeled in trophy-size largemouth bass, with March being the most productive month. Winter and early spring are the best times for crappie, white bass, and chain pickerel catches. The most productive time for channel catfish, blue catfish, flathead catfish, and sunfishes is late spring to early summer. Anglers can choose shore fishing, pier fishing, or boat fishing from their own boat or with a guide.
The 484-acre Caddo Lake State Park is located in Harrison County, Texas on Big Cypress Bayou, which feeds the lake. This park provides ample opportunity for outdoor enjoyment -- boating, swimming, hiking, picnicking, nature study, and fishing. Canoe rentals are available in the park; jon boats with motors are available for rent a few miles from the park; and pontoon boat tours are provided daily except on Wednesdays. For visitors who want to explore the area on foot, the park provides 1-1/2 miles of hiking trails and a 3/4 mile nature trail. Camping options range from basic campsites with water (no electric) to campsites with electric, sewer, and water hook-ups, plus screened shelters. Caddo Lake State Park also rents air-conditioned cabins that accommodate two to six visitors; two of the cabins are ADA accessible. The rustic stone and wood cabins were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930's. The refurbished cabins are popular, so advanced reservations are required. Visitors to the park headquarters will discover the rich history of the area, including tales of the Caddo Indians, the rise and fall of the steamboat era, pearl hunting from freshwater mussels during the late 1800's, and boat transportation of moonshine during Prohibition.
Wildlife viewing at Caddo Lake is extraordinary, and a boat provides the best way to see it. The park headquarters at provides visitors with viewing checklists for birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and vegetation. Visitors should also pick up a navigation map before venturing out onto the lake. Bird watchers report spotting about 240 species of birds. Land animals include white-tailed deer, raccoons, beavers, minks, nutrias, squirrels, armadillos, frogs, turtles, snakes, and alligators.
Whether your passion is boating, fishing, photography, wildlife viewing, or just plain sightseeing, Caddo Lake invites visitors to step back in time and explore the diverse natural wonders of the area.
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