The eastern boundary of Big Lake WMA is contiguous with a portion of the western boundary of Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Together, these areas form one of the largest remaining tracts of the vast bottomland hardwood forest that historically composed the lower Mississippi River floodplain from lower Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. LDWF purchased the area through the Rockefeller Fund in three components between 1983 and 1985 (9,833 acres in 1983, 4,888 acres in 1984, and 4,510 acres in 1985).
Big Lake WMA is flat with some ridges and generally poorly drained; terrain varies from 55 to 65 feet above sea level. The area floods seasonally, depending on water levels of the Tensas River, and periodically after heavy rainful. Abandoned and active mineral exploration and production sites, roadways, pipelines, and open water lakes, sloughs, and bayous provide diversity throughout the area’s terrain. There are seven small lakes and six small bayous, making up approximately 200 acres and 25 miles of waterways, respectively.
The forested area of Big Lake WMA consists of relatively closed overstory canopy with a fairly dense understory. Major tree species include nuttall, water, willow, and overcup oak; American and cedar elm; sweetgum; bitter pecan; honey locust; sugarberry; willow; sycamore; persimmon; red maple; box elder; and cypress. The understory includes rattan, Rubus sp., Crataegus sp., swamp dogwood, Vitis sp., deciduous holly, elderberry, Smilax sp., baccharis, switchcane, poison ivy, and many herbaceous species.
On all units except Bearskin, the terrain is basically flat, varying only 10 feet in elevation—85 to 95 feet above sea level. Most of the Bearskin unit is also flat, but elevation changes abruptly near the banks of the Boeuf River, from 70 to 100 feet above sea level. Roadways, pipelines, sloughs, and bayous provide some diversity throughout the area’s terrain.
Timber species on the various tracts include willow, water, and delta post oak; sweetgum; hackberry; sassafras; cedar and American elm; and pignut hickory. Bald cypress, green ash, bitter pecan, overcup oak, and black willow are found along small stream drainages. Principle understory and mid-story species include palmetto, rattan, greenbrier, trumpet creeper, poison ivy, peppervine, Japanese honeysuckle, hawthorn, deciduous holly, and swamp dogwood. LDWF has planted approximately 400 acres of agricultural land in hardwood trees.
Activities and Amenities
Hunting and trapping: The most popular game species on Big Lake WMA are white-tailed deer, squirrels, rabbits, and turkey. There are youth-only deer and turkey seasons. There are also limited waterfowl and woodcock hunting opportunities. See regulations for details.
Fishing and boating: Boat launches are available on most of the area’s lakes. Recreational fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, and catfish, crawfishing, and frogging are popular with area users. See regulations for details.
Camping: There are no public camping areas on Big Lake WMA; however, campsites are available to the public for a fee on adjacent private property.
Birding and wildlife viewing: Recognized by the American Bird Conservancy as an important site, Big Lake WMA is home to large numbers of passerine birds, and many neotropical bird species visit the area every year. Birders regularly observe bald eagles and osprey.
Big Lake WMA and Tensas National Wildlife Refuge are home to a thriving population of Louisiana black bear. Reported sightings are steadily increasing, and black bear research is ongoing in this entire area.
Hiking: The 1-mile Trusler Lake Hiking Trail is located on the interior of Big Lake WMA. Several walking trails follow pipeline rights-of-way.
Other: horseback riding, berry picking
The eastern boundary of Big Lake WMA is contiguous with a portion of the western boundary of Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.
Franklin, Tensas, Madison
Big Lake WMA is located 12 miles east of Gilbert. Major access routes include LA Hwy 4 and 610. LDWF maintains a system of all-weather gravel roads and numerous ATV trails that provide access to area users. There are four self-clearing permit stations at major entrances to the area.