River watching is as big a part of freshwater and saltwater fishing in south-central and southeast Louisiana as gassing the boat, greasing the hubs on the boat’s trailer and removing the months-old line on fishing reels.

It’s late winter — the calendar marking spring’s first day is more than a month away — and folks around here are awaiting water from the Mississippi River’s northern drainage, and that’s a lot of water to move from dozens of states just to get to one place in Louisiana.

While there have been years when the Mississippi River gets darned close to flood stage here in late December, that hasn’t happened this year.

The National Weather Service’s chart updated Wednesday shows the river at 18.8 feet at Baton Rouge (a level overflowing into Old River oxbow north of Morganza) and hitting the 6-foot mark on the New Orleans gauge.

With frigid temperatures holding the snow and ice in the northern states, those respective levels are predicted to drop to 15.5 and 4.7 feet and go steady by March 12.

That’s key for Atchafalaya Basin freshwater action and the guys who begin to chase speckled trout and redfish — largemouth bass, too — near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

It could mean spawning bass and sac-a-lait will be available in the canals and bayous in the Atchafalaya Basin in March, an unusual situation because most times bass move with rising water and move farther back into the swamps and spawn and get fat in places fishermen can’t reach.

And lower Mississippi River levels mean speckled trout will be on the move from the interior marshes to the coastal waters and will find salinity levels more to their liking as they prepare for the spawn, which, depending on water temperatures and salinity levels, can begin as early as late April or early May.

That, too, can mean higher salinity levels in waters near the river’s delta and west into Barataria Bay, and that means higher shrimp numbers. In turn, that means all predator species will be moving with the shrimp, and that bounty likely will reach all the way into the Timbalier-Terrebonne waters.

The weekend

After Wednesday’s high north wind warnings, look for an onshore flow through the weekend after Friday’s 50 percent chance of rain.

While it might be a bit early, the 5-10 knot southeast winds and 1-foot or less waves east of the Mississippi River and out to Breton and Chandeleur sounds, it might be a good Saturday to check out the Chandeleur Islands chain for the big trout cruising those waters in late winter. What an adventure, but there are stories from our past about calm-water success on big trout this time of year.

The forecast for Lake Pontchartrain is the same for Saturday before 10-15 knot east winds push the forecast to 1-2 foot seas,

Along the Central Coast, look for south, then southeast, then east winds Friday through Sunday with 5-10 knots increasing to 10-15 knots by Sunday with 1-2 footers jumping to 2-4 footers during that span.

For the red snapper folks, Friday’s 1-2 foot waves will give way to 2-4footers by late Saturday into Sunday in state waters.

Conditions will be much worse Monday, and rain is predicted in here Tuesday and Wednesday.

Being in the midst of the annual low February tides, Wednesday’s north winds blew lots of water from the marshes across the coast. While south winds should push some water back into these areas, don’t expect tides to help, but this exchange of water should trigger some action.

Hot spots

Word from the Bayou Black area is that canals still producing sac-a-lait and bass. Finding clear water, or clearer water, is the key. Sac-a-lait continue to take black/chartreuse and chartreuse tubes under a cork, while bass are keying on darker colored “creature” baits and small black-and-blue jigs.

Had an inquiry about Lake Verret. Bass are the main target now, and not much to report in the way of catfish nor bluegill action. It’s early for those species, and catches of catfish and panfish usually don’t begin until the caterpillars show up in trees lining the banks of canals and bayous.

While willows and some oaks are budding, the action on bluegill and chinquapin usually isn’t hitting full stride until the pecan trees start showing their first leaves.

There are chinquapin showing up in the Bayou Black canals, too.

This week’s chill sent trout back into holes in the Sulphur Mine area west of Golden Meadow, and the canals and bayous in Cocodrie, Dulac and Four Point.

Louisiana’s Elite crew

Cliff Crochet was on top of the 110-angler field amidst the 20-degree morning and light snow blowing across Cherokee Lake near Knoxville, Tennessee, last Thursday. His five bass weighed 19 pounds, 7 ounces.

What happened the next two days owes as much to the vagaries of bass fishing as it does to competing against the top bass fishermen in the country.

The Pierre Part pro’s pattern faded as fast as the Tennessee weather changed, and he finished 44th after catching five more bass the next two days for a 32-14 total.

Gonzales’ Greg Hackney, a former Bassmaster Angler of the Year, came in with a 31-14 total and 47th place.

Louisiana began the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series with more anglers than any year of the previous 11 in top-drawer national bass circuit.

Brett Preuett, the Monroe man who qualified through the college tournaments then Central Opens, finished in the 50s. Then came three series rookies, Gerald Spohrer and Robbie Latuso of Gonzales and Youngsville’s Tyler Carriere were able to fish only the first two of the four-day tournament.

Indiana angler Jacob Wheeler won with 69-12, barely edging New Yorker Jamie Hartman (69-3) and Alabaman Jesse Wiggins (69-0).