BELLE RIVER It was a gathering of old men, and because they’re old anglers, too, it was difficult to tell fact from fiction.

It put truth into what Ed Zern of “Field & Stream” penned years ago in his “Exit Laughing” column that said, “Fishermen are born honest, but they get over it.”

Yes, when you get 60 fishermen together, there will be lies — OK, so let’s be nice and mean that to be varying shades of the truth — but there was never a doubt that even on one of the tougher spring days Mother Nature could hand a bass fishermen, these guys still can catch fish, in this case largemouth bass. North winds and rising barometric pressure change a bass’ feeding pattern and make it difficult to “pattern” the fish.

The annual Seniors Bass Tournament, a brainstorm for the 55-and-older set that struck local and longtime bass fishermen and friends Wayne Tucker and Dub Noel, some 10 years ago, attracted 60 old-timers to the Verret Basin for a morning-only, fishing get-together Friday.

Tony Latino, at 89, is the oldest and has been for years. He’s fished every one of ’em. So has “Popeye” Nugent. He’s 86 and within days of 87. The youngest and newest member was New Roads’ Brad Buoy, who at 55, was named “Rookie of the Year.” Buoy was in his teens when he won his first big tournament on his home waters, False River. By that time, Latino and Nugent had cashed a dozen or more bass-tournament checks.

“I wouldn’t miss this,” Latino said. “I still like to fish and have fished against a lot of the guys here for many years. Why stop now?”

Nugent said he loves to see Latino every year, if only to needle him about the time, back in the middle 1970s when “Tony and I drew out together in a tournament in the (Atchafalaya) Spillway. Tony was catching fish on a (plastic) worm and he was putting it on me pretty good, and I asked him if the bass bit anything else, and he told me ‘maybe a crankbait’ so I tied one on and caught up with him pretty quick. I don’t think he talked to me for the next year.”

It must be noted that Latino taught dozens of bass fishermen the finer points of how to fish what was a relatively new lure, the plastic worm. But very few were able to do what Nugent did when fishing from the back of the boat.

Friday’s tournament was not that kind of a deal: It was a pick-your-partner with the option of fishing alone, with options to launch from any landing and fish in the Verret Basin or the Spillway as long as anglers don’t venture south of U.S. 90.

“We want to fish in the spring, when it’s not hot, and we want to be finished by noon. We have a three-fish limit, and we could go later, but this is not something we want from before the sun rises to sunset,” Tucker said.

“We come back, weigh fish, tell stories, eat lunch and have a good time. We’ve known so many of the guys for so long, it’s more of a reunion than a competitive bass tournament.”

But there was competition, and Jesse Gill and Mark Burns showed up at the Belle River Public Landing with 8.15 pounds to take top money. Yes, there is an entry fee and there’s 100 percent payback. Paying one place for every five entries meant 12 payed-out places and two spots for the heaviest bass. The Gill-Burns team finished second in big bass (4.17 pounds) behind brothers John and Mike Martone and their 4.56-pounder.

In keeping with a long-standing ritual, answers to the questions about “Where?” was “in the water,” but a little arm twisting, and the inability to keep a secret led to the big stringer and the big bass coming from the Crackerhead Canal system on the east side of Lake Verret.

And all indications about the lures producing these bass went straight to a swim-jig and a soft-plastic swimbait, lures that imitate shad and other small baitfish.

Other anglers reported catching small bass throughout the morning, mostly on spinnerbaits and soft-plastic crawfish imitations.

The rest of the story

James Edwards was in the Seniors’ field, but he was wishing he could target another species.

“The catfish are biting in Lake Verret,” Edwards said, telling of catches of 40-, 50- and 60-a-day channel catfish feeding virtually throughout Verret Basin waters south of Pierre Part.

“They’re going crazy,” Edwards said. “They’re all over the place.”

This feeding frenzy coincides with the spawn for carp and garfish, and apparently the catfish are ganging up to feed on those eggs.

It was also evident from report that goggle-eye and bluegill are ready to take crickets in the Stephensville area, around Four-Mile Bayou and Bayou Magazille.