While the debate continues about the Atchafalaya Spillway’s 14-inch minimum-size bass limit, fishermen at the recent Anglers Against Autism tournament talked about abundance — and the action.

“Man, I’m excited. We caught lots of fish,” tournament veteran Don Hutchinson said, “And we caught them most all day. The Spillway is alive and well.”

Hutchinson teamed with rising-tournament angler Corey Wheat to win the 42-boat event (five bass, 15.04 pounds), and Wheat’s near 5-pound largemouth was the tournament’s big fish.

While any winner would be living large after collecting a first-place check, it was more than that for Hutchinson and Wheat.

“There were small spots in Grand Lake that held lots of fish,” Hutchinson said. “We caught 40 bass, and how many people would love to catch that many fish in a day much less in a tournament. We caught three keepers (14-inch-plus bass) early on Tony Landry’s Humdinger spinnerbaits, the gold blades with white (skirts), but there was a lot more than that. We caught fish on five different baits.”

Wheat said his tournament lunker came when he “punched a (Sweet) Beaver” — putting the soft-plastic lure on a heavy jig, usually one-ounce in weight — and using the weight to get the bait through heavily matted hydrilla or tightly bunched water hyacinth.

“We also used a jig later,” Wheat said. “The bigger fish came later in the morning and we culled the first fish we caught earlier. We improved (stringer weight) all day and we stayed in Grand Lake all day.”

Wheat’s last statement is big news: Grand Lake usually is a well-known early morning place that, by 9 a.m., when the sun gets over tops of cypress, tupelo gum and willow trees, sends the bass into hard-to-reach hiding places.

Not lately. Since the extra-high floodwaters exited the middle of the 60-mile long overflow swamp in late July, Grand Lake has run hot and cold, mostly hot, but when the action turned cold, bites were counted on one hand.

Mark and Blake Sylvester finished seventh in the same area and papa Mark said “keeper bass” were common.

“We caught fish on spinnerbait early then went to the worm, darker colors, green to pumpkin it didn’t seem to matter, because the fish were there all day,” Mark Sylvester said. “Our problem was we couldn’t get that one big fish. We caught lots of fish.”

Willie Couch II got into the act, too, farther south in the Atchafalaya system.

“We fished dead ends of The Wax,” Couch said. “We caught fish on spinnerbaits early, then the black-and-blue (Sweet) Beaver later. The big fish bite came later in the morning, but there were a lot of fish. It was a good day.”

Although the Lake Verret-Belle River area is left out of the minimum-size discussion, those waters have the same limitation, but Jacob Pourciau wasn’t complaining.

“We caught fish today, good fish,” he said. “We were using a pearl-black mid-range crankbait and went to a pumpkin-orange jig … good fish … good action.”