Bayou State’s fishing second to none _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOE MACALUSO -- Jeff Bruhl with bass taken in August from the MRGO.

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection on all the good there is in Louisiana.

For fishermen, there’s no better time to consider, if only for a moment, what the waters of the Sportsman’s Paradise offer.

It’s a time to think about our brother and sister anglers up North, the guys and gals who are getting ready to pull shanties onto a frozen lake and get their ice-fishing tackle ready.

Ha! Take that you Yankees.

Not here: Louisiana fishing comes alive in the fall and early winter. Yes, you have to bundle against the cold, but not Arctic cold.

And barring a yet-unnamed tropical storm, freshwater, brackish-water and saltwater conditions should be ready to add another feather in our Sportsman’s Paradise hat.

For the freshwater folks, the celebration comes after months of waiting for the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to stop bringing floodwaters from our country’s heartland to our doorstep. The Atchafalaya Spillway yielded limits of bass, sac-a-lait, catfish and enough panfish to fill tables across the southern parishes well in late February before the rivers charged to unfishable levels.

There are also new venues like the Violet Canal and the nearby Mississippi River Gulf Outlet that have filled with bass during the past months. The remaining St. Bernard Parish marshes and Terrebonne Parish’s shallow-water estuary can provide anglers with bass and the bonus of tackle-busting redfish from respective launches in Delacroix and Theriot.

While that’s some good news, veterans always precede any predictions for fall action across south Louisiana with words like “barring a storm,” or “God willing, hurricanes stay away.”

None know that better than David Cavell and Jeff Bruhl. When it comes to talkin’ bass, these are two guys who go to the water and stay as long as they can. Here are their top fall and early winter spots, and more.

The Atchafalaya

Cavell, a guy known for his have-bass-will-travel mentality, is like thousands of other anglers who call the Atchafalaya Spillway home. Oh, Acadiana area folks call it “The Basin.

So far, after spending most of the past five months in other places because of the Atchafalaya’s high water, Cavell said he likes what he sees.

“It should be phenomenal. Just a few days after the water went down, guys are catching some big fish, and it should only get better,” Cavell said. “Maybe the best thing was the high water because it took a lot of heat off the place. There are still some fish back in the woods and when the level settles out we should see a lot of fish. And once hunting season starts, catches should be off the charts.”

Hunting season reduces fishing pressure that is so common in the spillway. Summer and early fall bring constant boat traffic that muddies banks along major bayous and canals to the point where bass and other species pull to deeper water to get away from muddy water and wave action.

Cavell picked the Bayou Pigeon area for his top Spillway fall and winter trips.

“It’s probably the most consistent area because there’s so many waters feeding it. It’s the heart of the entire Basin,” Cavell said, further explaining that places like Duck Lake south to Flat Lake and the upper Bayou Sorrel also hold lots of promise.

While Cavell said he always keeps a spinnerbait, a jig-and-pig and a soft-plastic “creature” bait tied to several rods, “my favorite for this time of year is a Bandit crankbait in chartreuse and black and shad colors. It the water is dingy, if it has a ‘tint’ to it, then the hot chocolate and khaki colors work real well, too.”

The ‘new’ spot

The MRGO is Bruhl’s new favorite spot, but he wonders aloud how long the bass action will last.

“For now, the bass are holding on the rocks,” Bruhl said, talking about the near boulder-sized limestone lining this waterway. “We’re catching them from the Michoud Slip down the rocks on the MRGO past Violet.”

Bruhl said he thinks the bass are there because of the dam blocking the MRGO south of Shell Beach, and the new flood-control wall erected in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“It could be because of the Pearl River is pumping so much freshwater over in that direction,” he said. “Look at places like Venetian Isles and there are bass in there, and Irish Bayou has bass living there for the last few years. Whatever it is, there’s more freshwater in there.”

And he expects the action to die off in the next months when the water cools and the bass move back into the marsh to feed on shrimp and baitfish.

For now, the rocks are holding bass, and all you need is a little wind or current to keep the bass biting.

“Basically, I throw an old Beetle Spin into the rocks or go with something weightless like a Senko, a fluke or Powerbait’s Jerk Shad,” Bruhl said. “And I suspect VuDu Shrimp will work when the shrimp start moving in.

“I’ve caught some 31/2- and 4-pounders from the Chef (Menteur) down into the MRGO during the last year, but they’re few and far between. Most of bass we catch are between 10-11 inches, but there are a lot of them.”

Venice, the Mississippi

Cavell makes no bones about his can’t-wait anticipation for fishing this area.

“With the (Mississippi) river down now, Venice has the potential of being the best fishery in the country,” he said. “Everything is set up right for it. If we dodge storms, there’s a lot of grass in the ponds, and as long as the habitat is there, there will be fish.”

A tactic, “flippin’ the canes” has become as much a part of Venice bass-fishing talk as what the term “hawg” is to describing a giant bass.

Cavell said it’s a must to master “flipping your favorite soft plastic into the stands of roseau cane” that line deep-water runs from ponds, canals and bayous south to larger bays on the east side of the Mississippi River.

Most anglers who’ve charted courses in that direction from Venice or Cypress Cove marinas know there’s a period after prolonged high water when the river needs to settle, when the flow decreased to a relative trickle in the “Father of Waters” and the color of the river changes from a muddy brown to a crystal green.

“When that happens, fishing goes off the charts,” Cavell said. “Places like the Camp Canal get down to the 2.5-3 foot level and that’s when this place is awesome.”

And his favorite lures?

“California Love (color) D-Bomb, a Delta Lure Buzzbait — I like a green blade with chartreuse and white skirt — and spinnerbaits and crankbait on the points,” Cavell said.

Then there’s the Pearl

There’s more to Bruhl’s love for the Pearl River than the river itself. He includes the rivers and bayous on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain for his fall and early winter fishing schedule.

“I like all these spots. From now until it gets real cold, fishing the mouths of these rivers gives me the chance to catch bass, redfish and (speckled) trout,” Bruhl said.

The Tchefuncte River, Bayou Lecombe and Bayou Liberty make up those places.

Yet, it’s the Pearl River that heightens his anticipation.

“From the (U.S. 90) bridge to the south, it’s possible to catch trout, reds and bass,” Bruhl said. “We’re starting to see that kind of action right now, and the best part is that you never know what’s going to happen. One day it’s trout, the next day bass and the next day it might be redfish, and there are days when there are combinations of any two or all three species.”

Bruhl said he likes the big Stanley spinnerbaits for bass, but “swimming a Matrix Shad on a lightweight jighead, or a light jig rigged with a swimming grub or working a VuDu Shrimp will catch fish.

“And, at times, all three species will bite the same lure,” he said. “It’s that good.”