Bass photo

Denham Springs' Bryce Distefano came back from a day's competition in the Bayou Black area with a five-bass catch weighing 13.53 pounds to lead the 47 young anglers in last Sunday's Junior Southwest Bassmasters tournament. He also had the day's heaviest largemouth, a 4.56-pounder.

If you’re new to south Louisiana and to the freshwater fishing adventures within a 90-minute drive from the Baton Rouge, New Orleans or Lafayette areas, then here’s a little secret — IT’S SAC-A-LAIT TIME!

That’s not to diss on largemouth and spotted bass because you can find them too, but midwinter is the best time to get after both species (black and white) of what some folks call “white perch,” “papermouths,” or “calico bass.”

Around here it’s sac-a-lait — French for bag of milk — and when you see the beautiful white fillets you easily understand why our Acadian brothers and sisters so named this absolutely wonderful gamefish.

Reports started six weeks ago from the oxbow lakes off the Mississippi River (especially Old River) but when the Mighty Mississip begins to take Midwestern water, productivity from the oxbows drops.

So now, sac-a-lait chasers turn their attention to the abundance of lakes, canals, bayous and rivers from Lafayette east to the Pearl River.

The best news is coming from the Verret area and the Atchafalaya Basin, with the Tickfaw, Natalbany, Tchefuncte, Tangipahoa and the three Pearl Rivers (East, Middle and West) all fitting somewhere into this fish haul.

Here’s why: sac-a-lait begin to stage for their spawning time when water temperatures top 55 degrees. While spawning doesn’t happen until water gets into the upper-50s and low-60s, it’s this gathering of this species on their spawning beds that puts sac-a-lait fishermen on point.

When this happens, more times than not, sac-a-lait move from the depths into shallower water.

And shallower is a relative term here. In the southern parishes, that might mean moving from 6-8 foot depths into 1-3 feet. In a place like the deep-water Toledo Bend reservoir, it means moving from 40-60 feet of water to underwater humps in 8-12 foot depths.

Water clarity is a key here and so is sunlight.

While sac-a-lait are prone to finding dark places to hide — piers, in heavy cover brushpiles and thick vegetation — to feed, they’re like all sunfish and like to have sunny spawning places to warm fertilized eggs and continue the ages-old process of giving up more sac-a-lait to catch.

Another thing: while folks like Steve Fontana like to use shiners threaded on a gold Aberdeen hook and worked under a sliding cork, others like David Pizzolato, Leonard Kleinpeter and Blaine Salter wouldn’t consider using anything but a light jighead — anything between 1/16th-to 1/8-ounce and sometimes lighter — rigged with a tube, solid-body or minnow-like soft-plastic something to attract strikes. And while there are more soft-plastic colors than you can count on all your fingers and toes, the basics remain blue/white, black/chartreuse, pink/white and orange/brown. (It’s best to use orange/brown in place where there are small crawfish.)

Again, with days of sunlight, the water will warm and the urge to spawn will increase. And, if moon phases are important to you (and they should be) the next new moon is Feb. 11 and the next full moon is Feb. 27.

Fishing week

Winds and a return to more normal tides have put a little more water in the marshes, but not enough for anyone to feel safe from running aground anywhere in the coastal marshes from Theriot east to Lake Borgne.

Sunday’s rain will give way to three sunny days with the next rain due late Thursday and lingering into Friday. Barometric pressure will moderate Tuesday and stay relatively low into next Sunday.

For Mississippi River watchers, Saturday’s respective 15.6-foot and 5-foot reading at Baton Rouge and New Orleans will yield to water draining from the Midwest and projections have rises to respective readings of 19.4- and 5.4-foot by Wednesday. The long-term prediction for Baton Rouge is a crest at 24 feet Feb. 14 and a 19.6-foot level by Feb. 26 with a 7.8-foot crest and a 6.5-foot level at New Orleans on those same dates.

The Atchafalaya River at Morgan City was at 2.1 feet Friday and will rise this week, but stay below a 2.6-foot reading through the week.

For both rivers, that’s a far cry from the extra high water in three of the past four years.

What about bass?

We can take a clue from the Junior Southwest Bassmasters. The youth-based club always seems to pick the hot spot in the area, and last week opted to launch from Bob’s Bayou Black Marina in Gibson.

The extensive network of canals, marsh and bayous opens the door for bass anglers at this time of year, mostly because bass like the shallow water, the amount of forage and what usually is clearer and warmer water temperatures.

Club organizer Jim Breaux said 47 young anglers and their adult “guides” headed “north and south of the landing” on a cloudy and drizzly day.

The results were solid: 157 bass were weighed (all released alive), and Bryce Distefano led the way with a five-bass, 13.53-pound catch.

Of the 12 places listed in the three age-group and adult divisions, 11 had five-bass limits, and Breaux said there were “a lot of short (less than 12 inches long) bass caught.”

So the action is there and it’s gets better when tides pull water from the marshes.

Fishing grassbeds is the key, and spinnerbaits along with jerkbaits work well. Breaux added other anglers used bladed jigs, worms, creature baits including flukes” and some bass came by punching heavily matted grass.

  • There’s still some bass action over in the Lake St. Catherine-MRGO-Intracoastal Canal in eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard areas. Jerkbaits and weightless soft plastics work best in areas with grass. This is a similar situation to the Bayou Black area, but with two differences.

First is water levels and second is tidal influence. Water generally stays low during the winter because of predominately north winds and a lack of high tides. Tides continue to move water in and out and, as is the case of most coastal waters, moving water is more productive than “dead” water.

  • With rainfall at a minimum, the Florida Parishes rivers are attracting attention. Again, water movement is the key and fishing the lower ends of the Tickfaw (and the Natalbany) and Tchefuncte rivers, Bayou Lacombe and even the Blind River, is usually productive after water clears, the sun shines and the tide is falling. It’s a tough combination to match these factors, but afternoons generally are better than mornings in these spots.

Crab traps

Wildlife and Fisheries has canceled its annual derelict crab trap volunteer cleanup events this year. COVID-19 is to blame for ending a 16-year run on clearing waterways of traps.

The decision continues to leave removal plans with collections by agency staff and contractors.

The closure areas and dates include:

  • Pontchartrain Basin in an area west of Delacroix to the Mississippi River; Terrebonne Basin in an area west of Bayou Lafourche; and, in the Vermilion Basin in an area in East Cote Blanche Bay from midnight, Feb. 1 to 11:59 p.m., Feb. 14;
  • and, in the Pontchartrain Basin, in an area east of Delacroix to the MRGO, from midnight, Feb. 22 through 11:59 p.m., March 7.

The decision means only Wildlife and Fisheries personnel, or their designees, will be allowed to remove traps, and landowners must provide permission to access their property, and the removal can be done between one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. All abandoned traps removed during these dates must “...must be brought to LDWF designated disposal sites and may not be taken from the closed area.”

Need more? Call Peyton Cagle at (337) 491-2575/e-mail: pcagle@wlf.la.gov.