It’s the time of year when river watching plays as much a part of freshwater fishing trips as getting the boat gassed up and checking oil in the reservoir and making sure trailer tires are properly inflated.

With all the precipitation hitting the ground in the vast Mississippi River drainage lands, the river has to be on the rise.

The good news is that the rise is not projected to stick around all that long. Wednesday’s river-stage forecast is for the river to crest at 24.3 feet Feb. 4 on the Baton Rouge gauge and 7.5 feet at New Orleans a day later. Current readings are 17.9 feet and 5.5 feet.

For the Atchafalaya, the Butte LaRose gauge was at 7.5 feet Wednesday — it was 3.35 feet at Morgan City — and come Monday the respective readings are projected to drop to 6.9 feet and 2.9 feet.

That’s terrific news for Atchafalaya Spillway fishermen: There’s nothing more difficult than fishing the country’s largest overflow swamp when the water is rising during the winter. The recent run on warm weather hasn’t helped, and most of the reports are that bass and sac-a-lait remain off the drop-offs in canals.

There’s not much action in the bayous, not this time of year, because the long-standing pattern for bass and sac-a-lait is they move into the canals to get ready for the spawn.

Hard to believe, this Jan. 19, to mention spawning rituals, but the winter hasn’t been all that cold and reported water temperatures from places like Bayou Pigeon, Bayou Mallet and canals off Bayou Long are in the upper 40s.

Factor in reports from the freshwater marshes south of U.S. 90, where water temps were found in the low 50s, and it’s easy to understand why these two highly sought-after species are in the pre-prespawn mode. (Sorry to throw in a new term, but prespawn would indicate bass and sac-a-lait are seeking spawning areas, which they are not, at least not yet.)

Most veteran anglers know it only takes a few degrees bump from the low 50s to get bass and sac-a-lait into full-blown prespawn activity.

Jigs-n-pigs, slowly worked vibrating jigs, big-bladed and slow-rolled spinnerbaits and a variety of soft-plastic creature baits are working on bass in the Atchafalaya Canals. For sac-a-lait, find clean water, maybe just “clearer” water and work black/chartreuse or blue/white tubes on jiggin’ poles off stumps near drop-offs.

That same tactic continues to produce sac-a-lait, chinquapin and some bluegills in the clearer-water canals south of Bayou Black Landing in Gibson.

Weekend warning

If you’re planning to head to the coast or stay in the marshes or the Atchafalaya or Verret basins, know Friday and Saturday will be the better weather days.

A low-pressure system moved into south Louisiana late Wednesday, and another stronger front is coming Sunday.

Expect 5-15 knot southwest winds Friday (5-10 east of the Mississippi River), and 10-20 knot southwest winds Saturday with sea conditions ramping up from less than one foot Friday to 1-2 footers in the eastern marshes and 3-6 footers along the Central Coast (and moderate-to-rough inshore conditions).

Lake Pontchartrain will have 5-10 knot southwest winds through Saturday.

Then Mother Nature is predicted to lower the boom: Expect westerly winds running 10-15 east of the river to 20-35 knots west of the river Sunday, when winds up to 40 knots and seas running 10-14 feet are in the offshore-waters forecast.

Rain is coming Saturday and look for lower temperatures beginning Sunday.

The good news is that the long-range forecast calls for sunny days Monday through next Friday.

On the east side

Anglers heading to Delacroix, Bayou Bienvenu, the Pontchartrain bridges, the MRGO and the nearby marshes should be aware of Wildlife and Fisheries’ order closure, effective Friday, of the inshore shrimp season throughout the Pontchartrain Basin.

So, if you’re looking for live shrimp, you could be out of luck. True, there are rules allowing for the taking of bait shrimp, but the closure comes when the state’s shrimp biologists find too many small shrimp in sampling work.

Anyway, there’s been enough action on a variety of soft plastics, and the best way is to rig them on a jighead that will take these lures to the bottom. The trick is to pick the just-right jighead weight to match the area you’re fishing.

The guys working the bridges have been using three-eighths to half-ounce jigs to look for trout in the 12-14 foot depths, while folks in the marshes and bayous are using mostly quarter-ounce jigs.

Most of the early morning action has been deep, but with tides rising in the afternoons and water warming a few degrees by 2 p.m., trout, redfish and largemouth bass have been moving up onto the flats to feed.

Central waters

Trout catches continue to show up in reports from Lafitte, Golden Meadow-Fourchon, Cocodrie and Theriot, but, it appears, there are two good days followed by two poor days and the common thread is the wind.

Trout and redfish appear to have an aversion to rapidly falling water levels. When water levels have remained stable, like the last several days, trout and redfish are working around oyster and shell beds and along canal and bayou banks where there’s moving water.

Let the water disappear, like it did on that last strong cold front, and the fish go into hibernation and don’t appear until 2-3 days after the front.

Live minnows are working in these locations.