Saca-a-lait

Blaine Salter, left, and David Pizzalato show off their four largest sac-a-lait, all of them weighing more than 2 pounds each, from a trip to Old River last week. Reports from across south Louisiana's freshwater spots are that sac-a-lait are in their usual fall feeding binge.

We interrupt elections, a now notorious hurricane season, a pandemic, riots, forest fires and whatever else is ailing and afflicting our great country to bring you this news — sac-a-lait are biting.

And, while Blaine Salter and David Pizzalato were hammering big 'uns at Old River — the oxbow lake near Morganza — the news on this prized panfish is good from all corners of our state, especially in southeast Louisiana.

“Words can hardly describe the size of the sac-a-lait Old River is producing. The big fish are beefing up, and if catching a 2-pounder is what gets you excited for the next month, then that’s the place to be,” Salter said.

And it’d best be in the next month because as soon at the Mississippi River hits 15 feet on the Baton Rouge gauge, the river begins to flow into Old River and the sac-a-lait bite wanes.

If making a trip to the upper reaches of Pointe Coupee Parish and to Old River, then know the Verret and Atchafalaya basins along with the Tickfaw, Tangipahoa and Tchefuncte rivers are producing some solid sac-a-lait stringers, too.

For those last five places, catching enough sac-a-lait for dinner is nothing more than finding your favorite color tube or solid-body jig (certainly nothing longer than two inches), threading it on a 1/16-ounce jighead and setting it 12-24 inches under a cork. Then you find the structure, something like a downed tree, an off-the-bank grassbed, the outer edge of an off-the-bank cypress tree or a pier and have at it.

Ah, but Old River is a different animal.

“The fish are holding in deeper winter month patterns, 12- to 16-foot deep on boat docks,” Salter said. “But they will move into the trees to feed in 3-6 foot deep areas especially in the Mondieu Lake area on the Ball Park side (that’s the right side of the lake as you make a left turn to enter the lake).

“Fish the trees there and work a jig 2-4 feet under a cork and that will produce catches.”

Salter, who learned a lot of his sac-a-lait tricks from his legendary sac-a-lait catching and jig pole making dad, J.B. Salter.

And what J.B. (God rest his soul!) didn’t teach him, Pizzalato did. Pizzalato has snatched sac-a-lait for decades from the most fabled sac-a-lait holes in our state.

Still, this young (well, not so young anymore) pup has taught the old dogs some new tricks.

“Livescoping is changing the sport,” Salter said referring to the new sonar-imaging equipment on today's high-tech fishing market.

“It’s a great tool to learn what the fish are actually doing,” he said. “In the Willow Point-Mondieu Lake area, large schools of sac-a-lait are on the move. They move into the trees to feed and then back into the lake several times throughout the day.

“Livescope is not needed to be successful, but you need to move often and fish thoroughly until you find them and then have the net ready.”

After launching from Old River Landing, the first launch after crossing the Morganza Spillway bridge, Salter said he and Pizzalato fished along the deep ends of deep piers along the levee side of the oxbow until they reached Hopkin’s Landing near the Innis end.

Here are his other tips:

  • Tube jigs in blue/white or baby shad colors produced more fish.
  • Wind is a factor, too so “go to a heavier jighead/bait so your wind slack doesn’t the effect of how the bait is working.
  • “Most times a sac-a-lait will not hit a moving or swimming jig, at least not the day we fished (last Sunday),” Salter said. “The lure had to be fished vertically straight up 6-8 inches and stop when we were fishing without a cork. Slowly let it fall watching for slack. The bigger fish were holding 12-14 feet down.”
  • Sunlight penetration makes a difference. When the angle of the sun is low in early morning or late afternoon, the sac-a-lait tend to move up in the water column. Shade is important, too. If fishing when the sun is high, work at the edges of the shadows piers create.

So, how successful was their day.

“You might have to stay all day to catch a limit (five per angler per day), but that’s a lot of fish,” Salter said. “We went after big sac-a-lait and we had four between 2 pounds and 2.3 pounds, and we finished our top five was finished with a 1.97-pounder. That was a great day.”

Except that, as Salter admitted, “We lost two at the boat that were bigger than those 2-pounders.”

The commission

News from Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting was most on the seven-person panel rejected the notice to push menhaden boats out to a mile off the beaches.

Recreational fishermen complained these “pogey boats” pushed as close as 200 yards off the beaches this year to take this valuable forage fish and left dead fish in their wakes.

Several commission members, notably Joe McPherson and Jerri Smitko, challenged the move and the issues brought by recreational anglers.

Like the redfish and gill net issues decades ago, this is the first shot at getting more restrictive regulations for this commercial industry when it comes to taking tons of this important forage base from Louisiana waters.

Waterfowl?

It’s no secret that ducks, mostly teal, gray ducks and pintails, have been seen in the marshes, rice fields and crawfish ponds after the past two cold fronts.

And we won’t know what the youth and military veterans found on their special weekend hunts in the Coastal and West waterfowl zones until this week.

This week, too, State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds and staff will fly the coastal areas, Catahoula Lake and spots in the northern parishes to give us a handle on what the migration looks like for the first split of yet another 60-day season.

What will be more important is what the five tropical systems did to the waterfowl habitat.

It’s one thing to have water, and we’ve got lots of that, but it’s another vitally important thing to have the food — the submerged aquatic vegetation — to hold ducks here.

Now, with warmer temperatures up north, it’s likely the migration has stopped for a few days, so what’s here is what the hunters will find for Saturday’s opening day in the Coastal and West zones.

The same is true for geese. Opening day is Saturday for those two zones, too.

A reminder for hunters: to be “legal” you must have a basic hunting license, federal and state waterfowl stamps and HIP certification if you’re 16 or older. Anyone holding a state lifetime hunting license is exempt from having a state waterfowl stamp.

An extension

Commercial fishermen seeking assistance caused by hurricanes Laura and Delta — there’s $14.6 million in CARES Act money — have had the application deadline pushed from Oct. 26 to 11:59 p.m. Nov. 23.

Fishermen can all the Wildlife and Fisheries’ Program Development at (225) 765-3980 or (855) 262-1764 for more information.