If you keep your ears and eyes on the fishing reports coming from the Atchafalaya Basin, then you know folks are catching bass.
It’s been a long time coming this year. This year’s spring floods have been high, but nine of every 10 years the water between the East and West Guide levees is high, and usually unfishable. It’s because the Atchafalaya takes in about 30 percent of the waters coming down the Mississippi River and the entire flow of the Red River, and if you check a map, that’s millions upon millions of drained acres from our country’s heartland.
And this year, the floods have lingered long into the summer, and kept most fishermen, those chasing bass, bluegill, sac-a-lait and catfish, looking for action in other places like the Verret Basin, Lac Des Allemands, the runs and ponds near the mouth of the Mississippi River and the marshes south of U.S. 90.
But, hey, it’s August and Basin fish are supposed to be biting.
But where? And when? And how? The “where” is most important to know before setting out into our country’s largest overflow swamp.
“The Verret area been a big factor since January when the (Atchafalaya) water began rising,” veteran David Cavell said Tuesday. “But, all of a sudden, the water gets hot over there and we get an algae bloom, and the big action in Verret is over for a while.
“Now the Spillway is getting bulk of the pressure,” Cavell said.
Aside: It should be noted that most folks living east of the Atchafalaya call this area the “Spillway,” while westsiders, folks living in Acadiana, call it “The Basin.”
“We’re finding better (fishing) habitat, sure, but, this year, we’re dealing with a lot of bad water just because of the height and duration of the spring flood,” Cavell said.
“Bad water” is black, clear water, water void of dissolved oxygen because floods leave most water in the nutrient-rich backwaters in Atchafalaya Basin. The detritus, leaves and branches and other organic material on the swamp’s floor, want to decay and that process takes oxygen, and that strips dissolved oxygen from the water leaving little to support aquatic life.
“It was bad in the heart of the Spillway, in the (bayou) Long and Pigeon areas,” Cavell said. “These areas are the No. 1 players in the Spillway and the water just sat there.”
“We’re finally starting to see water levels fall between the banks, and that will help because the currents in the major bayous and canals will help flush the bad water out,” he said.
While that flushing process has taken longer than usual, the reports are that five-bass tournament limits have been common during the past two weeks. Virtually all the top 30 teams competing in the recent Fishers of Men team tournament brought in five fish, and Cavell said there were “good stringers,” a bass-tournament term for a 3-pound average and something better than a 15-pound total.
The “where” is any place where you can find a clearish-green color to the water. It’s an indication dissolved oxygen is high, but don’t let muddy water scare you off, because, in this place, turbid water usually means the water is carrying oxygen, too.
Then there’s the "when": The old rule of thumb for catching Spillway bass is to head to the larger lakes — Grand Lake, Duck Lake and the Charenton area — in the morning, then to the bayous and canals around 10 a.m.
Because the Basin, especially the lower reaches, are affected by daily tides, old-timers have said for years that most days the afternoon action is the best because the tides start pulling water out and bass begin feeding on falling water.
The “what” is usually whatever is your favorite lure. Buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, frogs and a handful of small topwater plugs are best for mornings. White and chartreuse are usually the best colors, but there have been times when a school-bus yellow or an all-black buzzbait has sent anglers back to the tackle shop looking for more of them. And pink-and-white and blue-and-white color combinations have been known to work in muddy water.
After the sun gets up, and with all the matted vegetation in the Atchafalaya, a “punching” presentation has legs. It means using a one ounce or heavier jighead with a soft-plastic something (mostly a crawfish imitation) for a trailer and punching the lure into grass beds or hyacinth mats to find bass lurking in this cover.
Black-and-blue jigs-n-pigs have long been a favorite around stumps, logs and laydowns, as are a number of soft-plastic creature baits, like the Sweet Beavers, D-Bombs, Speed Craws and a variety of Berkley’s Havoc lures, around this same structure.
A ‘help’ tournament
The Ascension Area Anglers are at it again, and are trying to help their fellow anglers, the guys who’ve qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation’s national championship.
The AAA Open is set for Aug. 19 out of Doiron’s Landing.
Cavell, who benefitted from the proceeds when he was one of two Louisiana qualifiers for the nationals last year, is heading up the two-angler team-only event. There’s a $100 entry fee, which, Cavell said, includes a $500 big-bass guarantee. The big rule here is there’s no fishing south of U.S. 90, which means the Verret and Atchafalaya basins are the main fishing areas.
“We pay most of the entry fee back to the fishermen,” Cavell said. “We get the ‘big money’ from the raffle, and there are prizes like a two-day bucks-and-ducks guided trip to Holly Grove in Arkansas, a Motor Guide trolling motor, stainless steel props and lots of rods and reels.”
Cavell said the money raised helps the local guys defray the cost of competing in the nationals, and those fund will be spread thinner this year.
That’s because Louisiana has five anglers qualified this year, among them the defending champion Ryan Lavigne, who blew away the national’s field last year on Lake Conroe thereby moving him into this year’s Bassmaster Classic field.
“Because our (Louisiana) participation level in our state events reached a certain level, we were one of three states to get extra qualifiers for the nationals,” Cavell said. “Ryan is in this year’s field as the defending champion, and we have four more qualifiers, two in Boater (division) and two in Nonboater (division).”
Noted here is Lavigne won as a Nonboater, which means qualified anglers will fish with another Boater qualifier.
Louisiana’s two Boater qualfiers are Jamie Laiche and Caleb Sumrall, and the Nonboaters are Neal Normand and Kevin Simon.
“It’s going to be more expensive to go to nationals this years, because it’s in South Carolina,” Cavell said. “You’re there for a week, and it’s a longer drive this year than it was going to Conroe last year, and, thankfully, we had a free place to stay last year.
“That’s not the case this year, and that’s why we want to help our guys as much as possible this year,” he said.
For details, and to enter, call Cavell at (225) 937-0046, or Lavigne at (225) 921-9332, or Sumrall at (337) 380-2887.
Along the coast
Rough conditions in the Grand Isle are and across the Central Coast cut into the speckled trout action during the last week.
While there were some trout and redfish taken in the Grand Isle and Grand Terre surf, mostly around the protected sides of rock jetties, the conditions steered fishermen into the more protected interior bays where there was more action, but on smaller fish.
Live shrimp under cork got the most strikes, and trout and redfish were rising on topwater lures.
East of the Mississippi River, live shrimp ruled, too, but, like most coastal waters, thunderstorms plagued morning trips, and made it an iffy proposition to get what were productive platforms in Lake Borgne and the Breton and Chandeleur areas.
Storms, again, are in this weekend’s forecast.
And, with catches falling below predicted levels, offshore folks can look forward to another weekend season for red snapper.