It’s hot. No big secret there, not in August in Louisiana.
These “dog days” usually are unwelcome by most in most years. Youngsters dread school’s first days (a mood which usually disappears in a couple of days), college football fans are on the edges of their chairs waiting for the first kickoff, and fishermen are accustomed to biding their time waiting for the arrival of the first cool breezes.
Especially bass fishermen, because this is a time when bass, like people, don’t like the heat, and do all sorts of things to stay cool.
Not this year: dramatic falling levels in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers flipped the switch. Bass are turned on, the fishermen desperate after months of record high water are praying the run will continue.
“We must have caught 50 bass today,” Roger Hudnall said after weighing in a near 15-pound, five-bass catch Saturday to take fourth place in the annual Ascension Area Anglers Open bass tournament. Some 71 teams fished the fundraiser to help Louisiana’s two qualifiers for November’s B.A.S.S. Nation championship.
“Oh yeah, we fished the (Atchafalaya) Spillway,” Hudnall said. “The water is still high, but the fish are out.”
By “out,” Hudnall means the bass have moved from the deep-swamp habitat created by the volume of sheet-water overflow in the Atchafalaya. It’s a familiar term most Spillway fishermen use to tell buddies the bass finally are staging in lakes, bayous and canals of the country’s largest overflow swamp.
To narrow it down, Hudnall said he and Steve Gullato fished in Grand Lake.
Ascension Anglers veteran David Cavell said he and fishing partner Durwood Mauldin worked the Spillway’s three big lakes with the same action as Hudnall had, those being Flat Lake on the south end, the transitional Duck Lake and Grand Lake.
To note, all the Spillway landings are open. Larry Doiron Jr. said he opened the landing off the Spillway landing opposite his store/launch in Stephensville last week.
“The (Atchafalaya) river was so high for so long that we needed something to happen,” Doiron said. “You should have seen the sediment, the silt, left everywhere inside the levee.”
The Denham Springs-based Junior Southwest Bassmasters were on the water Saturday from Doiron’s and the youngsters’ catches set club records after setting out on a clear morning, then surviving a torrent of afternoon rain at the 3 p.m. weigh-in — 43 boats and 51 young anglers ranging in age from 7 to 18 weighed in 36 five-bass limits. Only one bass among the 244 weighed failed to survive the day.
Their catches mirrored AAA’s showing: most of the fish showing up at the scales averaged around two pounds, and it took a “kicker” fish to get the five-fish average up to three pounds.
Jordan Sylvester, in Junior SW’s 15-18 age group, had the heaviest among the 51 youngsters. His five-bass weighed 13.24 pounds and included a 4.15-pound largemouth.
AAA’s winners , Hunter Thibodeaux and Daniel Bryant, added a big fish to get their top 16.36-pound stringer to stand as the only 15-pound-plus catch of the day. They had AAA’s second-place 4.42-pounder to add $300 to their first-place $1,250 winnings.
Another parallel to the two tournaments was that the big-bass champs of the day didn’t finish “in the money.”
Evan Burris, fishing the Junior SW’s 11-14 age group, brought in the tournament lunker, a 4.74-pounder and didn’t place among the top three in his age group, while Andy David and Hunter David took AAA’s $500 big-bass pot with a 4.5-pounder, and couldn’t find a spot among the 14 places AAA paid.
Like the word around AAA’s weigh-in, Junior SW’s man-in-charge Jim Breaux reported, “Most of the fish were caught on spinnerbaits, vibrating jigs, frogs, flukes, crankbaits, worms and ‘caffeine’ shad.”
Flipping soft plastics into heavy cover seemed to be most productive from midmorning into the afternoon. Topwaters, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits worked in the early morning hours.
The redfish run continues in most places on the east and west sides of the Mississippi River — and trout catches remain solid, although 25-trout limits are rare — bass fishermen are leading the celebration of a falling Mississippi River after more than 10 months of rising water. (Yes, all this started back last October.)
Redfish are everywhere and are taking a variety of live and fresh baits.
In muddy water, it’s best to work soft plastics on a jighead and live bait under a cork. The reminder is that freshwater is less dense than saltwater and most areas east and west of the Mississippi continue to have a freshwater layer over clearer saltwater.
Finding the depth of the freshwater layer is a must, and fishermen should vary the depths of the baits under the corks to discover where the fish are lurking that day. Yes, this depth can change day to day depending on wind, current and tidal strength.
Finding baitfish and shrimp helps finding the right spot. Finding mixing water where there’s a distinct muddy water-clear water line is can’t miss.
Speckled trout often hang just under the muddy water layer — it’s still spawning season for this species and they need the saltwater for their eggs — while redfish are more freshwater tolerant and will rise through the muddy water to hit a topwater.
The down-river bass action in places east of Buras and down in the Venice area has picked up in the last 10 days. Bass are eating just about everything they can find in the runs east and west of the Mississippi, and the folks who’ve kept a couple of bass for supper — one guy said it’s only two from the 35 they caught last Thursday – talked about bass eating small crabs, shrimp, crawfish, small bluegills and other baitfish.
Spinnerbaits, even buzzbaits, in grassy, open-water areas, small crawfish- and crab-colored crankbaits and dark colors in worms and other soft plastics produced bass and some redfish.
The latest on the Mississippi River: at 29.11 feet Tuesday at Baton Rouge with a predicted fall to 18 feet by Sept. 3, and 10.88 feet Tuesday at New Orleans with a fall to 6 feet by Sept. 3.
Bass are just one calling card for fishermen when the Atchafalaya River falls.
Flat Lake chinquapin and sac-a-lait turned on last week. Both are hitting small crawfish-colored tube jigs. Blue/white jigs are another top color for sac-a-lait jigs, and nightcrawlers always are a favorite chinquapin bait.