Sac-a-lait

Darren Chambers was extra excited when he rolled in this 2.6-pound sac-a-lait from Lake Verret a couple of weeks ago. It's not unusual for south Louisiana fishermen to catch sac-a-lait during the fall, but an 18-inch-long fish is worth bragging about, especially when most of the others taken during a morning on the lake are 10-12 inches long and push one pound. Cooler weather and cooler water temperatures are keys to catching this species from most all south Louisiana lakes, bayous and rivers from November through February, even when water levels are on a slow rise.

When Jim Looney talked about this time of year, and about sac-a-lait, he had a mysterious twinkle in his eyes and his speech pattern quickened.

Looney knew cooler temperatures and decreased sunlight were the keys to switch on the sac-a-lait bite in the Atchafalaya Spillway and the Verret Basin.

His was the most unusual tactic for catching what most freshwater anglers consider the best eating freshwater fish in Louisiana.

Looney didn’t vertically jig brushtops and stumps. He didn’t put a chartreause-and-black jig under a cork, nor did he use light line as is that custom to attract strikes from such a finicky fish.

Instead, he spooled 20-pound monofilament on a high-end spincast reel, tied on the jighead and usually a two-inch-long, solid-body, soft-plastic, minnow-like chartreuse-and-black lure and cast near heavy cover and along grassbeds.

The heavier line combined with a bendable gold hook on the jig made it possible for him to pull the bait free of any entanglement — which he did a lot considering where he was putting the bait.

Common, for him, was a 20-fish day, better at 30 and a write-home-about-it 40 sac-a-lait catch.

“Man, do they eat good,” he said after putting 10-, 11- or 12-inch sac-a-lait in the ice chest. “Can’t wait.”

For most dyed-in-the-wool sac-a-lait purists, cooler fall days are heaven sent. They know summer’s sunlight and high water temperatures drive sac-a-lait to depths — and into such heavy cover — that it’s near impossible to catch these buggars.

But when "real" fall arrives, the sun is lower in the sky, which means lower sunlight penetration into what usually is clearer water.

Cooler temperatures usually means cooler water, and sac-a-lait have a tendency to move into shallower water because that’s where the small shad and minnows are living. These baitfish don’t retreat to the depths like they do after the sun gets up in the sky during the summer.

And like all fish, it’s time to add extra calories to make it through the winter, and there’s ample numbers of small shad and minnows to lay a feast in front of feeding sac-a-lait.

Besides, it’s just much more comfortable to be outdoors now, even if it means adding a layer or two for the morning boat ride.

Looney’s method doesn’t work for everyone. It takes practice before learning the difference between a clump of grass touching the lure and what is a sac-a-lait strike. If it’s not for you, then vertical jigging or suspending the jig under a cork works to make another football Saturday fish fry. Or, you can try live shiners on a No. 4 gold hook under a cork.

Anyway you can, it’s time to enjoy a day hunting — and catching — sac-a-lait, and you’ll usually have enough to invite a few or your closest friends for a true Southern meal.

Sight-in day

Today, Sunday, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., is the final day for hunter sight-in days at the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office Firearms Training range at 999 West Irene Road in Zachary (it’s off U.S. 61). Range officers will fire all weapons, and weapons must “be in good working condition,” but no muzzleloaders, nor reloaded ammo, and it’s best to bring the ammo you’re going to use during the season.

Time change

Hope you set your clocks back one hour for the return to Central Standard Time.

Maurepas WMA closed

Flood waters inundating the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area forced Wildlife and Fisheries’ wildlife managers to close all 112,615 acres of the WMA to deer hunting.

This vast area has portions in Ascension, Livingston, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes south of Sorrento, and will be reopened when waters recede.

Commission meeting

Thursday’s agenda for the 9:30 a.m. Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting in Baton Rouge will reveal the winner of the 2020 Louisiana Duck Stamp competition.

Other items include establishing Queen Bess Island a refuge in an agreement with the State Land Office, an update on the recreational red snapper season, and a notice to “restrict oyster harvesting on four artificial reefs.”

If you can’t make the meeting, it’s available on Webinar.

Now, for lionfish

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is far and away leading the battle to remove nonnative lionfish from state and federal waters, and announced the results of its 2019 (the fourth annual) Lionfish Challenge.

Ken Ayers of Bay County was crowned Lionfish King after he took 1,194 lionfish to win the Recreational Division. John McCain was second at 983, and Shea Lowe was third with 942.

Joshua Livingston won the Commercial Division with 3,192.8 pounds of lionfish removed. The longest one brought in measured 433 millimeters — that’s more than 16 inches long — and the smallest was 37 millimeters, just under two inches long.

The totals: 23,451 lionfish removed by 349 registered fishermen. And, yes, there are lionfish living on the reefs off Louisiana’s coast.