There’s nothing like a game plan that works.
Like ball sports, a fishing plan comes after long hours spent in practice. Experience is a factor, too — a big factor.
So when Steve Fontana put all the variables together — the water, summertime’s heat and years of being on the water pursuing largemouth bass in the Verret Basin trying to match the feeding patterns of that sometimes-elusive species — he came up with a strategy, and a couple of tactics, for last weekend’s Fishers of Men Team tournament in the circuit’s South Louisiana Division.
That tournament’s angler had the option, from Adam’s Landing on La. 70, to launch into Belle River or pull across the Atchafalaya Basin’s East Guide Levee to work the vast waters of the Atchafalaya Spillway.
Fontana and longtime fishing buddy, Ray Knapp, chose Belle River before heading to his favorite spots in the Stephensville area.
Hours later, he and Knapp brought in the customary five-bass limit and won with a 14.76-pound catch, a near 3-pound average that usually assures a top finish.
“We should have had more (weight),” Fontana said earlier this week. “I was worried because I lost a 5-pounder and thought that would hurt, but it didn’t.”
Fontana is one of a few dedicated bass tournament anglers who doesn’t mind sharing information. Maybe that’s because there are darned few summertime “money” tournaments remaining in south Louisiana waters.
Or maybe because the successful tactics he used will disappear in the next weeks.
“I’m still doing the same thing I’ve done for the last couple of years,” he said. “I’ve changed a couple of things, like the spinnerbait I’m throwing, but I’m still pitching around (water) hyacinths and looking for the fish feeding on shad.
Right now, in the midst of summertime’s swelter, shad are the key. It’s the main forage for largemouths, and knowing the whys and wherefores of the schools of shad in the Belle River-Stephensville area (it includes the Intracoastal Canal on that side of the levee) is key.
“Shad are moving in the shallows early in the day. They’re up close to the banks,” Fontanta said.
And that location means they’re close to the rafts of hyacinths that line the banks of the river and adjacent canals.
“You have to get to the bass early,” Fontana said. “As the water warms up, the shad move back to deep water, and the bass follow them ... and the bass get harder to find and catch.”
If you’re going to try to imitate Fontana’s approach, then know, too, that experience has told him that this pattern will last only into the middle of July, if that long.
“After that, after the water gets too warm, the bass will move back out in the channel, back to where the water is moving, and after that the bass will move into the deep holes,” Fontana said. “The bass will still continue to feed in the deep holes, but that’s when cranking begins. You need to work deep-running crankbaits.”
That’s when a depth finder becomes a valuable tool. Finding the depths in Belle River is only as difficult as the time an angler is wishing to spend looking for them. Points lead to deep water and it’s fairly easy to find the river’s old “cut” banks with deeper waters.
It’s not that bass will remain in the deep holes throughout the day. There are periods when largemouths will move with shad, small bluegills (another favorite summertime forage) and other food like frogs and other critters, even snakes. It’s just that those foraging forays will be brief and confined to the times when rainfall cools the water or cloud cover allows for predators like bass to ambush food.
For now, Fontana is sticking with the spinnerbait, a double spinner with a near clear skirt known as “glimmer blue.” For whatever reason there is in Cajun Country waters, chartreuse is a must in artificial baits.
“And I’m using a big swimbait in there now, too,” Fontana said. “I’m talking about big because the bass are feeding on big shad right now, shad 6-7 inches long.”
His choice? “A Yum Money Minnow,” he said.
Earlier in the spring, he was casting a 3.5-inch bait, but Fontana said the bigger, tournament bass wanted a bigger lure. So he went to the 6.5-inch model, used the customary weighted hook, then added a “keeper” hook as a trailer.
“It’s a big swimbait,” Fontana said. “I’m not letting it sink ... running it in the same places where I’m using the spinnerbait. Maybe later I’ll let it sink in the deep holes, but not now. We’re seeing all the fish strike the baits we’re using, and that means they continue to want to see the bait near the surface in shallower water where the shad are schooling.”
For the holiday
Heading to the coast? Then know most of the trout you’re going to find will run 13-15 inches in the southern reaches of the bays and along the beaches.
There are few spots reporting heavier trout: Try platforms in deeper water off the Central Coast, in the Lake Borgne and Breton and Chandeleur sounds, the new reefs in old Pickets area and off the first shoal in the Ship Shoal area.
Larger trout had been holding along the beaches in the first hour of the morning, but seem to leave for deeper water when the sun clears the eastern horizon.
The weather forecast is solid with the prediction of high pressure building over the southern parishes through Monday with a slight chance of the return of thunderstorms late Sunday.
Look for Thursday’s light east winds to shift to the west, then the southwest with nearshore seas running one foot or less with 1-2 footers in the open Gulf waters, and 1-3 footers offshore.
Lake Pontchartrain’s forecast is for 5-10 knot southwest winds with less than 1-foot waves.
Expect morning lows in the mid-70s and afternoon highs in the low-90s.
The Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers are falling, but a slight rise over the weekend will push the Mississippi from 17.9 to 18.7 readings at Baton Rouge and back up to a 5.6-foot reading at New Orleans.
Note about Sunday
Sunday Outdoors in Advocate Sports will move from the back page to an inside page beginning Sunday, July 3.