Fishing Louisiana in winter has fans across the country.
There are few places that afford anglers the chance to take liberal limits of five redfish and 25 speckled trout — OK, 15 trout in the Calcasieu Lake area — and have chance to catch bass in the same area.
That holds for several spots along the coast: spots like Venice, the marshes south of Bayou Black and canals and bayous near Theriot, south of Houma.
Folks making the trek into the south Louisiana usually call home places locked up in snow and ice at this time of year and are accustomed to dealing with cold temperatures and cold water. Unlike us, they don’t shy away from water temperatures in the 40s, or from downright chilly mornings that keep us locals looking for a second cup of coffee and lurking near a warm fire.
With in-the-know coastal fishermen still able to find redfish and occasionally getting on a run of speckled trout, this string of cold fronts and north winds has pushed lots of water from the marshes. True, this week’s south winds refilled the marshes, but north winds return this week and trips to the marshes come with a caution against running up on mud flats, or finding shallow-water shell beds that make your next off-the-water trip a hunt for a new prop.
Those hazards also exist in freshwater locations — to a lesser extent than in the marshes — but still there’s the matter of dealing with water temperatures that have dipped well below 60 degrees, then finding a few bass and sac-a-lait willing to provide wintertime action.
Not too many years ago, Wayne Murray, a man who dedicated a lot of his free time to chasing bass around Louisiana and most of the southern states, shared his knowledge about cold water and its effect on south Louisiana largemouths.
Around the Capital City, that means heading to places with familiar names: places like Pierre Part, Bayou Pigeon, Belle River, Adam’s Landing, Doiron’s and Russo’s, with landings that launch trips into both sides of the Atchafalaya Basin’s East Guide Levee, a miles-long structure that made the basin our country’s largest overflow swamp.
That’s the Atchafalaya Spillway to the west and the Lake Verret Basin on the levee’s east side: “It’s the same kind of area,” Murray said.
He’s right. If you look at a Spillway map, find Old River and know that the East Guide Levee divided that flowing, wide river into Old River on the west and Belle River on the east.
Know, too, that Murray readily admits that he’s looking for a few “good fish” at this time of year, and he divides segments not according to time, say weeks and months, but according to water temperature changes.
“The most important device to have in your boat at this time of the year is a surface temp (temperature) indicator,” Murray said. “Second is a depth finder.”
Here’s how he attacks cold water temperatures and temperature changes:
62-65 DEGREES: “You can always catch a few fish on the bottom with a jig now. After a (cold) front, the fish are on the bottom and you should start searching out places where there’s cover, preferably stumps with deep water around them,” Murray said.
Tactics: Jig-n-pig around stumps in water 6-9 feet deep. Patience is the key. “One problem you have now is that you’ll notice fish will react differently in clear and muddy water. Fish in clear water — I mean where there is 6-10 inches of visibility — will be more active than fish in muddy water. But, you can still catch fish in both.”
55-62 DEGREES: “All the fish will be on the bottom whether it’s cloudy or there’s sunshine. It’s more comfortable for them there. Clearer water will warm faster than muddy water. This is the time when you’ll have to pay close attention to feel for the bait and watching the line. You may not feel the bite. The bait will feel “funny” or the line will move a little. Set the hook!” Murray said.
Tactics: Patience, Murray said. Fish won’t move far to take a bait. If you believe a fish is there, stay in the same spot and work the jig a dozen or so times around it. Murray said he’s worked a stump for 15 or 20 minutes before getting a strike.
“Water that’s 52-58 degrees is excellent for jig fishing in water 5-10 feet deep,” Murray said. “Newer canals have better ledges and drop-offs than older canals.”
BELOW 50 DEGREES: “I don’t care who you are, you’ll go out fishing under these conditions all day for two bites. “The one thing you have to be aware of is that you can have 48-degree water and after three days of sunshine, you might get a 3 or 4 degree rise,” Murray said.