Rushing photo

Connor Rushing, left, teamed with Matt White for a near 15-pound catch from the Atchafalaya Spillway to win the annual Fishing for Tucker benefit bass tournament held Saturday from Doiron's Landing in Stephensville. The 17-year-old Rushing then teamed with Alex Heintze to fish there Verret Basin to win Sunday's Media Bass-South Louisiana Team bass tournament. Fishing for Tucker emcee Lyle Johnson is in the background.

Too bad Connor Rushing isn’t old enough to buy a lottery ticket. Maybe his dad, Larry, can buy one and let his 17-year-old son hold it for a few minutes.

See, this young fisherman is on a roll, and, back-to-back, Saturday-and-Sunday bass tournament wins just about tells it all.

Connor teamed with Matt White to win Saturday’s annual Fishing for Tucker benefit tournament — the young man calls him “Mr. White” in keeping with a polite Southern tradition of referring to his elders — then came back Sunday to pair with old Junior Southwest Bassmasters friend (and early 20-somethings) Alex Heintze to take top money in the Media Bass-South Louisiana Team Division tournament.

Thing was the wins came on different waters being that Saturday he and Mr. White ran into the still-high Atchafalaya Spillway and Sunday the teams were limited to fishing the Verret Basin.

“We had two tournaments coming up and could only fish the Verret side in Media Bass. After scouting Verret I didn’t think we could find enough bass on the Verret side for two days,” Connor Rushing said.

That meant spending some time in the vast Atchafalaya, a place where, during the late winter into early spring bass tournament, hopes go to die.

Fishing for Tucker organizer Ryan Lavigne said only seven of the 106 boats entered opted to launch on the Spillway side from tournament headquarters at Doiron’s Landing in Stephensville.

“There was a rise in the Spillway earlier in the week, and I guess that scared away a lot of fishermen from going over there,” Lavigne said. “Still, somebody must have been catching fish, because we had 30 teams enter the morning of the tournament, and you don’t get that many unless somebody’s been catching fish.”

For Rushing, solving the Atchafalaya late-winter puzzle was simple — head west.

The western side of our country’s largest overflow swamp is broader and shallower than water on the east side. It's farther away from the Atchafalaya River and all the cold water pushing down from combination of the Mississippi River from the Old River Control Structure and the flow from the Red River.

“I ended up finding a couple of spots, but nothing special in the Spillway, but I knew if we picked it apart we could get a good bag,” Rushing said. (The term “good bag” has become part of bass fishing lingo for a heavyweight, five-fish limit.)

“I spent two days on the Verret side and had two tiny fish one day, and hit some spots that usually produces fish, so we decided to scout Jack Millers,” Rushing said. “We can run up there from Verret, and believed we could get 12-to-15 pounds from that spot.”

And the secret lure, the one producing a winning 14.85-pound “bag” Saturday — including a 4.25-pounder that came up one-one hundredth of a pound from placing in top three in big bass — and a 12.47-pound catch Sunday.

No need for all the drama here: “Sweet Beavers, Texas-rigged Beavers,” Rushing said. “We caught a couple on a jig, and tried shaky heads and Speed Craws, but those last two didn’t produce the size of fish we needed.”

Another wintertime key

If you looked on a map, you’d find Rushing and his partners ran to the western sides of both the Atchafalaya and Verret basins.

Luck, you say, that they could find enough fish while others in the field found, well, not as much.

Like beloved college football analyst Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Although young, Rushing and Heintze have learned at the feet of masters, and with all the resources available, internet websites, You Tube and the like, it’s easy to understand why so many young and dedicated anglers solved bass-fishing riddles while many among us, years ago, were, well, still wet behind the ears.

With the sun so deep in the southern sky, and land and water needing the early sun to break nighttime’s colder grips, it’s easy to understand what many of us took so long to realize — the western sides of any large system warms faster than waters on the eastern side.

That’s especially true with all the north-south water expanses we have in our state.

The west waters get more available sunshine, and the northwestern quadrant gets warmer than any other portion of a lake or large waterbody.

Rushing paid attention to surface temperature gauges and “We were catching fish in the spillway where (water temp) was 55 degrees,” he said. “A couple of other places where the surface (temp) was 54 and a little colder, we didn’t get the bites. Maybe it was just the area, but it made a difference.”

Lavigne, a die-hard bassin’ guy, said he learned early on that there’s a big difference in the way bass react to a lure in 50-degree water as opposed to 55-degree water.

“It only takes a few degrees to get the bass moving, and we haven’t had a very cold winter, so we’re getting close to the time when a slight change in water temperature will make a big difference in tournament fishing,” Lavigne said.

And the spawn

One of the reasons a lot of smaller fish showed up at the two tournaments’ scales just might be an indication that bass are full into prespawn mode.

Most bass fishermen know the smaller male bass move to the banks first to get spawning beds ready. Larger females hang off in deeper water.

“Our best spot was a little section where a slough ran into a canal,” Rushing said. “The point had big trees (which direct the sun’s heat into the water, too) and the canal was 10 feet deep. So, we focused on a drop-off off the bank in six feet of water. That’s where the bigger fish were.

“They’re definitely in prespawn when they move up like that. They’re staging,” Rushing said. “And it looks like in the next week or two the fish will be pulling up on the beds.”

Oh, these young kids. How fast they grow up, maybe too fast for the older fishermen.