The unmistakable tug of a heavy chinquapuin, followed by its distinctive long run right after it’s hooked, and its circular fight in a bid for freedom is what so many fishermen love about targeting that species of panfish.
Bill McCarty can’t wait for that to happen over and over and over again in one of the chinquapin fishing hotspots of south-central Louisiana. The action he’s counting on happens close to his hometown of Morgan City.
McCarty and dozens of other anglers can’t wait for the chinquapin run to get going at Flat Lake in the lower Spillway, also known as the Atchafalaya Basin. McCarty remembers fishing for chinquapin there when he was a kid and there was only one landing, Russo’s Boat Landing, which still is at the lower end of the lake off Louisiana 70.
McCarty, who owns WHM Services, LLC and serves on the St. Mary Parish School Board, believes the chinquapin bite happens no matter the Atchafalaya River stage in the Spillway.
“A lot of times people think they don’t bite when it’s above 4 feet at Morgan City,” McCarty said the first week of May. “I’ve caught when it’s at 6. I think it’s the time of the year, regardless what the level is and you definitely can’t catch them at home wishing the water level was down.”
Late May and the beginning of June is when it kicks off, he said. Sometimes the chinquapin are ganged up in the trees, sometimes in the grass beds, generally on the north side of the lake, he said. If they’re in the grass, fish openings in the grass or around the edges.
When the chinquapin run’s on, you’ll know.
“I wouldn’t say you can walk boat to boat,” McCarty said with a chuckle. “But sometimes there’s 10-12 boats on a weekend and you know they’ve started biting. There’s no doubt. You can tell.”
All you need is a small boat, cane poles or a spincast rig, a cork and a small weight (split shot) to keep the bait down and an anchor.
“I do like to bring an anchor with me. If I get into the spot, I like to ease the anchor down to hold the position. I seem to catch more fish doing that (than using the trolling motor to keep the boat positioned),” he said.
Generally, the chinquapin (also known as red-ear sunfish and shellcrackers) are 2- to 3-feet deep, often deeper than bream might be. He likes to tie on a PoppaChop and add a Crappie Nibble. While he prefers artificials, anglers can’t go wrong with worms, crickets and even grass shrimp.
Early morning hours are often more productive. The lake is calmer and, in the early summer the weather is cooler.
McCarty expects to catch anywhere from 25 to 50 chinquapin on a good trip. Some of them might be 12 ounces, 14 ounces, perhaps up to a pound — the kind you can filet instead of scale to clean.
If Flat Lake itself isn’t producing chinquapin, try some of the adjacent waterways, such as Bear Bayou, Bayou Cane or Grosbec Bayou, he recommended.
“Oh, it’s definitely a good time,” he said.
Panfishing like that has its rewards — ice chests full of tasty panfish — and its share of surprises, too. McCarty has a photo he took of his friend Dwight Barbier holding a sheepshead caught while fishing for chinqaupins in Flat Lake.
“I thought he had a world record chinquapin on for a minute,” McCarty said.