As the Atchafalaya River stage began to drop to a fishable level the first week of July, bass anglers’ fever began to rise as they planned trips into the heart of the nation’s last great overflow swamp, the Atchafalaya Basin.

Many of them will focus on the east side of the river and fish a large area that includes, first and foremost, Grand Lake, West Fork Bayou, Middle Fork Bayou, Williams Canal, 21-Inch Canal, Bayou Mallet and Old River. Those perennial bass fishing hotspots, water conditions permitting, are within 20-25 minutes of Belle River Landing, according to Morgan City outdoorsman Bill McCarty, who has been fishing the area since he was old enough to get in a boat.

Of course, the river stage must be considered, McCarty said the first week of July. Generally, if it’s too high, many gamefish still are in the woods and swamps, mostly inaccessible to bass anglers, he said.

Grand Lake, with its cypress trees offering shade and cover to bass, baitfish and other food on the east side and the west side, Bayou Mallet, 21-Inch Canal and Williams Canal usually start producing when the river stage at Morgan City falls below 4.0 feet. Old River, Middle Fork and West Fork come into play when the Morgan City river stage is under 3.5 feet.

“It’s not a small area, by any stretch,” McCarty said. “But it offers so many good opportunities.”

McCarty, who owns WHM Services LLC, an oilfield-related company, and serves on the St. Mary Parish School Board, couldn’t wait to get his boat out of the shop and go fish those areas, particularly Grand Lake.

“Oh, man, those fish ain’t seen a bait in three months,” he said.

McCarty usually likes to start early in the morning casting around the cypress trees in Grand Lake with a 3/8-ounce white Humdinger spinnerbait or a chartreuse/black or shad-colored 100 series Bandit crank bait. He’s also partial to white Horny Toads and small chartreuse/white buzz baits.

When the sun gets over the horizon, he points the bow of his boat to concentrate his fishing efforts on the points of canals and drains that enter Grand Lake, fishing cypress trees and any grass beds that might be present with watermelon/red or june bug Zoom Brush Hogs. Also try a 7 ½-inch long red shad plastic worm under a ¼- or 3/16-ounce worm weight.

Frequently, when fishing with blue/white tube jigs for the huge, oft-hungry goggle-eye in Grand Lake, bass up to 3 pounds inhale the tube jig and give anglers a thrill, he said from experience. 

The spinnerbaits, crankbaits, plastic frogs and buzz baits also are effective in the early hours and overcast days in Williams Canal, Bayou Mallet and 21-Inch Canal, he said. 

After the sun gets high overhead, it’s time to start punching grass beds and bunched up hyacinths in the Old River, West Fork and Middle Fork areas, McCarty said. He likes to tie on a watermelon/red or june bug Missile Baits D-Bomb or a similarly colored Zoom Speed Craw under a ¾- to 1-ounce weight.

One key to getting bass to bite the business end of your fishing line during the dog days of summer, he said, it to look for moving water, especially in Old River, West Fork and Middle Fork.