The Pipeline Canal was completely impassable.
And with that, Patrick Engerran immediately resorted to Plan B.
“I was hoping we’d get to fish the School Board this morning,” he said as he spotted a few other boats in front of us turning around. “In four years fishing here, I’ve never seen it completely blocked like this.”
Engerran and I were fishing Bayou Black, the real happiest place on earth.
“We can still get to the School Board,” he said, “but it’s going to be a 40- or 50-mile run now, rather than 9.”
Even though it was a brutally hot morning, and it would have been nice to have his 250-horsepower air conditioner running for an extended period, Engerran decided we would just fish our way there.
He pointed his boat toward a nondescript bank in the Lower Copasaw and picked up a 7-foot, 6-inch flipping stick rigged with 65-pound braided line and a Texas-rigged craw.
The craw was a green pumpkin magic Toups’ Tackle Mighty Mudbug, which is no longer in production. As we would find out later, this particular color would be ridiculously productive. (Since it’s no longer available, Engerran said the next best bait is the Missile Baits D Bomb in Cali love color.)
Before I could even pick up my rod, Engerran was already slinging bass into the boat one after the other, and I soon found myself on the short end of a 10 to 2 count. The only difference between what we were doing was that he was flipping his Mighty Mudbug, while I stuck with a ½-ounce jig and crawfish trailer.
I accused him of front-ending me, but I knew there was no way he was hitting every target along that bank. I was paying close attention to where he didn’t fish so I could put my jig on those spots.
Engerran tried to be a gracious host, so he pointed out what he thought I might be doing wrong.
“I’ve been flipping back into the cover, but you’re staying out on the edge,” he said. “The water is moving, but it’s slow. I don’t think they’re out here on the edge where you’re pitching. They might move out there if it starts moving faster, but right now they’re back in the cover a little bit.”
At that point, we had no clue that the difference might have actually been the bait.
Each spot we fished as we made the long way around and up Turtle Bayou toward the School Board gave up a few bass. By the time we got to where Engerran wanted to start the day several hours earlier, he was chomping at the bit to show it off to me.
Green Pumpkin was magic
His favorite spot was full of bass, but few were actually willing to bite.
Our swimbaits, frogs,and spinnerbaits got a lot of swirly and half-hearted strikes, but the fish just weren’t in the mood to eat.
“It’s just too still in here,” Engerran said. “A little water movement would definitely help. Even just a light chop would make a big difference.”
Eventually, he made the decision to abandon the School Board and told me that we would spend the rest of the day like we started - pitching to matted vegetation.
“Better tie on one of these green pumpkin magic craws,” he advised. “The more you adjusted to where the fish were back in the mats a while ago, makes me think it might have been the bait because you still weren’t getting bit much.”
We started fishing a seemingly endless line of matted vegetation down one of the straightest banks I had ever seen, and we went at least 200 yards before I asked Engerran if we could go for another boat ride to cool off.
“I know it can get monotonous,” he said, “but all that goes out the window when you start hammering them. You can go 100 or 200 yards without getting a bite — then get on a pile of them in 20 feet.”
I guess he had just been waiting to call the shot because about five minutes after telling me that, we came across a clump of hyacinths mixed with hydrilla on the edge of some open water between the canal and a marsh pond behind it.
Engerran instantly hooked up on a nice fish. I pitched right back into the same spot and caught another one as he battled the first. Five feet later, we caught a few more. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, it was over.
We eventually wound up down by Lake Penchant, where I continued to pick up bass on the green pumpkin magic Mighty Mudbug. Engerran decided to conduct an on-the-water experiment, and tried several different style baits to see if the bass wanted to eat something else better.
Every bait he tried was a swing and a miss, but the green pumpkin magic continued to produce. It was very evident that our success all along had been the bait more so than any other variable.
We wound up ending our day back where we started, and Engerran decided we’d both finish the day throwing the Mighty Mudbug - the very same bait he started with.
It was definitely the right decision, as he finished with a flurry of fish that rivaled his hot start.
Moving water is key
After processing his thoughts on the ride back home, Engerran gave me his rundown on our day, along with some sound advice on how to score more summertime Bayou Black bass.
“Except for the size of the fish we caught, today went pretty much like I thought it would,” he said. “Obviously for us, other than the bait, moving water was key to getting bit. And if you noticed, it wasn’t moving all that much, but any kind of movement is better than not at all. I think the School Board hammered that point home. Every fish we caught today was around moving water, and every dead spot was around slack water.”
Although he wasn’t disappointed in how our day played out, Engerran surmised it would have been a different story if we had we been able to get to the shallow grass at the School Board early in the morning.
“We got bites in there, but most of the fish just wanted to follow and swirl,” he said. “Without moving water, I don’t think it would have been as good as I hoped it would be — but the low light of early morning would have played to our favor.”
Finding a little depth was also important to the bite. Of course deep is relative in South Louisiana, where 3 to 5 feet could be the deep water.
“A lot of the banks around here are flat,” Engerran said. “So if your boat is sitting in 3 feet, it’s going to be 3 feet up close to the bank. Sometimes the reeds on the bank can help you find a deeper bank. Generally speaking, tall reeds indicate a deeper bank and short reeds usually grow on the shallow banks.”
Where fish position in the vegetation is dependent on the speed of the tidal movement, and the height of the sun.
Engerran says the faster the current, the more out on the edges they’ll be, and the slower the current the more they’ll tuck back into the cover.
“And the higher the sun gets the more they’ll pull back into the cover, too,” he added. “If you’re fishing the outside of the cover, you can get away with ½-ounce weights, but when they retreat into the thick stuff you’re going to have to go with something heavier. I like 1 ½-ounce tungsten weights when they do that.”
Combination of cover
The heavier weight is so Engerran doesn’t have to sit there and dance his bait to get it to fall through. He pegs his weight so he can get his entire bait to punch through in an instant, make its case and get out.
“I think it’s also important that you look for a combination of cover,” Engerran said. “Hydrilla is good. Hyacinths are good. Mix them together and you’ve got something special. The same could be said for reeds and hydrilla, or reeds and hyacinths.”
Finding this mixed vegetation in front of a drain or the mouth of a marsh pond is even better. Bass love marsh ponds, and their only way in and out is the cuts.
“Look for spots where bass have a place for bass to go,” Engerran said. “Anywhere fish can leave from where you are and get farther back is going to be good. Like mixed vegetation, a drain is good, but a drain with matted vegetation is even better.”
Although they didn’t show off on this particular trip, Engerran told me that swimbaits can be awesome at Bayou Black.
“Pitching was the deal today, but most of the time you can cover the flats with just a steady swimbait retrieve,” he said. “Baitfish generally don’t travel by themselves, so when a bass sees that kind of single prey they can focus on it and easily catch it.”
And the best thing about Bayou Black during the summer is that bass stay shallow. Engerran and I pitched our green pumpkin magic craws all day and landed close to 40 bass on a hot, sweltering day that would make most other bodies of water ‘cry uncle.’
“I’m sure somebody’s figured out how to fish a deeper hole around here,” Engerran concluded, “but when all you’ve got is shallow water, bass don’t have a choice but to be in it.
“That makes it easy to target them because you don’t have to wonder if they’re deep or shallow, and there isn’t anything in between.”