The Atchafalaya River was high most of the year, and bass-fishing successes were hit and miss.
That changed last month when the river began a nosedive, triggering a spike in success. But how can you take advantage of the annual falling river?
Gonzales angler Gerald Spohrer, who has logged two top-10 finishes in Bassmaster Central Open circuit in the past 12 months, offered five tips that will put more fish in your boat when it’s tournament time.
1) Prescouting — Spending time on the water is always important, but Spohrer said the key it is more than just running a canal or bayou and looking for runouts.
“One of the biggest advantages to maximizing your success during falling water is knowing where your fish are before the water falls and where they will set up as its falling,” he said. “You have to use your imagination. Remember: The water doesn’t fall forever. It is a short window that creates the best situation for the Spillway.
“The fish that live there know this; they know that, when the water falls, the swamp will be flushed out and it will be prime feeding opportunity. The trick for the angler is to imagine where these fish can best take advantage of this short feeding opportunity.”
2) Location — This is all about following the falling water.
“It is important to understand how the Spillway begins to act as the water starts to fall,” Spohrer said. “When a falling condition begins to occur, it comes from upriver to downriver. This is important in the Spillway because it tells me that when the river starts to fall its going to start on the northern end of the spillway before the southern end.
“So if I’m watching the water levels on water.weather.gov/ahps and I have a chance to attack the falling conditions as soon as they start, then I’ll be starting north. As the days go on, the Morgan City gauge starts to show an actual fall; then I’ll make my way down to the southern end of the Spillway.”
He said he keeps an eye on the Morgan City, Meyette Butte Larose and even the Melville gauges.
“Melville is important because this tells you the fall is coming before it gets there, so this gives you time to get prepared,” Spohrer said. “Putting yourself around the falling areas when that part of the spillway starts to fall is important.
“‘The spillway is falling’ is such a broad term. You have to understand how its falling and where its falling to understand where you need to be.”
3) Pick the right lure — “During falling conditions, I like to cover water until I locate the fish,” Spohrer said.
So he begins with baits that can cover water: spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and crankbaits.
“I keep it basic,” Spohrer said. “Basic is important when looking for fish because its gives me confidence. I know they will bit one of those three lures. I don’t want to cover a bunch of water, and look back and ask myself if they would have hit something different. They might have, but you have to cover water and locate the area holding the most active fish.
“Once you do that, then you can tweak your pattern to dial them in.”
Once a few fish are located, it’s time to slow down.
“When I find them, I like to pick up a flipping stick to catch my bigger fish,” Spohrer said. “There is no flipping bait out there that can compete with a Missile bait D-Bomb and a Zoom Speed Craw in the Spillway.
“When I get in an area with a lot of fish, I like to look at all my options. Use that imagination. Ask yourself why are they here, where did they come from and where are they going?”
Then it’s just a matter of adjusting your presentation to put your bait in front of fish.
“If they are under hydrilla mats, I’ll be punching them with a 1 1/2-ounce weight and a D-Bomb, but if the water is steady falling and they only have a foot of water under that mat, I know that at some point if the water falls enough they will pull out from under that mat and have to get on something else but — they probably won’t go far.
“Understanding what lures to use to find them, what lures to use to best catch them when you find them and how to adjust your pattern with the changing conditions is crucial. Don’t forget falling water is a constantly changing condition, so you have to change with the conditions.
4) Find the right structure — Runout fishing means locating sloughs and mixing water, right? The problem with that approach is that you will be one in a line of anglers hitting those areas.
“I like to use my imagination to try and find the less-obvious (areas); these are the places where you will find your better fish,” Spohrer said. “Look for small current breaks, stumps far out in front of sloughs, grass around current, subtle points, channel swings in natural bayous.”
And he never passes up a laydown.
“I feel like big laydowns positions fish better in current than anything,” Spohrer said. “It gives a bass a lot of options on how it wants to position itself to feed. Finding the right stretch of laydowns in the right current-driven area can pay off big time in late summertime, falling-water conditions.”
But tops on his list are hydrilla mats.
“This time of the year the mats are huge,” Spohrer said. “When the water is not falling fish, tend to bury up so far back under those mats that people tend to not ever put a bait around them. When the water starts to fall, those fish will pull out to the edges of the mats and become easier to catch.
“Punching is often the way to get those fish to bite.”
So, while other anglers are targeting active sloughs, Spohrer starts by ignoring the main slough.
“If there is a hydrilla mat next to that slough, the first thing I’m going to do is punch that mat,” he said. “Then I’m going to hit any far-out structure that you can’t see.
“Most slues seem to have had a tree in the middle of them at one time that doesn’t exist anymore and all that remains is a stump. This stump might be 20 feet out in front of the slough. Find that stump and you find a fish.”
Spohrer uses GPS waypoints to mark these stump locations for future use.
5) Don’t wait to go — “The best time to go is when the water first begins to fall,” Spohrer said. “When the water begins to fall the fish get excited waiting on it to get just right. The more excited they get the more aggressive they get.
“It’s kind of like waiting to get your food in a restaurant while you are starving: We begin to look for anything to eat at the table while waiting on our meal. Once we have enjoyed our meal we become less active.
“Bass are the same way: They are waiting on their dinner. “
The start of the fall marks when fish are most-excited about impending meals.
“While they wait — as dinner get closer — they become impatient and begin to eat anything,” Spohrer said. “That’s why I like to go right away when the fall first starts to happen.”
If you wait, you risk missing out on prime opportunities.
“Once a good fall starts and it really gets going good, sometimes it might start falling too fast. This can hurt you,” Spohrer said. “When it falls too fast it tends to throw everything out of whack. So the beginning of the fall is always the best time to go.”