Matt Derouen of New Iberia is one of those young guns. Sure, Derouen has the technology and information available, particularly since he manages a fishing tackle store, but he does it the old-fashioned way, too, by relying on what his father taught him as well as an artificial jig with a soft plastic trailer.
When February rolls around, that proves to be an unbeatable combination in an area known as Bayou Sale (pronounced Sally). The marshy area is one of the most reliable spots this time of year, which is why countless bass anglers often make long runs by boat to fish the maze of canals and natural bayous south of the Intracoastal Canal and west of Wax Lake Outlet in St. Mary Parish.
But there's something different about the marsh that he has fished since his boyhood days with his father, Ronald "Mousey" Derouen of New Iberia. There's more quality than quantity in the bassing these days at Bayou Sale.
"I remember we could catch a bunch of fish. Now you've got people catching 5-, 6-, 7-pound bass," the younger Derouen said during a bassin' venture there in mid-February of 2001.
A bunch of fish?
"I can remember coming as a kid and catching 20, 30 bass a day. Lately, it's been tougher than that," the 23-year-old outdoorsman said. "We haven't caught them like we used to ... but they still have numbers."
Derouen said he started fishing as soon as he could stand up in a boat.
"When I started, the only places we fished that I could remember are Avery Island, Quintana Canal and Bayou Sale, the marsh. My dad used to spend a lot of time on the water. My fondest memories are of the marsh because I can remember how many fish we used to catch back here," he said.
He still fishes regularly in Bayou Sale. If he isn't preparing for a tournament somewhere else, he will try to fish the area at least once a week, even during the early summer, when many bassers avoid it like the plague.
Bass hang around the many drains as much as possible during the summer months, he said. Get to a drain before another boat, and usually you can pull a limit of bass out of there in no time, he said from experience.
But, like many Acadiana residents who love to wet a line, late winter and spring months are his favorites. Not even the weather, such as untimely arrivals of cold fronts, or unbelievable fishing pressure can slow him down too much.
He proved it that day last February. High pressure was hanging over Cajun Country after the recent passage of a cold front that made it a pretty nippy ride in his Skeeter 2X195C from the Cabot Landing on the Intracoastal Canal to Bayou Sale.
Derouen wasn't deterred, though. There were bass to catch at his first stop — Blue's Hole, a spot that he said probably has 30 other names.
Water clarity was less than ideal for the marsh. Water temperature was 63 degrees at 8:45 a.m., about 30 minutes after he pulled into the canal.
"This ain't the prettiest water," he said, "but I've caught in dingy water plenty of times before."
For a while, though, the scenery was more interesting than the bass fishing. Alligators were out and about, which to Derouen was a sign that the fish should be stirring.
As he trolled down the canal, deftly pitching a jig-n-soft plastic, he saw several deer standing together a few feet in from the shoreline. Startled, they took off with their white tails high.
His weapon of choice, typical for a young gun who knows what should produce consistently, was a 3/8-ounce black/chartreuse Rattleback Jig. He adorns it with a root beer/pepper/pumpkin Zoom Chunk.
He broke the ice and put a fish in the boat at 8:55 a.m. He set the hook hard, and reeled in a 1 1/2-pound bass with a swollen belly.
The fish came off a "little log" away from the shoreline.
"That was worth coming in, one fish. You know, if that would have been a tournament, the fish would have got off," he said with a chuckle.
A pattern began to develop. The fish were in less than 3 feet of water, he determined, and hanging around bushes in the water like bass do when the water's up in the buckbrush at Toledo Bend.
One big bass deep inside a bush escaped the hook, barely. It spooked when the jig plopped softly in the water.
Derouen stayed put for a while.
"I'm going to baby-sit this one. That was a big fish," he said. "I would have liked to have caught that. You should have seen how big it was. It made a giant wake getting out of there."
But his repeated casts went for naught.
"I'm going to fish a couple more of these bushes," he said. He worked that pattern the rest of the day in Apache, which he entered via a drain, Arco Canal and Hog Hole.
Obviously, it was prespawn time around Bayou Sale.
"Most of them are moving up on the bank trying to spawn. We're going to start having fishing get on the beds now. Usually, this is the time of year I try to work the sunny side first, but that right there," he said, pointing to the shoreline on the other side of the canal, "is full of lilies. I can't get close (to pitch his jig)."
Other prime spring spots he has frequented and caught bass over the years include the Texaco canals (Big Texaco and Little Texaco), Exxon, Bootleg Canal, Apache, Cop-Cop and Hog Hole.
"At Bayou Sale you can cover a lot of area. There are so many canals you can go in and check. You can usually catch some nice fish out of it if the water's right," he said.
He isn't the only one who taps the area's bass population.
Ricky Guidry of Centerville, Tony Sinitiere of Franklin and Keith Price of New Iberia are some of the most accomplished Bayou Sale bass fishermen known to Derouen.
"A lot of people are good in this area. If I had to put money on one man, it'd have to be Ricky. He's great. He grew up in the area. He can name every canal," Derouen said about the angler who was featured previously in Louisiana Sportsman.
Not surprisingly, the two meet occasionally while fishing Bayou Sale, he said.
Derouen believes the average size of the bass has been getting longer because of intense Florida bass stocking efforts in areas such as Lake Dauterive-Fausse Pointe and the lower Atchafalaya Basin. Some of those bass apparently left and found comfortable homes in the slack waters of the Bayou Sale marsh, he said.
"Guys come over here for tournaments and catch 20-pound stringers (with five keeper bass). I would say if you came over here and the fish were biting you could catch a 20-pound stringer," he said.
The visits are more frequent in the spring, starting as early as January.
"It's usually good now, probably through June, July. It gets so hot they get hard to catch, unless you can find them in a drain," he said.
The Catholic High School graduate was finding the bass a little easier to catch after pinpointing the pattern. Most of the bass were in the 1- to 2-pound range.
"I think that's mostly male fish we're catching. With another week or two of warm weather, we ought to be catching giants," he said.
Later in the day, Derouen removed the Zoom Chunk trailer from the jig, and started working on another trailer. He pinched a watermelon red Zoom Brush Hog in half and dipped the top half in chartreuse garlic dye. Then he threaded it on the jig and started pitching it again.
"I usually fish that a lot on a black/chartreuse jig. It just gives some smell to the jig, and chartreuse color. It's for any kind of water, clear or muddy," he said.
Apparently, the bass liked it. He caught three more bass on the combination in the next 30 minutes. One of them was a chunky 2 1/4-pounder.
Derouen had other artificial lures tied to three fishing rods at the ready. But he stuck with the jig-n-soft plastic.
Plastic lizards in black/blue and watermelon also are effective in the spring. During summer months, red shad or tequila sunrise plastic worms work well, as do spinnerbaits.
"I know people who throw spinnerbaits with tequila sunrise color," he said.
His favorite spinnerbait is a homemade model made by his dad. It's call La Saur, which is French for The Mouse.
Derouen's father, a retired self-employed electrician, made the spinnerbaits in his younger days when he was competing in bass tournaments. After his retirement three years ago, he started making them again, and they are sold at Cajun Gun & Tackle, where Derouen works as manager.
Ronald Derouen's middle name is Moise. When he was playing football his senior year at St. Peter's College in New Iberia (which eventually became Catholic High School), an announcer introducing the seniors pronounced his middle name "Mousey." Needless to say, it stuck with him for life.
His La Saur spinnerbaits and buzz baits have made their mark for many anglers, including his son.
Matt Derouen prefers the 1/4-ounce spinnerbait.
What other baits get Bayou Sale bass to open their mouths in February?
Zoom Super Flukes, Chug Bugs and Spit-N-Images also produce bass at Bayou Sale, he said. Rogues? Well, not for him, here, anyway.
"I throw Rogues a lot around Bayou Black. I rarely throw Rogues around here ... but I know people catch on 'em," he said.
The Super Fluke is murder once the water temperature starts averaging 70 degrees, he said.
He shares what he knows about bass fishing in the area with many people, including those who visit Cajun Gun & Tackle, which he manages with Ricky McGuffie of New Iberia. It's a job the angler/duck hunter feels like he was born to do.
Is it a dream come true?
"It can be at times. It's a fun job ... talking fishing and hunting all day," Derouen said, "but it's a high stress job. You always have to stay on top of things, you always have to please the public all day.
"I enjoy it. I don't think there's another job I would enjoy doing more than what I do."
Interaction with customers is as interesting as keeping up with the newest trends in fishing tackle and hunting gear.
"We get to see all the new products before they hit the market. It's like a restaurant making a menu; you've got to put out there what you think will sell. Otherwise, you've invested in a lot of wall space," he said. "Nobody wants wall space that doesn't move.
"There's more to retail than showing up every morning at 9 and leaving at 6. You've got to have good, quality products that people buy and continue to buy."
Hunters and fishermen in the store tell tales, true and false.
"Ninety percent of what you hear you can take in as conversation only. The best way to tell if a fisherman's lying is if his lips are moving ... especially at a tackle store where they tell where the fish are biting to the local newspaper (The Daily Iberian)," he said with a chuckle.
When he isn't working at the store, Derouen loves to fish the Atchafalaya Basin, Bayou Black and Toledo Bend. At Toledo Bend, he loves to punch 3/4- and 1-ounce jig-n-pigs through the hydrilla mats and jig vertically. He compared it to fishing for red snapper straight over the side of the boat in the Gulf of Mexico.
But he was content with beating the blues in post-cold-front conditions that half-day of fishing in Bayou Sale. The young gun filed 11 more notches, so to speak, on his fishing rod's handle, including calling one off some rip-rap in Arco Canal. Rip-rap, he explained, warms faster than other structure and thus holds bass.
He learned well from Mousey.