While the unusually high level of the Atchafalaya River has wreaked havoc with fishing in the Basin the last several months, the high water has had just the opposite effect for late-summer bass fishermen in the marshes around Bayou Black.

The marsh is still holding water in mid-August — and lots of big bass are prowling the shallow ponds there.

“What’s going on is Bayou Black is unique because the higher level of the Atchafalaya River has kept the water in the marsh longer than usual,” said longtime area angler Thomas Hymel, of Paulina. “So we have a lot of water still in the marsh in Bayou Black, and all of the big fish — and there is a high big-fish population — are out in the marsh in less than 2 feet of water.”

So water depth is of little consequence right now, he said.

“The clearer the water the better in the marsh, and it doesn’t matter how shallow it is,” he said. “A foot, maybe 18 inches — you would think there wouldn’t be a fish there, but those fish in the marsh live in there as long as they can.”

The key is to find grass and lilies, he said. 

“If you can get the bait up against the lilies or over the top of the grass, that’s where they’re at,” Hymel said. “They’re as shallow as they can be. That’s where all the baitfish are at, and that’s where all the big fish are at.”

Recent stringers coming out of areas like the Crawford Pond have been impressive, to say the least, Hymel said. 

“It is routine to go into that marsh right now — and this is not uncommon — to catch five bass that weigh 15 to 20 pounds,” he said. “That’s a routine number right now with what’s going on down there. It’s really amazing.”

And anglers are having success catching lunkers with a wide variety of lures.

“We’re throwing Ribbits, Spro frogs, buzzbaits and a standard swimbait, like the Yum Money Minnow. Anything that resembles a shad or some type of minnow, so a pearl white or chartreuse-and-white should work,” he said. “They’re jumping all over it.

“And they’ll hit the topwater in the marsh all day — the heat doesn’t seem to bother them.”

Hymel said he rigs up with heavy-duty 65-pound braid when he’s throwing a frog.

“Once they grab it and it gets in that grass, you have to have a heavy rod and heavy braid to pull them out,” he said. “Otherwise, they’re going to get off.”

The good news is that, barring anything unexpected with the river, the bite should continue until the Atchafalaya at Morgan City falls another couple of feet. Currently, it’s at about 5.6 feet.

“It’s going to keep draining and eventually it will pull those fish out of the marsh, but they’re not going to leave until they become uncomfortable,” he said. “Then they’ll pull out into the canals and the bayous, but that won’t typically happen until the Morgan City level is at 3 feet and falling.”