With the Atchafalaya River finally in a steady fall, it looks like early September could be the start of a special fall of fishing in the Basin.

The magic number to get it all started for longtime area angler Thomas Hymel is four — as in 4 feet. That’s what he says the river gauge at Morgan City needs to read for bass, bream and sac-a-lait action to heat up across the Basin.

“The outer fringes will get right first,” said Hymel, 44, of Paulina. “The interior of the Basin was very, very clear, and it’s got to get down inside of its banks before the water starts to get a little color to it.

“Around the outer fringes, you have some opportunity for stained water to mix with the really clear stuff, and that gives you the pretty, spinnerbait-green water you like to fish.”

At the north end of the Basin, Hymel said Grand Lake will be one of the first places to get right for bass, with Flat Lake on the south end turning on at about the same time.

“It should be an early-morning topwater bite with frogs and buzzbaits. As the sun comes up, it’s going to be plastics on the points and the sloughs,” Hymel said. “And the punching bite through the lilies and the grass will be a major factor as you get further into the day, and it gets hotter and the morning bite falls off. 

“They get underneath the lilies and the grass, and the punching technique is the absolute best way to catch the bigger fish.”

Hymel uses a pegged ounce-and-a-half tungsten weight when he punches, and flips either a Speed Craw or a Missile D-Bomb in California love or black-and-blue. Ribbit or Spro frogs working across vegetation can also trigger strikes.

“That frog and buzzbait at first light early in the morning will give you your best chance to catch big fish,” he said. “The fish are going to start piling up in the corners where two bayous come together, preferably a natural bayou and a manmade canal. And the drains coming out of the swamp — the fish will start congregating in bunches on those spots.”

Later next month, when the river approaches 3.2 feet at Morgan City, Hymel said interior spots in the Basin like Bayou Pigeon, Bayou Long and the West Fork area will turn on. 

“The pattern is going to be the same. It just takes a little longer for the water to get right,” he said. “It’s going to have to be moving with a little bit of color in it. It can’t be gin clear, and it can’t be super muddy. You want it to be in between that — where you can see a spinnerbait 8 to 10 inches below the water — that’s what you’re looking for.

“This time of year, that water is going to be hot, so you want it to be moving because that’s going to give it more oxygen. And that’s where the fish are going to be.”

Panfish-wise, that bite also will turn on when the river hits 4 feet in Morgan City, Hymel said.

“They prefer the water a little clearer than the bass,” he said. “The sac-a-lait are going to be 

around laydowns, and the grass off the bank. They’ll be a little deeper.

“The bream will be shallower, more object-oriented around stumps and trees.”

Although summertime fishing was practically non-existent, anglers could reap the benefits of all that high water this fall, he said. 

“The fish have been unmolested for literally about four months when the river started going up in mid-April. It’s been that long since they’ve had any kind of pressure on them at all,” Hymel said. “So they’ve had a lot of time to eat and grow, and we should see a high fish population when the water falls.

“It should be a lot of fun.”