As fickle as the Atchafalaya River stage has been most springs and summers in the 2000s — well, and much of the time before that — it’s a challenge for an avid Morgan City outdoorsman to predict what the best fishing might be in June.
Bill McCarty, an accomplished bass angler, would love to say bass are boss this time of year because he loves going after and putting green trout in the livewell.
Ditto for bream and sac-a-lait, which he also catches regularly when water conditions are right.
But he realizes the nation’s last great overflow swamp must be at a decent fishable level for all that to happen, and that all depends on the stage of the aforementioned Atchafalaya River.
For example, last year it really didn’t fall to a fishable level until the latter days of July (some would say arguably the first week of August).
That was late — extremely late.
But McCarty, who owns WHM Services and serves on the St. Mary Parish School Board, knows there’s a sure bet to catch something in June. The all-around outdoorsman said the red-hot species this month is catfish, blue cats and channel cats, with the occasional flathead catfish that move up on the sandbars on the east wide of the river at Morgan City, specifically from the old Mr. Charlie Rig upstream to Conrad Industries.
These cats — mostly 1- to 3-pounders, with the occassional 30-pounder — will be caught by the hundreds. A wharf that was an ideal spot for bank fishermen to fish for the cats is being replaced, he said, so it’s catch as catch can along the shoreline.
By boat, it’s a 45-second ride from the small Berwick Boat Landing to the hotspot in front of Morgan City, McCarty said. At the time of his report the last week of April, he was catching 25 to 30 catfish per trip.
What about June?
“If you don’t catch 75 to 100, you’re in the wrong spot,” McCarty said. “You talk about a good time: racking them up.”
People see his white Xpress bass boat out there and they know the catfish are running.
“I had four guys call me Friday night. They said, ‘They must be biting’,” he said with a chuckle on the second-to-last Sunday of April.
The key this month is to fish just off the bottom in 15- to 18-foot depths in that aforementioned stretch of the river alongside Morgan City.
“The Morgan City side’s shallower than the other side,” McCarty said, explaining the abundance of catfish that move up to preferred depths with the intent of making babies.
McCarty recommended using a 15-pound navy-style anchor in the river that’s usually flowing 4 to 5 knots. He also suggested using 50-feet of rope.
In such a current, he said, when an angler gets one of those big boys, or girls, on, “It’s a battle.”
Just anchor up and cast out the back. Sometimes two or three people using two or three fishing rods apiece go after the tasty fish.
For bait, McCarty puts two fresh shrimp on a 1/0 Gamakatzu hook tied to 15-pound-test monofilament line on a 7-foot-long fishing rod. Use a loop knot about 4 inches long above the sinker.
“You definitely need a 2-ounce weight,” he said.
He prefers a baitcaster, but many anglers out there on the river use Zebco 808s that do just fine.
McCarty likes to put a small river shrimp near the top of the hook and a bigger shrimp at the bottom. Often, he said, the cats’ first bite is for the smaller crustacean, which he said he gets from D&B Bait on Highway 70 in Morgan City (ask for Peanut Michel).
He believes that shop has the freshest river shrimp around.
“When (the catfish) come back, you’re ready for the second tug,” he said. “We like to call it a jerk waiting on a jerk.”
Yeah, there will be a whole lot of jerking going on, as dozens of boats hit the sweet spot of the stretch on the lower Atchafalaya River.
Catfish after catfish will go into the ice chest.