If you're in South Louisiana and want to catch some bass or panfish, all you need to do is head to the Atchafalaya Basin. Water levels have finally dropped, and that means the runouts are holding bass, crappie and bream.
I learned that first hand while on vacation last week, during which I spent four of the five days fishing the Spillway from the Flat Lake area all the way to upper Bayou Sorrel.
My dad, Allen, and I headed out last Monday to fish for bream, working our way into a hole in the woods where I've hammered fish pretty much every time I've been able to access it.
I wasn't confident on the way in, since we had to push through huge rafts of hyacinths. And, sure enough, almost the entire hole was covered with floating vegetation.
But there about 30 yeards on each side of the silted-in location canal offered openings — and goggle-eye were bedded up. Mixed in were some really nice chinquapin and bull bream.
By 11:30 a.m., we had 76 fish, mostly warmouth. Many of those goggle-eye were so big it was hard to get our hands around them.
Every fish came on crickets on slip-cork rigs. In fact, the fish were so territorial, it didn't matter if the crickets were alive or not: We caught a number of them on dead hoppers that were starting to dry out.
We were off the water by noon, heading home with plenty of meat for our two households.
I spent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday bass fishing by myself — well, as least in the boat by myself. Word of the great fishing was out by mid-week, and there were boats everywhere. So be ready to share water if you go.
But the good news is that options are plentiful.
The key is to find mixing water. Little Bayou Sorrel was flowing muddy from Duck and American lakes, but black water was streaming out of Bayou April. Bass, sac-a-lait and goggle-eye were stacked up along the grass, hyacinths and trees from and as far to the east as I fished.
Panfish anglers were using jigs, while I caught bass on Texas-rigged Yum Craw Papies. Wednesday's winner was a 1/2-ounce tungsten weight, but when I returned on Friday to that stretch I caught all my fish under a 3/8-ounce weight. Each rig was finished off with a snelled flipping hook.
On Wednesday's trip, I could pretty much call my shot: Any tree offering a current break on the muddy side of the bayou helld at least one bass. Most bites came in the upcurrent eddies, but I could often get another bite or two by pitching the sides and into the downcurrent eddies.
It was easy and fun, and I ended the day about 1 p.m. with 15 to 20 bites.
Thursday, I launched up north and fished upper Bayou Sorrel. Again, mixing water was the key. I caught roughly 20 fish by noon — almost all out of a single runout.
I began picking off fish with a 1/2-ounce, yellow-and-black Spro John Crews Little John square-bill crankbait, but after losing it (my line broke on a back cast and I never figured out where the lure went) I switched to a bream-colored Berkley Pit Bull 5.5 square-bill.
The lure brand or color didn't seem to matter: It was more important to throw up into the drain's clear water and work the crankbaits out to the mixing water. The bigger fish came where the water began coloring, while the clear water by and large produced dinks.
Another angler I kept running into said he caught numbers of fish pitching a craw worm under a light weight onto the trees and grass beds on the side of Bayou Sorrel bleeding out clear water.
Most of his action came off the grass beds, he said.
"I'm just throwing up on the grass, and the fish are coming up and getting it," he explained.
As mentioned, I returned to Little Bayou Sorrel on Friday, and the action had slowed significantly. I ended Friday with only about 10 bites.
The difference might have been that I fished the afternoon, but water flow also had slowed as the river's drop eased. The Atchafalaya River's big fallout has, indeed, ended. The river was at 7.4 feet at Butte La Rose this morning, and is projected to creep down and stabilize at 7 feet Thursday.
But if I didn't have to work this week, I would be working the mixing water again this morning.