The long-awaited drop in the Atchafalaya River happened in late June, and that meant it was easy to catch bass in the Basin.
Just find a runout that was bleeding clean water into a muddier main bayou and camp out until you had your fill of flinging fish into the boat.
I spent three vacation days doing just that, and fishing was just plain easy the first two days when the water was really falling.
However, by the end of that week, the water-level drop had slowed — and the bass didn’t set up as well.
And by the end of June, the Atchafalaya River had pretty much stabilized. So the crazy-easy fishing is, barring a jump and second fall of the river, probably a thing of the past.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t fish to be caught, however.
Ken Sherman, who owns Front to Back Boat Service in Baton Rouge, spent decades fishing tournaments in the Atchafalaya Basin. And he said success through the summer is a simple matter of knowing where hefty bass will stack up.
“Current is going to be the big key,” Sherman said. “Trash piles are going to be second. If you have these two things, you’ll catch fish.”
That said, he approaches such targets a little differently depending on where he is in the vast Basin, which can be intimidating to anglers.
Sherman segments the Spillway into two pieces: the periphery and the interior.
When he talks about the periphery, Sherman means the big waterways moving stained water closer to the Intracoastal.
In these areas, he’s looking for depth — 8 to 15 feet of water.
“The first thing I’d do is fish the deep, moving water,” he said. “I’m looking for log jams and brush piles in that green to dingy water.”
The water color is important because it will be cooler than the clearer water leaking out of the swamp drains and filling many of the minor bayous.
If there are logs and brush in slack water — say, in the inside of a bend — Sherman ignores them. What he wants is that current pushing through the cover.
“(The bass) are hiding behind the eddies that are in those logs,” he explained.
His weapon of choice is a jig ranging from 3/4 to 1 ounce in size.
The reason for the hefty lure isn’t to punch through the cover, however. Instead, it’s a matter of effectively working the lure in the current.
“I want that thing to go straight down,” Sherman explained. “You don’t want the lure to get swept down the current; you don’t want to set the hook here and see the fish boil 6 feet down the log jam.
“You’re trying to go straight down.”
He said in this situation bass often will normally snap up the lure on the drop, so he will pitch a jig into a hole and provide slack line so the lure falls naturally — and then sets the hook if he sees the line jump or twitch.
Because he’s fishing dingier water in these areas, the angler prefers darker colors: black/blue, black/red flake, etc.
He tips the jig with a matching craw worm, but he favors a plastic crawfish with small claws.
“Because of the current, if you use a craw worm with big claws, it’ll get dragged downcurrent,” Sherman said.
The approach is pretty much the same farther into the Basin’s interior, where water will be much prettier. He would continue to focus on moving bayous (staying away from those that are the clearest), and he would move from one bend to the next.
But there is a difference.
“In the interior, you don’t have that current cutting the banks,” Sherman said. “So the water isn’t as deep. I’d probably be looking for 4 to 7 feet of water.”
Examples of interior bayous include Bayou Long, Middle Fork/West Fork, Little Pigeon, Catfish and the Loop Hole, he said.
While he would never pass up a log jam, the interior area offers more options — but the best fishing remains on the current side of a bayou.
“You want anything that breaks the current,” Sherman said.
That could be those log jams and brush piles, but it also could be flooded trees and points at intersections with canals and minor bayous.
A perfect setup is when water is pouring out of one of those canals or small bayous and mixing with the main waterway.
“You want to focus on where the water’s mashing into the banks on the main bayou,” Sherman said.
While a lot of anglers spend time working grass beds, Sherman said he pretty much ignores them.
“I’d rather timber, and I’d rather timber with hyacinths,” he said. “That’s because the crawfish are going to be around the hyacinths. When you hear fish sucking in the hyacinths, that’s what they’re doing: They’re sucking off crawfish.”
Jigs remain his go-to, and he normally sticks with darker colors. However, Sherman admitted that the moderately clearer interior waters make crawfish-colored models effective.
One thing he recommended was dying the craw worm trailer’s claws with chartreuse to make them stand out.
With less current, bass often position on the bottom. So Sherman wants his jig to fall straight down, but he slack-lines the lure so it has a natural fall and so he can detect any line jump.
Because he’s fishing heavy cover no matter where he chooses to work, Sherman spools up with 65- to 80-pound braid. His favorite braid is Spiderwire Stealth because it doesnt make any sound when the line moves against timber.
“You know that sound of braid you hear when you’re sawing up and down? That’s going right to the rod and to the lure,” Sherman said. “I don’t want that. That Stealth is quiet.”
He also prefers a hi-speed reel.
“That’s so I can take up line fast when I get a bite,” Sherman explained.
Whether you’re fishing the exterior or interior waterways, the veteran angler said you’ll undoubtedly have to put up with a lot of passing boats. But that’s usually more of a pain to the angler than the bass.
“Don’t worry about that boat traffic, unless they shut down right on top of you,” Sherman said. “The fish don’t care.”