By DON SHOOPMAN
|Photo by DON SHOOPMAN
|When the sac-a-lait are
biting, the lake can get rather crowded. These boats worked
the shallows behind the houses in the front part of the lake
When you see hundreds of tow vehicles this month in a parking
lot at Spanish Lake, it can only mean one thing: The secret is
out on what may be the hottest sac-a-lait fishing hole in Louisiana.
Shiners, tube jigs and hair jigs won’t be safe from the sac-a-lait,
known as crappie in other parts of the country, as they make their
annual run to their spawning sites that can be as shallow as ankle-deep.
Kerry Badeaux of New Iberia, who owns a bait shop at the lake,
has seen it happen the last three springs. She and others in the
know can’t wait for it to happen again at the 1,240-acre lake
off Louisiana Highway 182 near New Iberia.
Badeaux, 41, expects this year’s sac-a-lait spawn and subsequent
feeding frenzy to start happening in mid-January and begin reaching
its peak in February, like it did last year.
“It’ll probably be better than last year. Like, right now, if
you know where to fish, you can come up with 18, 20, maybe better,”
Badeaux said the last week of December.
Terry Cormier of Gueydan can’t wait for that magical run. He
fishes the lake perhaps more than any other angler ever since
his first trip there in February 1999.
The 51-year-old fisherman, who retired from Chevron for health
reasons in 1988, said he brings his boat to the lake two or three
times a week, even during the dog days of summer. He usually catches
quantity and quality, and doesn’t mind sharing his knowledge about
how to do it.
His experience and many hours on the water pay off. Last November,
Cormier proudly lifted a 3-pound sac-a-lait out of his livewell
after he caught it just before noon one sunny day.
That big fish is the modern lake record, Badeaux said. But it
isn’t the only sac-a-lait that size in the lake, she said.
“Actually, I’m waiting for a bigger one to come out. They’re
out there, if you can find them,” she said.
Cormier knows first-hand. A few weeks before he caught the 3-pound
fish, he missed a 3 1/2-pounder, he said.
Sac-a-lait fishing’s rise is a success story for the little
lake that has been plagued by physical problems and numerous other
woes over the last three decades. A levee that rings the lake
needed repairs constantly, for starters.
The shallow lake, once a swampy lake but enclosed decades ago
by a levee, was drained in the mid-1990s as part of a major restoration
project by Iberia Parish Government. Three “bird’s-foot” levees
were built inside the lake in an effort to reduce wave-wash action
that for years eroded the levee. Holes created by digging for
the levees created deep spots for fish to go to in extreme hot
or cold weather.
After the last project, the lake was allowed to fill up and
reopened to fishing in 1997. Sac-a-lait fishing was fair to good
the first few years.
“It was good,” said Badeaux, who opened Spanish Lake Baits &
Bites in June 1998, “but not as good as it is now. You would come
out with 20-25. But now, when they spawn, you come out with your
50. Almost guaranteed.”
The amazing thing about it is the sac-a-lait population grew
naturally. Nary a baby sac-a-lait has been stocked in the lake,
according to state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist
Mike Walker of New Iberia.
On the other hand, thousands and thousands of Florida bass fingerlings
have gone into the lake, where the Spanish Lake Commission decided
it wanted a lake that produced “trophy” bass and, thus, has an
ambitious 16- to 21-inch slot limit.
Walker, District IV supervisor, and his staff caught bass up
to 9 pounds in their electrofishing samples two winters ago. But,
generally, there has been little bass fishing pressure and bass
fishing has been just fair, something that could be attributed
in part to a prolonged drought that lowered the water level for
He said he has been pleasantly surprised by the sac-a-lait boom.
Walker said, “I knew there’d be sac-a-lait. I didn’t know they’d
be that prolific. It’s been pretty good since about three years
after the lake was filled.”
He got an inkling of what was to come when he took his first
samples. He was amazed.
“I told somebody in a couple years there was going to be a truckload
of sac-a-lait taken out of there. There were so many 4-inch sac-a-lait,”
He said there must have been a few sac-a-lait left in the puddles
after the lake was drained. And, he said, all it takes is two.
A soft bottom hurts the sac-a-lait spawn less than other species,
he said, because they spawn first when the water’s cooler and
before the carp start getting active. Bass reproduction apparently
is poor because of the carp’s presence during their spawn and
the way the carp vacuum the bottom when feeding.
|Photo by DON SHOOPMAN
|Richard Broussard of Lafayette
caught this sac-a-lait and many others near a tangle of brush
on Spanish Lake last February.
Sac-a-lait thrive because of the number of threadfin shad in
the lake, Walker said.
“There’s a lot of food in there, thousands and thousands of
little threadfin shad. It’s like a million shiners in there,”
“There’s a lot of feed in there, a lot of grass shrimp. That’s
what’s making the sac-a-lait. These fish ain’t skinny,” he said.
Cormier and Badeaux have their own theories on why the little
lake’s sac-a-lait are so plentiful, plump and healthy. He believes
there are a handful of underground springs continually pumping
sweet water into the lake. She said the bedding areas apparently
are just right for spawning purposes.
There are nutrients galore in the water, too, Walker said, because
the lake is over a massive peat bog.
“It’s like building it over a cow patty,” he said.
His November 2001 survey opened many eyes, including his own.
He and his staff averaged 130 sac-a-lait (78 blacks, 52 whites)
per hour while electrofishing.
“This is the best crappie sample I’ve ever seen anywhere and
that includes the Basin, Verret and Fausse Pointe,” Walker said
The 8-to-5 ratio of black crappie over white crappie was surprising,
too, because, he said at the time, blacks usually are in the overwhelming
What does the future hold? In December 2001, Walker said, “Crappie
tend to be cyclic. There tends to be really high years followed
by low years, just the way the crappie population’s been in all
the waterbodies,” he said. “I think the population will settle
down where we won’t have really, really high years like we had
but we won’t have real low years.”
And, he said, the fall 2002 samples weren’t quite as high as
the fall samples taken in 2001.
Still, Spanish Lake has been churning out the slabs. Anglers
have been reaping the benefits of such a prolific population.
Cormier said he has caught 2,000 sac-a-lait since he started
fishing the lake in 1999. He usually limits out when he fishes
the lake, he said, and keeps only slabs because, it seems, that’s
all that bites.
In fact, he said, the smallest sac-a-lait he ever caught there
in three years was a 1/2-pounder. That was the one and only 8-ouncer,
he said somewhat incredulously.
The rest, he said, average 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.
“Last year the most I could put in a 48-quart ice chest was
26 or 28. The rest went in the livewell,” he said.
People come from near and far to tap the thriving sac-a-lait
population, especially during the spawn. Cormier is one of them.
He knows or has met anglers visiting the lake from Church Point,
Lafayette, Rayne, Welsh, Gueydan, Arnaudville, Cecilia and Ville
“I met a guy the other day from Ville Platte. He had just bought
a boat from Cary’s Sporting Goods,” Cormier said.
Naturally, New Iberia-area fishermen frequent the lake, too.
It can get crowded. How crowded?
Badeaux reported the top user-days — based on the number of
$2 vehicle passes sold — last spring as Feb. 12 (119), Feb. 16
(140), Feb. 17 (201) and Feb. 24 (243). She estimated that a little
more than half of them pulled boats and the others went on the
levee to fish from the shoreline.
Those big days apparently were at the peak of the spawning season.
But even more people showed up to fish on Saturday, March 16,
when 278 vehicles rolled up to Spanish Lake & Bites.
The vehicles often fill the parking lot, then drivers must find
parking spaces along the levee.
A whopping majority of them leave happy.
“I know for a fact most of them go home with enough (sac-a-lait)
for a meal, plus more than enough,” Badeaux said. “It seems like
every year it gets better and better for them.”
Cormier said he usually fishes no more than 10 inches deep,
except during the summer when he goes 2- and 3-feet deep in whatever
4- and 5-foot depths he can find.
The key to catching sac-a-lait this month is to learn where
the underwater structure is, he said.
“Naturally, that’s where they’ve got to spawn and make their
nest. Wherever they have the most cover, that’s where they you
catch the big blacks in February and April,” he said.
During one five-day stretch in March 2001, Cormier and his wife,
Dorothy, or another fishing partner fished the lake every day
and came out with a total of 478 sac-a-lait. That came in real
handy for Good Friday, when he and family members enjoy a fish
fry and crawfish boil.
Where to go to catch the sac-a-lait this time of year?
“I like to fish the back, by the pump area, along the rocks,
along the road, all along up in there. That’s where I’ve been
catching most of my fish,” he said. Water temperatures along the
rip-rap are warmer than in the middle of the lake because the
rocks hold the heat, he explained.
|Photo by DON SHOOPMAN
|Kerry Badeaux helps Terry
Cormier weigh one of his hefty Spanish Lake sac-a-lait.
Badeaux said many sac-a-lait are caught in the front or, as she
likes to say, behind the houses. She also pointed anglers to the
copse of cypress trees and duck blinds scattered around the lake
as other perennial hotspots.
Anglers can catch their share of sac-a-lait from the bank, she
“Oh, yeah, definitely. I’ve caught myself and seen it done,
right here in front. The year before last, stand up on the island
and you could pull up 50, I’d say within an hour,” she said.
Cormier said, “One guy last year, he caught 119 in front of
the bait stand around little broken wharves. Right there!”
Shiners, tube jigs and hair jigs all have their moments, sometimes
during the same period.
“They all have their times. Some days it’s shiners. Some days
it’s tube jigs. Some days it’s hair jigs. Some days it’s anything
you throw out there. It depends on the condition of the water,”
When the fish are really finicky, she confided, stick a grass
shrimp or Crappie Nibble on the hook.
During the summer months, Cormier said, he sticks to tube jigs
and hair jigs. But this month and for the rest of the spawn, he
won’t go out without both artificials and shiners.
There’s a good reason for that, he theorizes. Would you want
a plastic hamburger or a real one?
“Me and a friend of mine were out and our boats were touching.
I had shiners. I had my limit. He pulled two out with his jigs,”
he said. “Our corks were a foot apart. He don’t want to have shiners
in his boat. Well ....”
He usually takes 40-50 shiners with him and fishes with the
natural and artificial baits.
“Whatever they hit first, that’s what I use. If you go out there
and you’re not prepared, you’re not going to come home with fish,”
His 3-pounder, which he planned to have mounted, hit an orange/chartreuse
Becky’s Special Jig.
When Cormier fishes with shiners, he uses 12- or 14-pound-test
line and No. 2 gold Tru-Turn hooks. That combination saves him
time because, he said, when he gets hung up he can pull hard,
the hook will bend and the line won’t break.
“I just bend it back and put a shiner on it again,” he said.
Cormier’s favorite color combinations for his artificials are
black/chartreuse, blue/white and red/white glow (good for cloudy
He has found that the ideal water temperature for catching sac-a-lait
is 65 degrees. Remember, he said, if the water temperature’s in
the upper 40s or 50 in the middle of the lake, head for the rocks
and the water will be at least three degrees warmer.
For Cormier and hundreds of other fishermen, the sac-a-lait
run can’t start soon enough and, after it does, they wish it would
never end at Spanish Lake. You can’t keep something like that