For much of the year, the meandering Ouachita River rises and falls with the seasons. Spring fishing is good, but fish are always on the move in the backwater. Then comes summer, and while fish don’t have to spend as much time figuring our where to go, they still have to eat.
With the water stabilizing in July and through the summer, it also stabilizes the bite. And that’s something to which crappie fisherman Jimmy Watt of Bastrop looks forward.
“A lot of times, people ask fishermen what they look for when they go fishing, but on the Ouachita River this time of year, I just look for something that I think the fish will be on and go fishing,” he said. “There isn’t just one thing, and the best thing about the river and the system of bayous, sloughs and lakes is that you can literally catch crappie all the way from the Arkansas line south to below Columbia. That’s a pretty long stretch.”
There’s another thing that Watt likes about river fish.
“They are just so healthy,” he said. “Most crappie fishermen like to catch fish to eat, and these fish fit that bill really well all the way through summer. They are healthy because of all the food and nutrients in the water.”
Sometimes the river is still on a slow fall all the way into the warmer months. When that’s happening, Watt finds the fish deep in the thick tops. They hang there after leaving the backwater and before starting to school up in the river lakes or in the tops along the edges of the actual river and bayous.
“When the fish are in the tops, it’s tough fishing, but that’s where you’ll find some good ones,” he said. “You’ll catch a few around the edges of the bushes, but most of them will be up in the cover. Because of that, I like to use a stiff pole with a light tip and braided line. Depending on how aggressive they are, I like to use a 1/16-ounce jig most of the time, but when the bite is really on, I will go to a 1/8-ounce jig because I can get it down in there easier and fish it faster.”
Watt’s favorite jigs don’t have a name. That’s because he ties them himself, one of his favorite hobbies when he isn’t fishing. His favorite summer colors in the river are silver/chartreuse, black/chartreuse, gold/chartreuse or plain chartreuse.
“There is a theme, isn’t there?” he asked. “That’s because I think chartreuse is a really good color for the river.”
Later, as the river settles down, fish will often leave thick cover and roam in schools in the middle of the river lakes; they don’t relate to cover as much. They just cruise around following schools of shad. When there is no current in the river itself, fish will also congregate in the tops and bushes on the edges of the main river.
“You have some options, so there isn’t just one thing to look for,” he said. “Just fish until you find them and stay with what’s working.”
One final tip. Watt said river crappie don’t like current, so they will do everything they can to get out of it. And they like shade. The hotter it gets, the more they like the shade. That’s one tip that fishermen won’t have any trouble remembering either.