The Wax Lake area is like a gift to Louisiana’s bass anglers.
Momma always said, “Big things come in small packages.” But I don’t think Momma had fishing in mind when she was referring to the package. The package I’m referring to rests below the Intracoastal Waterway stretching from Highway 317 to the Lower Atchafalaya River. With Atchafalaya Bay forming its southern border, this area of marshland is one of those magical places where all bass anglers will find a prize when they start tearing off the paper.
The first time I became aware of the area’s potential was when I relocated to Louisiana way back in 1984. That fall, I was invited on a teal hunt by my father-in-law and wife’s uncle, Harry Lee, down to their camp for the weekend.
Following a not-so-spectacular morning of teal hunting, my wife’s two cousins and a couple of their buddies grabbed their fishing poles and began wetting their lines off the back of the fur shed attached to the camp.
Almost instantly, the water in the short dead-end canal, at the mouth of Leopard Bayou, began exploding with tail dancing bass that would make the troupe of a Broadway musical envious.
I didn’t realize it back then, but the local Berwick girl who convinced me to leave the high arid deserts of New Mexico with the allure of amore, also provided the gift that keeps on giving known as the Sportsman’s Paradise.
By noon, the table was graced with a heaping platter of mouth-watering fried bass fillets and pot-roasted teal. And the way our crew attacked that platter, your hand had better not have been in the way, or it was liable to have been stabbed by a fork or, worse, eaten.
By 1 p.m., the platter was empty, the dishes were done, and eyelids were getting mighty heavy. I like to think that was one of Chris’s family’s ways of welcoming me Cajun style.
Geographically, this southcentral Louisiana region forms a box, if you will. The box is divided vertically right smack dab down the middle by the Calumet Spillway with Wax Lake at its heart.
Taking this a bit further geographically, by breaking it up into four quadrants (NW, SW, NE, SE), the box offers distinct fishing situations for each zone. Additionally, the area is subject to ever-present and changing tidal conditions; therefore, anglers have to be prepared to adjust accordingly.
One example of this occurs in the two western quadrants both north and south. This side of the box consists of numerous canals that form a maze-like grid. The hydrological influence of these canals impact the coloration of the water — particularly the farther north you go from the coastline.
In the spring, when the water tends to be higher, the coloration can range from almost cocoa-like to clear. The water in the canals tends to be clearer than the water in the main bayous simply because the water’s speed is reduced and sediment drops out. If you want to prove this, scoop up a jar of Wax Lake water, swirl it around and let it set a minute. In short order, it will begin to clear up as the water slows down and sediment drops to the bottom.
Find a bayou in the box that intersects a canal — and there are plenty — and I’ll show you water that looks like you dropped coffee creamer in it. On one side is clear water and on the other is a cloud.
Whenever I come across this condition, I purposely make several casts dead on the cloud line with a ¼-ounce white beetle spin sporting a silver Colorado blade with a black jighead. Bass will lie just inside of the cloud line waiting to ambush or strike at anything that resembles baitfish.
I’ll also use Stanley’s ¼-ounce “Minnow Head” spinner-bait, chartreuse in color, configured with double willow blades.
With the exception of the extreme eastern Atchafalaya side of the box around Sweet Bay Lake and Bateman Lake Oil and Gas Field, the two east quadrant zones, north and south, consist mainly of long, winding bayous such as Little Wax, Big Wax, Big Bull, Cross and Haydel.
Patterson resident Gary Blanco fished the 2005 Bassmaster Series tournament circuit in the non-boater category. Earning three Louisiana top 20 and two top 10 finishes before winding down his season with a 15th place finish at the regional held in Columbus, Miss., Blanco knows a thing or two when it comes to fishing the box.
“I fish the Bull a lot,” Blanco said. “But some of my favorite places to fish are around the Spanish Lake area, where I usually make that whole circle down there.
“I’ll also fish through the Haydel, Greene Bayou and the pipeline at Lake Salve. Spring is always best in the area, particularly during the spawn, but it depends on the time of the year.”
Blanco looks for stained and moving water, where he prefers a spinnerbait as his first bait of choice.
“If I get quick bites, I’ll stay with the spinnerbait,” he said. “If it slows down, I’ll switch and fish a jig and a worm.
“Depending on how clear the water is, normally I prefer chartreuse/white, and fish a ½-ounce size tied to 20-pound test. I’ve always favored the heavier ½-ounce because of the vibration, and I can vary the speed. Mainly, I’m looking for a reaction strike.”
And there is plenty of that in this region. The southern coastal portions tend to be vast marshes that drain into the numerous small bayous that flow into Atchafalaya Bay.
In the east are Big Hog, Outside and Little Hog bayous. In the west are Big Beach and Little Beach bayous. All of these bayous have small drainages that empty into them and, on a falling tide, often produce some nice catches.
Randy Griffin of Cut Off is a former BASS Federation and Angler’s Choice tournament-circuit competitor. Griffin reminisced fondly about one particular Angler’s Choice tournament held at Mc Gee’s Landing near Lake Fausse Point in Henderson. He and his partner made the 1 1/2-hour one-way run just to fish the pipelines off Little Wax Bayou and Haydel Bayou.
“When I fished the area, 90 percent of the fish we caught were on slow-rolling spinnerbaits either chartreuse/blue or chartreuse/white with a red trailer — fished on the bottom,” Griffin said. “I also used a Berkley Power Craw, black in color with a 1/8-ounce weight fished on the bottom. I like to use the lightest weight I can get away with.
“We would locate isolated stumps and trees. The stumps and trees were the best producing at the time, but what I attribute to my success down in that area is fishing in 6 feet or less water. There’s always big fish in shallow water. One of the biggest fish I caught out of the Wax area was 7 pounds, 9 ounces. I caught it using a chartreuse/white spinnerbait with a dark-red trailer skirt attached.
“I like to fish current and stained water before and after the spawn — stained, off-color water produces larger fish than clear water. Clear water spooks the fish, and I find it’s never too dirty in the Wax to fish a spinnerbait.”
Like Griffin, I haven’t caught big bass in the clear water. Typically, most of the bass I catch are in the 1- to 2-pound range, with the occasional fish that might push 3 pounds. However, there are plenty of them — and I prefer the action.
I like to use Carolina-rigged plastics such as Zoom’s U-Tale green pumpkin worm, Bass Assassin’s black worm with a red fire tail, or Mizmo’s green pumpkin lizard. All of these will get the job done when the water is clear.
One tactic I use in the Box is to anchor off at any of the numerous drainages or bayous that intersect canals, and cast upstream in the clear water on a falling tide. More often than not, you’ll get a bait-ripping strike that generates that exciting rush we all come back time and again for.
I recommend anyone heading below the Intracoastal to maximize their efforts by fishing the outgoing tides. I’ll frequent Louisiana Sportsman’s website at www.louisianasportsman.com/tide_guides.php to obtain tidal information. By clicking on Shell Island in the east and Point Chevreuil in the west, you can gauge your trip accordingly. One thing to note concerning these two tidal points is there tends to be up to a full hour difference the farther north you are in the box quadrants.
I figured this out the stupid way. I showed up to one of my honey holes exactly when the tide was supposed to start out only to find out it would be nearly a full hour later. But practice makes perfect, and over the years I have gotten closer to figuring it out.
An added benefit to fishing this region is the quick access and short boat ride. No matter what landing you put over from, in just about the same amount of time it takes you to check your gear, launch your boat and park your vehicle you can be fishing.
Starting in April as the days get longer and the water temperature becomes warmer, causing the fish to become more active, the action is outstanding, especially during those after-work evening trips. I’ve made quite a few of these short trips, fishing right up until dark. They are great mid-week diversions from a hectic day at the office.
It would take a lifetime of weekends, holidays and vacations to learn and fish every bayou, canal and pipeline in the box. By breaking it up into manageable regions, anglers can utilize a more systematic approach to ensure they cover the ground successfully.
I think if Momma had been a bass fisherman, she would have found that this was one package that held a big surprise.
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