The eastern portion of the Atchafalaya Basin offers bass fishermen some real holiday treats this month.
By the time December rolls around and the countdown to Christmas really begins, most local bass tournaments and weeknight hawg fights have, by and large, drawn to a close. It can be a transition period for bass fishermen in the southern part of the Atchafalaya Basin, but it can also be an opportunity to land a few of the bigger, quality fish that eluded the weighmaster’s scale during the summer.
Howard Hartley of Morgan City, a 43-year-old angler, honed has honed his skills chasing largemouth bass in the spillway since he was in high school. He fishes year-round, and over the past 20 years, he’s learned a thing or two about bass fishing in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin.
Know the river stages
The first thing Hartley looks at is the fluctuation of river stages that impact bass in the late fall. The Atchafalaya River in Morgan City is considered to be at flood stage when the river reaches 6 feet.
“Everything is based on the river level — right,” Hartley said. “It basically is, if the river is climbing past 4 feet — good luck — it gets tough to catch bass. Essentially, if the river is dramatically increasing, the bite is decreasing. Everything starts getting muddy again, and basically, there is so much water in the woods it makes them hard to catch.”
When these conditions occur in December, Hartley said bass anglers often opt for the Stephensville side of the levee or head to Bayou Teche or further south towards the marshes of Bayou Sale and Bayou Black.
By contrast, when water levels are below 4 feet, what Hartley refers to as “fishable stages,” bass fishing can be good in the Basin during December.
Water temperature impacts all fish species. Scientifically, bass spawn when the water temperature is in the 55- to 70-degree range. However, outside of the predictability of the spawn each spring is a full range of water temperatures that effect bass both negatively and positively.
The colder, late fall and early winter water temperatures often effect bass negatively in the Basin, but Hartley said the fish are still there and still have to eat.
“The colder it is, it’s going to push them into the canals, particularly in the deeper canals,” Hartley said. “Your canals that have 5 to 6 feet of water or more — the deeper side of things — they typically like in December. You’re already in the fall, and they’re kind of just fattening up and trying to eat everything to prepare for the winter.
“So, when the water temperatures start getting down in the low 50s, it begins to make them lethargic, because they’re not a cold-water species. However, they still have to eat, so I’ll change tactics where I will flip jigs and punch grass mats.”
One of the techniques Basin bass anglers have perfected as it gets closer to solstice is punching grass mats.
“Basically, you look for something kind of matted over and you can’t throw into,” Hartley said. “However, you can penetrate it with a heavy weight. What I use is a Texas rig set up with a 1- to 11/2-ounce, or even 2-ounce weight on top of a Missile D-Bomb creature bait, Zoom Speed Craw or Reaction Innovation Sweet Beaver. I try to get into the heart of the mat.
“Some people will tell you bass use the mat for warmth,” he said. “The lilies and grass will warm up with the sun, but bass are also predators, and they don’t have eyelids. So, on a sunny day, it’s just easier for them to get underneath it — it’s better on their eyes. You don’t ever see a lion trying to catch its prey by walking around in the open. He’s stooped down, trying to sneak up on it. It’s the same principle.”
Hartley said December is a good month to go back to fishing jigs with a trailer, particularly anything that looks like a crawfish, including a Speed Craw. Jigs, according to Hartley, are “bigger bite” baits. What’s more, December and the winter in general is a great time to catch bigger fish, he said.
Temperatures throughout December are up and down, and days can be anywhere from sunny to cloudy. On warmer days, bass will move around more, and the bite is somewhat better, and anglers can throw baits like Quiver Jigs.
You can never go wrong fishing Flat Lake. Hartley said it’s one of the big-bass factories in the spillway when it’s right. In December, Hartley said Duck Lake, Flat Lake and Grand Lakes are all good bets.
Besides these lakes, check out the Bayou Boutte area, the deeper canals off Bayou Sorrel and Big and Little Bayou Jessie. Be sure to fish all cover, structure and points.
December can be a great time to get on the water for some bigger fish. It’s a quieter — less stressful — time outside of weekend competitions. It’s also a month to try a few techniques and tactics for those big bass, and there’s no better place to do it than the Atchafalaya Basin.