Front Frenzy

Most anglers avoid fishing right after a cold front blows through the state, but bass in the streams and bayous on Lake Ponchartrain’s North Shore go bananas.

Vapor clouds billowed with every breath as the anglers worked their way past a bridge, working the pilings that normally held bass.

“There are brush piles all around the bridge,” Metairie’s Bobby Guitreau said. “We usually pick up several fish right here.”Temperatures were reported to be in the upper 30s north of Lake Pontchartrain, but the two anglers shivered, doubting that the radio meteorologists were correct.

The sun had yet to breach the horizon, so light leaked through the trees slowly.

Minutes after giving up on the bridge and moving farther southward along the banks, the anglers settled into a comfortable pattern of good-natured sniping about who would catch the most fish.

“Last time, I was down seven to one, and then came back and beat him,” laughed Marshal Hirstins of Metairie.

A sudden loud splashing down the bayou broke the early morning silence. A group of does were pulling ashore on a small island.

“You see them?” Hirstins asked. “There’s four of them. See, there’s three on the bank and one swimming across.”

The deer were only about 60 yards from Guitreau’s boat; they watched the anglers warily, but didn’t spook.

The reason became clear moments later when another deer came swimming across the bayou, only its radar-like ears visible. This fifth doe was a yearling, and as soon as it sloshed out of the water, the older does lost interest in the fishermen and turned into the woods.

“We see deer all the time out here,” Hirstins said.

As if the deer had sounded an alarm, the bass began to bite the red shad worms offered by Guitreau and Hirstins.

But the fish were finicky, popping the lures but never sucking in the hooks.

Frustration set in quickly as bass after bass was missed. All the anglers were left with were worms that had been pulled off the keeper pegs of their hooks.

“I’m waiting for a suicide bass to break the ice,” Hirstins chuckled.

The anglers fished shoulder to shoulder, working both sides of the bank.

Hirstins frequently paused to rub his hands together or stick them under his arms to warm them.

“I didn’t think it would be this cold. I didn’t bring enough clothes,” he said. “I heard the reports that it was 38 degrees on the North Shore, but it wasn’t that cold when I walked out of my door.”

Of course, that was in Metairie, which during the winter is heavily influenced by the warm Lake Pontchartrain air.

Guitreau just kept fishing.

“I’m warm,” he said, snuggled into his thermal underwear, jeans and coveralls with his closely shaven head covered with a stocking cap.

Cane Bayou was relatively narrow, but its diminutive size was more than compensated for by its beauty. Tall timber stretched away from the banks, cypress sprinkled along the shallows and quickly giving way to towering pines.

The waterway is little more than a wide ditch where it crosses under Highway 190 just southeast of Mandeville, but it widens out to several boat widths by the time it reaches the bridge on which bikers from Fountainebleu State Park pedal.

About halfway from there to Lake Pontchartrain, Cane Bayou experiences a distinct habitat change.

“There are fewer trees toward the front of the bayou,” Guitreau said. “It turns to marsh down there.”

As the sun’s strong yellow light finally began piercing the horizon, the drought was broken.

The team was working their lures on the edge of some small lilies and eel grass when the distinct sound of a hookset changed the mood on the boat.

Guitreau crowed, needling his longtime fishing partner as he fought the first fish of the day to the boat.

The bass wasn’t a trophy, but it was first blood, and Guitreau was re-energized.

Soon, both anglers were picking up scattered fish, although they admitted the action wasn’t what they were hoping for.

“There are days when we catch 30, 40, 50 fish,” Hirstins said. “The day is still young, though.”

He knew better than to give up, having learned that fish can stack up in small areas anywhere along the bayou.

“Sometimes we’ll catch them in the back of the bayou, and sometimes in the front,” Hirstins said. “When you find them like that, you can catch 30 or 40 fish without moving.”

The bass aren’t all studs, by any measure. Most will weigh about 1 1/2 pounds.

But there are some 3-pounders swimming around their little honeyhole.

“I’ve heard people say they’ve got 5-pounders in there, but we’ve never seen any that big,” Guitreau said.

The larger fish the duo does catch seem to hang farther down the bayou, where it dumps into Lake Pontchartrain.

The key to finding fish is to time your trip so that the water will be pulling out of the cuts that are scattered along the banks.

“You want to come the day after a cold front,” Guitreau said. “The day after the front, the wind isn’t blowing as hard (as the day of the front), and it’s easier to fish.”

The north winds associated with these fronts move the water south, and the result will be pockets of clear water in which the bass teem.

“You can pick up fish anywhere, but it seems to be where the water clears up that you catch the most,” Hirstins said.

And when these anglers speak of clear water, they mean very clear water.

“When the water’s clear, you can see that it’s only about a foot and it drops to 6 feet,” he said. “You can see almost to the bottom.”

Many anglers avoid such water, since bass can see so well, but Hirstins said they don’t have trouble at all.

“We’ve never really had any problems fishing that clear water because it’s so deep,” he explained.

Although they generally wait until the day after a front, the anglers hastened to add that a dead-calm day isn’t what they’re after.

“The north wind gets the water moving,” Hirstins said. “That’s what we want.

“It also pulls the water out of those cuts and ponds and stuff (on the south end of the bayou).”

That’s why they love to be on the water during January and February, when the fronts are rolling through on a regular basis.

“The water will be a lot lower,” Guitreau said.

But they also take into consideration the moon phase when planning trips.

“It’s always best to fish on the new moon,” Guitreau said. “You’ll have lower tides.”

That, he opined, was the problem with this trip.

“We’re coming off a full moon. You’ve got higher tides, and that tide is coming in from the lake,” Guitreau said.

On the upper end of the bayou, where there is an absence of cuts, the fish will be positioned right on the dropoffs just out from the bank.

“The bank will be about 1 1/2 feet deep on the bank, and then it’s a straight drop to 6 feet,” Hirstins said. “That’s where the fish will hold.

“You don’t have all the cuts up here (on the top end of the bayou) that pull that water out of the marsh.”

So he and Guitreau simply work their way slowly down the banks, pitching their worms out and working them off the ledges.

Of course, any wood lying near the ledges will be worked thoroughly.

Grass lines pinpoint where the ledges are.

“See where that grass line is?” Guitreau asked. “You don’t want to throw inside that grass because it’s all 6 inches deep.”

The key is to keep your bait right on the edge of the grass, where the water depths change quickly.

“You want to throw right on the outside of that, and stay as parallel as possible,” Guitreau said. “The fish will be looking up at that grass on those dropoffs, looking for bait.”

As the surrounding topography changes from upland woods to marshes, the points of focus shift.

While grass lines continue to crop up and hold a few fish, Guitreau and Hirstins find bass much more concentrated around cuts bleeding out of the marshes.

“Where the water pulls out of the marshes, that’s where the fish will be,” Guitreau said. “You’ll see water pouring out of the cuts, just boiling when it meets the bayou.

“That’s where the fish will be stacked up.”

Worms are thrown into the cut, and the current is allowed to do most of the work.

“You’ll see that clear water coming out of that cut, and there’ll be cloudy water way out,” Guitreau said. “You throw into that clear water (in the cut), and it’ll blow the worm out into that mixing water.

“That’s where they’ll be.”

As soon as the bait sweeps into the deeper water, bass attack the lures viciously.

“The fish, I guess, situate facing into the cut on that drop, watching for bait coming out,” Hirstins explained.

Although the most-predictable fishing will be at the mouths of the cuts, Guitreau and Hirstins don’t run-and-gun to these hotspots. Instead, they fish their way from one runout to the next.

That’s because wind-swept water creates current breaks at other places along the bayou, namely on the many bends.

“See how that wind is blowing this water around that curve, and then it’s calm?” Guitreau said. “A lot of times, that’s where they stack up because that water is blowing out up here, and it might be coming in (with the tide) off the lakes.”

Obviously, these cross-current situations are more likely the farther south on the bayou they go.

The pair of anglers fish to the very mouth of Cane Bayou, but don’t venture out into the lake.

One reason is Guitreau’s 16-foot Pro-Gator simply isn’t up to the challenges of the lake.

But Guitreau also said there’s a big sand flat that stretches across the confluence of the bayou and lake.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up stuck,” he said.

Hirstins agreed.

“When the water’s low, you can see the grass bed out there. It’s very shallow,” he said.

They use red shad Culprit worms because they are the best lures they’ve found for picking up these bass.

“A lot of people will come through any of these cuts and work a spinnerbait …, but we prefer to work slow like this,” Guitreau said.

Hirstins added that the blades do work at times, but often those faster lures just don’t catch many of the Cane Bayou fish.

“When it’s slow (fishing) like this, a worm is the way to go,” he said. The anglers also believe in lightly weighted worms, so they usually have tiny 1/8-ounce bullet weights rigged in front of their hooks.

“You want the current to pull that bait; you don’t want it to just sit there,” Guitreau said. “When that bait is moving with the current, it’s moving right to where the fish are.”

There are occasions, however, when heavier weights are necessary.

“If the current is real hard, we might go to a little bit bigger weight,” Hirstins said.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.