Living the Dream

Fishing the Bayou Sale area will make any rookie think he’s a bass pro.

I admit, when it comes to bass fishing I am only a novice at best. That doesn’t keep me from daydreaming, however, that I just might be able to hang with some of the pros if the conditions were right.

Like most fish stories, this “hanging with the pros” stuff sounds like stretching a 14-inch fish into another category. But isn’t a guy entitled to his dreams? Moreover, I realize that if I were a betting man, I certainly wouldn’t be betting on yours truly. Yet, note that I said, “I might be able to hang … if the conditions were right.”

My first condition would be to fish the canals south of the Intracoastal Waterway and east of Bayou Sale Bay. It is in these canals that I dream of going pro.

The second condition would be making sure I was ready to start fishing the moment the tide started to fall. The short time frame where the tide sort of stands motionless is when you should be running to the canals to rig up your favorite bait.

Finally, my third condition would be to keep my running around looking for fish to a minimum by concentrating on hitting the little drainages and small bayous that empty into these canals.

My regular fishing partner/spouse, Christine, and I frequent the canals in pursuit of bass and panfish. While I’m throwing plastic worms, beetle spins and spinnerbaits, she’s throwing a bobber and a worm. What can I say? It keeps her happy and lets me continue my pipe dream.

Recently, we made a trip to Bayou Sale, and it was one of those days the stars all lined up. The weather, the tide, water clarity — you name it — were right.

I tossed a Texas-rigged black worm with a pink curly tail and BAM! Giving a heave, I set the hook on the little rig, and landed my first fish of the day. On my second cast, it was the same thing, but different result. He threw the bait and cut it up pretty good. I dug in my box, grabbed another plastic worm, and quickly was back in business.

Meanwhile, my purist fishing spouse was steady reeling in bream with the same frequency I was getting bass strikes. There was literally a feeding frenzy going on as the tide began running out of the mouth of the little bayou that emptied into the end of the canal.

In short order, I closed in on my limit, and began releasing the smaller fish — not that I was pulling in lunkers, mind you, but I was catching respectable, 1 1/2- to 2-pound fish that provided a lot of fun and made for some delicious white and flaky cuisine.

April is perhaps the first month when the action begins to heat up in the canals. Two Patterson area locals, Gerald Foulcard and Ackaloy Paul, know the Bayou Sale canals well.

Foulcard is president of the Bullet Bass Club, started in 2003, and was the club’s 2004 angler of the year. He and fellow member Paul are experienced bass types who have guided for pros Alvin Shaw, Robert Pierson and Jason Pittman.

“The area is not known to produce big bass — 2 pounds is about average — but there are some fish in the 5- to 6-pound range.”

His personal best from the area is a 5-pound, 8-ounce lunker.

Paul agreed that what the area lacks in size, it makes up for in numbers.

“You won’t catch quality 3 1/2- to 4-pound fish, but you will catch quantity,” he said. “What makes Bayou Sale so good is there is lots of baitfish.”

It is not uncommon to see skipjacks, shad, minnows, small mullets and perch in the clear water, which, according to Paul, is the prettiest he has ever seen.

But what exactly makes the water of these little bayous and canals along the coast so clear?

St. Mary Land & Exploration Company land manager James Duay has an idea.

“The water doesn’t flow through the area like it used to years ago,” he said.

According to Duay, the canals that cut through the marsh are the reason.

“The Blue and Shaft bayous used to flow into the area carrying water from upriver,” he said. “Now those bayous are silting up. There’s not a lot of flow going into some of the longer canals.”

In these clear canals, the best action kicks off this month.

“In April after the spawn, the females are actively feeding to build their body weight back up,” Foulcard said. “April is the month when the subaquatic vegetation starts to bloom. It forms a sort of green sheen-like plankton that floats on the water. You’ve seen it.

“When this occurs, it draws the baitfish, and baitfish draw predator fish. The little fry start nibbling on this growth.”

Of course with ever-changing tides, weather, high water, and only having the weekend, it is seldom when all the right ingredients occur or come together at the same time.

One of the tactics I employ is to find the little sloughs emptying into the canal or where the canal intersects a bayou. Often there will be a mud line with clear water on one side and muddy, cloudy water on the other. The predator fish like to linger and hide on the cloudy side and strike the confused baitfish as they pass on the clear side. I try to cast right on this line when I am fishing spots like these.

Since the area around Bayou Sale is tidal, some days start out with the tide dead low. This can present some problems as well as opportunities.

“When the water is low, before it comes up, I use some crankbaits and Rat-L-Traps,” Foulcard said. “If I have covered the area pretty good, I’ll try a lizard or jig just to keep them honest. When the water is higher, I’ll fish the drop-offs first.”

Paul, on the other hand, insists on using his favorite chartreuse/white spinnerbait with gold or silver blades in the muddy water. Paul has caught his biggest fish in muddy water.

Paul learned from two old-school guys, the late Willie Wise and Vic Darce

“Vic would say, ‘Ackaloy, the thing about spinnerbaits is you can fish them on top, in the middle or on the bottom, and catch fish,’” Paul recounted.

Paul has several spinnerbaits handcrafted by Wise that bring him fond memories. As a tribute, he doesn’t use them, but displays them as memorials.

As a novice, I try and keep the artificial baits I use in the canals pretty basic. It was only recently that I added anything to my basic trio, trying Strike King’s new, salt-impregnated, bleeding tube. Sorry, no results yet. But after watching a guy with a fully rigged, zillion-dollar bass boat troll by, using one, then promptly catching a fish, I decided to try a tube too. I mean why not? Worst case, they will look good when I open my tackle box.

I also have started adding a red trailer hook to my spinnerbaits. What led me to try this addition was none other than Christine. While I was at work, she was watching the outdoor channel, and picked up on the suggestion.

While working some canal banks back in January, when the water was much colder, I had bass throw the hook on a couple of occasions. I would feel the hit, and when I attempted to set the hook, out it came.

On one occasion I had the fish on with the pole bent over sharply. The fish simply let go. I could be wrong, but the trailer hook is a good solution to that problem.

As it turned out, I managed a few bass, with a couple of them in the 2-pound range.

The beauty of fishing Bayou Sale is when the bass aren’t biting in the canals and the pipe dream doesn’t quite equate to reality, you can always change up. By making a short run and heading to the mouths of Big Beach, Little Beach or Bayou Sale where they open up into the bay, you can always manage to pick up a few catfish. What’s more, if you’re lucky, you might pick up one or two redfish feeding in the shallow bay water.

I’m not ready to start talking too much smack or do the tournament thing just yet, but I’m getting there. In the meantime, I’ll consider taking on a few challengers as long as we fish under my conditions on my turf — the canals and bayous of Bayou Sale.