These bass anglers can’t help but return to the Alabama Landing section of the Ouachita River.
I fell in love with the Ouachita River exactly one week after I pulled up stakes in South Louisiana and headed north. This affair began as my first trip to the river ended with a 7-pound bass on the proverbial “last cast.” A friend and I had decided to try the river after getting skunked at Bayou DeSiard the day after we started classes at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. We could hardly wait until the weekend arrived to try fishing some real water.
The relentless barrage of bass that bit our worms was something that neither of us had ever experienced. All we were doing was pitching Texas-rigged black/blue ringworms to laydowns and stumps on the banks of the Ouachita. The bass were there, and they bit.
Fishing isn’t supposed to be easy, but this was a no-brainer.
As the sun started to set, we pulled up to a lone laydown that my friend suggested we fish. It was all by itself on an ugly looking bank. My first pitch to the downcurrent side of the tree trunk was greeted by an authoritative strike. The ensuing battle ended when I slipped my hand into the mouth of the lunker bass — the largest I had ever caught at that point.
That bass wasn’t the only thing hooked that day. The Ouachita River didn’t have me at hello, but it sure did hook me before I could say goodbye.
I came to love these banks along the river that had a seemingly endless supply of shallow-water cover. Two fellow anglers that were in the same bass club as I informed me that these kinds of banks were called “junk banks.” I could tell by the tone of their voices that they loved fishing them just as much as I did.
It wasn’t long before I learned from these two anglers that some of the best junk banks in the Ouachita River were between the town of Sterlington and an area north of there known as Alabama Landing.
Every time I fished this stretch of the river during a club tournament, I invariably ran into Doug Crain and Chris Morgan — the two anglers who shared my passion for fishing the junk banks.
It has been a few years since I fished the junk banks between Sterlington and Alabama Landing, so I called Crain recently to see if he wanted to go see if we could still slam them like we used to.
“I haven’t been on the river in a while,” he said. “Where do you want to go?”
“I was thinking about trying Alabama Landing,” I answered.
That was all it took to convince Crain to postpone some work plans and go fishing.
We started off fishing the mouth of a little creek that flows into the river just north of the mouth of Bartholomew Bayou.
“There are a lot more cuts and drains in this section of the river than there are farther south,” Crain said as he pulled a rod rigged with a Carolina rig from his rod locker. “There used to always be some fish in these things. They’re great places to pick up a keeper or two. Let’s see if they’re still around.”
Crain began dragging a junebug Baby Brush Hog through the cut while I mined it with a 200 Series Bandit crankbait. Shad were jumping all over the place, and a few looked as if they were trying to get away from something.
A small spotted bass inhaled my crankbait off one of the points in the cut. As I was trying to unhook it without getting a handful of treble hooks, I heard Crain grunt as he set the hook.
“I guess they still call these cuts home,” he cackled as he fought the chunky largemouth to his boat.
The cuts between Sterlington and Alabama Landing consist of a shallow flat in the middle of the cut with a major drop-off somewhere out in front of that. The major drop is typically underneath where most anglers position their boats.
“These fish move up from the drop to the flat to feed,” Crain said. “I tend to fish the middle of the cut more so than the deep drop because I’d rather fish for bass that are looking for something to eat than those that are just lounging around. If somebody would sit out a little deeper and cover every inch of the main drop, they could rack up if they’re patient.”
Crain’s experience fishing the cuts has taught him what lures consistently produce bass. His mainstay is the Carolina rig with a 3/4-ounce sinker and a 2-foot leader with either a Zoom Baby Brush Hog or a centipede. He goes with junebug in stained water and shades of watermelon or green pumpkin in clearer water.
Crankbaits like the 200-series Bandits are another of Crain’s favorite lures. Chartreuse patterns like blue/chartreuse or firetiger work well anytime, but if there’s a strong shad bite, he switches to the shad patterns.
“And if I can’t catch them on anything else,” Crain said, “I tie on a black Bandit.”
The cut dried up almost as quickly as it got hot, and Crain and I decided to get to work on what we really wanted to do — fishing the junk banks. As we motored toward Alabama Landing, one of us would periodically point to a bank that we remembered as having been good in the past, and we would stop and fish.
Crain pitched a moccasin-colored jig with a watermelon/chartreuse crawfish trailer. I alternated between a Texas-rigged black/blue tube and a green pumpkin Baby Brush Hog. I also tried a Bandit every now and then just to keep them honest.
We picked up a few fish here and there. The spotted bass were especially attracted to the Bandit, but they weren’t very big. However, they made up in intensity what they lacked in size. Crain got a bite on his jig every now and then.
It was fun fishing, but it wasn’t exactly the old Alabama slammer we used to put on them.
“We need to make a move,” Crain suggested. “There isn’t much current on these banks we’ve been fishing, and I know a bank just north of Alabama Landing that always has some current on it no matter what’s happening elsewhere. It’s kind of an outside bend, and the river narrows up a little. We’ll catch them there.”
We arrived at Crain’s secret bank, and were thrilled to find some current. Crain explained that fishing the junk banks is always better when there is some flow in the river.
“All the wood cover on these banks breaks up the current,” he said. “The bass will get right behind anything that breaks the flow. This bank in particular is so good because it’s a combination of a junk bank and a bluff bank. The bass can get behind a tree trunk with their noses stuck in a crevice on the bluff. You’ve got to pitch your bait right up against the bank to get bit.”
Crain began to surgically pitch his jig into tight holes around the laydowns. The jig would skitter across the top of the water, hit the bluff and fall straight down. The places he was fishing didn’t look like they could hold a shad, much less a largemouth. Yet, the largemouth were there in water that didn’t look deep enough to hide them.
“There he is,” Crain grunted as he bowed up on a chunky spotted bass. “And this is the first piece of cover we fished on this bank. We should get six or seven more before we get to the other end.”
Crain and I relived our Alabama slammer days on that bank. Before we got to the other end, we had hooked and landed several bass that couldn’t resist our jigs and tubes.
The fishing was good enough that we decided to make another pass, but we never got another bite.
We decided to pack it up and head back to the ramp. We had proved to ourselves that we could still slam them around Alabama Landing. We got back to the Sterlington ramp, and were surprised to find Morgan putting his boat on the trailer.
“You still catch them up here like we used to?” I asked.
“You kidding?” Morgan responded. “Of course I still catch them up here. This is still the best stretch of the river as far as catching numbers of bass.”
I coaxed Morgan to park his truck and keep his boat in the water. We said goodbye to Crain and headed back upriver to see what we could find.
I noticed that Morgan had several rods rigged with different kinds of lures. He explained that, while there are still plenty fish around Alabama Landing, he had been having to show them some different lures to keep them biting.
Morgan told me he had been fishing a local tournament, and that he and his partner had been fishing the same areas that Crain and I had fished.
“We probably had 20 or so bites today,” he said. “We just couldn’t get very many big fish to bite. I lost a couple of good ones that got me hung up in a laydown. They were eating that black/red worm just like they used to.”
I noticed that Morgan had a gold propeller lure tied on, as well as a fat, wide-wobbling crankbait. I quizzed him on where he had been throwing them.
“We were throwing those around the bluff banks,” he answered. “Along with all the junk banks up here, there are a ton of good bluff banks. You know as well as anybody that the bass will gang up on these bluffs during the summer.”
Morgan explained that the high, clay bluff banks around Alabama Landing are actually made up of two banks.
“There’s the bank you can see,” he said. “And there’s the old bank line about 4 or 5 feet off the bank you can’t see. The position of the fish depends on current and how active they are.”
Morgan says the best way to break down the bluff banks is to position your boat next to the bank and make parallel casts along the bluff. He starts fishing the visible bank with topwaters like buzz baits and large propeller baits to see of he can draw a fish to the surface. He pays particular attention to any little nook or cranny along the bluff wall where a bass could find relief from the current.
If he doesn’t get any takers against the visible wall, Morgan works these same topwater lures a few feet off the bank to see if he can draw a strike from bass positioned on the secondary bank.
After working the topwater lures, Morgan begins a systematic process that eliminates water until he reaches the bottom.
“I’ll try a spinnerbait buzzed just under the surface after I try the topwaters,” he said. “A spinnerbait is a great lure on the bluffs because you can pinpoint the depth of the fish. If they don’t eat it near the surface, you can slow it down and work progressively deeper until you get a strike.”
If the spinnerbait fails to produce, Morgan goes through the same process with different crankbaits from shallow divers to deep divers.
“If I don’t get any bites on all that,” he said, “I’ll try a jig or a Texas-rigged worm before I go try a different bluff.”
Crain and Morgan have learned through the years to not get discouraged if they don’t catch fish off of any one particular bank. Ouachita River bass are notorious for being “here today and gone tomorrow.” They both fish the junk banks and bluff banks until they find a group of fish.
“Once you get a bite on a bank up here, you need to slow down and work that bank over,” said Crain. “For whatever reason, if you catch one bass on a particular bank, you’ll likely catch several more. And that’s when you can really start slamming them around Alabama Landing.”