Ricky Naquin put his money where his mouth is, winning two major tournaments last year in this swampy area.
Sometimes conventional fishing methods put bass in the boat this time of year in the marsh around Bayou Black. Sometimes it takes unconventional tactics to accomplish that purpose. It took the latter to win a major bass tournament there early last spring on a day when the wind was doing more than huffing and puffing. It was howling and pushing high-performance bass boats faster than the anglers inside them wanted to go.
Ricky Naquin of Thibodaux was on fish that day in a canal south of the Intracoastal Waterway. So were several other competitors in the 146-boat field for the Eric Andolsek Memorial Bass Tournament out of Bob’s Bayou Black Marina in Gibson.
But the wind was the bane of everyone as it blew them along at an unfishable pace. Until, that is, Naquin, who was fishing with Louisiana Sportsman Publisher Tony Taylor, decided to apply the brakes by throwing out an anchor.
That was enough to slow Naquin’s trusty 11-year-old Ranger bass boat to a crawl, and allow him and Taylor enough time to present floating worms to the bass.
Naquin and Taylor started culling at 9:30 a.m. By 11:30 a.m., they had the five bass that would win the tournament at a whopping 22.46 pounds for a first-place prize of $2,100.
They celebrated early, before noon, by pausing to eat a sandwich, sip on a cold drink and call via cellphone to tell their wives they expected to be picking up the winner’s paycheck later that day. Their biggest fish of the day weighed 4.98 pounds and the smallest weighed 4.1 pounds.
Taylor was ecstatic. His first outing in a bass boat in 15 years, he said, was a dominating one.
“Ricky is a great fisherman, and it was a good opportunity,” Taylor told The Advocate’s Joe Macaluso.
“We got on some good fish (in the Lake Penchant area) in practice Thursday. We went back there Saturday and worked the same 250- to 300-yard stretch to catch our fish,” Taylor said.
The other boats in the canal struggled with a fishing pace that was too fast for what the bass wanted that day. None of them put an anchor over the side in an effort to slow down their presentation, which is what it took, according to Naquin.
Taylor said, “It allowed us to work the bank and cast to every spot.”
Naquin, 43, got a chance to demonstrate his floating worm fishing technique and several other unconventional tactics he uses — sans the ultra-high winds of that day — on a mid-April day a few weeks after that big win, which was his second major tournament victory in the first few months of 2003. He also won the 5th annual Budweiser Invitational.
Naquin said he has chalked up about 20 wins in invitational bass tournaments during his 20-year pro bass fishing career.
He is just as efficient as the next guy with a spinnerbait, topwater, crankbait, plastic lizard or jig-n-pig. But there are days when the bass want something different, and he’s got it.
He’s proud of two of his confidence baits because he used his bass-fishing experience and imagination to come up with them. One of them is a floating worm, and the other is a creature bait he puts together himself.
“Ever throw a floating worm? Ever put a swivel about 18 inches ahead of it? It will give it a little weight but not affect the action of the worm,” Naquin said while throwing a green pumpkin straight-tail plastic worm. It fell freely after it hit the water, but he could still feel tension thanks to the slight weight of the No. 12 swivel, he said.
Naquin believes he was fishing with that weightless Carolina-rigged artificial lure long before Carolina-rigging became popular in Louisiana.
He credited Jake Gravois of Vacherie for showing him the floating worm-behind-a-swivel technique.
Bass of all sizes, apparently, can’t resist it.
His creature bait is a work of art. He thinks he saw and read about something similar several years ago but doesn’t recall when or what magazine.
“When fish get real finicky, this’ll catch them,” he said matter-of-factly while holding one out for inspection. The thing was so ugly it was beautiful.
It was a No. 2 hook with a weedguard, a black/blue jig skirt, rattle tubes and a 4-inch black/blue plastic ringworm. The skirt snugs up just below the eye of the hook.
“The good thing about this bait, it doesn’t hang up. You can throw it into anything. It’s tough to hang up. It’s got all the things you want for slow fishing,” he said. “It’s a little different. Think about it. Everybody throws a jig. This sinks super slow. It is different, and I like to throw something different.”
But, he said from experience, it’s difficult to throw in windy conditions.
Naquin knows his way around a fishing rod, boat and marsh near his hometown. The lifelong Thibodaux resident grew up fishing for speckled trout and bass. He started devoting more time to bass fishing as he got older.
He has been married to Leslie Danos Naquin since 1981. They have two children, Benjamin, 18, and Allison, 15, both students at E.D. White High School in Thibodaux. Benjamin, he said, could be a successful bass tournament angler if he got back into serious bass fishing.
The teen-ager learned to cast a baitcasting reel at age 5, and spent many a day scouting for tournaments with his dad, he said.
As much as the older Naquin loves bass fishing, his No. 1 passion is deer hunting.
“If I could deer hunt all year, I probably wouldn’t fish,” he said.
Naquin — who has been the Louisiana Sportsman’s circulation director since August 2002, after working four years as a salesman for Baton Rouge-based Murray Biscuit Co. — has learned his favorite bass fishing areas in the marsh very well. He rarely ventures away from Bayou Copasaw, Turtle Bayou and Deer Island Bayou.
“I try to stay in Turtle Bayou and Copasaw. You can know too many areas … you don’t know which ones to scout,” he said.
Average depth of many of the canals he frequents in late winter and spring is 2 to 5 feet, he said.
“If you can find 3- or 5-foot, that seems to me to be the best for bigger fish, and not right on the bank. The fish we caught in the (Andolsek) tournament were 7, 8 feet off the bank,” Naquin said, and added that he thinks bigger bass, i.e. older bass, realize the water level fluctuates in the marsh so they don’t nest right along the shoreline.
Each spring is different in the marsh as far as successful bass fishing patterns, he said.
“A spinnerbait is one of my favorite baits,” he said, “but I haven’t been able to catch (keeper-sized bass) on it this year. All the better fish are on plastics this year. Generally, you catch good spawning fish on spinnerbaits back here because they’re in the grass.”
Naquin likes to throw a 1/4-ounce modified Humdinger spinnerbait with a chartreuse/blue/white skirt in clear or slightly stained water and a chartreuse skirt in stained water. It is especially effective on wind-blown shorelines, he said.
As if to prove his point, he moved to the windy side of the canal and started retrieving a spinnerbait around grass beds. He promptly missed a 3-pound class bass.
“I can’t believe I missed that fish. I even put a trailer hook on, and I never fish with a trailer,” he said.
A few minutes later, he missed a smaller bass near a grassy patch, threw the spinnerbait right back at it, cranked the baitcasting reel a few times and set the hook. The 1 1/4-pounder didn’t get away.
Conditions and the fish tell him what he’ll tie on and cast, though.
“I try to focus on what the fish are doing. I like to catch fish on a spinnerbait,” he said. “But I’m going to fish what I need to. This year it’s all been slow baits. All of my better fish have been plastics and jigs this year. You’re not going to make them bite something they don’t want to bite. You’ve got to let the fish dictate to you what you’re going to fish. If I could catch on spinnerbaits or topwaters all the time, I would.”
Naquin said he made Taylor, an experienced speckled trout angler, a believer in his floating worm technique while prefishing for the Andolsek tournament last March 30. He calls it his finesse Carolina rig.
“Tony said, ‘Whatcha gonna catch with that?’ I told him, ‘Hopefully a good fish.’ On my third or fourth cast, I had a 5-pound fish, right away,” he said, still relishing the moment. “You know how you want to catch something just because somebody said something? He said, ‘You got another one like that?’ We caught some big fish.”
Watch him work the floating worm, and you’ll be lulled to sleep. He rarely moves it.
“I throw it all year. I don’t quit. This time of year, I throw it out and let it sit. Let it sit and let the bite come to you,” he said. “During the summer, I twitch it, move it a little faster.”
Bigger bass usually grab onto it and either hold it right where they bite or ease off with it, he said. It is important to watch the fishing line, he added.
“Most of the time, it’s just a feeling, a pressure. You don’t feel a thump or a pull,” he said.
That partly cloudy day on the water, he threw the floating worm about 80 percent of the time. He caught seven fish and missed three on spinnerbaits in the first few hours after sunrise, then met an outdoor writer at Bayou Black Marina and headed for Bayou Copasaw.
Naquin boated seven more bass ranging from 1 pound to nearly 3 pounds. Three of them bit on the floating worm, including a 2 1/2-pounder
He never did hook up with the bass that broke one of his fishing rods a few weeks earlier. He probed the canal thoroughly, though, looking for it.
“Boy, I sure would like to set a hook in him today. That would be the fish” to hold up to the camera for the Louisiana Sportsman, he said.
It was a little too early for topwaters, he said, but he did catch a nice bass in mid-afternoon on a chrome/blue Chug Bug.
“Oh, we’ve caught some fish back here on this thing,” he said. “The best day I ever had with that thing was nine fish over 4 pounds. We’d jump from point to point. If the fish was on the point, within the first few casts he’d bite it.
“(But) it’s early for topwaters back here,” he said. “I find they don’t bite better until the water comes down in May. You’ll find some on Rogues when they’re bedding.”
In January, February and March, he said, he likes to downsize the artificial lures he uses in the marsh.
When Naquin throws a jig-n-pig in March and April, he ties on a 3/16- or 5/16-ounce Stanley or Slam Dunk model, he said.
Some of the best bass fishing in the marsh happens in May and June, he said, after the water level drops. Drains and points are the places to be then, he said.
“Last year when the water started falling, I had 200- to 300-fish days … a lot of small ones 10 to 12 to 13 inches, a lot of mixed fish up to 3 pounds,” he said.
In the dog days of summer, he has caught plenty of keeper-sized bass by punching a 1 1/2-ounce jig-n-pig with rattles through the lily-pad mats that line the sides of canals in the marsh, he said.
“You can catch really big fish doing that. They’re not pressured fish. That’s the main thing,” he said. “You might only get eight bites a day … but they’ll be good fish. I’ve won several club tournaments doing that.”
But for April, he said, concentrate bass fishing efforts at the backs of dead-end canals, unless a canal has “really good structure” before the dead-end. And if a canal has a lot of grass and very little wood, you can almost bet on pulling a bass off any wood there is, he said.
If it’s too windy, toss the anchor over. And if you’ve got a Carolina-rigged floating worm or homemade creature bait, offer it to the bass.
It’s unconventional but, hey, it works by triggering strikes from bass. Ask Naquin.