A government boondoggle results in limits of stripers for Bogue Chitto anglers every summer.
“Son, you gotta be there shootin’ when the ducks are flyin’!” I can hear those 40-something-year-old words as if they were uttered just last season.
Simple and no-brainish as it is, that might have been the single best piece of advice ever given to an eager, young sportsman. While it was meant as a waterfowl hunting tip, it’s been a dogma I’ve tried to follow throughout my hunting and fishing lifetime.
You know what I’m talking about — take advantage of what Mother Nature offers when and where she offers it. If you really want to improve your chances of having successful trips, you don’t go bream fishing in mid-August or speckled trout fishing in the Grand Isle surf in February.
Even within the confines of their restrictive seasons, you don’t hunt turkeys on a windy rainy, muggy morning just like you hurt your chances bass fishing the day after a December cold front passes through.
In these modern, multi-tasking times when sportsmen have to juggle jobs at the office or plant with little Heather’s dance reviews and Johnny’s soccer schedule, it’s important to make that precious time spent chasing fish and game as productive as possible.
To do that, you have to take advantage of time of year, weather conditions and other variables that create high success probabilities.
One of the best examples of that is a fishing phenomenon that occurs for a limited time each summer in St. Tammany Parish near the Louisiana-Mississippi border on the Bogue Chitto River. More specifically, it occurs primarily from late June through August at the Bogue Chitto sill located between Locks 2 and 3.
The intended purpose of the sill was not to create a fish-friendly environment. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help maintain water flow in the Pearl River Navigation Canal.
The canal was constructed with a locking system so that it would (no laughing, please) allow ships from Bogalusa to connect with the Gulf of Mexico via Lake Pontchartrain, thus creating a new port city. History has since proven the whole idea to be nothing more than a huge government boondoggle.
Well not exactly, because the by-products have been paved roads to launches and parking facilities that allow access to the Bogue Chitto River and Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge.
But that’s all another political story for another time. Bottom line is this sill, when conditions are right, provides some outstanding fishing for striped bass, hybrid striped bass and other freshwater species.
When the water levels get low, the drop-off level from the sill becomes more pronounced. And when that happens, fish congregate in the turbulent water that pools up immediately on the low end of the sill.
Baitfish from the high end crash down into the white, foamy chop that accumulates directly under the sill. The baitfish along with crawfish, small amphibians and anything else that gets swept over the sill and into the swirling waters below become disoriented or possibly injured, and are easy prey for the predator fish that lie in wait.
The most aggressive and commonly caught fish during this time at this location, for whatever reasons, are striped bass. Their close relatives, hybrid stripers and white bass, are also likely to be caught.
Identifying largemouths from stripers is easy for even the most inexperienced freshwater angler. But distinguishing a striper from a hybrid is a little tougher task and requires some skill and knowledge.
For starters, hybrid stripers are actually crosses between striped bass and white bass. They are reared in fish hatcheries and then released into the wild.
The most common way to identify a striper from a hybrid is to observe their side stripes. On the hybrid, they will be broken and irregular, while pure stripers’ lines are mostly straight and unbroken. Both are a silvery color with light greenish stripes that vary in color with water quality and clarity.
The good thing about stripers and hybrids is that they share the same daily catch limit. Anglers can keep any combination of five per day of which no more than two can exceed 30 inches in length. Be aware that the limit is for the total number of both species together — not five each, separately, for a total of 10.
The Louisiana Outdoor Writer Association (LOWA) state fish record for striped bass is a 47.5-pound monster caught in 1991 at Toledo Bend. Oddly enough, 1991 was the same year the current 16.25-pound hybrid striper record was set in Lake Pontchartrain.
Don’t expect to catch anything like those below the sill, but occasionally some 12-plus-pounders do show up and make for an interesting fight on light tackle.
While it’s not as critical to identify stripers from hybrids, it is to know a white bass from the other two. The daily limit for white bass is a very generous 50 per day in addition to the stripers and hybrids. By releasing misidentified fish, you could be cheating yourself out of extra keepers.
White bass also have side stripes but have a shorter, more compact body style more similar to the hybrid than the striper, but their lines are unbroken. The sure-fire way to distinguish whites from hybrids and stripers is to check their tooth patches. The white has only one, while hybrids and stripers both have two.
There’s two ways to fish the sill. Some anglers prefer to stand on the banks and cast into the frothy backwash. Others prefer to wade fish.
Wade fishing has some advantages, especially on those really hot days. You can get closer to the action, and a dip into the chilly, flowing waters of the Bogue Chitto can keep you cool under a hot summer sun.
The drawback is sometimes it’s hard to keep your footing since rocks on the bed can create some underwater hazards. Going barefoot a la Huck Finn’s not an especially good idea here since there’s likely to be some snagged hooks and lures lining the bottom.
Either from the bank or in the river, you can use live bait or artificials. Some anglers prefer to bring a cast net to catch a mixture of baitfish that might include shad and minnows. If you’re not into catching your own, store-bought shiners work well, but it’s best to pick up your bait before you reach the launches because the public launches have no bait shops nearby.
The best method to fish with live bait is to either free line a hooked baitfish or use a small split shot to help it sink into the strike zone. That strike zone can range from the surface down to the bottom.
The predator fish seem work the entire water column, so artificials such as floating topwaters and those that are slow sinking seem to be the most effective. Clear to lighter colors seem to work best.
Whether using live bait or working the artificials, cast directly into the white water. Often a strike will occur directly beneath the sill; other times the fish will hit baits as they are carried by current into the calm pockets closer to the shore.
As far as tackle, there’s nothing really special required. Baitcasting or spincasting reels are equally popular. Ten- to 12-pound-test line will handle just about anything you’ll hook here.
Leaders aren’t necessary and tend to restrict the natural movement of live or artificial baits as they twitch and fall in the swirling water. A good sturdy hook to hold the stripers is necessary, but you don’t want something too stout to allow live bait to swim freely or even kill it. I like a 2/0 plain shank hook as a good compromise.