Marsh bass don’t disappear when during the summer months. In fact, they provide great action for those anglers willing to brave the hot weather.
“So uhhh — Dad. Why do we have to leave again?” my son Jason asked, while he was setting his crankbait with a solid jerk into another little marsh bass.
There was what seemed like a long pause while I contemplated my answer to his question, something I normally did as a father who raised three intelligent boys. Moreover, I knew he was messing with me because there wasn’t a good answer, no matter how I put it.
“Well if we do stay,” I replied, “we’re not going to get much work done.”
“So? And?” he said, while I watched him carefully remove the treble hooks from the lips of his catch.
The hot Saturday in August had us down in the marsh early in the morning, not really to fish but to work on deer stands to get them ready for the October season opener.
Our lease happened to be in Area 7, where the LDWF sets the gun season pretty early to coincide with the peak of the rut for the region — which means season preparations start for us during the hottest part of the year.
The last thing that should ever be in the boat at this time of year when heading to the marsh to work is a couple of fishing poles and a tackle box loaded with assorted baits. But, I knew that — so what the heck — we’d catch a few fish and go to work.
Only, once you get into a fish frenzy, where the bass are schooled up like a pack of wolves biting anything — and I mean anything — it’s hard to pull yourself away.
My father-in-law once shared a story with me about how he got into some marsh bass while checking an oil-field pipeline. Seeing bass hitting baitfish along the edge of a canal bank was more than he could take. He happened to have a fishing pole laying in the bow of his airboat.
Digging around for a bait of some sort and finding a little plastic jig in a toolbox under the front deck, he went to catching fish until the bait was destroyed. Improvising by cutting a narrow strip of his light blue shirttail and attaching it to the jighead, he went right back to catching them.
It’s hard to leave fish all schooled up and biting like that. And, it was one of those hard decisions for a dad to make, when watching his son, grown or not, having a blast.
Mike Wood, director of Inland Fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, speculated that the schooling and aggressive behavior of marsh bass could be attributed to a growing population.
“I can correlate schooling behavior in general with an expanding population,” Wood said. “In many cases, you are going to have new impoundments, or in some cases new populations within the marsh that are rebounding from an event, where you’ve got a tremendous year class there.
“They’re very competitive, they’re evenly aged and they tend to school and forage like crazy in that wolf-pack type of arrangement. So, in many cases, what you see in that schooling is just a symptom of a very young and expanding population.”
Another condition that exists when fishing marsh bass is size difference compared to other regions and lakes in the state on a whole.
While my son and I fished the mouth of a dead-end canal, it wasn’t long before another father-and-son team from Thibodaux trolled by from the back end. Showing us their fish, we exchanged notes for a few minutes, learning the father was scouting for an upcoming tournament.
I wondered how a five-fish limit of 1 ½ to 2 ½-pound marsh bass would hold up on a leaderboard when weighed against some of the big boys that would come out of Lake Verret or places in the Atchfalaya Basin he’d invariably be up against.
However, strategically speaking, maybe he was on to something. Where the bite in the marsh during the dog days of late summer for these little bass can provide hot action, in other places the bite may be much slower. His focus may simply have been just catching five fish and worrying about weight later.
Wood said there could be a biological answer for the smaller sizes of marsh bass.
“I imagine that these fish have adapted to their environment, meaning that short, stocky behavior, that live-fast, die-young thing is probably endemic to the area,” he explained. “It wouldn’t make much sense for them to be the one that takes a long time to grow large, or maybe growing large is not even in their favor from a genetic standpoint.
“So, I suspect it’s probably something that’s an adaptation to the habitat.”
The lack of size limit for these coastal marsh bass doesn’t mean they all run small. There is the occasional big fish to brag about: My son happened to hook a solid 4-pounder using a creature-bait fixed to a jig that definitely wouldn’t have culled a smaller fish from a tournament angler’s livewell.
Nonetheless, Wood said the dynamics of the marsh compared to other regions of the state that include slot limits designed to grow bigger largemouth bass isn’t something anglers can expect to find in the marsh.
“There probably is some adaptations to their habitat that might separate them from some of those others that live farther north by virtue of the fact that they are exposed to different stressors,” Wood said. “Those other fish (north of the coastal zone) don’t have to deal with salinity and tremendous shifts and the dynamic nature of marshes that these little bass have to. Their forage (in the marshes) is heavy on invertebrates. Invertebrates don’t have a lot of protein, and so bass might get fat on them – they’re a lot like candy – but, there’s not a lot of growth food there.”
Marsh bass compete with other species of fish for food resources. However, marsh bass along the coast aren’t at the top of the food chain.
Alligators, redfish and catfish, to name a few, are all competitors for those same food resources. But for a marsh bass, they’re also predators to be reckoned with.
“There’s tremendous competition out there for food,” Wood said. “If you think of these little bass, they’re not just competing with crappie and red-eared sunfish. With these guys, everything out there has got teeth. So, they’ve got to be very voracious just to live.
“It’s all in where you live, you know. If those Atchafalaya Basin bass had to be that competitive, they’d bite like that, too, just to get it before the other guy did.”
In the late summer, shallow coastal waters in the marsh where you see schools of bass are often clear. Throwing crankbaits and spinnerbaits can be an extremely effective tactic.
By contrast, when the weather changes and the water is high from strong south winds — or is stained from an influx of rain — the fish are still there; you just can’t see them.
A switch to creature baits attached to jigs fished slowly on the bottom in the same locations is surprisingly effective from a tactical standpoint, when you think the bass have dispersed.
Older sons aren’t the only age group that should be taken to the marsh, though it can be time well spent, what with busy schedules families have in this day and age. But, perhaps the best time to introduce a youngster to fishing is when you can pretty much guarantee a reasonable amount of fishing action.
Marsh bass in a feeding frenzy are just the ticket for these youngsters. What’s more, it doesn’t take all of the finesse and skills normally required when flipping a jig, using a drop-shot, working a Texas-rigged worm off the bottom or bouncing a spinnerbait off wood.
No, quite often you can see these marsh bass schooled up in clear water along a trenasse, along shallow canal banks and intersecting adjoining waters, hitting baitfish or anything else that passes out of the marsh on a falling tide.
Simply tie a crankbait to their pole, which most youngsters think is pretty cool anyway, and let them chunk it toward or close to the school to their hearts content.
Trust me: One of the wolves in the pack will strike it at this time of year.
Chances are, when these young anglers catch a few nasty little bass, you’ll have a partner for life.
“Just go out there and enjoy them,” Wood said. “The bottom line is to go out there and have fun.”
Needless to say, my son and I didn’t get all of the work we had planned accomplished, but did manage to put a good dent in it.
No worries though, we brought home a decent mess of marsh bass for supper. And, in August that’s worth getting cranked up about.