Diversify your fishing

Bill McCarty unhooks a redfish he caught in the lower Atchafalaya River below his hometown of Morgan City.

The Atchafalaya River is giving up redfish and the locals are loving it

It was just 6 ½ months or so ago that a Morgan City fisherman reeled in beaucoup sizeable freshwater catfish from one of his favorite stretches along the Atchafalaya River.

Fast forward to this fall, Bill McCarty, who’s equally adept at catching bass, sac-a-lait and bream, as he concentrates the majority of his time on the freshwater scene, and his long-time fishing buddy, Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi, cast popping corks into another part of the river to reel in … redfish. And enjoyed every minute of catching rat reds to bull reds.

“It was a good time,” McCarty said after the trip. “Perfect conditions. In the ’80s. Light wind.”

The freshwater fishing world turned topsy turvy this year when ultra-low water levels led to higher salinity levels farther inland along the Mississippi River and Atchafalaya River, among other bodies of water.

With bass, sac-a-lait and bream fishing success absorbing a major hit in traditional freshwater areas, anglers have turned their attention elsewhere. McCarty tapped the sac-a-lait in late summer in the Bayou Black area. He found the water extra low and got nary a nibble, perhaps because of saltwater intrusion.

So armed with oversized market shrimp, McCarty and Grizzaffi, the former Morgan City mayor and an accomplished angler in his own right, pointed the bow of the latter’s Mercury-powered Ranger bass boat to Halters Island near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Point Au Fer and across to the Atchafalaya Delta WMA.

“I’m not a saltwater fisherman per se,” McCarty said. “Like I say, as tough as the (Atchafalaya Basin) has been with saltwater intrusion, you have to find something to tug on your line. With saltwater comes other things to catch.

“What we did yesterday was almost like sight fishing,” he added, noting they looked for grass beds or patches of grass in the river and cast a leadhead tipped with a piece of shrimp 15 to 18 inches under a popping cork.

He used his cell phone to video one particularly spectacular hit as a redfish came out from a patch of grass to smash the shrimp under the popping cork. Grizzaffi played it to the boat, where McCarty unhooked and released the 38-inch long bull red. It was their biggest redfish of the day. They caught and released 12 to 15 redfish.

“Halters Island all the way down to Point au Fer had a pretty green tint to it and to the west side of the river at the Management Area. If you do go on the WMA, make sure you get that day-use permit. Wildlife and Fisheries has an app for it that’s super, super easy, so simple. It literally took me 20 seconds to use it,” he said, referring to the LDWF WMA app, a self-clearing permit.

They had no bites from speckled trout but there were reports before going out that redfish and speckled trout were biting “pretty good.”

McCarty, who owns WHM Services LLC, said the tide was low when they were out.

“They tell me the trout bite is better on a rising tide,” he said. “I guess it’s a little saltier with the tide coming in.”

As for the redfish, find grass or shell beds and you’ll find your species, generally from 1- to 5-feet deep on warmer days and 4- to 6-feet deep with a Carolina-rigged shrimp on a leadhead on colder days.

“When it gets a little colder we usually go to Halters Island and fish the passes,” McCarty said.

About Don Shoopman 541 Articles
Don Shoopman fishes for freshwater and saltwater species mostly in and around the Atchafalaya Basin and Vermilion Bay. He moved to the Sportsman’s Paradise in 1976, and he and his wife June live in New Iberia. They have two grown sons.

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