Panfish Proliferation

It’s been a banner year on the Atchafalaya Basin for sac-a-lait, and the action shows no signs of slowing down.

A St. Mary Parish angler and hundreds of others have enjoyed a sac-a-lait season of content in the nation’s last great overflow swamp.

David Loupe of Stephensville said sac-a-lait fishing is as good as or better than it’s ever been this year in the Atchafalaya Basin. And Loupe ought to know because he’s been fishing it for most of his 64 years.

He’s looking forward to catching even more fish this fall in the Spillway. The Flat Lake area will be his destination more often than not.

Hopefully by then, sac-a-lait will be back in the grass like they were in mid-August. A combination of strong south winds and high tides, however, pushed dirty water in and the fish dispersed.

“Later this month we’ll get cold fronts that will knock the water out. That’ll clear it. Then they’ll get in the grass like they were in there,” Loupe said.

Swamp sac-a-lait fishing this fall ought to be fair to good in other areas, too, he said, such as West Fork, Bayou Long and Shell Field (Checkerboard).

“I think it ought to be real good,” he said.

But as of late August and early September, it was hard to pull Loupe away from some fantastic flounder fishing he was enjoying right across from the Berwick Landing where the Atchafalaya River and Intracoastal Canal meet, and in Calumet Cut. He was catching limits of flounder before 8:30, 9 o’clock in the morning on shrimp rigged on a short Carolina rig fished on shallow sandbars along the shoreline.

“That’s fun,” he said.

It won’t be long before he hangs up his flounder fishing rig and gets back to the sac-a-lait.

Loupe’s 17-foot DuraCraft boat with a 90-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor tells it all about his passion and expertise. The aluminum boat is rigged for sac-a-lait fishing from bow to stern, a testament to his love for the tastiest fish in Louisiana.

The boat is 14 years old.

“It’s still in good shape. I keep it in the garage. I keep it up,” he said.

It’s seen its share of fish, he agreed.

“Yeah, there’s been many a fish in there,” he said, proudly.

Armed with his sac-a-lait fishing poles, you’ll find him and his boat in the bayous and lakes dunking Stumpy Bayou Jigs, which are hair jigs made by Irvin Boley of Lafayette. His favorite colors are No. 68 (bumblebee), No. 50 (black/chartreuse) and No. 122 (blue/white with a purple wing).

“That’s my best three I use from him,” he said, adding that he prefers a weight of 1/32-ounce.

Occasionally, he said he will tie on tube jigs on 1/32-ounce leadheads. He uses solid tubes when he does fish with them, he said, because he can catch more fish on one. His favorite colors in tube jigs are black/chartreuse, blue/white and pink/white, he said.

As for depth, he usually fishes 2 1/2 feet deep under a cork.

Mostly, Loupe fishes by himself. He grew up fishing with his father and learned so much, he said. Then he fished with friends he grew up with before venturing more and more on his own.

The Morgan City native also relishes going on sac-a-lait fishing trips, however frequently or infrequently, with his wife, Joy Giroir Loupe. She also enjoys setting the hook on something biting on the business end of fishing line, and accompanies him when she can.

But the Loupes also make it a point to go together whenever Terry and Kathy Bergeron of LaPlace, another retired couple and old school chums of theirs, call to see if they can go out in the Spillway. The Bergerons bring their boat over when Loupe gives them the word that the sac-a-lait bite is on, and they follow one of the most successful sac-a-lait anglers in the swamp.

Do they catch on their joint ventures together in two boats?

“We’ve had some good ones and some bad ones. You know how that goes,” Loupe said.

It’s a safe bet many of those fishing trips have been ‘good ones.’ Loupe has decades of experience to rely on, plus he gets out at least two or three times a week now that he’s retired.

Loupe worked for Shell Oil Co. for 34 years before retiring as terminal manager in Morgan City in 1999. He started his career working offshore in production out of Venice, then out of Morgan City before in succession being in charge of helicopters and then marine vessels prior to assuming the reins as terminal supervisor in Morgan City.

He never quit fishing and honed his successful techniques over the years in and around the Spillway. Success hasn’t spoiled him, either, because he doesn’t throw everything he catches in the ice chest.

“I don’t really keep a limit any more. I’m content. I’d rather keep 15, 20. I could have limited out on numerous occasions (this year),” he said. “All of our children have moved out. Those are the ones I used to give the fish to. I keep enough for my wife and me to eat. Others I give away to people.”

The fish he has kept this year are “good fish,” ranging from 10 to 12 inches. He has caught a handful of slabs weighing more than 2 pounds this year, he said.

Loupe has seen first-hand the quantity of fish currently in the Atchafalaya Basin.

“There’s an abundance of small sac-a-lait in the Basin, which is good,” he said.

His experience has shown him that white crappie are prevalent in areas like the Orange Barrel Canal, while black crappie are more prolific around Flat Lake and Bayou April.

Those white crappie, which apparently tolerate dirtier water better, tend to be larger, he said.

That’s hard to beat — quantity and quality. What a year it’s been in 2004.

Actually, the sac-a-lait fishing bonanza has been going on for almost two years in the Spillway. State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Mike Walker of New Iberia pointed that out while talking about the banner month of sac-a-lait fishing in August.

The year started slowly but picked up tremendously in April, Walker said. June and July were so-so with a spike in harvests nearing the end of the seventh month.

“In August they nailed ’em. They harvested 20 times more than any other month this year,” Walker said.

He and his staff diligently counted, measured and weighed ice chest after ice chest of fish while doing routine creel surveys.

“August (was) the best month by far,” he said.

Loupe can attest to that. The Stephensville angler said one of his better days in August was 38 keepers — “all good fish, all beautiful fish” — just outside the Spillway in the Wax Lake Outlet area. But the day before he caught 26 sac-a-lait worth keeping in the Orange Barrel Canal along Bayou Boutte in the Spillway. Those fish apparently were escaping the heat by finning around under big lily pads.

Walker said catches like that were par for the course for many anglers in August and, for that matter, most of 2004.

The veteran biologist didn’t say “I told you so.” But he could have because back during the days of the severe drought (1998, 1999 and 2000) he and others said there were good effects and bad effects of the dry period.

Walker predicted some good years of sac-a-lait fishing as soon as 2003. He was right on target, so much so that last year was even better statistically than this year, when the average harvest has been four fish.

“That’s counting everybody that harvested nothing to anybody who harvested 50,” Walker said about this year’s harvest rate. “2003 was a good year, but 2004 is almost as good as 2003.”

Average weight of sac-a-lait being caught this year is “right at .4 of a pound, which is near half-a-pound. Yeah, that’s good.”

The harvest rate was higher and the fish were bigger in 2003, Walker said on the first day of September.

What happened to trigger the boom?

One has to go back to the drought, those springs when the spawn wasn’t as good as it normally would be. As a result, the year-classes for three straight years were missing or severely impacted.

“Then in 2001 we had a great spring flood, so we had high production and we had a high survival rate,” he said. “This year we’ve got a pile of 3-year-old fish out there of all kinds — not just crappies. I’m seeing record harvests of bream, chinquapin and goggle-eye. I’ve got the numbers to prove it.”

Loupe agreed wholeheartedly.

“This year was exceptional for goggle-eye and chinquapin. I caught a bunch of those while trying to catch sac-a-lait,” he said, noting he caught those panfish in and around Duck Lake, Flat Lake and Bayou Grosbec.

About the only thing that concerns Loupe is the acreage of grass growing in the Spillway. Hydrilla is taking over some prime areas, such as 16-inch Pipeline and the three main forks of Bear Bayou.

He’s at a loss about the cause.

“I don’t really know,” he said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen grass like that in many years. I don’t know if the canals are silting up or what.

“The only good thing is it’s good for spawning fish,” he said.

And what will next year bring for sac-a-lait fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin?

“I don’t see how it can hold up two years in a row,” Walker said, “but we did have a good flood in 2002. That usually means good catches all around.”

Many of those “good catches” will be made by Loupe. His hair jigs will be dancin’ as the water cools and late summer turns to fall.

About Don Shoopman 560 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.