Outdoor Corner: State of the Pier Address

Lyle Johnson
Robert and Deenie Chandler along with Amos the wonder dog with their take from a recent hunt in Lake Arthur.

It's been quite a while since I've delivered a "State of the Pier Address" so it's about time for a new addition. The only problem is work. I’ve been working nights so the opportunities have been limited, and the fish weren't really biting that well.

But it's not like the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors have been eliminated altogether. On my way to work in the afternoon, I spotted two deer and a feral hog on the side of LA 74 in Dutchtown on different occasions. During the small amounts of time I did get to spend on the pier, bait was easy to get. But the fish didn't co-operate at all.

To be honest, the fishing on the pier has been horrible for about two months. I have fished the waters all around the Amite/Blind River basin and have never experienced the lack of catfish biting in the Diversion Canal.

But that all changed today (Sunday). It started off with a four pound catfish that couldn't resist a piece of cut shad on one of the poles on the pier before we left for church this morning. That's one in the live-box. As we were heading down Bayou Terrace to church, two fox squirrels crossed the road in front of us.

That got me thinking that my fortune might change as lots of wildlife were on the move. When we returned from church, I headed to the pier to try and get some bait with my cast net. As fortune would have it, that effort produced a big gizzard shad that made 20 or so baits and the lines went out.

On one of the trips to check the lines there was a sparring match between three great blue herons. These birds are one of the largest we have in Louisiana with a wing span of five-and-a-half to six feet. I've never seen this behavior before but they were pretty aggressive toward one another. They were probably sparring for fishing territory, which makes no sense as there are miles of bank for them to choose from.

My hunch paid off. Nearly every other trip to check the poles, there was a nice blue catfish to add to the live-box. When bedtime arrived there were six catfish and one sac-a-lait for me to clean later this week. The streak continued early on Monday morning. Two more blue cats were added to the live-box before heading to work.

We've been in the winter-time weather mode for a long time but winter doesn't officially start until December 22. It's a little (or maybe a lot) rainy and on the cold side. Along with those weather conditions comes one of the best times of the year to catch some really nice fish, especially bass and sac-a-lait.

One of the reasons it's really good this time of year is the lack of folks participating. The cold weather cuts down on the number of people willing to brave frigid temps, and the rest of the gang is hunting. So if fighting the crowds gets under your skin, this just may be your time to go.

All fish here generally spawn (females laying their eggs and males fertilizing and guarding them) in the late winter, early spring. So they are feeding as much as they can to gain weight to survive the rigors of the reproduction process. That means they are fat and hungry meaning they will weigh most at this time of the whole year.

All fish are cold blooded, which means outside temperatures as well as barometric pressure affect the way they live. In the summertime, everything is wide open. The forage they feed on (shad, perch, crawfish, etc.) swim really fast so the bass have to exert more effort to catch them.

The energy expended vs. the calories taken in is not very high, so they eat a lot. But most of the calories taken in are burnt up with activity. In the winter time everything slows down so the energy expended vs. the caloric intake favors the bass and they put on lots of weight.

It's a little early for bass to start nesting so they can be caught in multiple locations. Fishing down the bank is very productive as many targets are available: grass, lily pads, trees, stumps, and laydowns. Runouts or sloughs (as we call them) are places fish still congregate. as well as points.

Spinner baits are a good choice in early winter. "Slow rolling" is the way to go. A single Colorado or Indiana blade is just what's needed. In clear water a number 2 or 3 might work better, and as the water gets more stained the number 4 thru 6 gives off much more vibration and works much better. Casting to wood or other cover is best, but the focus should be on a very slow retrieve.

The crank bait is my favorite selection for this time of year. The words often related to this lure are "burning it fast," but you need to forget those words in cold weather. Pick out a lure for the depth that is desired but remember to retrieve the bait slowly, so slow that you can count the turns you're making.

Next on the list is the lure that probably produces more big fish than any one bait: the jig. Back in the day it was called the "jig and pig" because the trailers mostly used were colored pork rinds, Uncle Josh being the favorite. Although heavy in weight, the bulky skirts and plastic trailers used today cause the jig to fall very slowly making it very attractive for a big bass looking for an easy meal.

Patience is an ugly word for most of us in this fast paced world we live in, but it is a required element to be effective in our attempts to catch fish in cold weather. The bite is sometimes subtle and hard to detect. While retrieving the spinner bait and the spinner stops vibrating, set the hook!

You need to retrieve the crank bait so slow that you can feel each wobble. The same applies here. If the bait stops its wobble, set the hook. The jig takes the most concentration as the bite is seldom felt like fishing a plastic worm. Watching your string is tantamount as sometimes just a small movement of the line lets you know something's up on the other end.

All three lures require much more focus this time of year. In warm weather you can "feel" the bite, and can look at the scenery, and even look for the place you'll cast next. Missed strikes and lost fish will be your lot in life if you don't focus on every cast in the winter. "Slow" is the word for cold weather.

Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe, and may God truly bless you!

Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net

Outdoor Calendar

EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman’s League meeting held at Chef KD’s on Highway 74 starting at 7 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.

APSO Shooting Range: The rifle range on St. Landry Road is open to the public year-round on the second and fourth Thursday of each month from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., or safe shooting light.

Squirrel season: Through Feb 28 daily bag limit 8 possession 24.

Rabbit season: Through Feb 28 daily bag limit 8 possession 24.

Quail season: Through Feb. 28, statewide, private lands only. Daily bag limit 10 possession 30.

Fishing For Tucker Team Bass Tournament: Save the date! The 9th Annual tournament is scheduled for February 2, 2019 at Cabela's in Gonzales.

Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at reelman@eatel.net