OUTDOOR CORNER: Remembering fishing with Jackrabbit

Lyle Johnson
Every Jackrabbit crankbait carved by “Jackrabbit” Robisheaux is identified by the rabbit painted under the bill.

Most of the time people that leave a mark on your life usually spend lot’s of time with you. It could be someone on the job, at church or parents. You get the idea. But every now and then somebody comes along and you only spend a short period of time with them but you come away with an indelible mark that just can’t be washed off.

Thirty-one years ago I got to experience this in Morgan City while fishing a Ford Circuit Bass Tournament. Back in the day, these professional tournaments were fished individually, sort of like the Bassmaster and FLW events of today with one big exception.

There wasn’t a co-angler in the back of the boat with you. Your competition was in the boat with you. That’s right. The guy you were fishing against was in the same boat with you. This format allowed you to experience some of the worst sportsmanship ever conceived by the human race.

I fished three or four of these types of tournaments and got to experience both sides of the coin. I got front-ended, which means the person in the front of the boat kept the boat in position where the only place I could fish was in the middle of the canal. Some never gave me my turn to control the front of the boat. I’m sure you get the picture. At 24 years of age this could have ruined me on bass fishing tournaments. But not all of these experiences were negative. I had some great ones as well. The best one I ever had was the day I drew “Jackrabbit” Robisheaux as my partner.

We were fishing from my boat and going to his spot. It was a part of the Basin that I’d never been to. Nature threw us a little curve ball and the water level rose about a foot and a half overnight and he was a little concerned.

I was 24 and he was in his 50’s. Although he knew I was young and inexperienced in the tournament game, Robisheaux never took advantage of me. It was exactly the opposite. He took me under his wing.

Not only did he let me have the front of the boat which was a little surprising, he also told me to tie on a spinner bait and told me every spot that might hold fish before we got to it. Because of the rise in the tide his first spot didn’t pay off so we headed to Bayou Teche for some clearer water.

Our day didn’t pan out so well as the fishing was concerned but boy was it a great day. Solly “Jackrabbit” Robisheaux was born and raised in Morgan City and loved to bass fish. So much so that he hand carved some of the first crank baits ever fished in the Spillway and named them the “jackrabbit.”

I got to live the history of the Atchafalaya Basin that day as Solly told me of his fishing experiences. He got to fish the spillway before there were any dredged canals. You had to enter all the natural bayous off the Atchafalaya River and the fishing was something you could only dream of.

“You could catch so many 3 or 4-pounders off of one point, your arm would hurt when you stopped,” as he shook his head.

His passion for the crankbaits he carved was evident as well. He sold them but the money wasn’t as important as the finished product. He gave me two of the prized baits and I caught my biggest keeper that day on one of them. I still have those two Jackrabbits.

A couple of months ago there was a gentleman at an East Ascension Sportsman's League meeting that makes and sells fishing baits. He carves crankbaits as well and a conversation between he and my son soon turned to a master craftsman from the past. The baits he carved have become very collectible. His name was “Jackrabbit” Robisheaux.

I was sent a page from a magazine that had photos of some of the Jackrabbits and they were valued between $60 and $70 bucks. I Googled Solly Robisheaux to see if there was any history to write this article and got three sites.

The first one was a collector looking to buy a couple of the Jackrabbits to add to his collection. The second was a look at the past site that had a short story that included a memory of Solly Robisheaux taking a mother and daughter to town in his boat. That sounds just like him.

Then there was a portion of a web phone book that had the name Solly Robicheaux in Morgan City. I pondered about calling the number for a couple of days and finally gave it a shot and got an answer. I introduced myself and told the person on the other end about fishing a tournament many years ago with a guy named Jackrabbit Robisheaux and the reply was, “That was me.”

He’s 82 and still enjoys the outdoors. I could hear it in his voice as he told me about his deer hunting and wanting to be back out on the water for some fishing. I had to ask the question, “How’d you get the nickname, jackrabbit.”

With a chuckle in his voice, “Man, there were some kids that used to bully me and run me all over. One day I took off so quick that somebody said, ‘Man look at that jackrabbit run.’ One day I turned around and punched one of them in the face and that stuff stopped but the name stuck.”

He had no idea of how famous his baits were and even gave carving crankbaits a shot a few years ago. Jackrabbit, I know it was impossible for you to remember me, but I’ll never forget the day that a real gentleman showed me what real fishing etiquette in a boat should be like and shared a piece of history that I’ll take to my grave.

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.