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Lake life

How the river was won

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One of the most common methods of catching crappie on the Ouachita River provided an uncommonly profitable catch this past weekend in the American Crappie Trail stop on the river.

Terry and Cole Stewart of Jackson, Miss., turned two days of spider rigging with double minnow rigs into seven fish limits weighing just over 20 pounds up Bayou D’Arbonne into a $26,200 new Ranger fishing boat. Here’s the story of how they won the top prize, as told by Terry:

“Wow, it’s just still sinking in, but we just had a lot of things go our way and it’s just a thrill to win this tournament. We haven’t ever fished the Ouachita much, even though I’m originally from this area. We fished hard in pre-fishing and didn’t really find a lot of good fish. Then in practice the week before the tournament, we struggled to find good fish. But on Thursday, the last day to practice, we found some better fish up Bayou D’Arbonne. We weren’t way up the bayou like a lot of people, but we had some good looking water to fish.

We covered a lot of ground and finally found an area we could focus on and we didn’t go anywhere else. We lucked up and had a good weight on Friday and despite tough conditions, scratched out enough Saturday to win. We were spider rigging and doing a little slow trolling. The approach we took was to fish up on the ledges early in the morning. It seemed like fish were up there on the edges of the flats early, but the bite was tough. Then later in the day, they would move out into the open water. We ended up in the middle of the channel sometimes, just going wherever the fish went.

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 10.17.46 PMMan, it was hot. We went through a whole lot of minnows. We got some great quality minnows from the Honey Hole, but they got stressed quickly in that hot water. One of the things that helped us, I believe, was that we kept checking our bait on the hooks and if there was one on the hook that wasn’t lively, we changed it out. Not only was it tough to keep the minnows alive, it was hard keeping fish alive after we caught them (ACT rules call for a penalty for dead fish). A lot of people struggled with that.

Saturday was especially challenging. We didn’t get it where we were fishing, but there was a big rain up north of Monroe on Friday. That water flushed down the river pretty quickly. It raised the water level and muddied it up on a lot of people further north, especially in the river or river lakes.  For us, it didn’t make a big difference, but man, when we got up there Saturday morning, there was stuff floating all in the bayou and it had come up some. As the boat traffic got heavier, it washed a lot of mud off the banks, too. We just stuck with what we had been doing and even though they didn’t bite super well, we caught enough to bust 20 pounds for the tournament. One thing I’ve found about crappie. A lot of fresh water isn’t going to work out well for you. It hurt at lot of other folks worse than it did us.

We pretty much fished straight double minnow rigs, but when the bite slowed, we tried some little custom jigs that we had made up with really sharp hooks. The best color we found was orange and chartreuse. We caught a few on minnows rigged on jigs, but mostly on the minnows. We also had gotten some small minnows and caught fish on them, too. I think it was mostly just staying on the fish and putting it in front of them at the right time. We varied our trolling speed from barely moving up to half a mile an hour. We caught a lot of smaller fish, but again, finding the big bites was tough. A kicker fish here and there was the difference

We caught fish early as shallow as three feet deep fishing in like 10 foot of water. We moved out into 15-16 feet of water later in the day and fished four to six feet deep. There was a lot of boat traffic Saturday, but I have to tell you. Most of the people here in Louisiana are so respectful, especially in tight spots up the bayou. Most would slow down and respect what we were doing. A few people in big bass rigs would zoom on by, but it is refreshing to see so many people have the common sense and manners to slow down when passing people by. It doesn’t take that long to slow down for other fishermen.”

We close today’s writeup with Terry’s answer to a simple question. “If somebody wanted to go fishing the river this week, what would you tell them to do?”

“I’d tell them follow that same pattern that we did either up Bayou D’Arbonne or any of the bayous or sloughs. Work up shallow on the flats early, then go deeper as the day warms up. I don’t think I’d even worry about getting there early. I’d wait until 9-10 o’clock and just stay in the middle of the channel with a spider rig as long as you can stand the heat. The early bite hasn’t really been all that good.

I’d find an area with some fish and I’d just go back and forth and work it as long as I was catching fish. If they quit there, try to find another area with the same depth and water conditions. They key is find what the fish are doing and stay with them. But don’t stay with something that isn’t working.”       — Terry Stewart






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