By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: In observance of the Labor Day holiday, a new First Cast feature story will not appear until Tuesday, Sept. 5.)
It was textbook bass fishing: cover, plus current, plus bait equals bass. A solid bank of hyacinth tucked against crisp green cattails sprouting from the Mississippi River Delta’s freshwater marsh looked good, but that’s not where the fish were sitting.
No, these bass were scattered throughout the random patches of hydrilla flanking the hyacinth. As we eased down this bank, Capt. Joe DiMarco, of Cajun Fishing Adventures pointed to the silver flashes of baitfish darting in and out of the grass. Not 10 seconds later, the Z-Man Big T.R.D. that I was twitching dropped into a little hole and immediately started moving away from me.
“There’s something different from that water on the bank; it could be temperature, thermocline, more oxygen in the grass,” he said. “The bait is holding in this area and in this warm summer water, the bass aren’t going to expend much energy to run out and feed. Wherever that bait is, that’s where your predators are going to be.”
All valid points, but the most significant reason that perimeter zone was turning on was the falling water – magic time on tidal bass fisheries. Indeed, when DiMarco sees a “root beer” colored flow, he knows the tannic, stained water from inside the shallow marsh sloughs and pond is rolling into the main canal. Cleaned by dense vegetation and chock full of crustaceans and baitfish, this moving water rings the dinner bell for hungry bass.
“The bass like that cleaner water and they’ll take advantage of all that food coming out of the marsh,” Dimarco said. “You’ll see those patches of hydrilla start to lean over when the tide starts falling. And when the water gets low, that grass will all reach the surface.”
Plants and Productivity
Ryan Lambert, who owns and operates Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras, La., about 65 miles south of New Orleans, still uses the Plano over-under model tackle box he used during his Bassmaster tournament days. The Delta has changed a lot since then, but some things remain constant – like the largemouth bass’ intolerance to the saltwater that infiltrates the marsh. Knowing this, Lambert and DiMarco look for cattails, American lotus pads and duck potato – a green, stalky vegetation resembling arrowheads – to tell them they’re in the right area for bass.
The holes amid patchy hydrilla are prime ambush spots for bass.
“Duck potato needs that fresh water; they grow on mud flats and sand flats,” DiMarco said. “If you read that shoreline, you can find out where a mud point is based on how far out those duck potatoes are growing. That also helps you with navigation so you don’t get stuck.”
When the outgoing tide gains steam, Lambert moves in tight to the cattails or Roseau cane and flips into the little nooks and notches where bass like to sit. Notably, the floating hyacinth mats will often move with the tide, but when he finds a big patch of it jammed into a little corner (i.e. the edge of a cane bank or shoreline contour), that’s money.
During a recent outing, Lambert noted that the annoyance of bream tugging on his finesse worm bespoke a promising scenario. Leveraging the same tidal action for their feeding, the bream often find themselves on the bass menu, so shaking off a few is a small price to pay for knowing you’re in a good area.
Through out the morning, DiMarco pointed to the countless drains (locally called a “trenass”) as obvious falling-tide ambush points meriting a few casts.
“Those bass will sit on the outside of those little openings and pick off the (food) that falls out of the backwater,” he said.
DiMarco and Lambert both like pitching jigs with craw trailers or Texas-rigged craws with enough of a bullet weight to push through hyacinth and moderate-density vegetation. Rolling down a natural bayou or a pipeline canal, they’ll hit all the points, cuts, visible wood or drilling industry structures they find.
Capt. Joe DiMarco uses Mississippi Delta vegetation cues to make sure he’s in the right type of water for bass.
For these scenarios – especially off the back of the boat – I like a weedless-rigged stick bait’s versatility. I can skip it under willow trees, snake it across weed mats, pitch it to specific little spots (wood, grass holes, etc.), swim/twitch it through interesting areas and dead-stick it in key areas.
Casting distance matters in that clearer outgoing water, so I like a little booster. A good option here is a weighted-shank hook like Mustad’s UltraPoint weighted Grip Pin; but when I know I’ll be swimming the bait a lot, I’ll rig it on an articulated head like the TT Lures SnakeLockZ. (Both of these setups also work for the Z-Man SwimmerZ that DiMarco likes for marsh bass.)
Other productive baits for low-tide bass include spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, finesse worms and Ned rigs. As Lambert points out, Delta marsh bass eat a lot of the fiddler crabs that can tolerate the freshwater zone, so hopping the finesse rig looks a lot like small crustaceans running for cover.
Delta bass also eat a lot of shrimp, so keep a selection of these artificials handy. For free-lined casting, parallel the edge of draining vegetation and target any run-outs you encounter. For added attraction and the ability to hover a bait in a hot zone, Lambert will hang a LiveTarget Rigged Shrimp below a popping cork and work it with the tide.
One of the cool things about targeting largemouth bass on the Mississippi Delta is the strong likelihood of catching redfish in the same areas. Lambert calls that “Christmas fishing – red and green” and that, along with often dense vegetation common to this fertile region, is why braided line is a must for just about anything you throw. Add a touch of fluorocarbon if it makes you feel better in the clear areas, but don’t enter this realm underpowered.
> DiMarco looks for fresh, green hyacinths, as brown, wilted mats indicate saltwater intrusion and a definite bass no-no.
> Also, DiMarco looks for the water’s character: “You can watch your wheel wash when you run into an area. If it’s foamier, it’s salty. If the bubbles disappear quickly, it’s more fresh.”
> On the Potomac River, Costa FLW Series pro Casey Smith showed the value of identifying the fall-back spots as he won last year’s event by focusing on a modest ditch that fell about a foot deeper than the surrounding grass flat. When the tide dropped, the fish packed into this sustainable sanctuary and ravaged anything that fell in front of them.
> California Delta ace Bub Tosh loves dropping his new Yamamoto Punch Shot rig into pockets in the grass, but he’ll often burn several hours elsewhere until the falling tide creates the setup he prefers. “You have to wait for that tide to fall out so the grass starts to mushroom,” he said. “When you look down a slough and see all that grass laying over, you can go in there and pick your targets.”