Atchafalaya Basin Fishing

Fisherman Fishing in Atchafalaya Basin Louisiana

The Atchafalaya Basin is an expansive river swamp in South Lousiana that is home to over 85 species of fish. Largemouth bass, spotted bass, white bass, yellow bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, warmouth, crappie, blue, flathead and channel catfish; bream and paddlefish are abundant throughout the basin’s freshwater waterways, channels, coves, canals, bayous, and pockets. There are access points and boat ramps throughout the Atchafalaya Basin for bank fishing or to launch kayaks, canoes, jon boats and motorized fishing boats.

The northern region of the Atchafalaya Basin is comprised of hardword forests flush with diverse plant, animal and aquatic life. The central Atchafalaya Basin is comprised primarily of vast cypress freshwater swamp land. The southern Atchafalaya, which borders the gulf of mexico, is a mix of freshwater ecosystems and salt marshes. Fish species vary between these three regions.

The coastal parishes of the southern Atchafalaya region offer seasonal fishing for several saltwater gamefish species including flounder, black drum, red drum, sea trout, cobia, king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. Just offshore snapper, amberjack, hogfish, redfish, sea bass, tuna, marlin, shark and other pelagic species are commom catches. The southern estuarine environment of the Atchafalaya Basin where freshwater and saltwater meet also provides excellent oyster fishing.

Anglers familiar with the Basin will tell you that the number of fish you catch is only limited by the number of times you can cast you line.

The four most popular fishing destinations in the Atchafalaya Basin are the Lake Verret-Palourde Area, the Lake Fausse Point-Dauterive Area, Spanish Lake and False River. These areas consistently provide great fishing, and always come recommended by the locals. Of these four, Lake Verret-Palourde Area is believed to be a bit shallower—which means the fishing is good. The only down side of fishing the Verret side of the basin is getting there. You have to follow the Intracoastal Waterway down through a barge lock and then back up to Lake Verret. Sometimes the barge lock can be crowded with boats causing delays up to 30 minutes or more on a bad day.

Sometimes tackle you fish with isn’t as important where you fish it. Lure brand, color and types aren’t nearly as important as simply getting your bait in front of fish. When fishing the Atchafalaya Basin the key is to fish the “mixing” water where fish hang out. Mixing water is where different colored waters come together. You’ll find these locations throughout the basin in areas where convergent waterways meet. You’ll tend to find bigger fish in these spots as well.

During early spring where the muddy waters of Little Bayou Sorrel (which emanate from Duck and American Lakes) meet the black water of the Bayou, you’ll find bass, crappie and goggle-eye fish—ripe for the pickin—backed up for miles along the grass and trees. Great place and time to pull out some lunkers.

Another hot spots for catching bass, crappie and panfish is up among flooded cypress groves. Bass tend to hold tight near the bottom of cypress trees during early spring spawn and during the summer as temperatures rise. Cypress trees provide much needed shade for a variety of gamefish during Louisiana’s hot summer days.

Casting near cypress trees and stumps throughout the Atchafalaya Basin is where you’ll catch a lot fish—especially bass. Bass are accustomed to trapping baitfish against the trunks of submerged cypress trunks. Getting your lure in near the base of a cypress will get the bass biting your lure. Fishing near traditional cover, and long the sides of grass beds, is also where you’ll get a lot of strikes.

Due to mild Louisiana winters, the Atchalfalaya Basin can be fished year round, but certain times are more productive than others for fishing the Basin. Spring spawn is a great time to target lunker bass, but you can pull trophy bass out of the Basin throughout the year with the right presentation, if you can find where the bass are holding up. What really impacts fishability and catch rate in the basin is water flow.

The annual cycle of flooding and dewatering is the lifeblood of the Atchafalaya Basin fishery. During the winter and spring, water levels throughout the Atchalfalaya Basin rise due to seasonal rains and runoff from the north. During the summer and fall water levels tend to drop as runoff drains south out of the basin into the Gulf. In years where spring water levels are exceptionally high, it can be difficult to find where bass are hold up. During the summer and fall, in years where water levels are ultralow, water from the rivers never makes it into the hundreds of canals and isolated waterways. Large numbers of bass become trapped in these canals and easy targets for anglers.

When water levels in the basin are low, some of the best fishing is had near the main Belle River Landing launch site. Anglers only have to travel 10 to 20 minutes by boat to find man-made canals and waterways that are jam-packed with bass. Anglers have reported that many of the dead-end Shell Oil canals (aka “Shell cuts”) across from Adam’s Landing along Big Fork Bayou provide a fishing bonanza for large bass during low water years. When the river stage is between 3 and 4 feet these canal are ultra-prime bass fishing territory. During late summer and fall, when water levels are lower, the Union Oil Field canals off of Bayou Cheramie and the Oxy Field canals on the Verret side of the levee, can also provided excellent bass fishing. When the fishing is good, pulling 20 3lb- to 5lb- lunker out of the canals in a day is not unheard of.

When river levels are ultra-low in the basin, a lot of fish start backing up in the bayou where they’ll hold up in deeper pools.

There are variety of baits that are effective for fishing the Atchafalaya Basin. The perfect bait will depend on a number of variables including target fish species, water conditions and time of day. The following are a few of the more popular baits and rigs anglers report using to fish the basin.

Bait, Lure, RigDescription
CricketsIdeal bait for bluegill and crappie. Crickets are the preferred live bait when fishing the Atchafalaya Basin for panfish. Fish on a slip blobber rig (aka slip cork rig).
Soft plasticsSoft plastic worms and creature baits are ideal for bass fishing after the morning bite slows down.
Texas-rigUse with soft plastic worms and creature baits when fishing lily patches and matted vegetation for bass. Use a 1- or 1 ½-ounce weight pegged with a stopper. If cover is really thick, use the heavier sinker weight.
Carolina-rigUse with soft plastic worms and creature baits when fishing open water for bass to cover a lot of ground and test the waters. Use a 1- or 1 ½-ounce weight.
JigsGreat for targeting panfish. Use a small No.6-No.10 jig with a small piece of shrimp attached to the hook. Fish at depth of 1 to 1 ½ feet under the water using a bobber rig.
Hair jigCan be fished using a bobber rig or bottom bouncer rig.
WormsCan be fished using a number of presentations. Are effective for targeting panfish, bass and catfish. Can be fished using still fishing techniques or on a bobber rig.
Square-bill crankbaitIdeal for fishing bass in and arround flooded or downed trees. Provides the perfect presentation of a wounded bait fish as it bounces off tree trunks to trigger bites. Can also be fished in canals. Test different designs and colors. Use a shallow or medium diving crankbait.
Lipless crankbaitFor fishing bass and getting a strike in submerged vegetation and grass. Let the crankbait fall into the grass. Use quick jerk motions to pop it through the grass and trigger a strike.
Crawfish luresCrawfish are abundant throughout the Basin. Creaturebaits mimicking crawfish will get a bite from feeding bass. Crankbaits mimicking crawfish are also very effective. Select crankbaits that are brown for muddier water. For clear water, go with more greens, reds and oranges.
Spinnerbaits/buzzbaitsIdeal for fishing canals, open water and near the edges of vegetation, grass patches and lilies for bass.
Topwater luresThe go-to lure for bass fishing when you need to keep you lure above heavily matted grass and vegetation.

There are over 80 species of fish found in the rivers, lakes, waterways and canals located throughout the Atchafalaya Basin. Largemouth bass, white crappie, black crappie, warmouth, bluegill, redear sunfish, and channel catfish are the primary species targeted by anglers.