Miss-Lou fishermen wait out days before peak season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

It’s obvious that when people discuss the sport of fishing, one word jumps out more than any other: patience.

Sure, there are those who can sense the honeyholes from the moment they crank the engine. But for everyone else, who enjoys the chase but isn’t as proficient every time out, a calm persistence is essential in return trips.

Especially right now. The late winter months&045; when the temperature is just a hair too cold to fill up a liner &045; are the most frustrating for most fishermen.

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&uot;We go out there and freeze,&uot; said Henry Butler, salesman at SportsCenter in Natchez. &uot;I’m no expert, but we’ll just go out there whether we catch them or not.&uot;

Since 1992, American anglers have upped their expenditures 33 percent to $42 billion annually, according to recent data from the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Mississippi fishermen, which number close to 600,000, accounted for more than $239 million of that number.

The numbers are similar in Louisiana, but casting into a mean February wind and coming back with little to show is not the idea of fun for Danny Wisner’s customers.

&uot;We’re getting fishermen coming through right now, but if they don’t fill an ice chest up they’re not happy with their trip,&uot; said Wisner, who owns DW’s Bait Shop in Vidalia, La. &uot;But sometimes I come across a guy like the other day who came in here and said he caught eight (white perch) and was so tickled he was willing to tough it out there again.&uot;

Wisner’s store mainly deals with providing bait for catching white perch, with the exception of some catfishermen and bass fishermen, and while he said right now is frustrating, all indications are the overall season should be wonderful.

To his avid clientele, patience is overrated, Wisner said. As soon as the temperature warms up a bit they’ll be coming in droves to Lake Concordia, Deer Park and others nearby.

&uot;As soon as there is a pretty day that drops, there will be people ready to go,&uot; Wisner said. &uot;The first nice couple days that we get we’re going to have people that are going to hit it. People are wanting to get out there.&uot;

The one exception to the low numbers this time of year just happens to be the most popular type of fish in this region.

Female largemouth bass are in the egg-laying stage of the year, which means the males, who act as a protector more than the females do, are guarding the nests, said Eddie Roberts of Bryan’s Marine in Vidalia.

&uot;It’s absolutely the best month for trophy bass. The male bass are just as important to the offspring as the females,&uot; Roberts said. &uot;It’s really the perfect time of the year to practice catch-and-release, though.&uot;

Catch-and-release &045; a process to put back any bass under a certain limit &045; is even more important in Louisiana since last February the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries abolished a statewide catch-and-release mandate.

Couple that with the bass virus that infected area lakes, and Roberts said it may take time for the big trophy bass, which used to be the norm in these waters, to pop out.

&uot;I think the area fishermen are realizing that we’re still building the bass population back up here,&uot; he said. &uot;But judging from what I’ve seen this winter, in tournaments, the success rate should definitely increase this year.

&uot;Watching tournaments is a good gauge to the population of the water and seeing how the fishing fluctuates from year-to-year.&uot;

More than 10 years ago, the current Mississippi record for largemouth bass was caught just a castline away in Natchez Lake.

Anthony Denny of Washington hauled in an 18.15 whopper and set off a whirlwind of activity at the Natchez State Park.

Since then ranger Roddy Powell and park manager Jim McKeivier have maintained the Florida largemouth’s population, along with a steady supply of bream and catfish by natural resources. &uot;The lake itself is just covered with food, so there is plenty for them to eat,&uot; Powell said. &uot;Plus with our slot limit between 18- and 22-inches the largemouth are going to grow.&uot;

And it’s during these months when the season is just beginning to start its stride that sportsmen in the Miss-Lou remember the importance of growth.

&uot;I can’t stress enough about how patient you have to be right now,&uot; Roberts said. &uot;If you know an area really well, you should visit the same spot several times during the day because there will be a small time frame when the fish are on.&uot;