MORGAN CITY — Let the records show it’s time to catch “perch,” as fishermen here call them, around cypress trees at Flat Lake in the Atchafalaya Basin.
Also let the records show Bill McCarty of Morgan City and his good friend Judge Tommy Duplantier of Lafayette, a judge of the 15th Judicial District Court Division I, entered sufficient evidence May 28 that perch, also known as “bream” in southeast Louisiana, are starting to bite. The bite’s going to get better and better in the next few weeks, they agreed.
It’s the time of year that puts smiles on the face of men, women and children who love to catch panfish — bream, chinquapin and goggle-eye — take them home and fry them. When McCarty and Duplantier say it’s time for the annual run, it isn’t hearsay. The bream bite, though, might be a little later than usual this year.
McCarty’s third perch fishing mission this spring proved beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s happening but far from a full-blown perch run in Flat Lake. They kept 14 bream, chinquapin and goggle-eye worthy of frying and released perhaps a dozen smaller fish in about 2 hours.
“I caught five on my second trip, so I went from two to five” to 2 dozen or so, the all-around outdoorsman said soon after getting on the water with Duplantier, who has a camp on the Stephensville side at the mouth of Doiron’s Canal.
It was a little before 7 a.m. and they were in McCarty’s new Xpress X19 targeting perch around cypress trees in the northeast corner of Flat Lake.
“I don’t see the mayflies. I don’t hear any popping, either,” McCarty said, referring to the sound of perch eating the mayflies, which usually happens Memorial Day Weekend.
“It’s usually like for a week or so but they’re not here right now. It’s been happening for years,” he said about the mayfly hatch. “They (perch) ought to be in here thick. I think it’s going to get better. They just aren’t in here good yet.”
There was no response to his first cast with a crawfish-colored tube jig tipped with a dehydrated chartreuse Crappie Nibble under an orange and white cork threaded on 6-pound mono to a Zebco Delta ZD3. He and Duplantier fished 2 ½- to 3-foot deep in about 4.5-foot depths with the Atchafalaya River stage at 5.2 feet at Morgan City.
“It’s never a good sign when you don’t catch on the first cast,” McCarty said.
The panfish were there, to be certain. He missed one at 6:55 a.m. But two minutes later, the first keeper-sized perch was filling his hand.
“Oh, Tom wanted to catch the first one so bad,” he said in the first salvo of good-natured banter between two friends.
“I did,” Duplantier said.
“I beat him so bad yesterday catching channel catfish (1 ½-pound average) in Lake Palourde,” he said, claiming a score of 14 to 8, which was disputed by the judge, who said it was 12-10 in his favor.
Beaucoup barbs were in the boat considering the number of hooks out and in tackle boxes. Most of the barbs were verbal as they exchanged one-liners on a trip that ended before 9:30 a.m. when the judge, a New Orleans native, had to leave.
While their ideologies, i.e. political preferences, are polar opposites, the overriding factor in their friendship is a passion for catching fish and sharing time in God’s Country. McCarty graduated from LSU while Duplantier earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1977 before graduating from Loyola University Law School in 1980.
“Almost five years ago I met him through my friend, who’s a city judge, Kim Stansbury. I told Kim, ‘Look, I’m trying to learn the area.’ He told me about this guy,” Duplantier said, noting it was about six months after his camp was built. “The first trip I knew I was in trouble. We went to one of his favorite places, and within five minutes I had to huddle in the bottom of the boat because lightning strikes were all around.”
McCarty agreed and said, “It was everywhere but the crappie was eating!”
“I caught more fish (that day) than I had in six months. We really kind of struck a friendship,” the judge said.
The son of Judge Adrian G. and Sally Duplantier began fishing as a boy with his father in New Orleans City Park. They also went after speckled trout around Empire and Buras.
Duplantier moved to Acadiana and married Susan Rabalais. When he began practicing law, a few clients steered him to the Atchafalaya Basin, namely Bayou Benoit and Beau Bayou.
McCarty also grew up fishing, and hunting, with his father, the late Philip McCarty. His dad was a respected and beloved local educator, an outdoorsman’s outdoorsman.
Their combined experience showed as they stood for the task at hand. McCarty waited longer intervals between twitching his cork while Duplantier — offering a black/chartreuse Mr. Crappie Slabalicious, a soft plastic paddletail, tipped with a piece of earthworm — popped his cork more frequently working the rod tip and Pfleuger Underspin Reel.
That was their respective rules of procedure as the aluminum bass boat powered by a 175-h.p. Yamaha glided under Minn Kota Fortrex power through the cypress trees. McCarty charged to an early lead but his friend caught and surpassed him before 9:30.
Perhaps they were a little rusty. Both hooked but lost at least half-a-dozen bull bream or bull chinquapin.
Flat Lake’s water was clear. That degree of clarity halfway showed the reason Flat Lake perhaps isn’t as productive as usual in May and June.
“See the bottom here? That used to be shells. Now it’s sediment,” McCarty said. In other words, it’s silting up.
Another strike against the fabled fishery in Morgan City’s backyard is the fact underwater vegetation disappeared either because of recent hurricanes or carp or combination of both. Both anglers recall the heyday before the mid-2010s.
“It’s really a shame. When I first had the camp, you’d come here and walk boat to boat. One day Larry (Larry Doiron at Doiron’s Landing, Stephensville) launched 220 boats. But there was grass,” Duplantier said, recalling a day in 2015.
For those who want to target bream the first few weeks of June, McCarty advised the bigger bream and chinquapin are deeper while the smaller ones generally inhabit the shallows between Bear Bayou and Bayou Grosbec.