Four men spent a rainy Friday morning catching bass with a levee between them.
Steve Fontana and Raymond Knapp were on the east side of the Atchafalaya Basin Guide Levee that runs more than 60 miles from Morganza to Morgan City and beyond.
Exact location? All they said was, “The Stephensville area.”
Don Hutchinson and Ray Loupe were west of the levee in the Atchafalaya Spillway.
Exact location? “The south end of Grand Lake,” Hutchinson said.
For both spots, that’s a lot of water to cover and would appear to be miles apart, but, as the grosbeck flies, they weren’t that far away from each other.
And when Old Timers Bass Tournament organizer Wayne Tucker weighed their soggy three-bass-limit catches, they were even closer: Fontana’s and Knapp’s three fish weighed 10.51 pounds; the Hutchinson-Loupe effort was 10.5 pounds.
If the event’s payout from this ever-growing 55-and-older fishing reunion reaches a grand scale — 58 guys showed up before dawn Friday at Paizano’s at Belle River, including 84-year-old Tony Latino and 81-year-old “Popeye” Hugent — that one one-hundredths of a pound separation would be significant.
There was only the matter of a couple of hundred dollars difference in the payout between first and second places. True, Hutchinson and Loupe are ultra-competitive as bass fishermen go, but they knew what the day meant to Fontana and, maybe even to a greater degree, Knapp.
“It feels good to have him back,” Knapp said. “He (Fontana) has really struggled, struggled real bad. He had a hard time with that stroke.”
Yep, a stroke.
During a trip to do a Belle River spinnerbait story for Advocate Outdoors late last summer, Fontana felt dizzy. The spell lasted maybe five minutes and he was back on the front deck of his boat to make a few more casts.
At first he was told that he’d had a bout with vertigo.
Then something more serious happened.
“The doctor said I’d had a TIA, a mini-stroke that day, and that put me off the water for a while,” Fontana said.
It was more than that.
“Steve did not want to talk fishing, didn’t want to hear it,” Knapp said. “We’ve been fishing together for, I guess, about 30 years and that was hard to believe.
“That’s why it’s good to see him coming back,” Knapp continued. “He and I went fishing three or four weeks ago. We decided to go scouting for a couple of tournaments and that was the first time he really was back on the water. He caught a couple of fish, and I asked him how it felt to have his string pulled again, to have that fish on the end of his line.
“I think that’s when he realized that we’re going to get over this and move on,” Knapp said.
The smile on Fontana’s face, the catch that he said included more than 20 keeper bass — the area has a state-mandated 14-inch minimum size for bass — was vintage Steve Fontana and showed no effects of the stroke.
“I’m getting better every day. The medicine is working and I’m feeling fine, no spells and that’s a relief,” Fontana said.
Even better was that he showed he still has his touch with Belle River bass.
You’d get no argument if you said Fontana is a master of the Belle River waters that run from the La. 70 bridge south through Stephensville. South Louisiana competitive bass fishermen know that and fully understand that when conditions are right, Fontana and Knapp are fishing for first-place money every time a tournament launches in the Belle River area.
Thing was Friday that a 7 a.m. drizzle turned into a downpour by 9 o’clock and the day was the exact opposite of Thursday’s cool morning, bluebird skies and light north winds.
“You just have to understand what the fish do when that happens,” Fontana explained. “We used a buzzbait all day. We were catching fish on it before it started raining hard. The fish (bass) were blowing up on shad, and that’s a clear sign that they wanted that crankbait.”
Color? White, silver blade.
“We’re just used to where the fish should be and what they’re feeding on,” Knapp said. “We’ve done it for years. We go up and down (Belle) river and the fish are not always on the same spots, but we know about where they should be. The problem is that today you can do well and tomorrow might not be that way.
“We had cloud cover and, I guess it’s an instinct that tells us that buzzbaits worked in the past and so the night before you tie on (baits) you know they will work,” he said.
Hutchinson said the same scenario played out on the south end of Grand Lake.
Even though the spillway is rising, Loupe said white buzzbaits worked, but so did the Tony Landry Humdinger spinnerbait, a chartreuse-white skirted model with a single gold-colored 41-2 willowleaf blade.
“We caught all the fish around laydowns, and over the middle part of the laydown,” Hutchinson explained. “The rain turned the fish on and we had 16-20 weigh fish (remember the 14-inch minimum size?) and were culling out 16-inch (long) fish by 8:30 (a.m.)”
James Edwards finished third and fished near Fontana and Knapp. Edwards said a Rat-L-Lure and buzzbaits worked for what he said were 12 “keeper” bass, including the day’s heaviest bass, a 4.78-pounder.
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