Primetime for bream

Most caterpillars are not pretty. Unless you’re in dire straits, they’re not appetizing.

But most of them make beautiful butterflies, and, in May and June, they provide fishermen with a sign that reads, “Stop here and catch lots of fish.”

“The caterpillars are in the trees, and they look like they’re going to eat all the leaves off the trees,” veteran Lake Verret area fisherman Jim Looney said earlier this week.

That’s the sign: Caterpillars spinning webs and nearly defoliating willow trees along waterways across Louisiana. Not all the caterpillars cling to the willow branches hanging over the water, and that’s where the fishing thing entered the picture.

Bream, a catch-all term for as many as eight species of sunfish, are the last in the sunfish family to wake from winter’s chill. Like their kin, the bass and the crappie, they’re hungry, and the caterpillars provide the main course for their springtime breakfast.

Most times the targets are bluegill. These webs and the wormy critters that can’t hang on feed chinquapin and goggle-eye, respective local names for red-ear sunfish and warmouth, along with long ear, pumpkinseed and green sunfish.

Looney been around long enough to know when to start looking for the webs in the trees. Because ground temperatures trigger the leafing schedule of Louisiana’s deciduous trees, among the last to leaf out are pecans. Somehow fishermen figured out when pecan trees bud, the arrival of the caterpillars in the willows is not more than two weeks away.

That’s why Looney was on the water last weekend.

“These spots are easy to find, but you have to take your time look for them,” Looney said. “Don’t wash the banks with your wake, but it’ll mean you have to wait for the bream to congregate again.

“Right now, the fish are there, some big ones, some small, but there are a lot of them.”

There’s not a whole lot to it: A cane pole with enough 10-pound or 12-pound monofilament line on the pole to stretch 12 inches or longer than the pole, a small cork, small split shot and a long-shanked No. 8 hook is all the tackle you need. The long-shanked hook makes it easier to rig bait and to remove the hook from the fish’s small mouth.

After that, get live crickets. Lots of folks will dig for nightcrawlers, but they should save them for finding chinquapin, because worms are that species favorite. Bluegill and the other small sunfish prefer crickets, or the caterpillars if you’re comfortable handling them. Or you can work small plastic-tube lures usually in black/chartreuse or brown/orange colors.

“It’s time to go,” Looney said. “The feast is on for the bream, and for the fishermen.”