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The Town Talk






Dedicated crappie angler adept
at finding, catching white perch
By Philip Timothy April 21, 2004

SALINE/LARTO COMPLEX —Randy Hulin's crawfish-red Ragin' Cajun 205 bass boat is still moving forward as he lowers his trolling motor into the water.

A grove of cypress trees stands 100 yards to his right, and another group is located several hundred yards to his left. In the middle of those groves sit five or six boats filled with fishermen.

Across the way, there are another 20 boats trolling next to a deep-water channel with many more boats racing toward some unseen destination. It appears most are doing more running than fishing.

Hulin, though, doesn't pay attention to the others as he positions his boat in between the two groves in the open flat.

The boat's forward progress is slowed with a series of short bursts from his Motor Guide trolling motor before he ever bends over and picks up his rod and reel. He gives his depth finder a cursory glance, adjusts the depth of his cork and then picks up a small acrylic bottle from his tackle box.

Taking his watermelon-seed tube jig, he inserts a small nozzle into the jig and fills it with Berkley Crappie Nibbles, using his invention called The Bait Pump — a soft bait injection system that is catching on like wildfire.

With his jig oozing squashed crappie nibbles, he cast it toward the open water.

All he needs is a couple of twitches of his rod tip to entice the large white perch to take the jig, and the fight is on. Expertly, he reels in his hefty catch and lifts it into his bass boat. The hunter has found his prey.

The "Pump" was invented to mash crappie nibbles, catfish dough or other natural bait, like shrimp or crawfish, and shoot the paste into soft plastics like tube jigs, plastic worms or cocahoe minnows.

His uncle had gotten him hooked on the nibbles three years earlier, but the only problem was for every crappie caught, one to three nibbles ended up in the bottom of the boat since the fish shook them off.

The constant mess became more than his wife, Anna, could stand when it came time to clean the boat.

"She wasn't a happy camper," said Hulin. "So, in order to continue using the nibbles and to keep peace at home, I had to come up with something that would get them into the jigs with the least amount of mess.

"Nothing worked well, due to the high viscosity of the nibbles, unless they were watered down to the point of being so thin they wouldn't last very long," he said. "Then, I had the chance to help a friend in Jena design and machine duck calls made from acrylic. This opportunity opened the door to his designing of The Bait Pump."

He made a few and tested them in secret (he didn't even tell Anna at first) to make sure it worked. When it became apparent his pump worked, he quickly moved to secure a patent.

"There would be days I would be catching when others weren't," he said. "I made and gave away 10 pumps to family and friends, and it immediately improved their catch where they otherwise would have struggled."

Word spread quickly and Hulin's pump (www.thebaitpump.com) quickly became the rave amongst a growing corps of family, neighbors and friends. And slowly, but surely, word about the pump is getting out to others.

The slight breeze pushes the boat toward the cypress trees, but Hulin quickly brings it back into the stump field with a few bursts from his trolling motor. He checks the jig to make sure it is still filled with nibbles and with a flick of his wrist, he casts his jig back into the flat. Within moments, he is reeling in another crappie, slightly bigger than the first.

"Looks can be deceiving," said Hulin, a manufacturing engineer at Dresser Industries. "This appears to be open water, but actually there are hundreds of stumps just below the surface. The white perch love to hang out around these stumps.

"By injecting the nibbles into the jigs, it entices the fish to hold on to them longer," he said. "When others are having a hard time getting the fish to even bite, we are catching … maybe not a limit every time … but we are catching."

As proof, he unhooks the perch, flips it into the livewell, checks his jig, and casts back into almost the same spot. The action is repeated time and again as he expertly maneuvers his bass boat through the maze of stumps.

A quick survey of the area shows no one else around. Whether it is frustration or impatience with a lack of action, the other boats have moved deeper into the Saline-Larto Complex attempting to locate pockets of fish.

The 8,000-acre complex, which borders the 60,276-acre Dewey Wills Wildlife Management Area, is a maze of lakes, bayous, sloughs and swamps — ideal for producing and catching white and black crappie.

Names like Saline Bayou, Big Creek, Muddy Bayou, Nolan's Bayou, Duck Bayou, Open Mouth Bayou, Shad Lake, Cross Bayou and Fool's Bayou are rallying points for thousands of avid crappie fishermen who flock to the complex year round from around the state and all over the country.

It is considered one of the best crappie lakes, as is evidenced by the huge numbers caught annually.

Once an avid bass fisherman and deer hunter, Hulin devotes most of his free time from October to May to hunting for 'slabs.' They are also known as white perch, crappie or sac-a-lait depending on where one lives.

He calls Saline-Larto home waters, but he travels across the state with Anna, his wife of 26 years, and a few close friends in pursuit of white perch.

"We've been to the lakes all around here, as well as, Toledo Bend, Lake Claiborne and Lake D'Arbonne," he said. "I'm planning on taking Anna and some friends of ours to Poverty Point in May, and I hope to make it down to the Atchafalaya Basin before it gets too hot."

On their trip to D'Arbonne in March, the Hulins and seven other couples caught 607 white perch in three days. The biggest white perch or 'slab' tipped the scales at 2.10 pounds while the smallest was 1¼ pounds.

"It was the most amazing fishing trip I've ever been on," said Hulin, who has been pursuing white perch regularly for the past 17 years. "It was misty and cold, and we were catching fish virtually on every cast. I started out keeping fish that were a half pound or better, but I soon realized we really didn't need to keep anything under a pound."

"During the summer (mid-June) and early fall (mid-October), I fish saltwater with my cousin in Lake Charles," he said. "A lot of people continue to fish for white perch on through the summer, but not me.

"In the summer, you don't catch them in big numbers," he said. "My favorite time begins at the end of October and runs through to the end of May, possibly mid-June. From mid-October until the end of January, we usually do real well with jig poles. It - jig pole fishing -- usually peaks around Thanksgiving."

While Hulin will "do what I got to do to catch crappie," he prefers using his rod and reel. It is more flexible and allows him to cover more ground.

"My two favorite times of the year come in late December, when the bigger fish move into the deep channels chasing the shad, and at the end of February when they move into the bushes to spawn," he said.

While everyone is running the bayous and sloughs of Saline-Larto, he kicks back, waiting.

"There is always a two-week lull following the spawn," said Hulin. "People have their days. A friend of mine, Frank Costantino, caught 50 the other day, but that's the exception, not the rule.

"The fish are already moving into the flats in 10 to four feet of water feeding on the crawfish and the shads. Within another week or two, they can be found on the edge of the lily pads," he said. "There are a lot of people using shiners, but I strictly use jigs. I hate fooling with shiners."

There are many crappie experts in a state overflowing with bodies of water filled with this prolific fish, including such well-known fishermen as Bobby Phillips of West Monroe, J.B Salter of Baton Rouge, Laurette Mequette of Henderson and David McFaul of Lafayette.

Yet, few can get folks "pumped" up like this "Slab Hunter" can. Where he goes, people follow, because they know that's where the 'slabs' are.

© The Alexandria Town Talk
April 21, 2004