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STEPHENSVILLE — A proud Cajun who grew up near the levee on the east side of the Atchafalaya Basin, who has risen to near-legendary status as a pro bass fisherman, who loves to fish “rabbit dog” water in late winter and early spring, wants to go fishing with a former prep football head coach from the Teche Area.Cliff “The Cajun Baby” Crochet of Pierre Part extended the formal invitation through a third party, an outdoors writer, right off the bat the morning of Jan. 13 here at Doiron’s Landing.“Do you know Kirk Crochet? I would like to fish with Kirk Crochet (no relation),” Crochet said, making the offer as he readied his high-performance bass boat soon after sunrise on a cold morning.Football player turned coachFast rewind. The Cajun Baby is a former All-State defensive lineman at Central Catholic High School in Morgan City. The CCHS Eagles’ bitter rival then was Loreauville High School coached by Kirk Crochet.The Cajun Baby still loves football, despite his status as a third-year pro on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour following a storied career as a Bassmaster Elite Series and Bassmaster Open angler starting in the mid-2000s. He spends offseasons coaching the football team at Pierre Part Middle School. And has enjoyed it immensely for 19 years.“Why do I want to go fishing with Kirk Crochet? I want to discuss that game,” he said.“That game” was a district showdown in which CCHS forged a 4-point lead late in the game. The CCHS Class of 2001 grad who played in the trenches said the Tigers won in the waning seconds on a long scoring pass that cheered many hearts in Loreauville but broke a lot of hearts in and around Morgan City.The 37-year-old outdoorsman loves bass fishing as well as football’s Xs and Os. He hopes to dissect that game (and probably countless others) with the revered ex-Tigers head coach, Kirk Crochet.No doubt he’ll enjoy the conversation.“I love to talk,” he said, then paused for effect, “but I love to listen.”Crochet, who has been fishing professionally on a major circuit since 2007, said sometimes it feels like five minutes and at other times it feels like a lifetime. A 2006 Louisiana B.A.S.S. Federation state tournament win jump-started his pro career.“There’s been a lot of work put into it,” he said.Keeping up with bassThe competitive bass fishing world has changed, evolved. Selling your brand is almost as important as catching bass.As Crochet stood in the parking lot before launching that Wednesday, he hooked up a bow camera, one of three GoPros on his boat, and said, “I’m not complaining but I remember when it was just fishing.”He still hasn’t gotten comfortable with videoing, with creating content for social media, how-to clips, etc. He’s getting up to speed and tries to post one or two short videos and photos daily on his Facebook page.The outboard motor on his first boat was 25-h.p. Today a shiny black 250-h.p. Mercury with 10 hours on it hangs on the back of his new, recently wrapped 21-foot-4 Blazer.“I’m extremely thankful I’ve had the right people in the right places that taught me how to fish, and people who taught me the business side of fishing. Probably 95 percent of what I know was taught to me,” he said.Barry and Martha Crochet, his parents, greased his path to pro bass fishing, which he immersed himself in after a few years as a sheriff’s deputy with the Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office.“The biggest thing, no doubt, that allowed me to do this, is my mom and dad. They never told me to get a real job or you can’t do it. They never shut me down. They told me, ‘If that’s what you want to do, work hard, get better.’ If that doesn’t happen, this never gets started,” he said.If a young man 16 or 17 years old says he wants to fish for a living but gets negative feedback, Crochet realizes to this day, “It’s shut down. It’s over.”After parents’ guidance, wife keyHe started dating his future wife, Sara Theriot of Pierre Part, when they were 19. They have four children, Ben, 5, Lee, 3, and twins Les and Jay, who will be 1 on Feb. 28.He appreciates his wife’s support from the get-go.“If my wife doesn’t get in, we can all quit trying. She always knew the plan, the goal, and went with it, never questioned it, went along for the ride,” he said.Crochet is at home on the waters east and west of Doiron’s Landing. He has fished all his life around Stephensville and the Atchafalaya Basin, site of some sweet victories, including a Bassmaster Central Open win in late October 2016 with 46 pounds, 6 ounces.For this trip he targeted areas along Bayou Cheramie. He looked longingly at the extra skinny water around cypress trees.“In a couple of weeks (early February) we’ll be doing what I call rabbit dog fishing,” he said about water perhaps 6 to 8 inches deep, if that much, mainly around stands of cypress knees and flat bank.“You can run a rabbit dog there or catch fish,” he said with a grin.Later, he said rabbit dog water patterns mean fishing water so shallow that a cast could net a rabbit or a bass. He was referencing bass’ tendencies to head to the shallows to spawn.After a while, it was apparent the bass weren’t up shallow.“On a day like today, you just keep fishing, fishing, enjoying yourself, you know? It’s a lot of fun, decent weather. I ain’t got nothing to do,” he said, adding he was enjoying the outing even more because he didn’t have to be back around 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon.“If you’re fishing or hunting, and you have to be back early, you don’t go too far,” he said.And it’s the preseason. There was no stress of a tournament. That’ll come when he and other MLF BPT pros start the season March 21 at Lake Sam Rayburn, first of seven events scheduled for 2021.Getting the bass fishing ‘envie’Crochet said now is the ideal time to get the “envie,” a French word to feel like, to want or, in some cases, to need. It’s a time to throw artificial lures you usually don’t throw, like a plastic lizard.“When was the last time you caught on a lizard?” he asked rhetorically as he flipped and pitched a plastic lizard.Crochet’s bass fishing approach on a tough day paid off. After the first 1 ½ hours produced two 10- to 11-inch bass on a black/blue Set the Hook Spike, a soft plastic stick-type worm, adorned with a Keith Poche Power Spinner, he had two more bites, then many casts with no bites for nearly three hours.He was undaunted.“Like, dude, it’s 50 degrees (water temperature). January. Bluebird skies. Just fish, just fish. Make any sense? Stay and fish. You know they’re in here,” he said. “Say they’re not in 2 feet of water. Quit trying to beat that deal. Know what I’m saying?”When things don’t go as planned, some bass anglers start moving, he said, jump, jump, jump.“After a while you start making bigger jumps,” he said.He stayed put and, five minutes later, was rewarded with a big bite after a cast to the base of a large cypress tree with a Crusher Lures spinnerbait featuring an orange Colorado blade behind a gold Indiana blade. He set hook and reeled in a 3-pound class bass.Twenty minutes later he boated a 2-pound bass on the spinnerbait.Big wins, top finishes in careerWhile Crochet fished he discussed his breakout year of 2009. The Bassmaster Central Open schedule was up his alley with the three tournaments at Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn Reservoir and the Atchafalaya Basin. He finished 22nd, seventh and third, respectively, to qualify for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, one of four Classic appearances.Crochet pulled an LHS Tiger-type comeback October 27-29, 2016, when he topped the 158-angler field and overcame a 9-pound deficit after Day 2 to win $45,000. He made the right decisions each day, mostly slowing his approach and staying put rather than jumping around for the win.He was ready for that one in his backyard.“The Open schedule is out and the fall tournament is in the Atchafalaya Basin. The big tournament comes to your house! That’s every angler’s dream,” he said.Crochet’s goal this year is to put last year’s 79th place MLF BPT finish behind him and get back to his winning ways on a circuit boasting top pros like Jacob Wheeler, Ott Defoe, Kevin VanDam, Todd Faircloth, Skeet Reese and Jordan Lee, to name a few. They’ll have to reckon with the proud and determined Cajun Baby in 2021.
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