Walking Up Some Specks

In the heat of summer, it's quite pleasant just to wade into the cool Gulf waters to do some fishing. It's also a great way to slip up on Mississippi speckled trout! (July 2007)

Wade-fishing is fun, and in the summer, very practical for targeting speckled trout in Mississippi waters.
Photo by Capt. Robert Brodie.

Summertime along the Mississippi coastline can be quite sweltering at times. Well, to be honest, downright hot most of the time. And for those who spend time seeking out speckled trout in Magnolia State waters, the humid weather is an accepted aspect of the quest for this glamour species.

However, another version of fishing Mississippi's nearshore waters can help alleviate some of the heat involved in the summer pursuit of speckled trout: Just get in the water and wade!

When wade-fishing in our neck of the woods for speckled trout -- commonly referred to as "specks" -- it can be far more comfortable to be in knee- to chest-deep water. To cool off still further, simply kneel down and immerse yourself to the neck for a quick and refreshing dip.

Now that we've touched on the comfort aspect of wade-fishing, let's delve into the true angling advantages of the sport. Nothing is more important than stealth when it comes to getting in casting range of trout. Also, wading allows you to reach areas that boatbound anglers can't possibly reach.

Speckled trout can be quite spooky at times, especially when being fished in extremely shallow and clear water. Thus, by slowly walking up to the speck's skinny-water abodes and making long casts, it's possible to locate fish without scaring them out of the area. Also, the chances of casting a long shadow and alerting nearby fish are much lower than they are for a boatbound angler.

GEAR FOR SPECKS

Of course, some specialized bits of gear exist to help make your wade-fishing experience hassle-free and, thus, more enjoyable.

Unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool catch-and-release angler, you need some sort of system for keeping your catch, and, better yet, keeping it alive and thus as fresh as possible.

Nothing's more effective that a fish basket, and quite a few of these specialized "creels" -- basically a floating body made up of Styrofoam or other closed-cell material with a nylon bag that dangles down into the water below -- are on the market. Your catch is deposited into the bag, there to stay alive and fresh for hours on end. Unlike a fish stringer that can damage the specks' delicate gills, no excessive bleeding or thrashing around on the top that can attract sharks occurs. Some anglers still prefer the basic fish stringer, but in waters that sharks are known to prowl, go with a basket.

Another key aspect of using a fish basket is that you're able to cull your catch -- to release small fish from the basket and replace them with larger trout as you catch them. Since Mississippi has a daily limit of 15 specks with a minimum total length of 14 inches, Magnolia State fishermen can be quite selective. However, use good judgment, and be sure the fish you're about to release is in good enough shape to survive.

By the way, if you should step into a hole or dropoff, or get swept off a point in a strong current, a floating fish basket makes a great emergency life preserver. Both Kajun Keeper and Team Numark make very effective fish baskets.

When wade-fishing, always walk slowly, and wear some kind of foot protection. Especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the odd smattering of bottom debris can create hazards. The storm also created some new holes and channels that can sneak up on you.

A landing net is another essential tool for wade-fishermen. Just make sure that it has an opening wide enough to easily handle even a big speck.

Finally, if you're going to take up wade-fishing seriously, invest in the best tackle you can afford. The salty marine environment of the speckled trout is unforgiving, especially to inferior gear, but even to top-dollar tackle that isn't properly cleaned after each outing. A good dousing of soapy fresh water followed by an oiling is always needed to keep things running smoothly.

You can use a spinning or baitcasting outfit when it comes to wade-fishing for specks. A fairly light outfit is ideal for this type of angling. Mount your reel on a 7-foot medium-action graphite rod, spool to the hilt with 12-pound-test monofilament and you're ready to get your feet wet -- literally.

Wade-fishing usually requires many hours of continuously tossing lures, so pick an outfit that's lightweight and balanced in the hand. A rod with a long butt section is easier to tuck under the arm while landing fish or tying on new lures. And for a long battle with big fish, a long butt section can be propped on your belly, relieving pressure on the arms and enabling heavier pressure to be applied to the fish.

ARTIFICIAL BAITS

Well-prepared wading anglers step into the water with a variety of artificial baits. Each has his favorites that are fished with considerable confidence. But of course you never know for sure what conditions you may encounter, so it's always best to have some backup gear along for those instances.

There are four basic categories of artificial baits that wade-fishermen usually have at hand: jigs with soft-plastic trailers, spoons, slow-sink twitch baits, and topwater plugs.

You'd be hard pressed to find a wading angler in this region without a good selection of softies in his arsenal of baits. Soft plastics are relatively cheap, and come in most colors and shapes imaginable. The favorites for specks imitate either shrimp, bull minnows, menhaden or mullet. It's hard to go wrong with a collection of proven baits such as: Cocahoes; Salt Water Assassins; Deadly Dudleys; Mr. Twister Finshads or Sassy Shads; Norton Shad or Bull Minnows; D.O.A. Shrimp; split-tail Sparkle Beetles; or the 100 percent biodegradable Berkley Gulp soft baits.

Ever-popular colors are white, chartreuse, avocado, pearl, black, and purple. Of course baits with a combinations of colors -- like white or chartreuse with a red tail, and purple or pearl with a red or chartreuse tail -- are excellent contrasting hues. Especially in clear water, more-translucent shades of smoke, light green, avocado, and chartreuse prove deadly when various colors of glitter are imbedded.

White, an all-purpose color for specks, works exceptionally well in turbid, dingy water. When the sun's high in the sky, a softie in a chartreuse color is a good choice, too.

Especially when the water's dirty, a small piece of fresh dead shrimp threaded on the jig hook can lead to more strikes by adding the extra effectiveness of scent. Perhaps try the Gulp baits in such dingy conditions, because they too put out a lot of scent too. As they slowly break down in the water, a fish-attracting scent trail is created.

Keep an assortment of 1/8- to 1/2-ounce jigs ready for use with the trailers. Use the lighter heads in shallow water; fish the heavier ones in deeper areas, or where there are stronger currents. Unpainted jigheads work quite well, but colored heads of white, black, purple body or red can be used to contrast with the color of the plastics.

Soft plastics can be fished either singly or in tandem. Personally, I like to start out fishing two different colors at the same time. When fished on 25-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon leader material with one jig dangling 6 inches or so below the top bait, you can test more water using varied colored baits. Once the fish express a preference for a certain hue, switch both baits to that color.

Before we move on from soft plastics, let's not forget their effectiveness when fished under a clacking or popping cork. Two of the more effective corks on the market are the Paradise Popper X-Treme and the Cajun Thunder. These floats generate sounds similar to a fleeing shrimp or another fish striking on the surface. Either such commotion effectively draws nearby specks to your bait.

To rig, tie a 2- to 3-foot length of leader material under the cork, and then tie on the jig. With the added weight of the cork you are able to make long casts, and cover a lot of water. Slowly work float back to your position by whipping your rod tip quickly up. This causes the cork to jump forward creating a pop or clack. Next, make three cranks on the reel's handle and repeat the process. Periodically also stop the bait and let it sit motionless for a few seconds.

Specks love spoons too, and this type of hardware in a silver or gold finish can be deadly, especially in the clear water surrounding the Mississippi barrier islands. In fact, these lures do well along any of the Magnolia State's beaches. Side-Winder, Mr. Champ and Johnson Sprite spoons are all highly successful models for specks.

As for slow-sink twitch baits, any of the series of 52M models from MirrOlure are especially effective for targeting larger trout that prowl the gullies, flats, points, and grass beds around the barrier islands. The Yo-Zuri Crystal Vibe in a clown finish of red head and silver body is another prime example of a slow-sinking speck bait. All these mentioned resemble a mullet or bull minnow, favorite meals in a big specks diet. For best results fish the baits slow with a couple of intermittent jerks and pauses.

Finally, a couple of topwater plugs should be tossed in the selection of baits you carry for speck fishing. Extremely effective on larger trout, some anglers opt to toss topwater plugs for the sheer excitement of seeing a big speck exploded through the surface to take the bait. Such anglers know they may not get as many strikes, but the ones they do provoke usually result in much larger fish.

Examples of speck-attracting top-water baits include: Heddon Tiny Torpedoes; Zara Spooks or Pups; MirrOlure He Dogs, She Dogs, Top Dogs, Top Dog Jrs. or Top Pups; Yo-Zuri Banana Boats, 3D Poppers, or Hydro Pencils; and Bomber Pop'n Shrimp.

To cover the spectrum, it's wise to have baits in the 3- up to 5-inch lengths. Trout sometimes just knock the bigger baits into the air. At those times you need to try a smaller version.

WHERE TO WADE-FISH

Luckily for shorebound anglers, Mississippi's coastline offers wade-fishermen many miles of sandy beach studded with piers, harbors, and jetties. From the Biloxi Lighthouse heading west, any of the areas around longer piers stretching out toward Mississippi Sound are prime sites to wade. Although Hurricane Katrina ravaged most of their decking, the pilings are still there to lure plenty of speck-attracting baitfish.

As for harbors, the west side of the Broadwater Marina, Long Beach Small Craft Harbor, and Pass Christian Small Craft Harbor all can be productive at times. The shallow cove area just to the west of the Gulfport Harbor near Moses Pier holds specks too.

The beaches in Waveland offer excellent speck haunts, while back to the east in Ocean Springs, near the mouth of Davis Bayou, some prime wading can be found.

No matter where you fish be sure to get to the beach extremely early when a rising tide occurs in the morning. Those first few cooler hours in the morning can often make or break catching a few specks, and fish chase bait closer to the beach on the incoming tide. Excellent evening outings may occur also, but you have to wade farther out into deeper water.

For anglers with access to a boat, getting out to the barrier islands can offer miles and miles of additional surf-lined gullies, tidal washes, current swept points, and vast stretches of grass beds. In these areas look for dark water, which is a sign of the presences of drop offs, gullies, bottom structure or grassbeds. Around the isles specks have a tendency to lurk in the dark areas. A pair of polarized sunglasses can cut through surface glare to make spotting color variations easier -- or you may even see prowling speckled trout.

No matter what area you're fishing, always be looking for gulls working the surface, concentrations of nervous baitfish, and the oily sheens known as "fish slicks," which result from trout regurgitating their stomach contents -- all indicators that can lead you to a school of hungry speckled trout.

An additional point about slicks: Have your nose attuned to the action as well! Alert anglers often detect a watermelon or menhaden aroma quite soon after the fish regurgitate, and even before the associated slick appears on the surface. At times you can actually track the movement of a school of feeding trout by following the slicks.

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