September 30, 2010
Speckled trout are one of Mississippi's most popular saltwater fish, and this is a good month to target them. Here are some locations and tactics to try. (June 2009)
By Capt. Robert Brodie
Now that midsummer is upon us, most any regular inshore angler in south Mississippi knows it's a good to time to seek better than average size speckled trout. Of course, you can count on scorching temperatures, but anglers that get on the water before daylight or fish the few hours before dark have the best chance of the year to land a few of the larger spotted beauties.
The grassflats of Smugglers Cove on the south side of Cat Island are ideal for wade-fishing for speckled trout.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
With the hot weather upon us, the majority of our speckled trout population can be found outside the bays, bayous and rivers. Areas like front beaches, nearshore wrecks, oyster or rubble reefs in the Mississippi Sound and grassbeds, deep gullies and tidal guts around the barrier islands are places to look for the seatrout.
The feeding fish may often be found under flocks of hovering gulls, or at times terns and pelicans as well.
Yet, there are a few places in south Mississippi that deliver in June on an even more consistent basis. However, being at the right place at the right time is the key. In June, fishing the proper tides, moon phases and times of the day all blend into conditions for landing big sow seatrout.
The following are a few tips and places that should steer you to a bountiful catch, or at least to hooking a few speckled trout this month.
BIG TROUT HAVENTHE KATRINA REEF
Although the fury of Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi coast, and the scars from its power are still visible, a magnificent fishing reef came to be due to its destructive power. By using the crumbled remnants of the Biloxi to Ocean Springs bridge that spanned the entrance to the Back Bay of Biloxi, one of the finest manmade inshore fishing reefs in Gulf waters was created. Located south of the east end of Deer Island, this lengthy reef running east to west is a magnificent concrete isle, and it's now loaded with all sorts of fish.
You name it; redfish, ground mullet, white trout, flounder, black drum, bluefish, sheepshead, spadefish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalles and plenty of sharks take up summer residence around this long structure. However, it's the big sow speckled trout that deliver the most exciting action when the bite is on.
In June, especially around the time of a full moon, some of the biggest female trout gather around the reef, and anglers at that time can enjoy world-class trout fishing. The fish can range from 2 to 6 pounds, and there have been a number of 7- and 8-pound specimens taken off the reef to date.
Since the entire length of the reef protrudes out of the water -- anywhere from 2 to 5 feet or more above the surface -- simply casting to structure as you would in freshwater bass fishing can be employed to fool these huge trout.
Generally, the best bite is early in the morning or in the late afternoon. At those times, the wind is often down, so the calm seas and clean water on the Mississippi Sound create ideal fishing conditions. A trolling motor is necessary for silently working the length of the reef.
Since the reef is composed of massive concrete chunks stacked on top of one another, the structure offers all sorts of nooks, crannies and chambers for big specks to use in ambushing passing baitfish. A mixture of mullet and croakers swarm in and around the perimeter of this reef. Those are two of the favorite finfish big specks prefer to dine on.
Trout can be caught here by various methods, but tossing a topwater lure to the structure, and then retrieving it in a "walk-the dog" motion is one of the most exciting tactics. When casting the topwater baits, the key to success is moving the plug slowly, just enough to get the lure working in a side-to-side motion.
If a big swirl appears under the bait, let it sit motionless for a few seconds, and then begin the slow retrieve again. The fish may come back for another look. Also, be sure to retrieve the bait right up to the boat. The fish may be following and these fish will often strike the plug as it's being lifted out of the water.
As for topwater baits, try a MirrOlure Top Dog Jr., Heddon Zara Spook or Yo-Zuri Banana Boat, all rather streamline baits that deliver the walk-the-dog action.
The fish won't always be holding tight to the structure, and it's wise to make casts periodically away from or well as parallel to the reef. Also, keep your eyes open for signs of birds feeding along the reef, or just in the vicinity. Plenty of schooled-up trout move through the area at times, and all of the gulls, terns and pelicans that rest on the reef are quick to locate the baitfish the trout have chased to the surface.
Live-bait anglers do well on the reef, too. Most tend to anchor and then free-line a live shrimp, croaker or menhaden near the structure. Using a popping cork works well at times, too. Use a 6-foot fluorocarbon leader under the cork to keep the bait in the strike zone. The average depth around the reef is in the 9- to 10-foot range. You may need to use different fishing strategies to figure out at what depth the trout are holding.
If you like to fish soft plastics on a jighead or Berkley Gulp! under a popping cork, both can be effective, too.
Baits in the 3- to 4-inch size are ideal, and when threaded on a 1/4-ounce jighead, they can be worked just along the structure. Expect to get hung up, so it's best to tie the jighead directly to the main line and forgo a leader. If you snag, simply break it off, and then tie on another jig.
A number of such baits can work. Try Salt Water Assassins, Cocahoe Minnows, Berkley Gulp! Shrimp and Deadly Dudlies. If the bite is taking place near the surface, one of these baits fished a few feet under a popping cork can be effective as well.
Last season, some phenomenal speckled trout catches came off this reef, and it looks like this summer should continue producing more mega trout.
BARRIER ISLANDS FORBIG TROUT
Let's not overlook Mississippi's barrier islands as destinations for some seatrout action. Edged by magnificent grassbeds just off their northern shores, the surfside beaches are loaded with stumps, gullies and flats to the south, facing the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Mississippi's five barrier islands are anywhere from seven to 12 miles off the mainland.
Fishing the barrier islands isn't always a numbers game. You likely won't hook a lot of fish. But the speckled trout caught there are generally much bigger than average inshore trout.
One island in particular that produced some fine trout last summer was East Ship Island. The southern beach of East Ship Island is laden with pine tree stumps. In fact, they are more prevalent now than in the past due to all of the erosion caused by Hurricane Katrina.
On one of my wading trips last June, big specks were in the surf and provided an exciting morning of light-tackle angling. Close to the eastern end of the island is where the action occurred. Tossing topwater baits, as well as silver Mr. Champ spoons, we filled a fine stringer of 3- to 5-pound trout. However, our catch was limited because of losses to a pack of bull sharks that engulfed some of our monster trout.
Most of our more productive baits were also lost to the ravenous sharks. Unfortunately, where you find schools of big specks at the isles you can expect big sharks on the prowl too.
The 1/2-ounce to 3/4-ounce Mr. Champs spoons were tipped with a bit of yellow bucktail. We also were using slow-sinking 52SM MirrOlures. The silver MirrOlure mimics the look and coloration of most baitfish found on the sandy bottom sandy bottom around the isle.
Besides the stumps on the isle's southern rim, the north shore also has similar cover. But here the stumps are on sprawling shallow flats covered in grassbeds. You have the option of wade-fishing, using a trolling motor, drifting, anchoring up or silently poling these shallows.
Generally, the best bite is early in the morning on a rising tide, or late in the afternoon on the deeper edges of the grassbeds. As for live baits for the big trout, a 3- to 4-inch croaker is irresistible to the barrier island sows. When free-lined or soaked under a popping cork, expect to only hook quality fish.
Besides East Ship Island, big specks can be found around the other four isles as well -- Petit Bois, Horn, West Ship and Cat islands. All of the islands have a similar makeup. But Cat Island also offers South Bayou and Smugglers Cove, two rather protected inlets noted for holding plenty of specks.
June is also an excellent month for targeting big female trout on openwater oyster reefs throughout the Mississippi Sound. When it comes time for specks to spawn, they gather in these reefs just before and after spawning. The period around the full moon can deliver exceptional angling for big trout. Fishing live bait on the bottom is lethal on the big fish.
Generally, it's hard to go wrong using a live croaker, a tried-and-true finfish that speckled trout tend to gorge on. Since many of these reefs are in open areas, you normally need nice weather to anchor and fish them properly. But when the conditions fall into place, expect to greet some of the biggest trout of your life with the landing net.
Some of the more popular reefs are Merrill Shell Bank, First Key, Cabbage Reef, Bellefontaine Reef, and the FH-10 Reef that is located inside Horn Island off the Middle Grounds. On some of the shallower reefs, anglers can use a popping cork with a long leader, allowing the live bait to swim just off the bottom. On the deeper reefs, it's wise to toss the lively bait out on a free-line, and wait for the bite in that fashion.
Either way, give the speck time to strike and swallow the bait once the bite is detected. Often they kill the bait and then come back to swallow it.
A good terminal tackle set up for targeting the bottom is a Carolina-rig composed of a 1- or 2-ounce egg sinker, 3 feet of 30-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon leader material, and finished off with a No. 4 4X Strong Gamakatsu treble hook. Since specks like to swallow their prey head first, place the treble hook through the tip of the nose, or forward on the croaker's back. If croakers aren't available, use live spots, mullet or pinfish.