Using live baits for Mississippi's most popular saltwater
species produces consistent action -- if you know the tricks.
Let's have a closer look at the offerings that get results.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
It's July, midsummer, and Mississippi's beachfront areas, pristine barrier islands, and lower sectors of major bays and bayous are alive with all sorts of species of saltwater game fish. It's also sweltering hot. But anglers willing to fish at the crack of dawn, the last hours before sunset, or into the night can catch their share of fish.
One of the Magnolia State's most highly-sought species is the spot-laden speckled trout, and it's the most knowledgeable coastal anglers -- those savvy to the proper times, areas, and tides -- that land the lion's share of these fish during the hot season. These anglers also know that the use of various live baits often fools the wariest of speckled trout.
Some of the most popular live offerings for specks include shrimp, menhaden, croakers, pinfish, spots, bull minnows and small "finger" mullet. The following breakdown details some of the coast's hottest live baits as well as methods for fishing them, times for deploying each, and a sampling of some of the better areas in which to offer these baits to a hungry speckled trout.
SHRIMP REIGN SUPREME
A live shrimp is a delicacy to all the gamesters roaming Mississippi's inshore waters. A mainstay of a speckled trout's diet, a live shrimp is deadly when dangled in front of a trout. Besides being incredibly effective live offerings, shrimp are usually plentiful at coastal bait shops throughout most of the fishing season.
A live shrimp can be fished in a variety of ways; when fished under a popping or clacking cork, it makes trout fishing quite exceptionally exciting. There's the visual excitement involved in watching the cork take a sudden plunge, and watching a live shrimp jumping across the surface as it's chased by a swirling trout is still more exhilarating. To achieve such a thrill, fish a 3-foot length of 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader material under the cork, and then finish off the leader with a 3/0 hook. However, if the current's running strong the application of a split shot weight a foot or so above the hook will be needed to keep the bait below the surface.
Also: Remember to keep twitching those corks. The surface noise generated by a popping or clacking cork gets the attention of nearby specks, and directs them to the bait.
There are a couple of ways to pin a live shrimp on a hook. One extremely effective way involves inserting the hook in one side of the skull at the base of the horn and out the opposite side. Or insert the hook under the shrimp's head and back out at the base of the horn. Either way, don't penetrate the dark brain spot in the head of the shrimp, thus killing it instantly and divesting it of the greater part of its natural appeal.
Some anglers prefer to present a live shrimp by inserting the hook through the third joint up from the tail; in dirty water, you can add more scent to the water by pinching off the tail. A live shrimp works well either free-lined or worked on a Carolina rig. No matter how you present the crustaceans, live shrimp are always on the specks' must-eat list.
MENHADEN ON THE MENU
Every year new batches of menhaden grow up within the confines of Mississippi's coastal bays, bayous, and rivers. By the time midsummer rolls around, the once-diminutive larvae are now 2 to 3 inches in length, a prime size for hungry speckled trout. Menhaden play an important role in the coastal bay's food chain, and are truly essential food sources in the life cycle of the speckled trout. High in oil content, menhaden are gorged on throughout the summer and late fall until they exit the shallow inshore waters.
You won't find live menhaden at local bait shops -- you'll have to catch them yourself. You'll need a small-meshed brill net in the 6- or 7-foot size range, and you'll have to learn now to throw it. You don't have to throw perfect "silver dollar" circle patterns to catch menhaden: Just get about three-quarters or so of the net to open up over a school of tightly compacted menhaden, and you'll have way more live bait than you'll need.
Menhaden are rather delicate and give off a lot of slime and scales. Don't overload the live well. A model that pumps out the old water and then pumps in fresh seawater works best to keep the silvery baits alive and active.
To locate menhaden, scan the bay's surface for patches of nervous-looking water; if it's windy, seek out calm water in coves and protected bayous. A school of menhaden passing just under the surface can be detected when one of the baitfish makes a distinctive tail-flipping sound at the surface. Cast over the telltale sign, and it's a safe bet that you'll score big.
Menhaden get excellent results when fished under a popping or clacking cork, free-lined, and on a Carolina rig. To hook on a menhaden, simply insert the hook in one eye and out the other. There are no vital organs within the eye sockets, and the baits swim quite naturally when fished in this manner. Some anglers prefer to insert the hook through the clear spot in the bait's nose -- again, in one side and out the other.
To free-line a menhaden, rig up in the following fashion: First, tie a size No. 8 swivel to the main line, and tie on 3 feet of 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader material. Finish off the leader with a 2/0 to 4/0 live bait hook. A five- or six-wrap improved clinch knot will be optimal for making all swivel and hook connections.
CROAKERS AND SPOTS FOR BIG TROUT
Both croakers and spots, bottom-dwelling finfish, are central elements in the daily diet of the speckled trout, especially in the case of the bigger and thus more-prized specimens. Either is excellent, but along the Magnolia State's inshore waters, croakers are the more used for fooling specks.
Since both of these baitfish spend their lives on the bottom, it figures that these baits are appropriate for fishing deep, in particular around some sort of structure or over oyster reefs.
When it comes to fishing these baits, a Carolina rig has a lot to recommend it. To assemble it, first slip a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce egg sinker onto the main line; next, tie onto the main line a No. 8 swivel and then a 3-foot 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. Finish off the tag end of the leader with a 3/0 to 5/0 hook.
When fishing this rig, give the speck a few seconds to run with and take in the bait once a bite is detected. Since the Carolina rig allows the line to slip through the egg sinker without the fish being able to feel the tension, it's ideal for this type of angling.
At times, croakers and spots can be purchased at some of the coastal live bait camps.
The beautiful scales on the silver, purple, and yellow sides of an active pinfish emit a lot of flashes alluring to trout. Greatly resembling a small freshwater perch, pinfish spend much of their time lurking near barnacle-encrusted pilings and grassbeds.
This small saltwater baitfish sometimes referred to as a "sailor's choice" can be caught in small meshed minnow traps baited with dead shrimp or cracked crab. They can also be chummed up near pilings or grassbeds and then caught in a brill net.
A pinfish is especially effective when fished in clear water. Areas of singular clarity in the water around Petit Bois Island, Horn Island, East and West Ship Island, and Cat Island are prime sites for baiting up with these attractive live offerings.
To fish a pinfish, insert the hook through the bait's back just behind the dorsal fin, in one side and out the other. If you choose to fish the bait in deep water and want it to swim in a downward direction, insert the hook just behind the anal fin, again, in one side and out the other.
To book a date of charter fishing with Capt. Scott Simpson aboard the Impulsive, call (228) 452-7117.
Pinfish work equally well on cork rigs over grassbeds, free-lined, and down deep on Carolina-rigs. Since these are usually fished in unforgivingly clear water, it's always wise to go with a nearly invisible fluorocarbon leader.
HARDY BULL MINNOWS
Although bull minnows are deadly for use with speckled trout, these hardy baitfish are employed primarily during the winter months, when shrimp and menhaden are scarce. Bull minnows spend their lives in the shallows found on bayous, sloughs, and ditches along marshy coastal shorelines. If they can't be found in bait shops, bull minnows can be caught at the mouth of small sloughs and ditches, especially when the tide is falling out of the marsh. Like pinfish, they can be caught in minnow traps baited with cracked crab or dead shrimp.
To bait up with a bull minnow, insert the hook through the bottom lip and out the top lip; a minnow hooked in this manner can swim quite naturally and survive for an indefinite time -- hopefully until it's engulfed by a hungry speck.
Bull minnows can be fished on all of the aforementioned rigs; they also work well when free-lined. When necessary, a small split shot weight added a foot or two above the bait aides in getting it down near or to the bottom.
MULLET FOR MORE BIG TROUT
Mullet abound throughout the Gulf coastal waters and come in all sizes, from a few inches in length to well over a foot. These silver-hued baitfish are a year-round staple in Mississippi's shallows, and play an important role in the speckled trout's diet. Small finger-sized mullet excel for attracting smaller specks, while a 6-inch or larger mullet is virtually irresistible to truly trophy-sized trout.
Like a pinfish, a mullet makes an extremely active and showy bait, and never more than when a hungry speckled trout's hot on its tail. Like a bull minnow, a mullet swims naturally when hooked through the lips; it can also be hooked behind the anal or dorsal fin.
The odds on your finding live mullet at coastal bait shops aren't good, so if you plan to fill your livewell with these valuable baitfish, keep a cast net on hand.
LOCATING SUMMERTIME SPECKS
Mississippi's shore-anglers can access a variety of public piers, rock jetties, and stretches of public beach offering promising opportunities for those working live bait for speckled trout. However, you want to be there at the break of dawn on a rising tide when trout move in close to the shoreline in search of baitfish.
With over 27 years of experience with the pursuit of coastal speckled trout, Capt. Scott Simpson of the charter boat Impulsive recommends a number of sites to try live bait on specks.
"The rocks behind the Pass Christian Yacht Club at the Pass Christian Small Craft Harbor are good places for shorebound anglers to fish for specks," he said. "The Long Beach Small Craft Harbor offers fine trout fishing, too. Here, an angler has the option of either fishing live baits under a cork or on the bottom inside the harbor, or wade-fishing toward the end of the jetty on the west side, kind of even with the shallow-water markers.
"Another very nice site that is accessible to the shorebound angler is Moses Pier near the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor. At times, some very nice trout are caught off this public pier and jetty combination. Wade-fishing anglers can also catch some nice trout along the front beach across from the Penthouse Condominiums by the Penthouse Pier in Pass Christian, about one-quarter of a mile west of Wal-Mart on the beach.
|COASTAL LIVE-BAIT SHOPS|
Ocean Springs Marine Mart
Ocean Springs Small Craft Harbor
The Bait Shop
Pass Christian Small Craft Harbor
Biloxi Harbor Bait & Fuel Dock
Biloxi Small Craft Harbor
David's Fishing Camp
Back Bay of Biloxi in D'Iberville
Brady's Bait House
Gulfport Small Craft Harbor
Lil' Joe's Cedar Lake Fishing Camp
Biloxi at the foot of the Cedar Lake Bridge
"In Biloxi, both boat fishermen and wade-fishermen often enjoy success soaking live baits off the bow of the Treasure Bay Casino," noted the captain. "Other productive sites for summertime trout angling for boat fishermen include: the oyster reef in the Mississippi Sound, around Pass Marianne Light south of Pass Christian; oyster reefs off Long Beach; off the Pass Christian Small Craft Harbor; the big stretch of oyster reefs behind the small islands on the north side of Deer Island across from the Isle of Capri Casino in Biloxi; and near the entrance of the Back Bay of Biloxi at the mouth of Fort Bayou."
Just offshore, Mississippi's pristine barrier islands put the angler seeking summertime specks in touch with miles and miles of grassbeds, stumps, and gullies. Some of the more prominent sites are the stump-adorned area on the surf side of the east end of Horn Island, and the surf side of East Ship Island and Cat Island. A live bait free-lin
ed under the Ship Island Pier, tossed into one of the isle's many dark-hued gullies, or fished under a cork rig over the island's north side grassbeds is wonderful for catching sizable island-prowling trout.
For more-adventurous angling, give night-fishing a shot. Tossing a live bait under dock lights is a surefire tactic for catching summer specks. Many well-lit bridges, piers, boathouses, and casinos along Mississippi's beachfront and the lower sectors of major bays draw trout in. Look for these in St. Louis Bay and the Back Bay of Biloxi.
When entering a lighted area, scan the surface for feeding fish, and approach as quietly as you can. Get just within casting distance; avoid splashing the anchor or clanging around in the boat. If possible, try casting a live bait on a free-line rig, because a single bait hitting the surface will scare leery fish nowhere near as much as will a cork or weight splashing down.