September 30, 2010
From Pascagoula to Bay St. Louis the Magnolia coast offers a number of locations for seatrout angling this month. Let's join the author in sampling a few of them.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
By Jill J. Easton
The Mississippi Sound was pewter-colored and sandbars were showing as the tide gradually slid out toward low. Sky and water blended together seamlessly. It was one of those late afternoons in July that are too hot to work outside, and a squall threatened to come up at any moment.
When I reached Penthouse Pier in Pass Christian, there were half a dozen other anglers ahead of me, all intent on working the deep-water cuts along the end of the pier. Tying a yellow soft-plastic jig on my line and donning wading shoes, I was ready to go. Half an hour later, I was glad to have given up the evening news to have a go at trout. Three nice speckled trout and a huge flounder hung from my stringer. The other fishermen had been much more successful and had already left with their limits of speckled trout. It was a good way to end a muggy Saturday afternoon.
That's one of the advantages of living on the Mississippi Coast. There are nearly endless fishing opportunities that can be reached with minimum equipment. Pier-fishing, harbor wall-fishing and wade-fishing all provide opportunities to catch limits of the inshore summer fish without ever having to put a boat in the water.
Although summer flounder are the easiest to find and the most consistently hooked, speckled trout, white trout and even redfish and sheepshead can be caught with simple tackle and a bit of fisherman's luck in many locations.
Trout fishing has gotten much better since the monofilament-net ban went into effect in 1998 and excluder devices were mandated on shrimp boats, according to experts at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab. Overall size and number of fish have increased in the last few years.
From Lakeshore, practically on the dividing line between Mississippi and Louisiana, to Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which bumps up against Alabama, there are plenty of spots that draw game fish and especially specked trout. However, to find fish it still takes knowledge of what lies below the surface, before you sling out a bait. My father spent nearly every morning for two years fishing a spot near Henderson Point and caught one trout. After a week of no activity, most folks would have gone someplace else - guess that says something for smart genes in our family.
Think like a trout for a moment. If you do, your thoughts center on eating, hang out with 50 other fish that are about the same size as you, and cruising from spot to spot. Those are the keys to figuring out where the fish should be.
Smaller trout feed primarily on schools of shrimp, finger mullet, pogies or other small fish. Legal trout on the smaller end of the measurement tape almost always travel in schools. Usually trout that hang together are about the same size, which helps protect them from being eaten by their larger cannibal parents. Bigger trout, if there are any, stay below the main school, letting the young fish do most of the work and picking off any schoolmates that get out of line.
According to Dr. Bob Shipp, professor of marine science at the University of South Alabama and author of the very useful Dr. Bob Shipp's Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, speckled trout spawn all summer if the conditions are right.
"Spotted seatrout spawn in the early evening in high-salinity areas of bays and sounds, which are near passes to the open Gulf, around barrier islands, and along the narrow shelf near shore," he noted.
So, the first clue is to fish as the sun is going down a week or more after a period of rain.
Trout are also dependent on structure. Structure in the Mississippi Sound? Most anglers think the only things out there are piers, sunken boats and oyster reefs. Actually, structure can be a cut a few inches deeper alongside a sandbar or the edge of a boat channel. Anything that is a change in the bottom is popular with trout.
Other likely spots in which to look for trout include places where you regularly see terns and pelicans diving, old piers next to runoff drains, and around rock jetties. These are places that attract minnows, and minnows attract trout.
Pick a day when the wind is mostly from the north and there is a particularly low, low tide. Bring your binoculars and study channels that lead into the shallows in likely looking locations. If the tide is going out or coming in, look for trout slicks - flat oily spots on the water that smell like ripe watermelon. These are caused by minnow-oils released into the water as trout dine. Not only do these slicks indicate that trout come to these waters, but also that the trout are feeding.
If you find a channel that looks deeper than the surrounding flat bottom, slip on your wading shoes and shuffle out to the trough. The shuffling is important to keep from stepping on stingrays. These fish have a nasty barb in their tail that can dig a painful hole in your leg or the bottom of your foot, which is almost guaranteed to get infected.
Trout don't mind getting into the shallows, but they want to make sure there is an escape route open if something bad happens. Since they are armed only with two vampire-like fangs in their upper jaw and are sought by anglers, other fish and birds, a spotted seatrout's only defense is escape.
Speckled trout are actually spotted seatrout and are often called yellowmouths. Surprisingly, they also are members of the drum family, along with redfish and croakers.
Just because they are drum, don't think you have to give a hard hook-set. It's not difficult to jerk the lip off a trout. A gentle tug is enough to get the hook fastened where it needs to be.
"If they hit it hard and take the cork under, just let them run for a few seconds to stretch the line, then start winding," said Conrad "Connie" Balius of Biloxi.
He has been targeting trout along the Magnolia State coast for more than 40 years. Last year he capped that career when he brought in a monster that weighed 8 1/2 pounds.
Balius prefers fishing with live shrimp under a popping cork, and he hunts for the biggest shrimp he can get.
"The bigger the shrimp are, the bigger the trout that will go after them," Balius explained.
Live-shrimp fishing is probably the most exciting
way to catch speckled trout. He fishes live bait close to the bottom and lets the trout come to the shrimp. If the shrimp is hooked through the tail, it will dart from one location to another when it sees a fish coming. If the threat gets too close, it will often jump completely out of the water trying to escape.
Balius also has success using chartreuse plastic baits with split tails and touches of red. These baits are cast and then run at medium speed. He fan-casts from one section of the beach until he has completely covered the water and then moves down and starts the process over again.
Balius prefers to fish in the early mornings or late afternoons.
"The best times to catch trout are in the afternoons, from four to dark, and early in the morning from daylight to about 10 a.m."
When fishing with artificials, keeping the bait moving becomes more important. Spinners, spoons and topwater lures all need to be kept in motion to attract attention.
Line is an important consideration when fishing for trout. Most of the time you are fishing in areas where there are barnacles, concrete rubble, oyster shells and other abrasive stuff. Trout generally head away from structure when hooked, but lines may still make contact to get worn and abraded quickly. Either use a shock tippet or check your line for wear and tear often.
There is no closed season for spotted seatrout angling in Mississippi. The recreational creel limit is 15 fish per angler per day. All trout must be 14 inches long for legal harvest.
The most common complaint heard from saltwater anglers along the coast today is that the size limit should be reduced back to 12 inches. That view is based upon the numbers of fish being caught in the 12- to 14-inch sizes. Many of these taken on bait are hooked so deeply that anglers suspect they die anyway and thus are wasted.
Still, the present regulations apparently are working well.
"Trout fishing couldn't come any better than it is right now," stated Conrad Balius of Biloxi. "It's the best I've seen in 40 years of fishing."
Capt. Scott Simpson of Pass Christian has a different method for catching trout. He encourages his charter customers to try topwater lures to bring in bigger trout. He fishes these on 12- to 15-pound-test line made of monofilament or fluoro-carbon in ultra-low-visibility colors or clear.
Simpson also opts for lures that can produce surface "walking" action and that have special rattle chambers. The rattle attracts fish and the wiggle drives them crazy enough to strike. Color also has a lot to do with attracting fish.
"When the water lacks clarity, lighter colors like white, bone and chartreuse work better," Simpson said. "Look for lures with red heads, or touches of red; that makes trout think it's a wounded minnow."
Prior to sunrise, or when fishing at night, he likes darker lures - generally black or dark blue with a chartreuse head. The captain thinks the reason these lures are so popular with the fish is that they stand out when silhouetted against the night sky.
Capt. Simpson prefers fishing on a rising or falling tide. Slack-water periods are the hardest times to catch trout. In the summer, afternoons from about 4 to 6 p.m. are the best times to catch fish.
He also cautions that anglers need stealth when wading for trout, since the fish are wary of shadows and splashing. Cover a lot of water by fan-casting, unless there is some underwater structure present. If it is, concentrate your casts in that area.
PLACES TO GO
Now that you have the tips on tools and tactics to go out and find your own fish, the next step is finding the yellowmouths. Here's a "cheat sheet" of sorts for finding the hottest trout fishing along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Let's start at the Louisiana border and work east, highlighting a few good areas.
Launching at La France Fish Camp in Ansley, you can follow the bayou west to the Pearl River mouth just below the railroad bridge on the CXS line. Another option is to head east down a couple of shallow channels that lead out to Lake Bourne.
Either area can provide dynamite trout fishing action on an incoming tide. On a recent trip, I started with a blue and silver Bill Lewis Spin Trap, and my fishing partner opted for a standard Rat-L-Trap in brighter shades. The minute either lure hit the water, the trout inhaled them.
The next target area, moving east, is Cat Island, directly south of Long Beach. Anglers have brought in some monster trout while fishing the north side of this island. The best bet is to work any deeper channels or cuts you can see as you work around the island. There are grassbeds that attract trout, but you have to fish topwaters to keep from getting hung up.
Gulfport Harbor is one of the best trout fishing spots on the coast, but it is also one of the most heavily used fishing spots. The newly rebuilt fishing pier on the harbor is a trout-fishing favorite. Since it's easy to get to and handicapped-accessible, it is the most visited fishing spot along the Mississippi coast. Tossing big, noisy lipless rattling crankbaits or jerkbaits provides an advantage, since any fish hanging around this area sees thousands of dead shrimp chunked their way every day.
Wade-fishermen have an advantage over the pier-anglers, because they can work the cuts that come in along the beach side and across from The White Cap Restaurant.
At Biloxi, the east end of Deer Island has a newly completed breakwater to keep the isle from eroding due to the constant ship and boat traffic accessing Back Bay. The water drops off rapidly into the channel, but the breakwater is out of the current. Casting from the top of the breakwater, work your way along until you get a hookup. Then concentrate on that immediate area; there are likely to be more trout present.
Either bounce a plastic shrimp imitation along the bottom or cast a lipless rattling crankbait in a silver and blue color pattern. Other colors to try are chartreuse or white, and a touch of red in the color scheme is always good.
Front Beach, in Pascagoula where the Pascagoula River enters the Mississippi Sound, is a great place to launch your boat for t
he east end of the coast. Fishing from the boat ramp to the tip of the adjacent point is a good option. Minnow-colored topwater lures or shallow-diving crankbaits work better than trying to get your bait down too deep.
For wade-fishing, target Front Beach itself. A rising tide can bring some big trout into casting range there.
If you haven't targeted speckled trout, give it a try. The equipment you need to start is simple and probably consists of gear you have already. Also, there are even lots of places to fish that don't require a boat.
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