Gulf Coast Inshore Saltwater Outlook
Saltwater anglers in Louisiana and Mississippi expect great fishing action this year.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Gulf Coast anglers account for 40 percent of the recreational finfish landings in the United States and both Louisiana and Mississippi contribute heavily to that number.
Those statistics suggest anglers should find abundant opportunities to catch plenty fish of various species this spring. In both Louisiana and Mississippi, saltwater anglers might land 10 or more species any day, but most people target a few popular ones.
Here are some tips on where to do just that.
As the sun warms the bays and lakes in the spring, speckled trout start thinking about spawning. By mid-April, specks generally move southward to the lower ends of lakes and estuaries where they can find saltier water. Spawning usually peaks in May, but can last through September.
As the water warms, start looking for trout in the deeper passes. Sometimes, large schools of them move through a pass and anglers can fill a limit easily in a good spot.
Many people use live shrimp, either on bottom on under a cork, although trout also hit a variety of soft-plastic baits, topwaters, spinners, spoons and other artificials. While fishing for specks, anglers in either state might also land some white trout, also called sand trout, which look like speckled trout without the spots.
“Recent availability of speckled trout in Louisiana has been lower than in previous years, likely due to the impacts from freeze events in late 2017 and early 2018,” advised Jason Adriance, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist. “Some better places to fish for trout include the Pontchartrain Basin, Breton Sound, Black Bay, the Lake Borgne rigs, Barataria Bay near Grand Isle, the Terrebonne/Timbalier Basin and the barrier islands in that area.”
Four places in Louisiana really stand out for producing giant specks: Lake Pontchartrain and associated waters like the Chef and Rigolets passes, the marshes around Venice, Lake Calcasieu near Lake Charles and Sabine Lake on the Louisiana-Texas line.
“Several previously deployed artificial reefs in Lake Calcasieu and Lake Pontchartrain have been enhanced in 2018 along with a new reef creation in Calcasieu,” Adriance noted. “In the Calcasieu/Sabine Basin, look for trout over oyster reefs or artificial reefs. Fish the southern end of Sabine Lake. In Lake Calcasieu, go to the reefs in Turners Bay. The Prien Lake area near Lake Charles can also be good when the water salinity is high.”
The Chandeleur Island chain east of the Mississippi River delta usually offers excellent trout fishing, particularly for anglers who love to wade and throw fly tackle.
Anglers can stay at Chandeleur Islander Fishing Lodge (504-615-8280, www.chandeleur-islander.com) a jack-up lodge established in the islands. In Mississippi Sound, many wrecks and artificial reefs provide excellent trout habitat. Also off the Mississippi Coast, try Ship, Horn or Cat Islands.
“From the beaches to the barrier islands, we have a very good trout fishery in Mississippi,” remarked Ronnie Daniels with Fisher-Man Guide Services (228-323-1115, msfisherman.com) in Pass Christian, Miss. “We catch several 6-pound specks each year, but Mississippi Sound can produce some trout in the 7- to 8-pound range. For big trout, I like throwing topwater baits. With larger profiles, topwaters don’t produce as many strikes, but they normally produce better quality fish.”
Louisiana holds some of the best redfish habitat in the nation, but anglers can catch many spot-tails in Mississippi waters as well.
“In the spring, the water is usually clear and schools of ‘slot reds’ can be seen,” advised Matt Hill, a Mississippi Department of Marine Resources biologist. “Many anglers sight fish for them. The mouths of creeks and bayous on falling tides create a perfect location for feeding reds.”
Redfish might attack just about anything they can swallow. They traditionally feed upon shrimp, crabs, mussels and small fish like menhaden or mullets. Some of the best redfish action on the Gulf Coast occurs in the Biloxi Marshes. Although entirely in Louisiana waters, therefore requiring a Louisiana license, this marshy system sits on the Lake Borgne shoreline south of Waveland, Miss. The 35,000-acre Biloxi Wildlife Management Area preserves much of this pristine marsh.
“The Biloxi Marsh is a special place with some of the best redfish habitat in the nation,” opined Mike Gallo of Angling Adventures of Louisiana, (985-781-7811, www.AAofLA.com), in Slidell, La. “The Biloxi Marsh isn’t as known for really big redfish, but that marsh has the largest redfish population in this area. The marsh has a lot of ponds and it’s relatively secluded. I don’t see many boats there, even on a major holiday. When I go fishing during the week, I usually don’t see anyone.”
Elsewhere in south Louisiana, some better areas include the Delacroix-Hopedale marshes, Venice, Barataria Bay, the Terrebonne/Timbalier Basin, Marsh Island by Vermilion Bay plus the Calcasieu and Sabine systems. For Mississippi anglers, the marshes around Bay St. Louis, Biloxi Bay and in the Pearl or Pascagoula River deltas also create excellent redfish habitat.
“In April, anglers can find bull reds in the passes and small redfish in open bays over oyster reefs or along marsh edges,” Adriance said. “Interior marsh ponds associated with deeper bayous usually have good numbers of juvenile redfish.”
Few people leave the dock planning to catch a load of flounder, but nobody throws them back if they do. In the right spot at the right time, anglers can quickly land a mess of flatfish in the spring.
“The Louisiana flounder population is not overfished, but there has been a recent decline in recreational flounder landings gulf-wide with no discernable cause,” Adriance commented. “Many Gulf States, including Louisiana, are working on new methods to capture flounder for independent sampling in order to better track that population.”
Twice each year flounder migrate in and out of the gulf. By March or April, they begin returning to the estuaries after spending the winter in deep waters offshore. Start looking for them around sandy islands, grassy shorelines, muddy shelves and bayou mouths.
“Most flounder move offshore in the fall to spawn and don’t migrate back inshore until early summer,” Hill explained. “Though scattered and minimal in numbers, immature fish and large females can still be found inshore during the winter and spring. Fishing marsh points with water movement and creek mouths are the best bet.”
In the spring, any marshy shoreline might hold flounder. Look for flatfish where a bayou, cut or canal connects to a larger bay or lake. For the best results, fish during a moving tide. The mouths of small tributaries make excellent places to catch flounder.
During a falling tide, flounder commonly gather where small ditches flow into larger waterways. As the water level drops, it pulls shrimp and other morsels toward deeper water. When feeding, flounder typically face upstream, watching for anything to swim or wash over them.
Anglers often catch flounder on live bait, such as minnows, menhaden, finger mullets or shrimp, but flounder also slurp fresh dead bait off the bottom. In addition, flounder might hit any lure that resembles a minnow or shrimp. Bounce or drag jigheads tipped with plastic trailers along the bottom.
Any system that produces good redfish action should hold flounder, such as the marshes surrounding Lake Borgne. Some smaller bayous off the Barataria Waterway near Lafitte, La. also yield good flounder action. In the Terrebonne/Timbalier Basin try fishing the marshes of Pointe-aux-Chênes, Lake Mechant or Bay Raccourci. Sabine Lake traditionally produces some of the biggest flounder on the Gulf Coast.
In Mississippi, marshes and tributaries flowing into Biloxi Bay can provide good flounder action. At night, flounder sometimes hunt in extremely shallow water along the coastal beaches or barrier islands. For a real adventure, walk the beaches at night gigging flatfish.
While most people fish for trout and redfish, possibly adding a bonus flounder or two, several other species can provide outstanding sport. For pure tackle-busting power, black drum can rival most offshore action for a fraction of the cost.
“Large black drum school at island passes to spawn in the spring and can be found in large numbers,” Hill recommended. “Smaller black drum tend to cruise the marsh flats looking for crustaceans and small baitfish until the summer months.”
Drum can weigh more than 100 pounds. Anglers frequently catch extremely large fish from shore or docks. Although drum occasionally hit lures, they prefer meat and relish crabs above all else. For enticing big drum, break a crab in half to let the juices ooze into the water.
“It’s hard to beat a cracked crab when fishing for big drum, except when using a soft-shelled crab,” quipped Tommy Pellegrin of Custom Charters (985-851-3304, www.Customchartersllc.com) in Cocodrie, La. “For big drum, I use a 7/0 circle hook on Carolina rig. The edges of passes are good places to fish. Any deeper holes in bayous are also good places to fish. Some big shell reefs and mudflats also hold good fish. We keep some small drum to eat. I think they are better eating than redfish.”
Another hard line-puller that receives little respect, sheepshead can mangle tackle with raw power and jaws full of chompers. Notorious bait stealers, sheepshead gingerly nibble tidbits. Once hooked, though, they dare anyone to yank them from their lairs.
“Sheepshead can be tricky to catch,” warned Robert Brodie with Team Brodie Charters (228-697-7707, teambrodiecharters.com) in Biloxi, Miss. “They are sneaky and can bite a live shrimp in half right behind the hook. Crabs also make outstanding sheepshead baits. Fiddler crabs are like candy to a sheepshead. When we feel a little subtle downward pull, we set the hook and hang on!”
The barnacle crunchers hover near bridge or dock pilings, jetties, oilfield platforms and other solid structures. Drop a bait down as close to structure as possible. Practically surrounded by dock pilings and loaded with debris from numerous hurricanes, Biloxi Bay offers outstanding sheepshead action. The bridges spanning Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans also create miles of incredible sheepshead habitat, as do numerous artificial reefs along the Mississippi coast.
Gulf Coast anglers might also catch croakers, kingfish, also called channel mullet or ground mullet, gafftopsail catfish, tripletail, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, jack crevalle and other species. One never knows what might bite on any given day.