Summertime along the Mississippi/Louisiana means Gulf Coast saltwater fishing, particularly considering the numerous species that migrate in when temperatures rise.
By Mike Thompson
Coastal anglers along the Gulf Coast shiver with excitement as summer brings countless saltwater fishing opportunities. With so many saltwater species to choose from along the Mississippi/Louisiana coast, the choices can be downright dizzying.
June signals the start of the red snapper season in federal waters, but the federal framework for these fish is extremely restrictive. Over the last 15 years, even with tighter restrictions, red snapper have shown an ability to out-pace federal fish counters, exposing a huge potential population for saltwater anglers to enjoy.
Anglers throughout the year report awesome catches of red snapper that must be returned back into the water. Due to all these reports, anglers are confused as to why the recreational limits are so low. The recreational limit is now set at two red snapper, 16 inches or longer, per person.
The majority of early season red snapper are taken off artificial reefs, constructed by individuals and state and federal agencies. The first recognized reef building was started in the 1960s. In 1972, World War II Liberty Ships were stripped and sunk to create fish habitat. The Mississippi Department of Marine Fisheries continues to promote and develop reef habitat. These reefs range in size from eight acres to 10,000 acres. Some reefs are constructed of concrete culvert pipes, while others are constructed from limestone that is turned into artificial reef pyramids. Maps are available of reefs locations from the MDMR.
Rocky and Carlo's
Those fishing south of New Orleans should consider stopping for lunch or dinner at a legendary restaurant just minutes form the French Quarter.
Rocky and Carlo's has been serving Italian food with a Southern flair for more than 50 years. The restaurant survived both Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the place in 2005, and a building fire in 2012. Each time the business bounced back from hardship to serve the public and keep traditions alive.
The menu is mainly Italian themed, consisting of veal parmesan, stuffed bell peppers, spaghetti and meatballs, but also has some New Orleans favorites — Poor Boys and muffalettas — and seafood, such as oysters, fish and shrimp, all cooked to Louisiana perfection.
However, the "show stopper" at Rocky and Carlo's is the baked macaroni. Served with a choice of a brown or red gravy, this side dish thrills the masses. Like all menu items at the restaurant, the portions are extremely generous. The restaurant has a fully stocked bar, but a lot of the locals feel that the best beverage to accompany a meal here is an ice cold Barq's Root Beer. — Mike Thompson
In addition to artificial reefs, Gulf Coast waters offer a multitude of gas platforms that also serve as habitat to red snapper.
Snapper are not finicky in early June and are reasonably easy to catch. Even better, there are other species on the reefs that augment the catch.
June also ushers in the arrival of an annual visitor to the Gulf Coast — tripletails. Also known as a blackfish, tripletails have three distinct tail sections at the rear of the fish, hence the name tripletail. While the fish is dark black/silver most of the time, tripletails have the ability to change color to match environment, effectively creating camouflage.
Tripletails come in from the Gulf of Mexico when waters turn super salty and water temperatures rise into the 70s. The warmer temperatures bring along lots of bait for the tripletails to feed on, and, unless the area is inundated with lots of rain, the fish migrate northward until water temperatures start to cool in September. When that occurs, the fish turn around and head back to the Gulf.
One of the most obvious characteristics of tripletails is their fondness for shade. When tripletails move into the Mississippi Sound they encounter countless buoys and channel markers. These buoys and markers are adjacent to deeper channels, which the tripletails use as highways on their journey northward. Tripletail will "nose" up against these markers on the shady side. While approaching boats often spook fish away, they usually return in a few minutes.
Besides markers and buoys, tripletails will hold under almost anything that puts off shade, such as floating logs, plastic bags, crab pot floats and more. The tripletails' affinity for scattered shade makes working along tidelines very effective in locating the fish.
When it comes to baits, tripletails aren't snobs. A frisky, live shrimp seems to work best, with bigger being better. To make a dead shrimp appear more life-like, veteran tripletail anglers use a wooden toothpick and shove it lengthwise inside the shrimp, giving it a straight, life-like appearance, instead of the curled-up, dead appearance.
Live minnows also work, such as mud minnows, small live croaker and pogies, as do many of the extremely life-like artificial shrimp in the 3 1/2-inch size.
June is also an exciting month along the Louisiana Coast. Just an hour's drive south of New Orleans lays the fishing hamlet of Hopedale/Reggio. From the multiple launches of this area, anglers can access world-class saltwater fishing. Although the fishing is good throughout the year, June signals a time for quality speckled trout.
"June is the first time since fall that we have consistent weather that allows us to hit spots outside the marshes," said guide Capt. Steve Himel. "When things start to settle out weather wise, we can hit spots from Hopedale to Point La Hache. Some of the places we frequent are Bay Eloi, Black Bay, Breton Sound and Bay Gardene."
While there are many ways to find fish, one of the best includes looking for bird activity — birds diving and swooping to the water to attack baitfish driven to the surface by hungry fish. However, getting within casting range without spooking fish can be difficult. Using the wind is probably the best way to drift into range, but trolling motors can also be used.
Getting close to the school of fish without spooking them is critical. Because of this, Himel relies on an "old school" bait to reach his target.
"I use an older lure called a shad rig," said Himel. "It is a double rig consisting of two bean-shaped jig heads with nylon bodies. I prefer the white/yellow combination. It's kind of crude compared to most modern plastics, but it has a couple of important advantages. The heads are heavy lead, making them easier to cast distances. The bodies are like nylon brushes, making them much more durable than soft plastics."
The size of the specks under birds can be small. If larger fish, instead of numbers, are preferred, Himel recommends heading for underwater points and other structure to target specks.
"I try to get out at first safe light for the early bite," said Himel. "We use live shrimp under a cork in this situation. We usually catch a few good fish early in the morning before the boat traffic builds. After the sun is up good we pick up anchor and head to the rigs in Black Bay and Bay Eloi. Once there, we change tactics and start fishing on the bottom with a Carolina rig. Live shrimp is the bait of choice, but if live croakers are available we use them."
Himel uses a light barrel-weight on Carolina rigs, but sometimes resorts to freelining live shrimp with small split shot. He anchors his boat just above the rig in the current and offers baits as natural as possible.
"When free-lining the live shrimp I like to cast up-current and let the bait float as life-like as possible, maintaining a semi-tight line to detect strikes," said Himel. "Once a cast plays out, we reel-em in and do it again."
While trout is probably the most pursued species, some anglers also want to chase redfish. For these, Himel usually heads to the rock wall of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, dropping shrimp 2 feet under a cork up against the rocks. Himel claims that corks must be used to keep from hanging up in the rocks below the surface. Besides redfish, anglers can also catch specks and sometimes white trout, as well as barnacle crunching sheepshead.
There are many more places to fish in the Gulf of Mexico, which is quite vast running from Florida to Texas, and a huge variety of species are available, especially as the weather warms into the summer temperatures.