July 02, 2012
Sweat was pouring off our brows as fast the ice was melting in the rapidly-filling fish box of Kenny Shiyou's boat, and that box was loaded with speckled and white trout.
The tail of a 26-inch redfish kept the lid from closing.
It was a brutal but productive day in the Biloxi Marsh, a vast expanse of a Louisiana fishery at the western end of the Mississippi Sound. The August sun was testing our 35- and 50-PDF sunblocks.
"Guys, it's time to turn on the air conditioning," Shiyou said. "We got enough trout to clean so let's hit it."
He got no argument from the two of us in the boat with him, even though it meant leaving behind trout — including the biggest white trout on average that any of us had ever seen — that were in the middle of a big bite.
"Crank it up Captain," was our response in unison, not so much because of the heat or the full box but because we knew it meant the best was yet to come — the pursuit of big fat tripletails or black fish.
In addition to being fun, challenging and extremely tasty, tripletail fishing is just flat out cool. As in temperature cool, which puts the experience at the top of the long list of summertime fishing opportunities in both Mississippi and Louisiana. And because the best tripletail fishing is located right on the border of the two states due south of Bay St. Louis, Miss., it's where we'll start our summer adventure.
"What makes tripletail fishing so much fun is the technique," said Shiyou. "You can do it running full speed, once you get into the right area."
The right area is in near shore waters, well within sight of the coastline, where crabbers have set their traps. While tripletails hold tight to any structure on the surface, long lines of crab traps provide the perfect situation.
Shiyou found the start of such a run about two miles out of the mouth to Bayou Caddy in Waveland. He pointed out the seemingly never-ending line of traps and told us to keep close watch as we raced past each one.
Then he turned on the air conditioning — the 300-horse four-stroke motor — and took off. At 35 miles an hour, the breeze was refreshing.
But just five pots into the run, we spotted our first tripletail, a giant brown blob in the water a foot from a trap's floating marker. Shiyou began throttling down, and 100 yards past the fish, he made a u-turn and starting idling back to the crab pot. As he steered closer, I grabbed the tripletail pole and fished a live shrimp out of the bait well. Shiyou uses a medium-heavy 6-foot spinning rod with 15-pound braid line leading to a small Styrofoam cork and an 18-inch piece of 25-pound fluorocarbon leader with a small treble hook..
Twenty yards from the trap, the captain killed the big motor and put his trolling motor in the water. When we closed to within 15 feet, the big fish was easily seen a foot to the left of the float. Shiyou directed Dan Smith of Jackson to flip the cork about 5 feet past the float on the right side of the float, which Smith did perfectly.
"Reel it back easily until it's right beside€¦"
Shiyou never finished the sentence. The fish raced across the float and inhaled the shrimp with audible sucking "smack." Five minutes later, I netted a 10-pound tripletail for Smith.
Before an hour was over, we boated three, including a giant 24-pounder that took nearly 20 minutes to subdue on the suddenly light tackle.
"People have been fishing tripletails down here for years, but only in the last five years, basically since Katrina have these fish moved into the western Sound so thick," Shiyou said. "It took us a few years to really formulate this pattern, but it really works good and it provides a great end to a day's fishing for trout."
KEEPING IT SALTY
Another product of Katrina, dozens of manmade reefs offer great summertime fishing opportunities for assorted species off the Mississippi beaches. In the storm's wake, concrete from demolished buildings and bridges was used to build fish-attracting reefs.
"Some are close enough to the beaches that you can wade to them and fish in waist deep water," said Billy Trahan of Gulfport, Miss., who often makes early morning wade trips before beginning his workday. "I'm not saying it is the greatest fishing in the world but on most days, I can catch enough fish in an hour or two to feed my family that night, and even have enough to give away.
"Flounder, white trout, ground mullet, drum, sheepshead, and even a few specks and reds. They all hold on the reefs and you just have to find the hot reef on that given day. You may get lucky and hit the hot one right away or it may take moving a few times. Live or dead shrimp is all you need."
Maps of the many reefs, including some further offshore, are available from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources at www.dmr.ms.gov.
Other summer saltwater opportunities in Mississippi include some of the best offshore bottom fishing for amberjack, snapper, cobia and even redfish.
In Louisiana, the port of Venice becomes a jumping off spot for tuna and other big game blue water species plus the bottom fishing around the hundreds of offshore oilrigs and near-shore trips for trout and redfish.
"One of the overlooked summer trips, and it is because of the heat, is the inshore marsh fishing for redfish in areas like Venice, Leeville, Golden Meadow, Dulac, Cocodrie and all the way over to the Texas border," said Jimmy Hebert of Houma, La. "If you can get access, and a lot of it is public water, to clear ponds way up in the marsh, sport fishing for reds is as good as it gets.
"It's just like bass fishing, and the lures are all similar, from spoons to soft plastics to spinnerbaits. And where you really find good clear water sight-fishing comes into play, flipping small lead heads with soft plastic grubs right in their faces and watching them inhale it. Man, that's a blast."
Summertime speck fishing moves out in the bigger bays and lakes, especially those with deeper reefs or small oil platforms. One of the hot areas is Terrebonne Bay and another is Timbalier Island.
"Anywhere you can find old oil structures in 8 to 12 feet of water, and they still have the shell bed bottoms that were put down years ago, then you are in trout territory," Hebert said. "And that's usually a cool trip because down there, either around the jetties or the rigs, there's a good breeze to cool you. I like to hit the rocks off Timbalier Island with a topwater for a shot at a really big gator trout, and then I start hitting the rigs with soft plastics."
A word of warning from Hebert: "If you go to Timbalier to fish the rocks, go slowly and watch carefully. Those huge rocks were scattered pretty good by storms and they will eat your motor's lower unit."
The heat of the summer is also a good time to chase base and crappie in fresh water lakes. In Mississippi the choices are myriad but have to begin with Ross Barnett Reservoir, which offers trolling — which also creates a breeze when none exist — for striped bass and crappie.
It is my home lake and summer is my favorite time to fish. All of it takes place in the lower main-lake area, fishing the many deep drops formed by old lakebeds and old river runs. Trolling crankbaits along those edges produces both stripes on mid-range lures and crappie on deeper presentations.
On many trips, both crappie and stripes can be pulled off the same drops.
"All the time, you have to keep your eyes open for schooling stripes on the surface," said Keith Partridge of Terry, Miss. "At any time, big stripe can move up on adjacent flats and start blasting shad. That's when it gets crazy."
Trolling for crappie with crankbaits is also a summer thrill at two north Mississippi reservoirs, Grenada and Sardis.
"The difference up there, as compared to Barnett, is that you concentrate on the main lake points," said Ron Garavelli, the chief of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and an avid Sardis troller. "You get out on those points where they get close to the river channel and keep trolling to you hit a hot spot and then you concentrate your efforts."
One other summer trip in Mississippi that shouldn't be missed is the largemouth and smallmouth action at Pickwick Lake in the extreme northeast corner.
"The hotter the day, the better the action," said Tony Reynolds of Tupelo, Miss. "The more the demand for electricity to run air conditioners, the more the TVA runs the turbines at Pickwick Dam.
"And the more the turbines run, the greater the current is created in the lake. And current triggers a bass bite on humps and points for smallies and largemouth and for largemouth on grassy points."
Fishermen from both Mississippi and Louisiana have the luxury of many fishable waters connected to the Mississippi River, and summer is a great time.
Number 1 on the list is catfish, and on the hottest days, the coolest way to get them is by jugging.
"There are so many advantages to jugging that it's hard to know where to start," said Tim Johnson of Monroe, La., "I go for two or three days at a time and incorporate some camping on sand bar islands. My boys and I have more fun doing that, and we usually end up with a trip that includes friends and a couple of more boats.
"We jug during the daytime, and at night, we fish from the banks tightlining in between running our trotlines. We catch enough fish to have fried fish three times a day at the campsite and still take home three or four ice chests full of fish."
Johnson said everyone's favorite is the jugging.
"No doubt, and it's not just because it's productive but also because it's just good old fun," he said. "We usually use about 50 jugs, or about 20 per boat and we rig the drop lines between 2 and 5 feet under the jugs. We bait with cut skipjack shad that we catch in nets or by casting ultralight jigs, which makes it just that much more fun.
"We look for river bends and fish the shallow inside of the curves. With practice you can learn where to toss them so that the jugs follow the current and stay in water between 4 and 8 feet. The catfish may live in deeper cooler holes, but they move up on those shallow flats to feed."
After tossing the jugs, the boaters usually move downstream to the end of the run and park on the bank and start casting for catfish or for more bait, if shad are seen in the area.
"We might even cook lunch or make sandwiches and wait for the jugs," Johnson said. "When they do arrive, we collect the ones that make it all the way and check the numbers. Then we go chase down the others.
"Those will be the ones that the catfish hit and we usually find them swimming around right on those shallow flats. But sometimes, especially when you get one over 30 or 40 pounds — and we've caught them much bigger — they can really cover some water. That's when you have to do some hunting, and I think the anticipation of what might be on the hook thrills the kids. Even those of use in our 50s."