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October 13, 2011

Seatrout Tactics for Mississippi's Biloxi Marsh

The Mississippi Gulf Coast may be short, but it still holds a great deal of saltwater-marsh habitat.

Basic, but Bad!
Hendon was using Penn Conquer 4000 spinners spooled with 20-pound-test Sufix 832 braid matched to Penn Torque jigging rods.

At the business end was two or three feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader joined to the braid with a small barrel swivel (to alleviate line twist when trolling). The hook was a 2/0 in-line VMC Tournament Circle. Hendon would dip a shrimp from the boat’s livewell and insert the hook sideways through its rostrum (horn). Hendon believes this arrangement better stabilizes the shrimp when trolling and keeps it alive and active. He’d then cast it behind the boat and free-spool it some 15 to 25 feet.

Exact distance depends on the trolling speed and depth, but when the shrimp bumps or hangs in the shallow bottom, it’s necessary to reel it up a few feet. At this point, you can fish with confidence, knowing your bait is in the strike zone.

And while it could be argued that I was covering plenty of territory with my topwater plug, trolling covers much more terrain and more of the zones most of these fish are in. Every pothole or piece of structure the boat would troll over also saw the pair of shrimp following behind. And they didn’t last very long!

Conventional Warfare

After an enjoyable day in Graveline Bayou, we headed to the Biloxi Marsh for more seatrout the following morning. The Biloxi Marsh is due south of Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, and also requires a Louisiana fishing license. It’s a bit of a ride over open water from the launch ramp, but once there, you’re in an expansive, beautiful estuary system, one that can be fished when the winds are up too.

Hendon and I concentrated on fishing points, ledges, cuts, pockets and other likely fish-gathering areas. I kept at it with my topwater plug, generating strikes and fish. Hendon abandoned his live-shrimp trolling (we had none that morning) and used a small jig head tipped with a Trigger X soft-plastic, alternating between a chartreuse-pepper glow paddle-tail minnow and New Penny-hued shrimp. We used the same spin outfits and leaders.

We were catching school-size trout as we moved from spot to spot. There were lots of finger mullet and menhaden throughout this system. Again, I couldn’t help but scour the shoreline and marshes for traces of the oil spill, but I saw only a few BP patrol boats and crews monitoring the waters. Fishing the same waters in another boat was the Isle Casino Hotel Biloxi’s Bobby Carter (aka the Fishing Casino Man) and Justin McGuffie. Carter has been instrumental in bringing Mississippi’s coastal and ocean fishing into the national spotlight through his offshore tournaments and friendships with numerous magazine writers and media personalities.

Though the entire Biloxi Marsh was an amazing experience, two spots in particular really stood out. Hendon had me steer behind a horseshoe-shaped island to a sizable dip in the bottom right off the shore. Here, large trout lay in wait to ambush bait passing with the tide. I was first to cast my topwater plug into the zone, and a big trout crashed it but missed the hooks! I couldn’t believe it! How could a fish miss those hooks? While I was griping about the missed fish, Hendon pitched in his bait — and hooked up. It was a beauty of a trout, evident when it launched from the water. There was just one problem — I had no landing net. Hendon led the fish boat-side, reached down and took a wrap on the leader. But before he could hoist the fish into the boat, it surged and broke the line.

The next memorable spot was where we staked with the Power-Pole and fished a point where water was funneled in from a vast shallow expanse. For a bit the action was fast, and we caught trout on topwaters and soft-plastics. Hendon also scored a couple of nice flounder. When that spot ceased to produce, we fished another section of shoreline. By day’s end, we had released plenty of trout and kept enough plump ones for the big fish dinner Carter was hosting back at the Isle later that evening. And need I even describe how delicious these fresh-caught trout were?

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to fish the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and even more so to see this area getting back on its feet. It was wonderful looking at all the recreational anglers back on the water and catching fish. Getting down there to shoot an episode for my VERSUS television series and write a feature for Salt Water Sportsman was the very least I could do to help get the word out that this area is back in business in a big way — and that the fish here are plentiful and hungry, just as they always have been!