When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana last year, Capt. Bryan Cuevas with Mega-Bite Fishing Charters out of Biloxi saw an interesting phenomenon take place.

As fresh water from the Mississippi River pushed farther and farther to the east out Lake Pontchartrain, through the Rigolets and eventually into the Mississippi Sound, Cuevas saw the size of his speckled trout increase.

"Those Louisiana trout are much bigger and thicker than our Mississippi trout," Cuevas acknowledged. "When they opened the spillway, we were able to catch some of those Louisiana trout because they moved east with the salinity. Now, a year later, they’re still here."

Although this occurrence happened on a rather large scale, Cuevas knew exactly what he was seeing because he has seen it on a smaller scale for most of his life. Just like those Louisiana trout moved to stay in their preferred salinities, saltwater species of all kinds move back and forth with the salt line in Biloxi’s Back Bay.

Since he grew up fishing Back Bay, Cuevas has the experience on the water to understand that Back Bay is a battle ground of sorts where the forces of fresh water and salt water meet in a daily back-and-forth battle.

This is because Biloxi’s Back Bay is fed by South Mississippi river systems that continually dump fresh water into a bay that opens up into the salt water of the Mississippi Sound.

"It’s a back-and-forth thing every day," Cuevas said. "Our rivers here in South Mississippi are tide controlled, so we do get salinity up several miles into the river systems. But there have been times when I’ve caught big freshwater blue cats around Pop’s Ferry right where we were catching trout and redfish."

The salinity levels in Back Bay have as much to do with how much rain falls in South Mississippi as it does anything else. A lot of rain will push more fresh water down through the rivers and into Back Bay, and the salinity level will drop.

"I’ve seen zero salinity in the bay, but right now we’re looking at about 17 to 18 parts per thousand in the bay due to the lack of rain," Cuevas said. "(When it’s like this), the redfish and trout travel up the river systems, but as soon as it rains, they’ll pull back out toward the Sound."

When the salt line pushes farther in toward the rivers, redfish, speckled trout, flounder, white trout, ground mullet, sheepshead and black drum invade as far into the bay as they find to their liking.

Inside Back Bay, all these popular saltwater species of fish enjoy a smorgasbord of crab, shrimp, menhaden and finger mullet around the oyster beds, pilings and bridge structures.

The nutrient-rich fresh water coming from the rivers seems to help with the availability of things for predator fish to eat, but Cuevas said there is another component of Back Bay that makes it a paradise for baitfish and, in turn, the fish that we’re all trying to catch.

"Back Bay is also known for its seafood processing," Cuevas explained. "There are a couple processing plants in the bay, and the discharges they release into the water from their processing draws a lot of menhaden and mullet.

"As fishermen, we’re able to get a lot of bait out of Back Bay because of that."

And that’s a good thing for anglers because Biloxi’s Back Bay doesn’t fish like other waters along the Gulf Coast. In fact, Cuevas believes Back Bay is an entirely different kind of ecosystem that can turn anglers off more often than not because the bread-and-butter baits they bring with them frequently fail to produce any bites.

"Live bait is king," Cuevas insisted. "You just can’t beat it in Back Bay. That’s because the water clarity isn’t very good. I have a lot of visitors that expect it to be pretty and blue or green, but it’s just not because of its being river fed."

Cuevas explained that river basins are often made up of mud and clay bottoms, and Back Bay is no exception. In fact, he also pointed out that the Mississippi Sound was much the same way. Couple that with the fact that the Mississippi Sound is often at the mercy of silt from the Mississippi River, and it’s no wonder your favorite clear-water baits don’t work in the bay.

"Whether I’ve got anglers from Louisiana or wherever, they want to bring their favorite lure," he said. "They say they catch a lot on it back home, but it doesn’t work here. You may catch some Spanish mackerel on a spoon if you come across a massive school of them, and maybe a flounder or trout if you’re really on them, but for the most part it’s live bait."

Depending on what he wants to catch, Cuevas fishes live bait anywhere from just under the surface below a cork down to the bottom with a Carolina rig.

His general rule is to go up under a cork for the trout and go down on the bottom for redfish and flounder.

However, if he’s fishing one of the many deep holes in the bay, one of which he’s marked at 37 feet, he sticks with a Carolina rig and uses it to catch just about anything that swims Back Bay.

"I use an egg sinker with a swivel, leader and hook," Cuevas explained. "One advantage of the egg sinker is they don’t really feel the lead when they pick it up. The other big advantage of a Carolina rig is that it gives your bait the freedom to swim up or down or any other direction it wants to go."

While Carolina-rigging the deep holes, Cuevas fishes menhaden, small croakers, mullet and shrimp. The only difference in how he fishes them is in where he threads the hook.

Menhaden get speared in the top of their eyeballs; shrimp get hooked just in front of the membrane where water flows through their heads. Mullet and croakers are hooked either through their noses or about 3/4 down their backs just above their spines.

"I like hooking the mullet and croakers in the back because predator fish typically swallow their prey head first," Cuevas reasoned. "[Hooking them in the back] gives me the perfect angle to set the hook once a fish swallows my bait.

"I believe if he’s hooked in the head, a fish will feel the hook when he goes to swallow it, and they don’t complete the process; they spit the bait out."

Unlike nearby popular fishing spots like the Louisiana Marsh, where anglers can more effectively target a specific species of fish, Cuevas said fishing Back Bay generally comes with the realization that you’re going to catch a mixed bag of fish just about every time you head out.

That is unless you head out at night.

Cuevas says speckled trout especially start to lie down a little bit because of the heat of the water come July. That’s why he’s a big fan of night-fishing for trout during the summer.

"Some of my favorite fishing for trout is at night around the full moon," he said. "That’s when they lay their eggs. You can go out during the summer and put a light in the water —I like the green lights that simulate the moon glow — to attract bait and, most of the time, speckled trout."

Cuevas pointed out a few places he believes recreational anglers could have a good time catching fish during July.

One is Big Island Reef north of the train bridge; another is Goat Island Reef on the west side of the 110 Bride. And the other one is a spot behind the VA Hospital that Cuevas called Banana Island because it’s shaped like a banana.

"No matter where you decide to fish, there’s no big secret to catching fish," Cuevas said. "But I guess if there is one, it’s that you’ve got to have moving water to catch fish. Everything depends on the tide. No tide, no fish.

"If you’ve got a good tide range, you’ve got a good chance of getting some fish. It doesn’t matter if it’s coming in or going out — as long as the water is moving the fish can smell the bait. And if they smell it, they’re going to eat it."

Cuevas finds it hard to turn his back on Back Bay. He’s reeled in reds as long as 43 inches there. He’s tussled with 7-pound trout there. And he’s flung in flounder up to 8 pounds there.

The front line of the battle between fresh and salt water creates a veritable avenue of fish readily available for the catching.

And no matter if the trout, reds and flounder are moving in or out, there’s no place Cuevas would rather be than fishing right in the middle of it all in Biloxi’s Back Bay.

 

Contact Capt. Bryan Cuevas at 228-861-4627 or (www.teammegabite.com)