Back it up

Biloxiís Back Bay is full of fish, if you know how to work the fluctuating saltwater line.

Chris Ginn

July 01, 2012 at 7:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Fish like this heavy red invade Back Bay in droves because of the smorgasbord of food that it offers.
Courtesy Bryan Cuevas
Fish like this heavy red invade Back Bay in droves because of the smorgasbord of food that it offers.
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, theyíre 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 Biloxiís 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 Biloxiís 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.

"Itís 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 Iíve caught big freshwater blue cats around Popís 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.

"Iíve seen zero salinity in the bay, but right now weíre looking at about 17 to 18 parts per thousand in the bay due to the lack of rain," Cuevas said. "(When itís like this), the redfish and trout travel up the river systems, but as soon as it rains, theyíll 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 weíre 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, weíre able to get a lot of bait out of Back Bay because of that."

And thatís a good thing for anglers because Biloxiís Back Bay doesnít 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 canít beat it in Back Bay. Thatís because the water clarity isnít very good. I have a lot of visitors that expect it to be pretty and blue or green, but itís 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 itís no wonder your favorite clear-water baits donít work in the bay.

"Whether Iíve 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 doesnít 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 youíre really on them, but for the most part itís 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 heís fishing one of the many deep holes in the bay, one of which heís 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 donít 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 heís hooked in the head, a fish will feel the hook when he goes to swallow it, and they donít 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 youíre 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. Thatís why heís 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. "Thatís when they lay their eggs. You can go out during the summer and put a light in the water óI like the green lights that simulate the moon glow ó 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 itís shaped like a banana.

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

"If youíve got a good tide range, youíve got a good chance of getting some fish. It doesnít matter if itís coming in or going out ó as long as the water is moving the fish can smell the bait. And if they smell it, theyíre going to eat it."

Cuevas finds it hard to turn his back on Back Bay. Heís reeled in reds as long as 43 inches there. Heís tussled with 7-pound trout there. And heís 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, thereís no place Cuevas would rather be than fishing right in the middle of it all in Biloxiís Back Bay.

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

Artificial lures may produce every now and again, but Cuevas insists that live bait is king at Back Bay.
Flounder frequently show up on the edges of the channels where Cuevas retreats to later in the day after the early bite slows down.
Fishing Back Bay brings with it the realization that most days on the water will feature a mixed bag of fish rather than specialized limits.
If there is any secret to catching trout like this from Back Bay, Cuevas says itís fishing when the tide is moving.
When faced with an overabundance of freshwater pushing into Back Bay from the rivers, saltwater species are forced to retreat back closer to the Mississippi Sound.





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