For most of the nation, January is one of the coldest months of the year. But Mississippi's Gulf Coast can get warm fronts of 50 to 60 degrees for a couple of days or even two weeks. When the area receives those warm-ups, speckled trout in the coastal rivers start moving out of the deep holes to feed on the flats.
And one of the best ways to find the trout is to cast soft-plastic grubs with lead-headed jigs down the banks and on flats adjacent to these deep river holes.
"On those warming days in January, the best trout fishing usually occurs in the afternoon because the flats have had all morning through the middle of the day to warm-up," Capt. Matthew Tusa of Shore Thing Charters said. "However, trout fishing during January can be spotty. More-productive places may be the bridges, the piers and the artificial reefs in the bays and around the Barrier Islands."
You'll find slot redfish, bull reds, puppy drum (small black drum), big black drum and sheepshead there.
At this time of year, sheepshead and black drum will be your most-dependable catches.
"Any type of structure should produce good numbers of sheepshead and drum," Tusa explained.
How to rig
The good news is that in January you can rig the same way and use the same baits to catch sheepshead, black drum and redfish. Tusa suggested fishing a drop-shot rig to prevent getting hung in the structure as much as when using a Carolina rig.
"On the bottom of 40-pound-test fluorocarbon line, use a ½-ounce bank sinker," he said. "Tie a loop in the end of the line, slide the loop through the weight and push the bank sinker back through the loop.
"Using the loop technique of attaching the weight allows you to quickly and easily change the size of the weight, depending on the speed of the current."
Tusa ties another loop in his line 9 to 10 inches above the sinker, pinches the end of the loop down and pushes the loop through the eye of a straight-shank No. 2/0 hook. Then, if the hook gets caught on the structure and bends or becomes dull after coming in contact with barnacles, oyster shells or rocks, you can push the back side of the loop forward, slide the hook out of the loop and attach a new hook, without having to cut the line and retie.
Eight to 10 inches above the hook, Tusa adds a barrel swivel, ties the 40-pound-test fluorocarbon leader line with a sinker hook and bait attached to the leader line to the bottom eye of the swivel, and ties 20-pound-test braided main line to the top eye of the swivel.
For bait, he recommended pieces of crab or dead shrimp.
Where to fish
If the weather's rough, Tusa and his clients will stay behind the barrier islands and primarily fish the bridges, pier pilings and artificial reefs in the bay.
But if the wind's calm, they'll move out to Deer Island and Horn Island and fish the artificial reefs created by Mississippi's Department of Marine Resources (http://www.dmr.ms.gov/recreational-fishing/reef-locations).
These reefs often are loaded with sheepshead, black drum and redfish.
"My favorite two reefs are Taylor's Reef and Jailhouse Reef," Tusa said.
Although primary January targets will be sheepshead and black drum, you also may catch speckled trout (particularly in the coastal rivers and estuaries), white trout, slot redfish and bull reds, since these also hold in the same places.
You can expect the sheepshead to weigh 5 to 8 pounds this time of the year. Black drum may weigh as little as 1 pound and up to 20 to 30 pounds or more.
If you prefer to fish for bull reds, you'll catch them more consistently by fishing the bottom with cut bait like mullet or dead shrimp at Katrina Reef and the reefs around Cat Island.
On a good day of January fishing, you should catch 15 to 30 sheepshead and 6 to 12 keeper-sized black drum, not including some really-big black drum and/or redfish. On most January days, you'll catch and release three very large black drum or bull reds. These big bruisers probably will require 15 to 20 minutes each to fight the fish to the boat, where they can be netted, photographed and released.