As the weather warms up on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, fishing starts to heat up, too.
The wind may kick up in March and make traveling offshore a major problem. But because of the Barrier Islands and the artificial reefs, you don’t have to give up your fishing trip. On rough days in March, you can move inside the islands to catch black drum and sheepshead on the artificial reefs.
But on pretty March days, when the seas are calm, the sun is shining and the temperatures are climbing, you can have great fishing.
Capt. Michael Moore of Strictly Business Fishing Charters based out of Biloxi’s Small Craft Harbor said the first set of oil rigs about 30 miles offshore is where he’ll go to find king mackerel in March.
"You probably won’t catch monster-sized 50-pound king mackerel this early in the season, but you can have a fun day catching 15- to 20 pounders," he said. "I like to use live bait and chum for the kings around the oil rigs, and troll, too."
One advantage of chumming and using live bait in March is that, besides catching king mackerel, you’ll often chum up big red snapper.
"Sometimes we see 20-pound red snapper right off the back of the boat, where we’re chumming," said Moore. "We’ll cast 4- to 6-inch live croakers to those red snapper. Although snapper season is closed in March, we can catch, photograph and release those big fish without harming them. Due to cool weather, the fish will be in good shape when we release them. So, we can catch and keep the king mackerel, and catch and release the big red snapper."
When chumming near the rigs, you also can snatch up mangrove snapper that are fun to catch, delicious to eat and generally weigh about 3 to 8 pounds.
"I prefer to use live shrimp and chum closer to the legs of the rigs to get the gray snapper coming up high in the water," Moore said.
The gray snapper can be very skittish, so plan to use light line (12- to 20-pound fluorocarbon) and free-line your shrimp out to the gray snapper. Often these fish will come up in large schools. Since they’ve made the atmospheric change from deep water to shallow water, you can catch and release the smaller ones in good shape, and keep the bigger ones to eat. You can use cut bait successfully in March too. Be sure to bury the hook in the bait, so the snapper can’t see it.
"Last year, we only could keep two red snapper, but when you fish for the gray snapper, you can keep 10," Morre said. "The practice of putting back the small ones and keeping the big ones means the gray snapper present a better fishing opportunity than red snapper for an angler who wants to take some delicious fish home for the table.
"If our area has an east wind, instead of taking a 12-hour trip and going out to the rigs, you may want to consider cutting your trip to six hours. We can catch black drum in the artificial reefs just off Ship and Horn islands in 30 to 40 feet of water by fishing 10- to 12-pound-test line. We like to fish the sunken Liberty ships, and the shell and stone reefs just off Ship Island."
In March, the sheepshead often weigh 3 to 8 pounds. The black drum weigh from puppy size (1½ to 5 pounds) up to monster sizes of 20 to 30 pounds or more.
Water temperature determines the fish species you’ll catch around the islands: If the water warms up early, you may catch sharks, jack crevalle or a cobia at the end of March.
"The earliest I’ve heard of cobia being caught in our area is around March 20," said Moore. "Some of the locals will start chumming cobia off the sand bar on Horn Island. In April, catching cobia becomes much more consistent."
Capt. Brett Mitchell runs the Strictly Too inshore charter boat out of Biloxi’s Small Craft Harbor. Although anglers can make long runs in many different directions to catch inshore fish, in March Mitchell prefers to stay close to shore.
With the unpredictable weather, he always can find calm, fishable waters on the back sides of Deer or Horn islands. Inside Deer Island, he catches speckled trout and flounder. On calm days, he runs in front of the islands and fishes the reefs for sheepshead.
"The flounder bite will start to pick up this month," Mitchell reports. "We use a double speck rig, consisting of two yellow or chartreuse hair jigs in either the 1/8-ounce or the ¼-ounce sizes. All we have to do is cast these speck rigs out and drag them along the bottom to catch 12- to 20-inch flounder — generally three or four, or perhaps as many as 20."
The speckled trout bite picks up in March, and Mitchell prefers to fish inside Deer Island for them.
"We fish the mud lumps just outside of Deer Island with plastic jigs and 1/8-ounce jig heads in the Opening Night, Electric Chicken or Chicken on a Chain colors," he said. "If I’m fishing inexperienced anglers, we’ll use live shrimp and popping corks. During March, we’ve caught as few as 8 or 10, or as many as 40 or 50 speckled trout.
"When we fish inside Deer Island, we can fish in almost any weather condition because we’re in protected water."
Due to the shallow water, when Mitchell finds a school of speckled trout he quickly and quietly eases the anchor over the side of the boat and starts casting to the spot where the trout are schooled up.
"There’s a natural channel running inside Deer Island," Mitchell explained, "In the center of the channel (is) maybe 8 feet of water that comes up to 3 to 4 feet. The trout hang out on the edge of that channel."
Mitchell takes fishermen on three-, four-, six- and eight-hour inshore trips.
"On an average four-hour trip in March, we’ll usually catch about 15 speckled trout and three to four flounder," Mitchell said.
To book an offshore-fishing trip with Strictly Business Fishing Charters, visit www.biloxifishing.com, or call 228-392-4047.