The 19-foot Sea Pro came off plane well short of the cut in the Pascagoula River.
Dana Sanders, a wetland consultant with D.R. Sanders and Associates, jumped to the front deck and eased the trolling motor into the water. Jimmy Barnes of Sportsman’s Junction Outdoor Adventures (www.sportsmansjunction.com) joined Sanders; both men immediately started firing casts toward the cut that was two long casts away — and started catching trout immediately.
I asked Sanders later what made him stop so far out to start fishing.
“It’s real easy to want to get up close to the cuts or those points because that looks like the logical place, when in fact you’ve got to work your way into those areas or you’re going to run over your fish,” Sanders said. “Trout spook so easy, it doesn’t take much to spook trout off of an area and then you have to go find them again.”
The lower section of the Pascagoula River breaks off into the West Pascagoula and the East Pascagoula to form a mass of winding bayous and marsh. Finding trout in this maze can seem like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack at times.
“When I moved down here I had an old guy tell me you always want to look for current, for your eddies,” Sanders said. “Don’t waste time fishing areas that don’t have any tide running over or around it.
“The tide will actually cause an eddy and when you see those tide line areas, the currents where the eddies are, that’s where you want to fish.”
Sanders and Barnes caught their trout from the tide lines formed by the outgoing tide pushing through a small cut. Trout do not have to get directly in a cut to take advantage of bait being pushed by the current, which is why Sanders started so far out.
Bait presentation is another key factor in catching trout feeding in a tide line.
“One of the things that I learned was that you have to present your bait in a natural way in those areas,” Sanders said. “When we were fishing that cut I was getting my strikes letting my bait run with the current. I wasn’t working my bait against the current, I was trying to keep my bait working with the current because that’s the natural presentation for live bait. When you work your bait against the current it’s unnatural. A lot of times you won’t get bites when you do that.”
Current remained the primary focus for Sanders throughout the day with a falling tide as his preference in the fall and winter.
“I know it’s preached a lot,” Sander said, “but it (current) really is the deal. I’ve heard people say in or out, which is better? I would say that in general, it doesn’t matter, just so there’s current moving. When the tide is going out of the mouth of a small bayou that feeds into a lake or the river, it provides feeding opportunities for the fish.
“In the fall and winter it may be a little better on a falling tide because all the bait is being dumped in the rivers and the deeper water when you have lower tides. When you have lower tides that are associated with fall and winter, the falling tide may be better.”
The Pascagoula River has areas south of I-10 that are up to 50 feet deep with adjoining bayous that range from 5 to 30 feet deep. This wide range in depth can throw fisherman for a loop if they’re new to area. In the fall and winter Sanders keys on the major bayous and the main river channel where smaller bayous feed into them.
“Look for transition areas where you have 6 to 8 feet of water that has access to deeper water,” he said. “What I have seen and from having talked to people that have fished the Pascagoula longer than I have, trout use those deeper channels as interstates. The trout come up into the shallower waters to feed where you have 6 to 8 feet of water. Look for the mouths of those bayous and fish in the areas where you have water dumping out of those shallower bayous into the deeper water.
“It’s just like deer hunting, the edges are always a better place to hunt. It’s the same for trout; where you have habitat changes or where you have contour changes, it’s kind of the same thing.”
Sanders was a bass fisherman before moving to the coast. He found that his experience fishing a weighted plastic worm made the transition to fishing soft plastics on a jighead easy. The techniques for finding trout differ from bass somewhat but fishing soft plastics on a jighead made him feel right at home.
“I love using a 1/4 to 5/16-ounce jighead with a Matrix Shad,” he said. “I have used other plastics but the Matrix Shad has more movement, more vibration, than anything I’ve ever used. They’re durable and they hold up well.”
When Sanders pulls up to an area he starts fishing his bait on the bottom and works his way up the water column until he finds what works. Once he has the retrieve dialed in he’ll duplicate the technique until the bite slows.
David Sanders, Dana’s son, is an accomplished jig fisherman like his dad, but he likes to start with a shrimp imitation under a popping cork to help nail down a pattern.
“I caught my biggest trout this year using a Vudu Shrimp on a cork rig,” David said. “I like to pop it then let it sit for a count of five then pop twice more.”
“Fall fish are cold; sometimes they’ll hit it and all you feel is weight on the end,” the elder Sanders said, “and then sometimes they’ll take the rod out of your hand. Once you figure out what they want, you repeat that every cast. Sometimes you may be catching them 15 feet off the bank or with a certain retrieve. You want to duplicate whatever caught you the last fish. If you do that you’ll be successful.
“If you’re fishing your jig and you’re covering water chances are you’re going to run into some fish pretty quickly. I’m not one to stay in a spot very long if I’m not getting bites. I’ve eliminated that water and I’m moving to some other waters.”
Sanders believes that once a fisherman learns a few basic things about fishing the coast, like tidal movement, and to fish the first hour or two after a tide change they’ll experience success.
The Pascagoula River Basin is immense and can be overwhelming if looked at as a whole. Pick up a map of the river at one of our local tackle stores and map out a milk run of points and bayou mouths off the main river and some of her larger bayous. If you do this and follow Sanders’ advice you’ll end up with some nice Pascagoula speckled trout for the box.