If you’re looking for a fun yet different Christmas present for your family, then take a fishing trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The fish are biting, and the area needs anglers to catch them in the coastal rivers and on the barrier islands.
Travis Paige, owner of Goin’ Coastal Charters based at the Biloxi Boardwalk Marina, said catching fish is all about knowing what areas to target.
“Your best bets are shallow shell reefs around the barrier islands, the deep drop-offs in the bayous and rivers that feed the Gulf of Mexico and the shallow flats around the islands in the middle of the day until late afternoon,” Paige said.
Paige recommended fishing Fort Bayou, the Biloxi River and the Tchoutacabouffa Bluff.
“At this time of year I like to fish the deep holes, the rivers and the bays early in the mornings,” he said. “Then, when the water starts cooling down, I like to move to the shallow-water reefs around Deer Island.”
Paige fishes the deep holes in the rivers and bays with 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jigheads with plastic cocahoe minnows and plastic shrimp like the D.O.A. He also uses some of the heavier MirrOlures like the 51M and the 52M.
“Our main target will be speckled trout, but we’ll also catch slot reds and flounder,” Paige said. “The sizes of speckled trout will be mixed. The schooling trout are easy to spot under the birds in the mornings in the bays and the rivers.”
A deep hole in the coastal rivers and bays will be 8 to 12 feet deep. Be sure to cut off your big engine above the hole, position your boat with your trolling motor and drift with the wind or move with the current. Be extremely quiet in the boat so you don’t spook the fish you’re trying to catch.
“When the water temperature drops to 50 degrees or colder, fish the deeper water,” Paige said. “Move those soft-plastic baits along the bottom so slowly it hurts. Lift those leadheads up off the bottom, and actually let the current move your baits.”
A morning of fishing the coastal rivers and bays can pay off with 10 to 12 nice-sized trout. If you don’t fill your limit working deep holes, fish under the birds.
Closer to noon, Paige will move out of the rivers and look for working birds at the mouth of the bay before the rocks and the east end of Deer Island. Next he’ll move to the shell beds in front of Point Cadet Harbor.
“As the sun warms-up, the shallow water around those shell beds will have big speckled trout on them to feed and to warm up,” he said. “We fish topwater lures and swim baits.”
Paige likes the 7M MirrOlure Top Dogs, Zara Spooks and Catch 2000 suspending lures in pink, chartreuse, prism or gold colors.
“We expect to catch 3- to 6-pounders,” he said. “Watch for the mullet jumping and the big trout chasing them to learn the areas to cast. We can keep youngsters busy catching fish all day long.”
Sight-fishing the islands
Capt. Robert Brodie of Team Brodie Charters likes to fish the flats on the barrier islands because the waters clear up during the winter months, he said.
“Sometimes the visibility around the islands is 7 to 8 feet deep, and we’ll catch fish in 2- to 4-foot-deep water,” he said. “I like to fish Camille’s Cut, and the points and the flats of the other islands. You can expect to find black drum in huge schools containing perhaps hundreds or even thousands of fish.”
Motor along the flats, searching for huge black spots in shallow water. Brodie recommended letting your boat drift toward the schools and fish with live shrimp.
He hooks his live shrimp under their horns with 1/0 Gamakatsu octopus hooks, uses a Carolina Rig with a weight no larger than 1-ounce or puts the same size weight 2 to 3 inches up 30-pound-test line going straight to the hook.
“Instead of casting to the schools of fish, notice the direction the fish are moving and cast in front of them,” Brodie said. “They’ll see and eat the bait as they come toward it. If you cast in the middle of the school, you may spook the entire school and not catch a fish.”
If schooling drum are timid about biting, break the tail off the live shrimp, exposing some of the meat. Brodie believes shrimp give off an odor that causes both redfish and black drum to bite.
“Some of the fish we catch in December will weigh 30 to 50 pounds,” Brodie said. “We may have to follow them with the boat to prevent breaking the line, but that makes the catch even more fun.”
Brodie advocates light tackle for these big fish, and he often takes fly fishermen out. He suggests they put a small piece of shrimp on the hooks of their flies to increase the possibilities of catching big black drum or bull reds.
Brodie said they often see big schools of slot reds on the flats, too.
Brodie doesn’t like to start fishing until midday, when the sun has warmed up the water, causing these big fish to move in shallow.
“December is also a great time to fish for 4- to 10-pound sheepshead, fishing the same rig used for black drum and redfish,” he said. “We fish around wrecks, reefs, stumps, rocks and places like Ship Island’s Fort Pier.”