My guide Kyle Graham knows the Pascagoula River system by heart. So when he suggested we meet at Buff’s Quick Stop in Escatawpa, I should have known there was an underlying reason.
There was —the man-sized biscuits the store serves each morning. Graham even offered to buy, but, since I was already appreciative of his offer to share his bassing knowledge on the river, I declined. We got our breakfast and some boat snacks and left for our next stop, the launch at Little River Marina.
As he drove, Graham and I shared stories about bass, speckled trout, redfish, family, jobs and life on the coast. While he was giving me a history lesson of his bass-fishing exploits, I figured out he was one of the anglers who consistently took home a check in the bass tournaments I fished back in the early ’90s.
There was a handful of anglers who always finished at the top, and he was one of them. I suddenly regretted not letting him buy my biscuits at Buff’s, wondering just how many biscuits he’d bought with my entry fees.
We launched his 17-foot custom War Eagle aluminum boat, and right away I knew Graham was serious. He designed the boat, front to back, just to fish the Pascagoula River. The boat boasts a 36-volt, 101-pound thrust Minn Kota trolling motor and a huge front deck that has a livewell stretching the width of the boat. On back, he’s got a 6-inch Bob’s Machine Shop hydraulic jack plate and a 90-horse Mercury motor.
Overkill for a boat that size? Not the way Graham fishes.
After a 15-minute run through narrow cuts and winding bayous, we arrived at our first fishing spot, a bayou no more than 30 feet wide. The conditions we experienced were the exact opposite of what Graham prefers in January but he had a game plan for such conditions.
“You want the tide to be low and falling,” Graham said. “It can be low and coming in but once it gets to that certain point the bite will end. The fish will disperse; they will not be stacked up. You just need to put the trolling motor down and go down the bank.”
A few warm days coupled with a southeast wind had the tide high and in the marsh grass. Undeterred, Graham picked up an All Star ASR rod with a gold Rapala F11 tied to the business end of 20-pound Sunline spooled on a Shimano Curado and immediately caught a bass. The Rapala and a Snagless Sally spinnerbaits are his lures of choice when the tide is high.
“A lot of times if the water comes up and there is grass, you can rip the Rapala F11 through the grass or you can use a Snagless Sally to pull the fish out,” Graham said. “Once it gets to a certain point when it’s coming in they won’t be ganged up.”
“Ganged up” is what we were shooting for but Mother Nature had other plans. Typical January weather is not something the average angler would call ideal — extreme cold, strong north winds and marsh-draining low tides.
Graham is not an average angler so he thrives under the extreme January weather.
“In January, normally you have winter tides,” Graham said. “Tides will get real low, 1½ to 2 feet below normal. When the (surface) temperatures are below 50 degrees, the grass dies in most areas and the fish will gang up in holes in the marsh. I like to throw a Rapala DT 4, DT 6, and sometimes even a DT 10 in these holes in the marsh. You’re liable to catch two fish, five fish or there might be fifty fish in one small location.
Normally, in a tournament situation, if you get on them good enough, you can have five fish that go 10 to 12 pounds; then you go north and throw jigs or spinnerbaits to catch a 4- or 5-pounder to go with the 12 pounds that you have.”
The Pascagoula River Marsh is a labyrinth of interconnecting bayous between East and West River. The two rivers are joined by a man made canal under I-10 with other connecting bayous to the north and to the south. Graham searches for bass in the smaller bayous that feed into the bigger bayous.
“You have main bayous that come from river to river, main drainages, and then you have small drainages off of those,” he said. “A lot of times that’s where most of these fish are stacked up.
“Smaller drains may be 6 to 8 inches deep then you’ll go a little bit further and it falls off into 7 or 8 feet. You just have to do your homework, explore and find these places.”
Emulate Graham, using every outing as a chance to learn. If the tide is high, troll up small bayous and pay attention to the dept finder to find shallow areas and drop offs. Most of the time deeper water will be found in the bends but that’s not always the case. A deep hole found in a straightaway may be where a mother load is stacked up when the tide falls out.
On days when the tide is two feet below normal, use that time to find subtle ledges in the marsh; there may be 200 feet of shallow, tapered marsh mud along the bank of a bayou then a 20-foot section of hard clay that drops off a few feet straight down.
“Troll along the banks, anywhere you see there can be a drop off or the bank could be undercut, anything like that, will definitely be something to remember when the water does fall out,” Graham said. “Bass with congregate around any structure. Usually in the bends of these smaller ditches there’s deeper pockets and the fish will congregate there. You just got to get out and find them, and once you find them there’s usually a little bit of structure there. Either people have put it there or Mother Nature has put it there.
“When the grass dies they’ll really concentrate on that deeper structure. They’ll move from the grass to anything that’s sunk down there. Whether it’s a treetop, cinder blocks or a Christmas tree, that’s where they’re going to go. If you’ve got that in a hole and you have low tide, the fish are going to be there and you’re going to have a good time.”
If you’re a tournament angler or just an angler wanting to catch a mess of bass, take Graham’s advice, use his tactics and go load the boat. If you have room for another fisherman, give me a call.
I’ll go and you can even buy the biscuits.