Capt. Travis Paige of Biloxi grew up fishing the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and has had years of successful trips going with the flow of local knowledge.
In 2010, Paige, of Goin’ Coastal Charters, and long-time friends, Glenn Ellis and Patrick Martino, made a trek to south Texas in search of a double-digit trout. They didn’t catch the ten-plus speck they were searching for but Paige came close with a 9-pound 6-ounce monster.
What they learned on that first expedition and subsequent trips changed the way the three anglers approach fishing their beloved coastal waters. Sure, they still make trips to fill the cooler because, like most of us who call the coast home, they love to eat trout. Most trips, though, are in search of that elusive giant they know swims somewhere in Mississippi’s coastal waters.
Paige schedules his Texas trips in February, a prime time for big trout.
When the Mississippi guys hit the Texas waters they’re looking for two key factors: bait and fishable water. South Texas in February is one of the windiest places in the U.S. with sustained winds at 25 knots for days on end.
“When we pull away from the dock and get out to the open water we look for which way the wind is blowing and how bad it is,” Paige said. “It’s always blowing down there; it’s crazy how much it blows. You constantly have a 15-knot wind, if not more. We find a place a little out of the wind if we can and look for some cleaner water.
“The biggest thing is we’re looking for mullet. When we find some good bait, whether the water is muddy or not, we give it a shot. When we step out of the boat we’re about knee deep in water. We look for guts and gullies on the bars; some mud flats seem to hold the big trout. If the water is clean we look for grass beds with the sand pot holes in them.”
Paige said that big baits are generally the ticket in the turbid waters of south Texas: a Paul Brown Corky, Heddon’s Super Spooks, Rapala’s Skitter Walks and MirrOlure’s He Dogs and She Dogs.
“If there’s bait there, there’s going to be fish there,” he said. “Depending on the weather conditions, how cold it is, determines how slow you’re going to fish your bait. We fish a lot of Corkies and the bigger top water baits.
“The key, that is hard to do, is you got to work your bait slow. We always say if you think you’re working your bait slow, slow down. It almost hurts to work your bait so slow; it’s almost not moving, just a little subtle twitch here and there. The bigger fish seem to react better to a slower moving bait. They’re not going to chase your baits down, the big fat trout, they don’t like to work hard for their food.
“This past year, probably the dirtiest water I’ve ever fished in my life, throwing a bone colored Super Spook, I caught an 8-pound trout, just crushed it. The guide told me I was working my bait too fast so I slowed it down. You just want to chug-chug, then let it sit 15 or 20 seconds. Chug-chug, then it exploded on it — just that subtle movement. Incredible, in less than knee deep water.”
Paige took the lessons learned in Texas and developed a game plan to apply the tackle, techniques and tactics in Mississippi waters.
“Fishing in Texas has changed the way I fish in Mississippi entirely,” Paige said. “We use the same techniques and look for the same signs.
“The Corky is just proven to catch bigger fish all around. In our cleaner water you go to lighter color baits, you want the clear or more natural colors: the pearl bellies, chartreuse, pink, black back, the clear with glitter all work really well.
“We catch them shallow here too,” he said. “A lot of people don’t fish the shallow waters and that’s where the bigger fish are. Like out at Cat Island, there’s some bars out there where you’re in knee-deep water and off to the edges it may drop off into 3 or 4 feet. They may be on the bar or they may be on the edge of the bar; you just got to fish it. We’ve caught some 7-pounders fishing with Corkies.”
Paige believes your chances of catching a big trout are better when wading but most of our shallow bays are mud bottom and impossible to wade. The key to fishing these areas is to set up a drift in your boat so that the wind pushes you across the flat. This eliminates the sound made by your trolling motor as well as the boat slap generated by trolling into the wind.
“There’s not a lot of areas to wade here,” Paige said. “Probably 98 percent of our bay is soft bottom black mud, but there are certain areas that are better. If you have deep water next to it, a little channel or a drain off a little pond in the marsh, sometimes you’ll see some grass or a shelf where they have access to deeper water.
“The darker mud like we have in these bays and the oyster beds, they hold heat so the fish are going to be there. They’ll be more active in that area. When possible though, you’re going to look for bait; that is the No. 1 thing I do. That’s the biggest thing, keying on bait. The fish may be there, they may not, but you got to try it.”
Reiterating the advice of his Texas guide, Paige said the key to fishing a Corky in the winter is to fish it slow. Mullet swimming in cold water do not dart around erratically; they cruise through the water slowly with minimal side-to-side movement.
“If you ever sit and take the time to watch a mullet swim,” he said, “they’re not swimming real fast all the time, they’re just kind of cruising. They’ll flip their tail a time or two and they’ll cruise a little bit and that’s what you’re trying to duplicate. You want it (your Corky) to look as natural as possible.
“Corkies take a while to get used to fishing them. You can’t work them fast; if you work them fast they’re going to be real erratic. You want them to look like a bait.”
Some days the fish aren’t shallow so Paige adjusts his tactics but keeps the same big-bait, big-fish mentality. The expansive flats in Texas have some deep water but not near as much as our bays with rivers and large bayous running into them.
“They’re not always shallow,” Paige said. “They’re going to move around. Hey, they have tails, they’re going to keep swimming.
“In deeper water, we use a lot of the longer baits, the 5-inch baits, like a MirrOlure Provoker on a jighead. You can use your regular cocaho style minnows like your Matrix Shad but most of the time we’re using the longer baits.”
Paige also uses a MirrOlure TTR or 52MR when the trout avoid the shallows after a cold front or on those cloudy days when they stay deep. He uses the same basic retrieve for the Provoker and the TTR — slow.
When fishing the deep holes up the river or in a bayou, sleep in and take a break from the crowds. Let the sun come up and warm the water, then search out some mullet on a flat adjacent to deep water and fish a Corky.
You just might catch that trout of a lifetime.
Capt. Travis Paige operates Goin’ Coastal Charters out of Biloxi Boardwalk Marina and can be reached at (228) 297-0207 or by email at Capt.Travis@bellsouth.net.