Any chance to fish with a couple of “old salts” known for catching specks, reds and flounder when nobody else can is invaluable. It is an opportunity to learn, which was exactly the plan when I met Eli Troutman and Eric Lucas at Webb’s Landing on Graveline Bayou.
Old salts? Troutman is 19 and Lucas 15!
Don’t let their age fool you, though. When it comes to fishing Graveline Bayou on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast near their hometown of Ocean Springs, these young men are building a reputation for putting fish in their boat.
It is an unassuming boat at that, a Carolina Skiff with a tiller outboard and no trolling motor. I thought it a typical ride for a couple of guys who consistently catch trout, redfish and flounder — nothing fancy, just functional.
Troutman was at the tiller and pointed us south down the bayou.
A couple of sweeping bends later, he killed the outboard and steered us toward the bank. Up front, Lucas quietly eased the anchor overboard as the boat glided to a stop 20 feet off the bank. Their approach was perfect, leaving no waves, creating no noise.
This was not their first rodeo.
“If you’re going to be fishing bottom you don’t need to be so loud when you go up to the spot,” Lucas said. “You need to drift in there and slowly drop the anchor because any sudden movements in the water disturb fish.
“If fish respond to bait school vibrations they’ll run away from anchor vibrations.”
The pair uses a mushroom anchor because it’s easier to get off the bottom and it doesn’t disturb the bottom as much as a Danforth anchor.
With the anchor set, Troutman grabbed a spinning rod rigged with a popping cork and a Matrix Shad tied to the business end of a 36-inch fluorocarbon leader. Lucas chose a baitcast with a Vudu Shrimp tied directly to the main line. Both started firing their baits toward the middle of the bayou, away from the inlet where they had set up.
Since we started later in the morning on a blue bird day, the two guides knew the fish would be away from the bank in deeper water.
“We fish a little deeper water later in the morning so I go to a popping cork,” Troutman said. “Work it (popping cork) fast because trout like the quick action.”
Said Lucas: “Trout and redfish get a little deeper during the day. When fishing jigs, look for slight drop offs like where you go from 1 foot to 3 feet right off the bank, or from 3 feet to 5 feet. You want to be bouncing it off the bottom quickly.”
The two are always looking for signs of baitfish.
“If we’re fishing the morning, we go fish the inlets and see if there are any mullet hopping,” Troutman said. “If there are mullet hopping we’ll throw topwater until about 8:30 a.m., but if there’s a lot of cloud cover we’ll fish it until 9:30 or 10.”
Lucas’ favorite top water is a bone Heddon Super Spook Jr. Troutman favors a MirrOlure Top Dog the color of the mullet swimming in Graveline, which can vary slightly due to water conditions.
At the first stop, Lucas and Troutman picked up a few specs but weren’t satisfied with the size so Lucas hauled anchor and Troutman headed south.
The next stop was at the southern end of a long stretch where Troutman slowed and pointed the boat back north. He ran to the southern end of the stretch to let the light southerly breeze and the incoming tide push us back up the bayou. Using this method is a necessity without a trolling motor but it also allows for a quieter drift — no trolling motor hum or boat slap going against the current, just a slow steady drift.
To steer, Troutman stood on the rear bench seat with one foot on the outboard tiller handle and used the foot of the motor as a rudder.
“I like to drift fish when the wind is out of the north or out of the south, depending on the current or tides,” Troutman said. “I prefer to drift fish because I can cover more ground than I do anchoring.”
Lucas offered some sage advice to fishing new water any angler could benefit from, whether it’s your first trip to Graveline, Back Bay Biloxi or the Pearl River Basin.
“On my free time I’ll go on Google Maps and look at my planned body of water,” Lucas said. “What I look for, start along the bank and you’ll see a constant color, a light brown, and you’ll see that for a couple hundred yards and then you’ll see the water start to get darker. It could be darker water color change but usually it’s a drop off. Sometimes you’ll see holes; it’ll be lighter then you’ll see dark holes in the middle of them.
“Google Earth on your computer, you can go back in time and look at old maps and you’ll see where some areas have eroded or new areas where silt has built up. Once you map out each of these areas you can go from the launch to point A, point B. You’ll map out, we’ll start here and this is where we’ll end up, and if we’re not getting anything we’ll head back.”
Map study, along with hours on the water has allowed Lucas and Troutman to keep the fish dialed in on Graveline. A keen eye and paying attention to their jig while trolling has allowed the pair to map out numerous drop offs, holes, and abundant patches of oysters in their favorite bayou.
“You sometimes see oyster shells lying along the banks,” Lucas said. “If there’s shells along the bank there’s most likely shells out from the bank.”
On their drift north Troutman kept a cast and a half away from the bank.
“Drift the channel but fish the edge of the deeper water because the trout are going to be a little deeper,” Troutman said. “You’re looking for anything that’s going to hit the water. If you see a mullet, a big mullet, not a little baby mullet, throw a jig in there. A lot of people don’t think trout or redfish hang around big mullet, but they do. Sometimes they eat them, I’ve seen it happen before.
“If you see mullet hopping you can also throw a MirrOlure Catch 2000 or a (Paul Brown) Corky in there, work it slowly and you’ll probably get a hit.”
“As long as there’s fish hopping, and you can find mullet schools, you’ll find fish,” he said. “It may be a little too early for pogey, but if they’re there, there’s fish.”
The duo fishes primarily with artificial lures but won’t hesitate to fish with live bait. They look for the same areas to fish with live bait as they do artificials.
“You can free-line mullet or shrimp,” Troutman said. “You can see those popping along the bank and use a cast net to catch them. Fish the areas where the oysters are or you can just drift the channel, if you see bait hopping along the bank you can fish the banks also. Try to fish shells if you can find them.”
Lucas has the most confidence in live shrimp.
“If you have live shrimp you’ll catch a limit,” Lucas said. “Live shrimp under a popping cork with a small pinch weight; just throw it out there and drift in the channel and you’ll have trout on. You have mostly school trout, usually nothing bigger than 18-inches, but you can still get a limit.”
A lot of coast fishermen think Graveline only holds trout and redfish in the winter. Troutman and Lucas have success fishing it all year, whether chasing trout, reds, flounder or white trout, they always manage to put fish in the boat.
Follow their lead and give Graveline a try this month. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you catch and you’ll definitely save a few dollars on fuel.