Sometimes it helps when you have no idea what you’re doing. To wit: Speckled trout can’t be caught in a bayou considerably north of Interstate 10, and bream shouldn’t be smacking crickets in the waning days of December.
But a recent trip to the Mississippi coast proved that not knowing those rules can produce plenty of meat of both species for the table.
I scheduled my trip with long-time buddy and Mississippi Sportsman columnist Sam Davis after seeing numerous photos of 18- to 25-inch trout working through his Facebook feed. He readily agreed to the trip, even offering to kick his youngest son Thomas to the couch so I could have a place to crash the night before we fished.
Davis had been catching limits of specks at a time when four or five fish would make most Mississippi anglers proud.
But he never mentioned the bayou we’d be fishing in, and swore me to secrecy so he wouldn’t be swamped with competition — although the same tactics can catch fish in pretty much all of the coastal bayous and rivers.
How did bream work into this story? Well, while discussing plans, I was surprised when he told me to bring my bream gear — Davis said he’d been wanting to learn how I catch so many bream using slip corks, and he promised plenty of action right on top of his speckled trout hotspot.
“I can catch specks, bass, bream and catfish all in the same spot,” Davis said.
Sounded a lot like fishing the mouth of the Mississippi River, where the fresh water of the Old Muddy and the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico mix to brew a fish-filled concoction that keeps anglers busy year round.
And he said the colder and nastier the weather, the better the bite would get.
So we scheduled the trip — and, right on cue, my well-known black cloud shifted to the Mississippi coast, determined to rain on our fun. Air temperatures spiked into the 70s and rainfall pushed up the bayou's water levels significantly.
I was expecting to fish just off the coast. But when we left his Ocean Springs home Monday morning, Davis pointed his truck away from the Gulf, and minutes later we passed beneath I-10.
When we arrived at our launching point north of the interstate, Davis was muttering to himself about the poor visibility.
To be honest, there was plenty of visibility — at least 2 feet. But Davis said there had been about 8 feet of gin-clear water there only days before.
But we motored to the spot and began working bends in the bayou with MirrOlure MirrOdines, Rapala X-Raps and Z-Man Trout Ticks.
The action was considerably slower than it had been, but it didn’t take long to prove there were definitely trout in the area. I had a few follow my MirrOdine all the way to the boat, and we both missed a couple of fish.
When the first fish was hooked, it was on an X-Rap I was snatching through the water — but it was just slapping at the bait, a fact attested to by the fact that it was hooked on the side of the face.
Davis boated another decent trout on a Trout Trick, and we soon had a handful of keepers cooling in the ice slush.
Key to getting the trout bite was finding bends that held plenty of depth.
“Some of these holes are 25 feet deep,” Davis said. “The trout are right in the middle.”
He said the MirrOdines should be fished with very subtle twitches to give the slow-sinking lures some tantalizing action.
“They usually hit on the pause,” he said.
On the other hand, X-Raps should be jerked aggressively because they are billed and it takes some real movement out of the baits.
“You want to really pop them,” Davis said.
The Z-Man Trout Trick, rigged on a jighead, was simply worked along the bottom in a series of sharp hops.
While we were catching a few fish, our success was far from the hot action of the previous weeks.
So, with a weather system spawning a tornado watch moving in from the coast, Davis decided he wanted me to show him how I fish for bream back in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin.
We moved around a bend, just a few hundred yards away, to a riprap-fronted bulkhead Davis said had been holding bream that could be seen in the clear water.
I broke out two light-action spinning rigs that were already rigged up with slip corks and light jigheads while Davis dug out a box of crickets.
Two casts in, I hooked a hand-sized bluegill. A couple of casts later, Davis was wrestling a bream to the boat.
It was on, and we worked the wall back and forth to catch more than 20 fish in short order, throwing back the smaller fish.
Honestly, there’s not much to the bream rig: It's just a bobber stopper above a slip cork and a 1/16-ounce or lighter jighead on which a cricket was threaded.
It’s a rig that has proved deadly to all bream in my home waters — but I have never even tried fishing them this late in the year.
There seemed to be two keys to our success Monday: Using a 1/16-ounce jig to get the cricket down to where the bream where holding and fishing deep. It didn’t take long to figure out most of the fish were about 3 feet deep.
And that’s the magic of the slip-cork rigs: You can fish as deep as you need to while being able to cast because the bobber stopper just reels right through the rod eyes and the cork slides to the jig.
We only spent about 30 minutes targeting bream because lightning was flashing and the skies were progressively growing angrier.
But we finished out the day with a handful of nice trout and 15 big bream.