Word had obviously spread about the huge schools of baitfish congregated in one bay in the heart of the Biloxi Marsh, about six miles south of Waveland.
Ours was the first boat there shortly after sunrise, and we were already well on the way to filling our fish box with nice speckled trout and the occasional drag-peeling redfish.
Then we saw a line of boats coming.
“Here they come,” said Tommy Sutton, who was standing on the front deck of his 22-foot Blazer Bay boat, his foot on the trolling motor. “Look at them — one, two, three and there’s a fourth boat — coming straight at us.”
Sutton wasn’t surprised.
“That’s typical for April in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “Where you find baitfish you will find gamefish, and, obviously, where you find specks and reds you will find fishermen.
“It’s about to get crowded up in here.”
Soon there were five boats in the half-mile-long, shallow, clear and fish-filled waters of the bay off Bob’s Bayou. Fortunately, the area held enough fish and had enough room for all to stay busy with bent rods.
Being first there, we cherry-picked the prime spot just off a point where the marsh bank made a 90-degree turn. We poled down and Sutton had his boat perfectly positioned for us to fish both banks beyond the point, offering us shots at the schools of trout just offshore and reds on the grass line.
“Look at that: You can see the boils of fish in the water,” our captain said. “You can actually see the trout feeding. When they move on baitfish, they churn up the bottom. You don’t have to look for the bait; just look for the mud boils.”
With simple 3/16-ounce lead jigheads with soft-plastic cocahoe minnow grubs in a clear body with red and blue glitter — a pattern called firecracker — we were getting a nice speck on every cast, when we could throw right into a spot with a fresh mud boil.
You learned real quickly, too, to differentiate mud boils. A cast into a sudden boil that created a huge cloud, meant spending 20 to 30 minutes fighting a bull redfish on the light tackle. Smaller and multiple boils in an area usually meant trout, and if one guy hooked up anyone throwing in behind him could expect to be bitten.
Hooking up with a bull red created problems, beginning with the obvious of lost fishing time for the “unfortunate” angler. A particularly strong fish could swim through lines of other boats and create an even bigger mess.
We also spotted several schools of slot reds cruising the banks, and a cast along the edge of the grass near the point was about automatic.
It was that good, and it was clear why.
Every fish that hit the deck of Sutton’s boat brought with it evidence of why the action was so fast and furious when it would regurgitate small minnows either on the deck or in the water beside the boat.
“Glass minnows — they’re so full of glass minnows that it’s a wonder they’d hit a lure,” one of our partners fishing between me and Sutton said. “It’s getting pretty slick down here, so be careful when you step down. There’s scores of those minnows down here.”
That was the key to the action and why there would eventually be eight boats, including several charter captains from both Mississippi and Louisiana ports, in that one small area.
“Glass minnow” is one of the nicknames for the common bay anchovy found in the Gulf of Mexico. Bay anchovy is an important baitfish, and its ability to spawn early is why millions of them were in the area that April day. They can spawn in 65- to 70-degree water, cooler than that needed for most small prey.
“That’s an important part of finding fish in April,” said Johnny Marquez of Biloxi, executive director for the Mississippi Coastal Conservation Association. “If you can find a good food source holding in an area, you’ve put yourself in a position to catch a box full of fish.
“This early in the year, finding trout consistently can be problematic. You can almost always find redfish feeding and holding somewhere in the marsh, but trout are in a period of transition from inshore to the beaches and outer marshes. When they’re transitioning, finding them concentrated is impossible unless you find a hotspot holding a food source.”
In conversations with the other captains in nearby boats, we learned that a week of continuous south winds had created this perfect scenario. Those southerly winds had pushed Gulf waters in, and when they hit the bank on the north side of the small bank it created a food chain that began with microscopic plankton and ended with reds and specks.
“All we need are days when that south wind is light enough that we can jump across the west end of the Mississippi Sound to get to the Biloxi Marsh,” one said.
That, too, said Marquez, is a factor in April action on the Gulf.
“The weather can be unpredictable, to say the least,” the CCA head said. “It’s a hit-and-miss deal. For every good day, it seems you get two that you simply just can’t deal with the wind in small craft. That’s part of it.”
But, he said, even on poor days there can be opportunities.
“One of the great things about April fishing is that a lot of the species, including the trout, are in that transition from the bays and estuaries to the front beaches and reefs,” Marquez said. “We start to see them on the front beaches, where the state has done a great job building the man-made reefs that hold fish. Some of them you can wade to from the shore.”
Alan Thomas of Gulfport has another answer.
“I like to fish the outside of the barrier islands, walking in the surf,” Thomas said. “I don’t always catch a lot of trout, but I catch my biggest specks I get every year in April on those beaches. Usually by the second week of the month I find big specks in the surf at Ship or Cat Island to the west, or even Horn and Petit Bois to the east.
“The (barrier) islands usually provide enough protection in any wind that I can make it across the sound, anchor on the north side and walk across the islands to the surf on the south side.”
And there are true gator trout swimming in those waters.
“In 2012, in April, I caught the biggest speck of my life on the south side of West Ship on a grub under a popping corn just after sunrise. I released her because she was healthy and full of eggs, but I think she’d have gone 10 pounds, easy,” Thomas said. “That same day, I caught two more I know would be over 8 (pounds). I keep only smaller ones for food, but that day I went home without one for dinner because I couldn’t catch one.
“I caught three fish — all over 8 (pounds) — and I call it the best wade trip I ever had.”
Thomas also likes to wade the front beaches from Gulfport west to Pass Christian, as well as just south of Waveland.
“In April, I just want to go, and when I don’t have the time to go the islands, I will carry my stuff down to the beaches, park along Highway 90 and walk over to the water,” he said. “I have a few favorite spots that I have very little competition with, so that means I usually avoid the artificial reefs. They produce fish, but I’m not just out there for the fishing but for the entire experience, and I prefer solitude or just the company of my brother or another friend.
“Last year (2014), I did good in this one stretch between Long Beach and Pass Christian, where I found a little trough that had about a drop of about a half a foot to a foot and it was holding fish. It was a few hundred yards long. I don’t know what caused the trough, but that little bit of change made a huge difference in the fishing. It was like a drop from 3 feet to 4 feet and the trout liked it.”
Thomas said the trough held fish through to the first week of June, before the trout moved and the trough suddenly disappeared.
“I guess it just filled in with the surf after a couple of storms blew in, but it was fun while it lasted,” he said. “Funny how it works. I’ve fished that area for over 10 years and never found that trough; then after it produced some great action for two months, it was gone.”