A light wind from the southeast rippled the surface of the steely, gray-blue water as Capt. Barry Brown eased his 19-foot bay boat into position. Beneath us, in the brackish waters of the lower Pascagoula River, swam both huge redfish and oversized speckled trout.

My son, John, and I were fishing with Brown in late April. I had dreamed of fishing the river's mouth ever since I had float-fished some of its headwaters in East Mississippi in my youth. Interestingly, the Pascagoula and its tributaries form the last remaining complete river system in the country that is free of dams, levees or channelization. It is free to flood and recede unimpeded by man's interference.

How did we know we were in big-fish habitat? A few days earlier, Brown had landed a 25- pound redfish on his bass tackle.

"The hurricane brought the big redfish in here from the Gulf, and they stayed," he said.

Also, the word had gotten around that specks ran bigger here than in most of the marsh elsewhere along the Gulf of Mexico.

"You won't catch as many limits of trout here," said Brown, "but the fish will be bigger."

We found this to be true that very day.

Brown grew up fishing the wetlands around Pascagoula and Moss Point.

"This is a relatively undiscovered marsh," he said.

Sure enough, fishing on a Monday, we saw only one other angler - Brown's father. We watched as he landed a flounder, a fish often appearing on strings taken by Brown's clients.

The most astonishing thing John and I learned was that Brown is the only licensed guide operating in the area. For a bass angler who lives for topwater action, a day with Brown is one to step up a few notches in the size of your catch and maybe even sprain a wrist on a big redfish.

We missed several big reds that blew up on our plugs, but just the strikes were worth our efforts.

Hurricane losses

Hurricane Katrina demolished Brown's boat dock. His home, just 50 yards from his dock, required extensive, expensive repairs. The house took precedent, and the new dock is only half finished. Brown's home is only a 5- minute run from the Choctaw Marina, where he picks up his clients.

The marina is an example of the hurricane damage suffered along the Gulf. The boat slips are all but destroyed, and none remain at the small marina. But the walkway along the water is sound, and due to the devastation, the launch area is not crowded.

Early morning departures are free of crowds. Brown's clients can drive right up to the boat. We were loaded and motoring away in 10 minutes. And we were fishing in another 10 minutes.

The marsh at the mouth of the Pascagoula was more beautiful than I had imagined, the water and the uncluttered skyline giving a distinctive clean, pristine look. The river can be navigated from its headwaters all the way to the coast line by canoe if one chooses.

Besides my nostalgic feelings about the tributaries that form the Pascagoula, I have long been taken with the legends associated with this river.

Before the country was settled by Europeans, it is said that members of the Pascagoula Indian tribe locked arms and walked together into the river's current and drowned. The alternative was certain defeat by an enemy tribe, the Biloxis. This is just one of several legends that seek to explain the disappearance of the Pascagoulas from Southeast Mississippi. Most of the fables agree on the suicidal drownings, but there are varying stories about their reasons. Maybe it was fear of the Biloxi tribe - and maybe not.

But since the disappearance of the Pascagoulas, the river that bears their name emits a moaning sound resembling mournful singing. Many have heard the sounds that continue to this day. And so the Pascagoula is known as "The Singing River."

My son and I were on this historic estuary seeking some of the "blowup" strikes for which its specks and reds are known. John fished poppers on his fly rod before the sun and the breeze came up, and Brown and I worked Zara Spooks.

We caught the bite in a lull, and still we landed several 18- to 20-inch trout, larger than any I had caught on many other outings in the Gulf marshes. I remarked to Brown how pleased I was at the size of the trout. He said that he expected much larger ones. Recent catches had produced trout up to 4 pounds, and 3-pound fish are common. When those fat trout smash a walking Spook, the explosion matches the attack of a largemouth engulfing a surface plug.

Close call

A highlight of the day was when a 20-pound fish, likely a jack crevalle or redfish, motored in behind my Spook and barely missed taking the helpless lure. The giant fish was so close to our boat that when he missed the plug, his momentum carried him right to my feet.The fish had to duck under the boat to avoid a collision. His wake was something to see for three anglers armed with bass tackle and lightweight lines.

"You would have lost your lure to that one," Brown said.

The topwater bite around Pascagoula and Moss Point lasts year-round, but it usually slow in January and February. Many surface lures will work for both redfish and trout, but Brown's favorite is Heddon's Super Spook Junior. The walking motion works for both featured fish.

"Sometimes you can stop the Spook and trigger a strike," Brown said. "Also, a beginner who can't walk the lure will catch fish just twitching it along."

Brown is a fisherman, like many others, who is hooked on topwater fishing. He loves the blowups, so if his clients also happen to be surface-lure addicts, he enjoys seeing them cast and work the floating plugs. Often the topwater bite is early and late in the day, although some days will produce surface blowups all day long.

"I watch for some sign that the morning conditions have changed, sometimes just a subtle change that can indicate that the topwater bite has stopped or is likely to stop - a change in wind direction or tide movement or the sun popping out or just anything that is a change from the conditions when the fish are hitting surface plugs," Brown said. "For example, cloud cover tends to extend the morning bite or begin the evening bite earlier."

Brown's life-long experience helps him "feel" almost undetectable changes that mark the end of the morning surface bite.

The same or similar indicators apply late in the day when topwater action is likely to resume. Maybe it's the sun's angle on the water or a barometric variation or movement of bait fish. Brown suggests studying these changes to identify the best times to cast surface lures.

When the surface action slows, Brown recommends his anglers go to other artificials or to live bait. The artificial lure he uses almost exclusively is a jig head and plastic cocaho tail. Chartreuse is his favorite color for redfish, with avocado or other green hues being good choices. A darker tail is sometimes best for trout.

Some anglers who fish with Brown are more interested in catching and taking home fish than in the methods used to catch them. Brown is ready for them.

"I always have menhaden for bait when they are available," he said.

Called pogies by many fishermen, mehaden make up a huge percentage of the forage consumed by many fish well up the food chain, including white and speckled trout, redfish and flounder. Menhaden have been called the "breadbasket of the bay." They are an important converter of tiny, sometimes microscopic, planktonic animals and plants into their own flesh, which in turn is the natural food for larger fish.

When John and I fished there in April, there were millions of tiny menhaden in the river. They become mature enough by the end of May for use as bait. They are available until September or October depending on rainfall that brings fresh water to the marsh and other factors.

"There is no better bait for marsh fishing in the world than menhaden," said Brown, who catches them with a cast net. "Live menhaden will provide anglers with bigger boxes of fish than any other bait."

When menhaden are not available through late fall and winter, Brown carries cocaho minnows. These so-called "bull minnows" are easily caught in traps with crushed crab typically used as bait.

Anglers who want to take home a lot of fish will usually fish with live minnows. But if a school of feeding trout appears, Brown likes to cast the rigged jig for some fast action that can fill the ice box in a hurry.

Where are they?

Brown finds fish tight to the grass lines, small inlets, against structure and over underwater breaks such as dropoffs and extended points. In windy conditions, he advises fishing where the wind is driving baitfish into the grass line. Topwater lures are worked more aggressively when the water is choppy.

Another lifelong resident of the Gulf coast who uses light tackle for inshore fishing is Rod Dickson-Rishel. His successes with topwater lures for redfish and trout come with an Ambassador 550 reel, 10-pound test line, light rod and a MirrOlure with red head and white body. He "walks" the MirrOLure the same way Brown fishes a Zara Spook, and he varies his retrieves by simply popping it with a slow retrieve.

"I use tackle more suited to casting than to catching fish," said Dickson-Rishel. "When casting to a feeding fish, you need accuracy and often need distance."

His theory is that you have to hook one before you can catch it and he will take his chances with light tackle and line in favor of productive casts.

His favorite sinking lure is a white plastic Queen Cocahoe.

Dickson-Rishel has sound advice for anglers who go for specks and redfish in the marsh.

"Slow down. Slow your retrieve whether working topwater lures or jigs; whether you are fishing on top, at mid-depth or bumping the bottom. Some of these newer reels have gear ratios of 7:1, and it's easy to work the lure too fast," he said.

Recently, Dickson-Rishel saw some redfish in very clear water. He walked his lure past them twice without getting a strike. He tried a painfully slow retrieve and caught three of the fish.

Catching redfish and trout in the marshes is among the finest angling pleasures. And there is work under way to make it even better. The National Fish Habitat Action Plan, an initiative by the nation's leading authorities on aquatic conservation, is working on a project to benefit the fish in the Pascagoula tidal marsh. It is one of 10 projects across the nation conducted by federal, state and local partners. For information, contact Judy Steckler at 228-4365-9191.

Perhaps Hurricane Katrina is somewhat to blame, but the marsh at the mouth of the Pascagoula River appears to be underfished. It has moved to the top of my list of secret getaway spots where big, hungry fish are waiting for my next journey to the marshes of the Singing River.

For information on fishing the Pascagoula River marsh, see Barry Brown's website at www.MarshFishing.com or call him at 228-219-3281.