Capt. Tommy Sutton was idling down a break line off the south shore of Cat Island Friday, about 8 miles across the Mississippi Sound due south of Pass Christian.

“It’s 3 feet or less to the right and drops to 6 to the left, and the trout like to hold on that edge, feet in the shallows, and then when it’s right, they’ll move up on the beach to spawn,” said Sutton, a Columbia resident now living at the Rigolets near Slidell, La. “I haven’t fished it before, but that’s what my friend told me. He killed some good trout along this break line last week. They were still full of eggs.”

As the 22-foot Blue Wave moved along the drop, I saw a slick pop up about 50 yards ahead on the shallow side of the contour. I grabbed a jig head and grub and when we reached the slick I launched a cast where it had first appeared.

“Grass, thick grass,” I said. “Stop here. It’s just 2-3 feet deep there with grass. Perfect speckled trout habitat.”

Before the Power Pole hit the bottom, we spotted some nervous water on the south edge of the slick; a few seconds later, a small school of shrimp scattered and a fish broke in the middle.

It was a good 50 yards away.

“No problem,” said Patrick McDowell of Slidell. “I got this.”

Using a self-designed heavily weighed popping cork and a 7-foot medium heavy spinning rod, McDowell launched a cast that landed about 5 yards beyond where the fish had struck at the shrimp. He popped his cork once, twice … and then it shot out of sight.

“There it goes,” he said, pausing before pulling tight to pull the hook into fish flesh. Immediately, his reel screamed as it gave line to the drag gears.

“What the heck is that?” Sutton asked. “Redfish maybe?”

A minute later, I spotted the flash of silver as McDowell brought the fish near the back of the boat, and I immediately screamed for Sutton to get me the net.

“That’s a speck. It’s a big trout; get me the net,” I said.

A few seconds later, McDowell was holding the 22-inch, 4-pound trout in his hands. 

“Biggest, I’ve ever caught,” he said.

He then matched it on three of his next four casts, while the other two of us were scrambling to match the heavy-cork rig.

Before we ran out of shrimp, the spot had produced about 75 trout bites, about 60 of which would have been legal keepers in Louisiana (12-inch minimum) but only 12 were Mississippi legal (15 inches).

The key was grass just above the drop. The spot held a good supply of bait, which attracted a school of specks. We were getting hits on every cast. The bigger fish were on the shallow side of the grass (closest to the island).

“I designed that cork to allow me to make very long casts,” McDowell said. “I have a bigger boat that drafts too much water where I redfish in the marshes and in Lakes Bourne and Catherine. To reach the cuts and pockets where redfish hang, I had to have something I could really hum.”

It sure worked on the trout, too.

That night, when we cleaned the 12 biggest fish, every one was a female and every one was full of roe. Next morning when we returned to the same grass bed, the fish were gone; thanks, you fickle fishing Gods.

Turns out they hadn’t gone far. They had moved up on the beaches and were found in big numbers. Instead of shrimp, they wanted croakers.

“A friend of mine who has a camp north of Bay St. Louis called and said he had killed the big trout, all from 3 to 5 pounds, all full of eggs on the west tip of Cat Island by using croakers, the same day we struck out,” Sutton said. “He used croakers by accident because the bait shop was out of shrimp. He got croakers instead and now he’s glad he did.”

The fisherman and his partner had limited out on big specks fishing in 2 feet of water and less in the surf just north of the west tip of Cat. All of their fish measured 20 inches or more.

With further research, I found that croakers are popular with fishermen targeting big spawning fish.

“The small trout, the hardheads (catfish) and all those other small critter fish will eat up your shrimp but they won’t hit the croakers,” said Johnny Carter, a surf-fishing veteran from Biloxi. “Only the big sow trout and the big males will eat them.”

Mid July seems like a late time for spawning speckled trout, but Carter said he’s caught them “with eggs in the surf at Cat Island in early August before,” but added he’s yet to figure out what triggers a late spawn.

“I’ve just learned that it’s imperative to always check between May and July to see if they are still spawning,” Carter said. “The action’s so good when it is, I can’t risk not trying it.”