Guide Ronnie Daniels knows November to be a fickle, feast-or-famine fishing month on the waters of and connected to the Gulf of Mexico, off Mississippi’s coast.
“It’s a time when the fish know cold weather and winter is approaching, so they are feeding heavy to fatten up before it arrives,” Daniels said. “You’d think that would be a good thing for fishermen, and it often is, but it can be a double-edged sword.
“What you have to realize is that the fish, especially speckled trout, are always on the move, looking for a food source. Where you hammered them today, you can’t bank on that spot producing tomorrow. Trout will be constantly moving, and that’s the downside.”
Daniels, who operates Fisher-Man Guide Service out of Pass Christian (228-323-1115), looks forward to the transition period of most popular gamefish species that he targets. Speckled trout are his bread and butter and what keeps his popular operation in service.
He knows that his fall success is very dependent on weather. November is normally a month when Mississippi sees a revolving door of cold fronts, some severe and some not so bad. When Daniels sees or hears that one is on the way, he gets a bit excited, because he knows the trout are going to be in a feeding frenzy.
Fishing the fronts
“Watch for cold fronts and fish the front end of each front,” Daniels said. “The two or three days before a front hits can be good, but the best days are the day before it hits and the day it hits. The trout know it’s coming, and they go into a full-feeding mode.
“The barometer starts dropping a few days out, but is really falling fast the day before and the day the front hits. That triggers a bite, and the fish will move to shallow water and start looking for bait.”
Hit it hard and quick, if the weather allows, because the bite will not last.
“After the front passes, like the next day, you see the blue-bird sky conditions, and the barometer starts rising again,” Daniels said. “That will shut down the bite. Shallow water, cooler temperatures and high pressure will definitely slow it down.”
The first front of the season, combined with shortening days, will trigger the trout’s transition to a winter pattern. That means moving further back in the marsh or estuaries.
“By the time November gets here, the marsh will still have some of the white shrimp around that we fish in October,” Daniels said. “Trout start to push back further in the marsh where they will winter.”
Along the way, when trout find shrimp, they will stop and feed.
Daniels likes to find ambush points, where the trout will hold to ambush shrimp as they move in and out on rising and falling tides and where fishermen can position themselves to ambush the specks.
“I like to look for shallow feeding areas next to deep water,” he said. “If you are in a big canal or bayou and find a spot where a smaller bayou drains into it, it is likely to have deeper water and a mixing current.
“That can be an ideal ambush point. When the bait is pulled out on a falling tide, for example, the mixing currents from the smaller bayou and the bigger one will keep everything stirring. It promotes a feeding frenzy. On the other side of the tide, as it rises, you can position yourself up in the smaller bayou and ambush the fish as they follow the bait back in.”
Daniels described several other ambush places.
“The outside bends in the sharpest bends of a bayou will present the deepest water, where trout like to hold,” he said. “Bays, lakes and ponds can present perfect ambush spots where a bayou enters. That’s where the trout will move in and out following bait.”
Switching to reds
While Daniels is predominantly a trout maniac, he knows there are better options on some days.
“There are days when I know the trout bite is not going to be good, like high-pressure days, and that’s when I consider switching to redfish,” Daniels said. “I love fishing for reds. They are the most resilient fish we have in the Gulf. They can tolerate lower salinity than trout, dirtier and colder water, and keep right on biting.
“Plus, a lot of places we fish for reds in the fall, like small ponds or lakes, the wind does not impact us as much as where we would be fishing for trout. Those lakes and ponds have a lot of vegetation, too, and that helps filter the water, keeping it clean and more suitable for holding fish.”
Daniels’ November redfish holes can vary from coastal rivers and estuaries, like the Jordan River at Bay St. Louis and the Pearl River on the Louisiana border, to the ponds and lakes in the Biloxi Marsh on the west end of the Mississippi Sound. If the weather allows him to cross open water, he likely chooses the less-pressured marsh.
“There are a lot of ponds and lakes that hold redfish, and unlike trout, which are less tolerant, reds will move and stay shallower longer looking for food,” Daniels said. “One of the few things that really excites me is sight-fishing for redfish, and that’s something you can do a lot of in the fall.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still love finding and catching trout and seeing my customers have fun, but I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s hard to get excited about my actually fishing. Redfish can get my motor running when I see them pushing water, or finning, and then trying to hook one.”
Fall is an excellent time to find schools of reds, both keepers (within the 18- to 30-inch slot) or bull reds (powerful fighters that you catch and release), cruising the beaches of barrier islands or the edges of the marsh, like the north shore of the Biloxi Marsh in Lake Bourne, where a Louisiana license is required.
“You can get on a school cruising a beach and stay on it for hours,” said Tommy Sutton, the Columbia native who retired and moved to the Rigolets in Louisiana for access to redfish. “They will move in a mass along a shoreline and then pop into cuts and coves and the water can turn red with them.
“That’s when it can get crazy. The whole time we’re fishing them, though, we keep an eye out for birds working a little more offshore, and that’s a sign of either another school of reds or a school of trout. Either one is a win.”
Live bait ‘wastes time’
Rare is the time Daniels will choose live bait over plastics in the fall, regardless of what species he’s chasing.
“Wastes time,” he said, quite matter of factly. “In November, when you find a school of trout or reds, they’re usually in a feeding mood. You can catch them on plastics as good as you can on shrimp or minnows.
“Actually, you can catch them quicker. Think about it. With live bait, you can sling one off on a cast or you can miss a fish and lose your shrimp or minnow. Even if you catch a fish, you have to get another bait. Meanwhile, the guy on the other end of the boat throwing plastics has caught two or three fish while you were getting a shrimp. If the fish are feeding, you need to keep a bait in the water, and plastics allow that. Nine times out of 10, they will hit plastics.”
That 10th time, however, is why Daniels usually carries live bait.
“There are those days when I know it’s going to be tough, when the odds are stacked against us, like pressure, tide or water clarity,” he said. “That’s when you may have to fall back on live bait. But a lot of time, especially on colder days, you can still use plastics by slowing down your presentation.
When targeting trout, Daniels usually employs a soft-plastic imitation shrimp or minnow under a cork.
“A Matrix Shad or Voodoo Shrimp in the fall under a popping cork, that’s where we generally start on trout,” he said. “I also will opt for a bigger profile, soft-plastic swimbait like a Mambo Mullet. The bigger profile of the mullet gives them more bang for their buck, even if they are feeding on shrimp. You swim what looks like a big finger mullet through there, and they will nail it.”
For redfish, Daniels and Sutton both like soft plastics, often as the trailer on a spinnerbait.
“A good place to start on redfish is a jighead with a plastic grub with a piece of shrimp on it,” Daniels said. “The most used is the Berkeley Gulp on a quarter-ounce jighead with or without a cork. I like a swimming shad and then a curlytail on a spinnerbait.”
Sutton always starts with a spinnerbait.
“I like the Redfish Magic by Strike King, and lately I’ve been catching fish on Strike King’s new Trout Magic,” he said. “The Trout Magic resembles the old Road Runner, in that the spinner is on the underside of the lure, and it is a small diamond-shaped spinner. It doesn’t put off a lot of vibration or flash, but enough of both to attract the attention of a fish.
“The Redfish Magic works on actively feeding redfish, but the Trout Magic will catch lethargic fish if you get it in front of them and then hop it off the bottom. That little flash from the small blade works. They both work.”
If he finds reds in a grassy pond, Daniels rigs soft plastics without a weight and swims them over and/or through the vegetation. Redfish, he said, “can’t stand that; they have to crash it.”
Slow it down
One thing Daniels is adamant about is how he presents a lure or bait to trout in cold weather.
“We usually get one or two cold fronts that really drop the temperatures quickly in November and that slows everything down in a fish’s behavior,” he said. “That’s when fishermen have to slow it down, too.
“Even if you are fishing a popping cork, you have to slow down. Don’t always pop it. Just let it ride on the current or the wind. Same thing with a Carolina rig — slow it down. Just cast it out and let it sit or work with whatever current is moving.”
Colder weather also is a time to seek out the deeper holes, and this holds for both trout and reds.
“Put on a quarter-ounce jighead and a soft-plastic grub and throw it into the deeper holes,” Daniels said. “Fish hold deep in cold water, but if given a chance they will eat.”
Flatfish, in reverse
Flounder are great November targets, but oddly enough, they are in a reverse transition than other species.
Flounder move from shallow to deep water for the winter, but their transition them puts them in catchable waters in November.
“Shallow flats, with some kind of cover — either rocks, stumps or grass patches or anything — will hold flounder,” said Robert Early McDaniel of WhipaSnapa Charters in Biloxi (228-229-6928). “We like to fish the rock jetties off the beaches and harbors, especially the areas where you can find directed current, water that the jetties push across a specific shallow area. Put a piece of shrimp down there and try it.
“One thing my wife loves is a flounder, and she will basically put in an order for one on fall trips. I usually can oblige.”
One popular method for flounder that is used by catfish anglers is a play off a Carolina rig. Use a half-ounce or bigger weight above a swivel, and have about 18 to 24 inches of 25-pound fluorocarbon leader line tied to a circle or Kahle hook. Between the swivel and hook, use a small bream or crappie Styrofoam float to help float the bait just off the bottom. Cast, let it settle to the bottom, and, when needed, slowly reel the line keeping the weight on the bottom. Flounders lie still on the bottom with both eyes looking up for a meal, so one floating past just over its head is hard to resist.
Then all you need is a little butter, a little lemon, salt, pepper and a hot broiler, and voila — a wonderful alternative Thanksgiving dinner.