March is a transition month on the Gulf Coast, and weather and water temperatures will have a direct effect on what type of fish you can catch during the beginning and at the end of the month.

March speckls

"If the Gulf Coast has cold weather through the end of February, the speckled trout will move deeper into the marsh and won't come out to their normal spring and summer haunts until the end of March or the middle of April," said Capt. Sonny Schindler of Shore Thing Charters in Bay St. Louis. "However, if we get some really warm weather this month, and the water temperature reaches between 68 and 72 degrees, the trout will begin to leave the marsh and move out into the edges. Then you'll catch them closer to the Gulf.

"The best way to find the trout is to start fishing deep in the marsh, if the weather's really cold, and then start backing out of the marsh toward the Gulf until you find them. If we've had really warm weather, I'll start fishing in the bays and then move into the marsh until I locate the trout."

Another problem you may have this month, especially at the first of the month, is finding live bait to buy. Schindler suggests fishermen check with marinas like Bay Marina (228-466-4970; www.baymarina.com) and Bordages Marina to find out if they have live shrimp or live bull minnows (killifish).

"At the beginning of the month, if the weather's been cold, the shrimp may not have moved out of the marsh," Schindler says. "But you still may be able to find bull minnows.

"If I can't locate live bait, I'll use my cast net to catch finger mullet or any type of small baitfish running the shoreline."

Even though Schindler catches quite a few speckled trout, redfish, black drum and flounder using artificial lures during March, he always prefers to carry live bait with him to help find the fish and determine how they're biting.

"If the fish are biting aggressively, then I'll switch to soft-plastics and see if I can get the trout to take the plastic," he said. "But if they're not biting aggressively, more than likely I'll stay with the live bait."

Schindler prefers the Killa Squilla, a shrimp and minnow imitation soft-plastic bait by Marsh Works (www.marsh-works.com), a lure company based in Hattiesburg.

"One of my favorite colors for the Killa Squilla is croakaine," Schindler said. "These lures are clear with gold flake and resemble croakers.

"I also like the Killa Squilla in the opening night color."

 

Sheepshead, redfish, black drum

More than likely, at the beginning of March, the fish on the Mississippi Coast still will be on their winter patterns, which means you can catch plenty of sheepshead around the bridges, the oyster bars and any type of structure. The redfish also will be in strong, as well as the black drum.

"Black drum really get a bad rap," Schindler explains. "Just like the red drum (redfish), the black drum is delicious to eat.

"You can catch and keep the smaller black drum, known as puppy drum, weighing from 5 to 6 pounds or less. In many of the restaurants, you'll be eating black drum, because they're a delicious fish to eat, and you can't really tell the difference between the taste of black drum and redfish.

"Also, sheepshead will be no problem this month. We'll catch gorilla-sized sheepshead at the first of March, often weighing as much as 10 pounds. So, even if the weather is still cool, and the speckled trout haven't come out of the marsh, we still have plenty of great fish to catch and eat here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

 

Middle to end of March

As the weather heats up, the trout will start moving out of the marsh and into the bays. The first places they'll usually show up is anywhere you find oyster reefs, which act like rocks and absorb heat. They're the first places the baitfish show up on in the bays.

"Anytime the water temperature gets between 68 and 72 degrees, we expect to see that migration of trout out of the marsh and into the bays," Schindler said. "To find the trout when the water temperature is right, look for the bait (you often can see it on the surface) and for diving birds."

Schindler runs to the Biloxi Marsh early in the month to find and catch most of his fish.

"That run gets harder to make, because I know I'm driving past some excellent fishing spots," he said. "The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources has built plenty of fishing reefs that are loaded with speckled trout, redfish and flounder. These reefs are holding more baitfish and sportfish every year. The reefs in Hancock County are getting harder for me to drive past every morning to go across and into the marsh.

"Not only do these reefs have plenty of fish on them, but they're only a few yards off the beach. Some days I'll have to run 80 miles, when instead, I can run only 1/2-mile to these reefs and be fishing.

"The only problem I have with these reefs is they work too well, and everybody knows about them. So they do receive quite a bit of fishing pressure. However, there's not as much fishing pressure early in the season and there's even less early in the morning."

If you don't know where to fish when you come to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, go to www.dmr.state.ms.us/ to learn where you easily can find and catch a good mess of fish. You can learn more about these reefs and their locations at www.dmr.state.ms.us/Fisheries/Reefs/artificial-reefs.htm.

To fish with Capt. Sonny Schindler, call 228-342-2295 or 228-342-2206 or email capt_mike@shorethingcharters.com.