For Mississippi's saltwater anglers, the month of October provides primetime angling, and that's especially true for those who prefer protected inshore bays and rivers.

It's a time of transition for many coastal saltwater species, and with schools of fish heading into the inshore waters looking for protection from the approach of winter's chill, an angler with a bit of inshore knowledge can usually reap the rewards of hefty creels.

One of the Magnolia State's most noted inshore fisheries is the Back Bay of Biloxi, and starting in the cooler weather of October, action can be outstanding for a variety of species, including speckled trout, redfish, white trout, ground mullet, sheepshead, flounder and black drum. They all gather in large numbers, and use the many structures, cuts, islands, oyster reefs and bayous associate with the bay as their feeding stations.

A time of fattening up for the coming of winter is now at hand, and with fish gorging themselves on shrimp, menhaden, crabs, mullet, croakers, pinfish and various other baitfish, it's easy pickings for anglers willing to explore the big bay and wet a line.

Running in an east to west direction, the bay is approximately 5½ miles in length. The mouth of the bay is at its eastern end where it dumps into Biloxi Bay, a site where the Highway 90 Biloxi/Ocean Springs bridge spans its 1¼-mile gap.

Back on the bay's western entrance, another ¾-mile span of concrete pilings known as the Pops Ferry Bridge marks its westernmost boundary.

In between these two bridge boundaries, an array of fishing haunts including islands, flats, coves, oyster-encrusted piers and concrete powerline bases, oyster reefs, deep holes, rock piles, cuts, bridges, deep channels, coves, rubble piles and bayous provide numerous hotspots for anglers to seek out the big bay's gamesters.

Bird is the word

Anglers fishing the bay during October should always be on the lookout for flocks of gulls feverishly working the surface. The key here is spotting the large gulls; below them, shrimp will be jumping for their lives. Underneath the shrimp, massive schools of speckled trout and white trout will be scouring the bottom chasing the crustaceans to the surface, and when this occurs it's easy pickings for the opportunistic angler.

Although a live shrimp, menhaden, mullet or croaker tossed into the surface melee will draw strikes, a fake bait like a soft-plastic Cocahoe, Norton Shad, D.O.A. Shrimp or Salt Water Assassin will generally get the job done. A slow-sink jerkbait such as a model 52M MirrOlure, Yo-Zuri Crystal Vibe, Rattl'n Vibe or Live Bait Shallow Vibe is an effective offering too.

At times try tossing a top-water bait such as a MirrOlure Top Dog or She Dog, Zara Pup or Yo-Zuri 3D Popper through the surface action. Often the noisy topwater plugs will draw the attention of bigger fish lurking below.

When this action occurs during a strong rising or falling tide, the competition below will generally draw a strike from any type of bait caught up in the feeding frenzy.

For best results, try to stay behind the moving mass of fish, and keep just within casting distance of the action. Here, anglers with trolling motors have the advantage of stealth, and can follow the feeding fish, picking them off one by one.

At times, try going with a heavy jighead (¾-ounce) on the soft-plastic bait to get the bait down quicker to the bigger specks that often lurk closer to the bottom.

Although birds in the air are tell-tale signs of fish below, a group of birds setting on the water are promising omens too. Often large groups of birds will be detected just sitting calmly on the surface, but make no mistake about it, there are generally fish under the resting birds. A wise angler will often stay back and wait for the birds to detect the next shrimp being chased relentlessly to the surface, and then proceed to follow the trail of fish below and gulls above.

If the birds disappear, it's always prudent to scan the area for fish slicks, another method of locating schools of feeding trout. As fish below gorge themselves on shrimp and menhaden, it's common for them to often regurgitate their stomach contents, and this creates an oily sheen on the surface. Besides actually seeing the slicks, a keen angler will often catch their scent before they're spotted.

The aroma can be quite distinctive, resembling the sweet smell of watermelon or the scent of menhaden oil, so keep your nose to the wind at all times.

One can never tell for sure where bird action may occur in the Back Bay of Biloxi, but there are a few areas noted for consistent bird activity. One of those areas is along the bay's northern shoreline from the mouth of Fort Bayou running westerly down to the mouth of St. Martin Bayou. The large, shallow flats just to the south of that area can be a hotspot too, and a large rubble pile north of the Train Bridge Island will draw hot bird fishing as well.

Another promising sector is the northern shoreline from Ravine Canne running westerly down toward O'Neal Point. The bay's main channel runs somewhat parallel to this area, and hordes of hungry trout often come into these shallower waters and seek out the tasty shrimp.

By the way, this area is a favorite for anglers who like to slow troll for specks, and produces fish consistently during the cooler months. Anglers with small skiffs and outboards generally practice the slow-trolling technique. Slow-trolling takes a bit of patience, but those who have the will to slowly cover ground can catch some really nice fish at a laid-back pace.

The large cove known as Magnolia Bend located on the bay's north side is another generally well-protected area that attracts bird activity. Along its western shore, a channel holds deeper water, while its north end and eastern side are much shallower. Anglers working the old piers along its western shore with live shrimp under popping corks can catch some quality specks and redfish; however, its much shallower north end attracts bottom-rooting redfish and some hefty flounder. Bottom line, no matter where you are, always be alert and scanning the bay for bird activity and smelly slicks.

Bottom fishing

One sure-fire method of catching most any species that inhabits the Back Bay of Biloxi is the age-old art of bottom fishing. Go down the list: redfish, black drum, flounders, sheepshead, white trout, ground mullet and even the highly-prized speckled trout prowl on or near the bay's silty bottom, oyster beds and oyster-encrusted structure for an easy meal.

An extremely effective Carolina-rig is rigged in this fashion. First slip a small bead on the main line, follow up with a ¼- to ¾-ounce bullet weight, another bead, and then make a small surgeon's loop on the tag end. Next, a bristol knot attaches the leader, a 6- to 14-inch length of 20- to 30-pound-test Seaguar Fluorocarbon, to the loop. Now finish up the leader's tag end with a 1/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Hook, and you're ready to take on the Back Bay of Biloxi's many gamesters.

By hooking on a live shrimp, bull minnow or menhaden, this rig will fool any unsuspecting redfish, speckled trout or flounder. However, thread on a fresh, dead shrimp or piece of squid, and species like white trout, sheepshead, ground mullet and black drum are sure to be added to your creel.

Within the bay, there are numerous areas to toss such a rig, but there are a few areas that often deliver consistent catches of fish. At the bay's western end along the east side of the Pops Ferry Bridge, there are a number of islands and cuts, and by fishing these points and gaps of moving water, specks, flounder and especially those hard-fighting redfish like to prowl these ambush points for a meal.

Popping corks rigged with a 4- to 5-foot length of fluorocarbon leader with a live bait underneath are deadly rigs for specks, but it's smart to keep a Carolina-rig close to the bottom as well for reds and flounders seeking baitfish below.

Closer to the northern end of the bridge one can find the majority of the cuts. Again, try and time your fishing of these areas when the tide is either rising or falling at a good rate for best results.

Another area that provides diverse fishing is generally referred to as the "Power Lines." This is where large power lines span the bay, and start at its southern side out from the Veterans Administration Center, then running across to the bay's northern shore. A couple of its large concrete bases set into the bay, and species like redfish, sheepshead and black drum often take up residence around the barnacle-encrusted pilings.

One of the bases is located on the south side of the island north of the Veterans Administration. Here, anglers dropping down Carolina-rigs baited up with live or fresh shrimp have the opportunity to do battle with bait-stealing sheepshead, black drum or redfish. Since this base is located extremely close to the channel, it's constantly attracting new fish moving up and down the bay.

At times, by casting out into the channel from the structure, white trout can be caught too, and back along the bay's southern shore a bit to the east, an old, dilapidated pier's pilings provide excellent fishing at times. Located near a bend in the channel, the oyster-encrusted pilings attract sheepshead, black drum and redfish, and by fishing out toward the channel, it's often possible to nail some really big yellow-mouth white trout.

A killer bait for those bigger-than-average white trout is live menhaden, and a small-meshed brill net can catch all an angler needs. There should still be plenty of menhaden in the bay during October, and by looking for nervous water in calm areas like coves and bayous, one cast will usually deliver more than one needs for a morning on the water.

Just off Goat Island's western point lies a man-made rubble pile, and at times on a moving tide, specks, white trout and ground mullet will gather on the rocky debris. Bottom rigs baited with live or fresh shrimp or fresh squid will fool the bottom-dwellers. Of course, live bait will be your best bet to fool the specks. Plus, the isle's inner flats hold redfish and flounder too, and baits like soft plastics and spinnerbaits will draw the interest of prowling reds.

Another prime area to soak a bottom bait is south of the I-110 drawbridge. Four and five spans to its south and east side, excellent fishing for white trout and ground mullet can occur, and now and then, a nice redfish or speckled trout will add to the mix. In this area, a channel of 12 feet or so runs along the bridge's eastern side, and back to the east, it shallows into a flat of 7 to 9 feet. At times, fish may be congregated in the channel or more on the flats. For best results, it's wise to move about the area a bit in order to locate schooling fish.

More to the south side of the bay to the east of the I-110 bridge is the old Back Bay Bridge, and much of its concrete structure is now underwater due to Hurricane Katrina. However, for fishermen, it's a blessing because the large masses of concrete attract sheepshead, black drum and flounders, as well as specks and reds. Live or fresh shrimp will catch most of the residents here, and there is plenty of underwater structure to try fishing around.

Back on the opposite side of the bay just off the western tip of Little Island is an old rock pile and power-line pilings. On a good falling or rising tide, this site can produce a hot bite for redfish and black drum with an occasional speck, ground mullet or flounder thrown in the creel. David's Fishing Camp is located just a stone's throw away to the north of these fishing grounds.

Another popular bottom fishing area lies in the old channel that runs east to west between Big Island and the bay's northern shoreline. Two of the most popular holes are located between Big Island and Avery Point and Big Island and Langley Point. If the bite is hot, you'll see boats anchored up in the open water between the island and the mainland. Generally, this channel will attract some of those late-season yellow-mouthed white trout with a mix of nice ground mullet thrown in, too.

Anyone with a small skiff is capable of exploring all the many fishing grounds the protected waters of this lengthy bay have to offer.