Fishing goes crazy for black drum, redfish, sheepshead
Anchored adjacent to a towering bridge piling, Paul Thomas had his hands full for a few hours on Saturday (Oct. 21). There were three rod holders on the back corner of his 22-foot boat, and only Thomas and his young son Ronnie were aboard. “I spent Saturday morning trying not to lose a rod or a son,” Thomas laughed, recounting the hectic two hours it took the guys to fill the fish box in the boat. “Seriously, there weren’t many times we didn’t both have a fish on a line and a third rod bent over that we just couldn’t get to.
“Ronnie’s only 9, and he was all over the place fighting fish and I had to make sure he wasn’t putting himself in a situation that he could get pulled overboard or fall over. It was fun, but I tell you I’m not so sure I can stand that much fun again. I was never so glad to see a sheepshead as I was the one that finally made it so we couldn’t get another fish in the box.” The morning’s catch included a dozen black (puppy) drum, four slot redfish, 11 sheepshead and one broken rod. Thomas said they threw back a few bigger reds, including a bull they never saw — which is the one that nearly pulled Ronnie over the side — and another that led to the broken pole. “I saw Ronnie set the hook on the fish, and then I heard him grunt and I looked back and saw his pinned against the side of the boat,” the daddy said. “He couldn’t get a turn on the reel and line was just spooling off the spinning reel with a squeal. I was worried but it ended it pretty quick when the fish turned and went around the piling and the line broke. It had to be a bull red or a big black drum.” Another big one took a hook when the two fishermen were already occupied with fish — and before either could make a move, it broke the end of the pole. Thomas figured the line was wrapped on the rod, which rendered the reel’s drag moot. The guys were fishing on the east side of the bridge across Bay St. Louis, the one that was built after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the old one. The newer bridge has bigger bases, and it is around that concrete that fish gather each fall as they migrate in from the Gulf of Mexico to the bay. “I read a story about it last year and started looking into it, and after a few trips I figured it out,” Thomas said. “This time of year, with either live or even frozen cut shrimp or fish, we don’t need long to get all I want to clean. “There was a time we turned up our noses at sheepshead and black drum, but not anymore. We catch the perfect-sized fish there and we love them, and we don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it. I don’t think we burn more than four or five gallons a trip, depending on where we launch.” The bridge pattern, which is also popular on the new bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs to the east, starts in October and runs through the winter. The key is getting a calm-enough day, free of strong winds that can push you around near the unforgiving pilings. “Wind is also the only problem we have when we fish the reefs, too, and they are already producing good,” said Capt. Sonny Schindler. “They usually turn on in November, but the fish are already there.” Those man-made reefs, mostly built with the concrete from buildings and bridges brought down by Katrina, are located all along the front beaches and scattered about in other places. There are both nearshore and offshore reefs and maps showing the sites are located here. “Right now, the only thing missing in our fall fishing are the flounder,” Schindler said. “Everything else is in. We’re catching big trout without having to go far. We’re catching big bull reds in the marshes, and they are so plentiful that we have a hard time catching the keeper ‘slot’ reds. “The bridge pilings and reefs have turned on already. The flounder, which usually show up in late October and then get better through November into December, we’re just waiting on them to show up — and they will. One day they will just be there, and it will be good.” There is one key to the whole shooting match, however. “Wind, that’s it,” Schindler said. “That can be tough in the fall, especially as we move further into the late fall and winter season with the passing fronts. “We have places we can fish in the wind, but when it’s calm it opens the door to all the possibilities and there are so many.” Got a good fishing report and pictures to share, contact Bobby Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.