Two ways to tackle the hunt for September trout

Alex Smith is well versed in catching late-summer trout like this solid 3-pounder.

I’ve been fired from two jobs in my life. One firing came in 1985 because my fear of heights prevented me from working derricks when the derrick hand got injured.

The other happened at Ocean Springs School District when I lost my job as Santa Clause for being too crabby.

Dr. Hirsh’s exact words were, “You’re too cantankerous to be Santa; you’ll scare the children.”

I do have a fear of heights and, well, I am cantankerous.

My level of cantankerousness has peaked in September, so steer clear unless you come armed with a six-pack of Yoo-hoo and a handful of Slim Jims or can point me in the direction of a hot speckled trout bite.

Catching various other inshore species this summer has quelled my orneriness a bit, but those who know me understand — I love catching trout and September just ain’t the month to do it.

Unless you’re Kyle Johnson or Alex Smith, both from Gulfport.

Those two anglers are super-nice guys, but I didn’t like them at first. I chalk it up to downright trout envy, nothing else.

Alex and Kyle are two young guys who can catch fish anytime of the year and under any conditions.

Alex and Kyle have taken a lifetime of local lore and youthful vigor combined with modern technology and become trout-catching machines.

Both grew up on the coast and have had great teachers in parents, relatives and friends.

We sat down recently to talk about September trout fishing while enjoying some boiled shrimp from Quality Seafood in Biloxi. I still have a hard time putting those delicious morsels on a hook and using them for bait but I’m working on it.

The interesting thing about Kyle and Alex is that, while both catch trout in September, they focus on different areas and different techniques.

Kyle focuses his efforts inside Biloxi Bay, while Alex spends his time out front on big structure, deeper water and nearshore reefs.

Kyle has a small skiff and is relegated inside due to the inevitable strong winds, but Alex has a Sea Fox 240 Viper bay boat that allows him to stay outside and focus on big structure and deep water from state line to state line.

By big structure and deep water I mean areas such as Gulfport Harbor, Casino Row in Biloxi and Bayou Casotte in Pascagoula.

September is a transition month, so a change in strategy is necessary compared to the hotter months.

“You have those cooler days coming in next to the hotter weather, so you have to change your approach,” Smith said. “You’re going to start moving to that slower presentation — slow, twitch baits like a MirrOdine or a Paul Brown Soft-Dine.”

“Everything flip flops with the weather,” Johnson added. “During the hotter months, like July and August, your best bet is catching something at the islands at high tide early in the morning. Where now you’re flipping it (and) you’re fishing that low tide.”

Trout are coming off a few months of spawning, and are moving toward the bays for the winter. Some will stay outside and still be in spawning mode, so don’t be surprised if you catch a fat girl full of roe — which is what Smith likes to target in September by staying outside.

“I’m not quite fishing in the bays yet,” Smith said. “I’ll fish out front until the end of October and beginning of November. I’m looking for big fish; I don’t go after the small ones, and those big ones are still coming through, even until then.

“I’m looking for deeper water and a lot of structure in September. Somewhere close in because those fish are migrating to the bays, they’re moving back, but won’t complete their trek until they’re through spawning. It’s kind of like the spring bite in a sense, other than they’re slowing down in the way they’re showing up.

Johnson is more concerned with limits and catching, so he follows the trout from the beach to the back.

“Last year, I did really good in September and October in the deep bayous using the smaller MirrOmullet,” Johnson said. “Sometimes color matters, but to me it’s all about the shape when it comes to MirrOlures.

“The color is going to help them see it a little more, but it’s more about the shape.”

Bay systems across the coast have a mix of what Johnson is looking for: small bayous that connect to deep bayous.

Fort Bayou in Ocean Springs is a prime example of a bayou that features 30-foot depths with adjoining waterways in the 5- to 10-foot range.

“When I’m fishing the topwaters, it’s about 6 foot of water and I’ll hit those early in the morning,” Johnson said. “I usually find them feeding there.

“I’ll start with topwater and, if that’s not going on, I’ll go to a Matrix Shad under a popping cork on a ¼-ounce jighead. If that’s not going on and it’s starting to heat up, then I’ll start looking for deeper water.”

Smith spends September focusing on nearshore reefs and big structure adjacent to deeper water to catch those late-spawning big girls.

To catch these late spawners, he uses baits that can be fished slow in the upper parts of the water column.

Smith knows a thing or two about catching big trout: He landed the No. 2 trout in the state. That fish weighed in at 10 ½-pounds, missing the state record by just a few ounces.

“I’m using anything that imitates a pogie or a mullet that’s got that slow action that’s not going to immediately sink to the bottom,” Smith said. “I’m using MirrOdines, those (Paul Brown Soft-Dines); you can still work them on the surface, but you’re going to get those bigger fish that aren’t going to be quite on the surface.

“Vudu Shrimp work good, too.”

When I heard Vudu Shrimp, I immediately associated those with popping corks. I was wrong.

Both Johnson and Smith prefer tightlining the shrimp-like bait and fishing it slow.

“I use Vudu Shrimp year-round,” Johnson said. “They really do work, if you fish it right.”

“I never use a Vudu (Shrimp) under a popping cork,” Smith said. “I always tight-line them. I use 20-pound Fins Windtamer braid and a 2-foot, 20-pound Seaguar Blue Label fluorocarbon leader. I use the 3-inch Vudu; really, any color works great.

“I’ll let it go all the way to the bottom, kind of work the water column. If they’re not on the bottom, I’ll work it a little higher and eventually you’ll find where they’re sitting. Once you get that down, then you can work on your presentation and get that right.”

Johnson agreed with Smith, saying that’s how he fishes the Vudu Shrimp year-round.

He also said to pay attention to how live shrimp move in the water. Shrimp typically move with the flow of the current and rarely make any erratic movements.

When the anglers fish Vudu Shrimp, they make long casts and let the current do the work.

Just cast the bait out, maintain contact with the lure by keeping the line somewhat taunt and watch for the slightest tick in the line.

Sometimes the bite will be subtle, sometimes not.

This is where using braid is a bonus, because it’s easier to see than straight monofilament or fluorocarbon.

Both fisherman agree on the main line and leader, but they differ somewhat on the tackle.

“The best I’ve found for me is a 7-foot, light-action rod, 20-pound Fins Windtamer with a 20-pound leader,” Johnson said. “I can fling those Vudu’s out there. That’s the setup I prefer for a Vudu. That light action rod has that flex, and it just whips it out there.”

Smith uses a mix of Shimano baitcasters and St. Croix rods for fishing the Vudu Shrimp and the other baits he favors.

This conversation with Alex and Kyle was an eye-opening experience for me. I certainly plan on using some of the things I learned from them — along with some of the secrets I didn’t share with you.

September doesn’t have to stink. Slow your roll and your bait’s sink rate, and go catch a trout.

If you see a fat, Santa-like character in a Sea Fox 240 Viper bay boat just keep on moving — nothing to see here.

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