BY JEFF BRUHL
Special to Advocate Outdoors
The Pearl River cuts across the tip of the Louisiana boot to create the state line between Louisiana and Mississippi.
That’s the geography lesson here.
This river that cuts through the heart of Mississippi before it makes it way to Louisiana is a maze of tributaries from large distinct arms to tiny drains and sloughs.
That’s the topographical lesson here.
As this river flows past Louisiana’s town of Pearl River, tupelo gum and cypress trees line the banks, then southward, it turns into treeless marsh as it flows to its end at The Rigolets south of Slidell.
That’s the environmental lesson here.
And this water has fish — lots of them — and they come in all shapes and sizes.
Now to the meteorological lesson and how it relates to you getting on the water to get after those species.
Although the fishing is great all year long, winter bass fishing is good, but challenging because of the weather, tidal flow and flooding.
Bass, catfish and panfish call the Pearl home. During other seasons of the year, trout, flounder and reds migrate through the passes of the river.
Winter bass fishing on the Pearl is all about water movement and condition. Heavy rains from passing fronts will send the water out in the woods. Cold weather will drop the temperature so low it’s hard to get a bite. Tides will fall, and, with the help of a north wind, suck the water off the banks to expose shoreline cover. However, with the amount of bass calling the Pearl home, there’s hardly a bad day of fishing on the river.
In the winter months, crawfish begin appearing in south Louisiana waters. The Pearl has a strong crawfish population that draws many folks to the woods to harvest a few for a Saturday night boil. Two popular bass baits help mimic crawfish and fool Pearl River bass. First, the old faithful jig-and-pig combination works great in the wood cover along the upper stretches of the river just a few miles north of the Highway 90 bridge on the East Pearl River. Black and blue Stanley jigs with a sapphire blue chigger craw is standard for water conditions on the Pearl. If the water is falling because of winds or tides, anglers should drag a jig around any drain coming out of the woods. Mixing water — muddy or clear — does not matter as long as the water is falling out of a wooded area into a main river channel.
Another great winter lure is a red crank bait, so crawfish/red-colored Berkley Pit Bull or similar square-bill crankbaits bounced off wood cover in the smaller drains are a top performers for local anglers.
After fishing the mouth of a drain, pick up a crankbait and fish as far into the drain as the boat will go. The size of the crankbait needed is one that will reach the bottom when fished up the middle of creek or the arm of the river.
That’s because winter fish go deep for food and protection from cold shoreline weather, and, if the tide — and there is tidal influence — and wind pull the water out, the middle is where the fish go first. That’s true for miles north of the mouth of this ecological wonder of a river.
What’s more, do not let the idea that marsh areas of the Pearl hold numbers of bass as opposed to quality bass. A drain near a big marsh pond or sun-warmed bayou will hold quality bass and a few redfish.
Slow-rolling a single-bladed Colorado (round) blade spinnerbait is a top producer for marsh bass and redfish. The lower Pearl has plenty of underwater vegetation and deep holes to give bass a healthy home.
Another tactic to try is Texas-rigged plastic: A Berkley blue-fleck Power Bait worm is a long-held secret by many marsh anglers. Just like up river, the cold, winter water makes the middle of the canal the spot to check.
A few tips about the river system might mean the difference between a fast-food dinner and a fish fry.
First, anglers should always check the river stage at the town of Pearl River. Anything above 10 feet means the West Pearl spills over the banks and floods the woods. Other arms of the Pearl like the West Middle or Middle Pearl will turn cold and muddy.
Second, tidal information is important. A falling tides help pick a starting spot as drains and points should be where the fish are staging.
Finally, a high wind forecast might suggest a ride up river to get the protection of the trees just to make the trip a little easier and much more comfortable.
Overall, winter bass fishing on the Pearl River is a challenging but fun puzzle to solve.
From the scenery to the choices of spots to go, the Pearl is a first-rate, close-to-home bass fishing hole.