Through a series of unfortunate circumstances more than a century ago, Sir Ernest Shackleton had to sail a lifeboat 800 miles from Antarctica and then return to rescue some of his fellow explorers who had become trapped by pack ice.
Sir Ernest would laugh at Louisiana’s winters.
Still, the species that inhabit our subtropical landscape don’t like the cold, and must flee to survive it when temperatures reach their annual nadir.
The state’s speckled trout population does that by seeking out deep water that holds more consistent temperatures than much of what’s found in our coastal marshes, and there are few areas with more deep water than what’s in the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.
Known colloquially as “Mr. Go,” the decommissioned shipping channel stacks up with speckled trout — and the anglers who seek them — every winter, and it’s been especially consistent this year, said veteran fishing guide Mike Gallo.
“I’ve been fishing the exact same area for three weeks or a month, and not having to move 200 yards one way or another, and catching between 20 and 40 a day, depending on my clients’ ability to figure out what’s going on and put it into practice,” Gallo said.
He’s been running from his Slidell dock to the MRGO every winter for 15 years, so Gallo knows which stretch of the rocks and wall are typically more productive than others, but he said there are some dead giveaways for newcomers.
“When they dug the trench that became the MRGO, they didn’t take the spoil and put it someplace else,” he said. “They simply stacked it on the shoreline toward Chalmette, and that was used to make the levee.”
Though that was more than half a century ago, the appearance of that levee today gives Gallo clues about where fish are most likely to be holding.
“When you have areas where you have shrubs or even trees, that’s where you find a firmer bottom like clay or sand,” he said. “So, obviously, bottom is structure, and hard bottom is preferred structure.”
That means Gallo’s big Skeeter will almost always be parked in front of stretches of the MRGO that have significant vegetation on the bank.
That wasn’t true on a recent trip.
“I left at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve because I wanted the sun to come out and warm everything up a little bit,” Gallo said. “So I ran over there, and got to the area I wanted to fish, and there was literally a boat every 60 yards, where you couldn’t feel comfortable pulling in between two of them.
“For a minute, I thought, ‘Well, this sucks,’ but there seemed to be more space between the boats closer to the wall. I pulled in there, put the trolling motor down, and the first thing I noticed was that water was a lot shallower than where I had been fishing. I was in 5 to 7 feet of water, and I had been catching fish in more like 14 to 16 feet of water.
“I threw in front of the boat, caught a fish. Did the same, and caught another. We stayed in a 50-yard stretch, and ended the day with 49. We couldn’t get that last one.
“Nothing big, but they were on the drop-off away from the rocks.”
Gallo is known for always thinking outside the box, and that’s evident in how he rigs to catch MRGO trout. He fishes a crazy variation of a drop-shot rig that is really productive.
“The big thing I do different this time of year is I use my drop-shot hook, and I put either a Matrix Mini or a Zoom Tiny Fluke on that Mustad No. 2 hook,” he said. “Down below that hook, I have a regular 3/8-ounce jighead with a Matrix Shad.
“I wouldn’t call it a traditional double rig because they’re both in line. Your main line coming from your rod ties directly to the eye of the No. 2 hook, and then you’ve got another 18-inch piece of line that also ties into the eye of the same hook and goes down to the jighead.
“It’s amazing the size of the fish I catch on the Matrix Mini. It’s only like an inch and a half long, and you catch 18-inch trout on it.”
Gallo hooks the Matrix Mini or Tiny Fluke through the nose rather than threading it onto the small hook.
The inline drop-shot rig has multiple benefits, he said.
“When that fish sucks in a 3/8-ounce jighead, he feels 3/8 of an ounce of lead,” Gallo said. “When he sucks in that Mini, he doesn’t feel any weight at all. Also, when he sucks it in, that line hits him in the nose, and we get a better feel of the bite.”
Not only that, but the rig helps determine what the fish want.
“I’m putting twice the amount of baits in the water,” Gallo said. “I’m getting to use two different size of baits. I can fish entirely different color schemes — light on top and dark on bottom, or vice versa. It helps me do my process of elimination twice as quickly.”
Gallo said about half the fish he catches bite the top bait.
He fishes his MRGO drop-shot rig on a medium-heavy rod and 10-pound-test fluorocarbon line. It’s a deadly technique in an area that’s most productive when Louisiana’s temperatures are as close as they’ll ever be to Antarctica’s.