Charter skipper Justin Bowles faced a dilemma last week while pumping gas into his Skeeter bay boat adjacent to the Lake Catherine Island Marina fuel dock.
He could either stay close and preserve some of the valuable petrol he was shooting into his tanks, or he could go where he was 100% positive he could catch speckled trout.
Bowles is not only a guide; he’s also a fanatical angler. So really the choice for him was easy. He opted for the latter, and, after settling up with the marina manager, he pointed his bow toward the Biloxi Marsh.
Although it would cost him more gas, it would turn out to be the right call. Bowles and a buddy boated 50 keeper trout by 11 a.m.
The Slidell-based guide wasn’t surprised. He’d been noticing more and more specks showing up over the past two weeks while taking clients into the expansive area to target redfish.
“I would cast out as my customers were fishing a shoreline for reds,” he said. “If we were fishing an open bay, I would cast out and check.
“Usually after the first little cool front is when they move in, so I just expected them to be in there.”
On one of the trips with clients, the specks were so thick, the anglers completely abandoned their redfish efforts, and returned to the dock with 100 speckled trout.
Bowles said the fish are in the Biloxi Marsh gorging themselves on shrimp and pogies.
“I haven’t looked in the stomachs of the ones I’ve cleaned, but that’s what I’ve been seeing in the (Biloxi Marsh),” he said. “When you get them in a little channel and the tide’s pushing hard, you’ll see a lot more shrimp popping than you will when you’re just drifting flats.”
Bowles said the shrimp have been mixed in size, but most are in the 50- to 60-count range — perfect size for hungry specks.
The fish tend to be more concentrated on outgoing tides, Bowles said.
“If you get a falling tide, you want to get by a chokepoint, where the tide’s going to pull the bait out of the marsh and onto an adjacent flat,” he said. “That’s the easiest, most productive way to catch them.
“But drifting open-water reefs is usually productive day in and day out no matter what the tide’s doing.
“On a rising tide, they’re always more scattered. You have to work a little harder for them. That’s usually when I’ll just drift reefs and shorelines in bays, concentrating around cuts and points.”
But, Bowles said, the rising-tide pattern tends to produce bigger fish.
“Whenever you get them moving by a cut when the water’s falling, you’re going to be getting a hit almost every cast, so there’s a lot more throwbacks mixed in, but whenever you’re out drifting open-water cuts and points and reefs, you’ll rarely get many throwbacks, especially when you’re throwing plastics,” he said. “If you mix live shrimp in the deal, the throwback rate goes up.”
Bowles will usually encourage his clients to bring live shrimp to ensure action, but he said it’s not necessary for experienced anglers. He opts for shrimp creole-colored TKO Shrimp or new penny-colored H2O Express Mojo Shrimp under a Four Horseman cork.
That’s a rig he’ll be throwing for at least a few more weeks.
“Usually, the fish will stick around in the (Biloxi) Marsh until we get a few hard cold fronts and the water level drops significantly,” he said. “I think you could still go later in the mornings and do well, but we’ll have so many fish closer by, I won’t really be venturing over that way.”