To the locals, it's simply, "the Biloxi Marsh," and it covers almost 40,000 acres of prime St. Bernard Parish marshland. The brackish-to-slightly saline marsh is criss-crossed with numerous bayous and canals, and peppered with ponds and lagoons and several sizeable lakes.
Roughly speaking, it is bordered by Lake Borgne on the west, the Mississippi Sound on the north, Drum Bay and Morgan Harbor to the east, and Bayou LaLoutre and Bayou St. Malo on the south. And in between those borders lies some of the best winter fishing to be had anywhere.
I called an old friend, Capt. Hook (Escape Charters, 985-643-5905). Hook is known to only a few by his real name, Tim Ursin. I wanted to see if I could mooch a trip into the Biloxi Marsh with him. I wanted to renew my acquaintance with that vast stretch of marshland with someone who fishes it often, and Hook was glad to accommodate.
He invited his cousin along, Anthony Marquize, who is a pastor and a good friend of mine.
The three of us boarded Hook's 22-foot ProCraft, and pulled away from Campo's Marina by the dawn's early light. He zipped down the Ship Channel, turned into Lena's Lagoon, and followed a confusing, meandering, impossible-to-remember path up into the bottom side of the Biloxi Marsh.
When Hook finally killed the motor, I was thoroughly lost. From there, Hook trolled up into a shallow set of ponds, and we began casting gold spoons against the shoreline.
"There are dozens of these ponds peppered throughout the Biloxi Marsh," Hook said. "They hold both redfish and trout, and you can fish them comfortably even when you have a pretty stiff breeze blowing."
"But how long can you fish them," I asked. "Will you still be able to catch fish in them in December?"
"Definitely," he responded. "As long as a strong, steady north or west wind doesn't blow all the water out. That could happen. But generally speaking, you should be able to fish the ponds on most days until January," he said.
Hook nailed a redfish that was snuggled up hard against the bank, and we saved him for the grill.
We roamed in and out of a series of similar ponds all morning. Interestingly, wherever the pond was crossed by a pipeline or canal, we tossed live bait under a popping cork, or H&H cocahoes, tightlined or under Cajun Thunder popping corks, out toward the center of the pond. And the trout ate them up.
They weren't huge trout, and we did cull out some that were undersized, but they were mostly keepers in the 14-inch range.
We repeated that pattern all morning. Marquize and Hook caught reds along the shoreline while I watched. And then they caught trout in the middle of the ponds while I watched. It's not that I was the designated watcher, but the fish somehow communicated to one another, warning all species to stay away from my line. It was weird.
Hook said I wasn't catching anything because I was a lousy fisherman, but I knew that couldn't be it. I switched baits, changed colors, spit on my lure and made it a point to alter the way I held my mouth, but none of that worked either.
Meanwhile, Hook and Marquize were buzzing with activity, laughing, reeling and netting fish, and mocking my pain.
It took me awhile to figure it out, but I finally realized what caused my lack of success. You see, on that particular day, astronomers said huge solar storms were flaring out from the surface of the sun, affecting communications and sensitive electronics all the way down here on earth. Somehow, that's what kept the fish from biting my hook that day. Yep. That HAD to be it. And I feel so much better about my angling prowess, now that I've figured that out.
Besides these very productive ponds, I asked Hook where else an angler might head this month to get in on some trout and redfish action. Here are his suggestions.
1. The bayou between Mussel Bay and Pete's Lagoon.
Hook says the bayou is about 9 feet deep, and is the place to fish when the weather gets cold.
"I like to fish the mouth of the bayou," Hook said, "with live minnows on the bottom. You can either hook them on a plain jighead or under a Carolina rig. H&H cocahoes in purple/white, chartreuse, or avocado will produce also."
2. Cutoff Lagoon.
Located just above Pete's Lagoon, Cutoff is long, narrow and shallow. It's also very productive, Hook said. Fish along the bank with weedless gold spoons, spinnerbaits, topwater baits, live minnows or market shrimp under a cork for redfish. Drift the middle for trout with live bait or H&H cocahoes, under a popping cork.
3. The shallow pass between Pete's Lagoon and Cutoff.
Fish it just like you would Cutoff Lagoon.
"I catch a lot of fish in that pass every year in December," Hook said.
I also queried a few other friends, all professional fishermen, who fish the Biloxi Marsh regularly. Like Hook, these guides also make their living finding fish for their customers. I asked them to share with our readers some of their favorite spots for December fishing.
Capt. Mike Gallo (Angling Adventures of Louisiana, 985-781-7811 or 504-289-0272) launches out of his home/camp on Highway 433, crosses Lake Borgne and fishes the upper Biloxi Marsh. His targets this month include:
4. The no-name ponds of the upper Biloxi Marsh.
"Which ponds," I asked.
"Take your pick," Gallo replied. "Choose just about any of the numerous ponds off to the side of virtually all the bayous. Troll in slowly to make sure you have enough water, and fish the corners, the points, the drains and coves. You'll find plenty redfish, and some speckled trout mixed in if it isn't too cold."
Gallo suggests looking at a chart of the area, finding the ponds that have lots of canals and drains, and fishing those.
"The more water flowing in and out, the more bait is likely to be there. And where the bait is, the fish will be," he said.
Gallo prefers to slowly troll the ponds, concentrating on points, and casting live or dead shrimp under a popping cork. Gold spoons, beetle-spins, topwater baits and soft plastics on ¼-ounce jigs will also produce this month, he said.
5. Magill Lagoon.
Gallo particularly likes this lagoon because it is criss-crossed by so many bayous and drains.
"Magill Lagoon is less than a mile from the entrance into Bayou Magill from Lake Borgne," Gallo said, "and it probably averages an overall depth of about 3 feet. It's perfect for fishing trout, reds and flounder. Fish the cuts and corners, use the same baits, and practice the 15-minute rule. If nothing bites in 15 minutes, move.
"Try another spot a little further down, or cross over to the other side of the lagoon. But never spend more than 15 minutes in a spot, unless you're catching fish or getting hits. Otherwise, you're burning daylight, and in the big picture, that's more expensive than burning gas. Fifteen minutes, that's all. Then move."
6. The Four Bayous — LaFee, Biloxi, False Mouth and Lake Shore.
"These bayous are fairly deep, probably averaging 8 to 12 feet, and are even deeper in the holes and turns," Gallo said. "This is where the fish will go once the temperatures fall below 50 degrees. Fact is, I'm already catching trout and redfish in the deep canals, bouncing shrimp off the bottom.
"I concentrate my efforts at the curves, where the water tends to be deepest. Fish live shrimp on a sliding sinker, live minnows on a plain jighead, or soft plastics on a ¼-ounce jig. Switch to a 3/8-ounce jig if the current is strong, because you have to get your bait all the way to the bottom.
"And remember, this is going to be a winter bite, which is much more subtle than the rest of the year. Fish right in the middle of the bayou on cold days, and on warmer days, fish over the flats on the shallower side of the bayou," he said.
Capt. Ben Leto (Louisiana Fishing Expeditions, 985-893-0180 or 985-630-2066) says he's been limiting out on redfish, and either limiting or coming close on specks, in the Biloxi Marsh. His favorite spots include:
7. Mussel Bay.
"This is a great spot to catch reds and specks," Leto said. "The bay averages 3 to 4 feet deep, and has a great shoreline for redfish. I look for clean, moving water, and signs of baitfish activity, especially around the coves, points and cuts," he said. "Fish live bait under a popping cork, right up against the bank, and if that fails to produce, try trolling the shorelines, tossing the same baits or spoons, spinners and plastics, until you find some action," he said.
8. Pete's Lagoon.
Located just above Mussel Bay, this lagoon is a favorite with many of the locals. Leto says once the area turns on, it'll stay hot throughout the winter, and produce an abundance of good-sized fish, "the kind you don't have to measure," he said.
Fish it the same way you'd fish Mussel Bay, concentrating on points, cuts, coves and drains. Fish live baits against the shorelines for redfish and specks, or try gold spoons, spinnerbaits or soft plastics either tightlined or under a popping cork.
9. The bayous off of Mussel Bay and Pete's Lagoon.
That's where the fish will head when the water temperatures drop, Leto said.
"The fish will stack up in the turns once it gets cold," he said. "So when you find them, you'll slaughter them."
Leto says he'll fish the bottom of the deeper canals and bayous with live bait, or he'll bounce soft plastics off the bottom.
"I've been having a lot of success so far this month with the High Tide Shrimp Cocktail on a ¼-ounce jig. I bounce it off the bottom or fish it under a cork, and it's really produced," he said.
Capt. Mike Thompson Jr. (Shore Thing Charters, 228-342-2206) says he catches trout, redfish and flounder in the Biloxi Marsh all winter long, concentrating mostly on the bigger bodies of water, until the really cold weather moves in and drives everything deep.
10. The Lakes of Bayou Marron.
Thompson says he likes to drift or troll the shorelines, casting live baits, either shrimp or minnows, along the shorelines. Naturally, cuts, points, coves and drains are the spots you want to work the hardest. Once the shrimp disappear, soft plastics will produce almost as good as the live stuff, he said.
11. Bob's Lake.
This area can be fished the same way as the Lakes of Bayou Marron. As long as the weather stays moderate, these areas should be productive. If it does get cold, try the deep pass between Bob's Lake and Poodle Lake, he said.
"It's an excellent spot to fish live minnows off the bottom in really cold weather," he said.
12. Mosquito Inlet.
Thompson says this meandering canal has a wealth of deep holes in the turns and at cuts or intersections, and is the perfect place for cold weather fishing.
"Enter the inlet from the Lake Borgne side, because the other end is very shallow. Find a good turn or cut where the water is moving pretty good, park your boat and fish the bottom," he advised.
Live minnows on a 3/8-ounce jig head or soft plastics on a ¼- or 3/8-ounce jig bounced along the ledges are the best baits.
"It's rare when the fish will be flat on the bottom in the deepest holes. Actually, last year they never went deeper than 6 feet. Usually, 10 to 12 feet is the deepest you'll have to fish. Use your depth sounder, find the deeper holes, and then cast along the ledges at a 10- to 12-foot depth. That's where the fish will be," he said.