For Pontchartrain Basin anglers, the month of May is like a rich oasis, full of running water, palm trees and dates, where a weary traveler can refresh after crossing the desert of late winter.
The weather is warm but not hot, and the speckled trout that were tougher to find than fiscal restraint in Congress are all of a sudden concentrated and maniacally aggressive on the spawning grounds.
For Capt. Justin Bowles (jbfishingcharters.com), that makes May one of his favorite months.
“It’s definitely in the top three; that’s for sure,” he said.
In the big-picture sense, the fish are moving from Lake Pontchartrain and its surrounding marshes to the salty spawning grounds of Breton and Mississippi sounds.
Depending on the day, Bowles will either meet them halfway or make a big run to feed those that are already getting busy with creating next year’s crop of speckled trout.
The first place Bowles checks each day is Lake Borgne, particularly the few oilfield structures that dot the expansive waterbody.
“With clients, I like to fish them deep if I can,” he said. “It’s a lot easier with clients to fish them at the Lake Borgne rigs with live shrimp on drop-shots or Carolina rigs.”
But Borgne is only productive when recent winds haven’t beaten it to a pulp.
“If the water’s not real clean at the Lake Borgne rigs, I generally just keep going,” Bowles said. “I’ll try to get on a protected shoreline in the Biloxi Marsh, where the water should be a lot cleaner.”
Inside the salty marsh, Bowles looks for two things: bait and current lines.
“That time of year, I’m really looking for shrimp,” he said. “As a general rule, if you find the shrimp, you’ve found the trout.
“Once I locate bait, I’m focusing most of my attention on tidelines around points. I really fish those out a good ways. Sometimes you find (the trout) right up on the point; other times, they could be a hundred yards off of it.”
The fish inside the Biloxi Marsh in May are mostly good eaters that no one would consider putting on the wall.
“In the marsh, you’re looking at 12- to 16-inchers, with a decent amount of throwbacks mixed in,” Bowles said.
If his clients want to roll the dice on bigger fish, and conditions allow it, Bowles will push past the marsh to the islands that pepper its eastern fringe.
“The farther you go out in May, the bigger the fish get,” he said. “If you go to the islands outside the Biloxi Marsh, like Martin or Comfort, you can get on some really nice fish, particularly first thing in the morning.”
Twitch baits take over
Out there, Bowles likes to hurl Matrix Mullets and MirrOdines.
“I don’t throw the lipped jerkbaits that time of year,” he said. “I don’t have an answer as to why; I just find the smaller, pogie-imitating twitchbaits are more productive.”
Rod and line selection are crucial for these baits, Bowles said. He most-often throws them on medium-light rods teamed with 30-pound braid. To the braid, he ties a 20-pound leader of fluorocarbon for the MirrOdines or monofilament for the Matrix Mullets.
Bowles’ favorite line-to-line knot is called a Shin’s. There are several instructional videos on YouTube showing how to tie it.
“I haven’t found anything smaller or easier to tie,” Bowles said.
Cadence can also be critical, particularly for the subsurface hard-plastic.
“Normally when I’m fishing that, I’m not going to be in more than 3½ feet of water,” Bowles said. “I cast it out, let it sink down and settle, pop it a couple times and let it sit for a few seconds.
“You don’t want it hitting the bottom every time you let it set, so you just kind of get a rhythm to where you’re not snagging it, picking up any grass or hooking on oyster shells.
“I’d say at least 75% of the hits come when the bait is sitting still.”
Using this technique at the outer islands, including the Chandeleurs, Bowles has caught fish up to 7 pounds.
Check out the Marsh Man Masson YouTube channel for more great content.