This month’s weather is as temperamental as a teenaged girl, but there are still fish to be caught in the Biloxi Marsh You just have to hunt and peck — and be happy with a mixed box of fish.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a mishmash, as “an assortment or variety of odds and ends, a mixture; a hodgepodge.”
And that pretty much describes what you can expect to catch in the Biloxi Marsh area in the month of March.
It’s no secret that March can pose serious challenges to us fishermen. To say it’s a transition month is to be too kind.
It’s more like a bipolar month — nice and sunny one day, and then acting like the Wicked Witch of Winter the next.
So it’s challenging to plan a trip very far.
Robert Campo at Shell Beach’s Campo’s Marina (504-252-9321) put it succinctly.
“March can be excellent or terrible, depending on the weather,” Campo said. “Sometimes, in March we get a good stretch of mild weather, the sun is out, the water level is up, the temperature climbs, we have just a light breeze — it’s like summer.
“You’d think you could catch fish like it actually was summer, but you can’t because the fish are scattered all over the place. And you have to hunt all over, picking up a few here and a few there. But it’s generally a good variety of reds, drum, specks, maybe a few flounder, and the occasional sheepshead.”
Which makes my point exactly: a mishmash.
Campo went on to say that March can serve up the exact opposite of mild, sunny weather. It can be ornery, bitter and blustery, blasting us with winter-like cold and hellacious winds that push the water out of the marsh and make it unfishable for days or even a week or more at a time.
It can be a miserable March.
So I was making some calls, trying to put together a trip into the Biloxi Marsh when I found out my brother-in-law, Sterling Cardon Jr. (aka “The Mouth”) already had a trip planned.
He’d just bought a new (slightly used) 24-foot Ranger Bay that was decked to the max, and had already made a couple of successful trips into the Biloxi Marsh with it.
For this trip he already had Jimmy Pohlmann, the St. Bernard Parish sheriff, lined up, and he’d asked charter Capt. Casey Kieff (504-512-7171) to take the helm and steer us to the fish.
Then Cardon invited me, so the four of us — the Preacher, the Sheriff, the Captain and the Mouth — made up our own mishmash.
I figured we’d spend a great day fishing, enjoying the company, and maybe before the day was through I could even persuade the sheriff to arrest Sterling (there must be a law somewhere against verbal buffoonery).
“It’s a redfish month,” Kieff said, as he steered Cardon’s boat into the Biloxi Marsh. “You can catch trout this month, but it can be a challenge to catch a lot of them or to catch them consistently from one day to the next. They are scattered, and they just don’t stack up or congregate in schools like they do in the dead of winter or in the spring and summer.
“I expect we’ll catch some specks today, but we’ll be doing a lot of moving around to do it. But we should also be able to catch some nice reds in here. They’ve been scattered, too, but with the water up a bit like it is today we might find a good number of both reds and specks.”
Kieff said he divides his time pretty evenly this month between fishing deep inside the Biloxi Marsh and working Breton Sound.
“I either head deep into the marsh for specks and reds, or I head far into the Sound for reds and sheepshead, depending on what my clients want to catch,” he explained. “If you want to catch plenty big fish and you’re not worried about catching trout, then head out toward the Central rigs and fish the satellite wells around it.
“Bring sturdy tackle and fish straight down with market bait. It’s a lot of fun and you’ll catch some hefty fish.”
But you can also catch some very hefty fish in the interior marsh this month, as we soon discovered.
Kieff ran straight through Stump Lagoon, up Mack’s Pass and past Muscle Bay before slowing down.
“On a day like today I like to fish around Pete’s Lagoon, Cut Off, Brick Lagoon and over to Goose Flat,” the captain said. “The water is up, the weather is nice and those areas should produce some fish.
“But I’m seeing some minnows in this bayou, and we’re going to give this area a shot before we move on.”
He slowed to idle and killed the outboard; after allowing a few seconds for our momentum to stop, he pushed the button that operates the windlass and dropped the anchor.
“We’re going to try a little bit of everything in this canal,” Kieff instructed the crew. “Plastics on the bottom in the deep middle or along the steep ledges, or plastics or market bait under a cork at points and near the bank.”
Kieff said his favorite baits in March are the Vudu shrimp, the Vudu shad or Matrix shads in lemonhead or shrimp creole.
“That’s for trout, although reds will definitely hit them, also,” he said. “You can add a piece of market shrimp to attract the reds, or throw gold spoons or beetle spins. All of that will work this month.
“Even topwater baits will work, both for reds and specks, and those topwater baits tossed at the mouths of canals or bayous at the big ponds and bays can really generate some good hits and produce nice-sized fish.”
It took a few minutes for our wake, and the noise of the anchor and chain to settle down and the action to start, but it finally did and we started swinging some fish across the gunnel.
We caught a few trout in the middle of the bayou, and a few along the ledges where they and the reds were chasing minnows.
“You’ll have to be opportunistic this month. You won’t usually see a lot of bait in the water in March, but when you do you should probably fish there,” Kieff said. “That’s how I often find trout this time of year.
“ I’m always looking along the shorelines for bait as I travel through the bayous. Sometimes it pays off, like today.”
The Sheriff caught a nice red, and even the Mouth caught fish — but the action soon slowed down, and after 15 to 20 minutes or so without bites, we moved.
The bait minnows moved about 50 yards farther up the bayou, and when we saw something chasing them we followed and got into some more action.
“This is how you have to fish in March,” Kieff said. “Grab opportunities, and while you don’t want to be in a huge hurry to move when the action slows, you have to remember that staying still is not going to pay off this month.
“You can’t park and hope they come to you. Fish a spot, fan cast all around, try a few different baits and presentations — on the bottom, under a cork, throw a topwater — but if nothing hits after 15 minutes or so, move along.”
He said it’s worth the effort to keep mobile.
“I like to troll or drift if you can because it’s quieter, but the key is to move and move again and move again,” Kieff said. “You pick up a couple here, a few there, and you hunt and peck like that all day.
“By the end of the day you’ll have a nice mixed box of fish.”
We followed that procedure all morning — moving, sometimes catching nothing, sometimes a few trout, other times a redfish or two.
The Sheriff tied into a huge bull red in the 30-pound class (proof positive that you don’t have to run 20 miles out into Breton Sound to find bulls), and we played catch-and-release with several others of similar size over the course of the day.
True to Kieff’s prediction, at no single place were the fish stacked up. But they were there for the catching and, while we didn’t do irreversible damage to the speckled trout population that day, we caught more than I expected — and several were of very nice size.
The majority of specks came from our soft plastics fished under corks in the mouths of bayous at bays and lagoons, with a few coming from the ledges in nearby bayous.
Tight-lining plastics in the deeper water was also successful, but not as productive as plastics dangled under corks.
The reds were scattered and found in a variety of places — at points and drains along the shoreline of bayous, and along the shorelines in ponds and lagoons.
Most of our redfish action came on market bait on jigheads or hook, or soft plastics tipped with market bait, while the trout hit our plastics.
Specks showed a preference initially for chartreuse Matrix shads, but later in the morning they seemed to prefer the shrimp creole color.
It simply illustrated that you can’t get lazy and fail to try different colors and different baits.
“When I fish in the Biloxi Marsh on a colder day or a windy day with lower water conditions, I’ll fish the bayou between Muscle Bay and Pete’s Lagoon, or I’ll fish Bob’s Bayou just southwest of Poodle Lake,” Kieff said. “But we do get a lot of winds from the east and the south in March, and that pushes good water into the shallow ponds and lagoons.
“The bait gets all up in those ponds, and that’s where the fish will be under those conditions. Go in there slow, use your trolling motor, cast around baitfish or points or drains, and you’ll catch some fish.”
So don’t write March off as a lost cause. We had a very pleasant day on the water, we caught a good mixed box of fish and, while I couldn’t persuade the Sheriff to arrest the Mouth, he did agree to bring a gag and handcuffs for him on the next trip.
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