How to put together the pieces for March speckled trout success
In most of the country, water is running away from you as it seeks its own level, but not so in Southeast Louisiana, where water from 40% of the U.S. is running right towards us. That has real consequences for Louisiana inshore anglers who live at the bottom level of a river system that in springtime dumps as much as 600 million gallons per minute of water into the Gulf of Mexico.
While I can not comprehend how much water that is, I am very grateful to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that it passes by my home without me even noticing. However, when I launch my boat into the marsh in March, I do notice the river water and have to make adjustments to effectively catch speckled trout.
Common rule of thumb
One common rule of thumb for finding trout in inshore Louisiana is to look for clean moving water. While this is correct as a general guideline, it may be interpreted to say trout are not found in dirty water, which is not true. The truth is that trout can feed in turbid water because they have sensory organs capable of locating prey even when visibility is low.
Certainly, there is a limit to the amount of suspended particles, especially silt, that a trout is willing to subject their gills to. But I do not believe that our trout are often faced with situations where the water turbidity is so high that it endangers their respiration function. Therefore, my current belief is that higher water turbidity alone will not cause speckled trout to evacuate an area if the salinity is acceptable and their prey is present.
We see the brown stain from particles brought by the river water, but we cannot see the more impactful change the river water causes, which is a decrease in water salinity. I believe that is the most critical water property that determines whether trout are present in stained water. This is especially true for larger speckled trout. Therefore, our biggest challenge in March is finding the areas that hold bait, are structurally favorable toward speckled trout feeding patterns, but not too low in water salinity.
Southeast Louisiana is always impacted in March by increased river water flows. On top of normal flows, many of the Bonnet Carré Spillway openings have begun in March, so anglers often see fresh water draining into the marsh from all directions this month. That makes finding the trout complicated. On one hand they will not be found in freshwater, but neither will they abandon the upper estuary just because the rivers are running high. Trout do not need salinity over 5 ppt in March, and if feeding conditions are optimal, they will stay in the upper estuary in areas with 5-10 ppt salinity. Therefore we can’t simply drive south into high salinity water and expect the trout to be there.
Cruising the shallows
In spring, the trout routinely move from their deeper wintering holes to shallower water as the water warms from the 50’s into the 60’s, so in March we find them cruising shallow lakes and bays in the upper estuary. The complication of finding trout arises because of how river water flows through the marsh. Main bayous and channels drain the river water making them too low in salinity for trout, but a nearby body of water could have adequate salinity for the trout if it is somewhat protected from river water flow.
Therefore, in March I often look in ponds and small lakes away from the main river water drainage. Tidal flow will periodically increase salinity and keep these areas more insulated from low salinity. The best of these shallow bodies of water also hold submerged aquatic vegetation such as widgeon grass, which provides cover for bait and knocks sediment out of the water.
Too much wind in March can wreck a day of fishing in these shallow lakes, but there are strategies to find success despite the wind. The waves and the increase in turbidity is the obvious effect of strong, sustained wind, but I believe the major impact from the wind is the scattering or evacuation of the bait schools from the most turbulent water. To mitigate the wind effect we can fish the lake from the lee shoreline out to approximately where the wave intensity begins to cause visible turbidity. I would advise against just anchoring on the shoreline, because I often find that the trout will feed out further into the turbulent region of the lake.
I suspect that this is related to where the bait is feeding and we want to fish where the bait is located. It’s possible some churning of the bottom is beneficial for bait fish feeding, so I always drift fish to find the trout starting on the lee shoreline and stopping when the waves are trying to throw me out of the boat.
There are some windy days when the orientation of a lake is just not compatible with wind direction and speed, so I will go to another lake which runs more perpendicular to the wind direction. You do not have to make this decision while on the water if you pre-plan your trip using online tools such as WindFinder, satellite images, and other weather apps.
In March there will also be trout feeding along the edges of the river water plumes where large volumes of tidal driven Gulf water raises the salinity to acceptable concentrations. This typically happens in larger inshore lakes and bays. The river-brown color of this water can test my faith, so I remind myself that it is salinity more than turbidity that impacts trout behavior. Since many of a trout’s favorite spring prey species, such as mullet and pogies, are quite tolerant of low salinity water, the bait may very well be feeding in the turbid water.
These species are filter feeders and so plankton blooms driven by nutrient-rich river water will attract the bait fish. It makes sense that the trout would stay along the river water plume if the salinity is above 5 ppt and there is an abundance of food.
This month I will fish water as shallow as 12-16 inches, because in March big trout can be found in amazingly shallow water. Fishing shallow water strongly affects my lure selection, so I launch the boat with the appropriate array of baits, rods, and reels.
In short, when I am fishing this very shallow water and there is not excessive wave action, it is topwater stick baits first. This is the most productive time of the year to fish topwater baits in inshore waters, and a nice steady walk-the-dog action in 1-3 foot of water depth produces some of the biggest trout I will catch all year. These stick baits are also very effective along rocky shorelines in March. I have seen success on so many different stick baits models and colors that I am reluctant to recommend a model and color.
I do typically fish the MirrOlure SheDog and the Heddon Spook because they are designed to swing wide when walked. I have some confidence that darker colors are more easily seen in early morning and at sunset because they produce a more distinct silhouette, but otherwise I typically fish light colors.
Twitch baits are also big producers in shallow water. One of my favorites in March is the Texas Custom Lures’ Double D. This is a floating twitch bait, which dives down when worked, but due to its buoyancy, it can be easily fished in shallow water and over submerged vegetation. While I normally fish larger twitch baits in March, I have discovered that in certain lakes tiny baits like the MirrOlure Mirrodine Mini are the preference for trout. This is logical if we consider that some species of bait are still early in their growth period and the small twitch bait is a good facsimile.
Last, but certainly not least, is the reliable jig with a swimbait body. The versatility of this arrangement demands that I keep one rod rigged with a ⅛-ounce or ¼-ounce jig. In the shallow water a hard jigging motion will pop the lure out of the water so I typically work the jig in small hops, swim it on a steady retrieve, or just drag it along the bottom.
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