Inverse Relationship

The Biloxi Marsh heats up as temperatures get cold across Louisiana’s marsh.

I remember a funny song Jerry Reed used to sing titled “When you’re hot, you’re hot…”He’s the same guy who sang about the swamp-dwelling Cajun named Amos Moses who hunted alligators with a stump. It was one of those crazy songs about Louisiana that still makes me chuckle anytime I hear it.

And it makes me think there ought to be a theme song for the Biloxi Marsh. I propose something like, “When it’s cold, it’s hot,” because that’s precisely what describes the wintertime fishing action throughout the Biloxi Marsh.

The whole area is unique in several ways. First, its name is a misnomer. It’s called Biloxi, as in the Mississippi coastal city, but the entire area is within Louisiana’s borders. Even the guys at Wildlife and Fisheries commonly refer to it as the Louisiana Marsh.

Second, it is extremely diverse. It has everything from large lakes to mid-sized bays, lagoons, ponds and numerous bayous, canals and drains. All that diversity makes it prime habitat for fish, crabs, shrimp, gators and quite a variety of furbearers and waterfowl.

Before Katrina, a careful observer might see nutria, muskrat, opossum, rabbit, raccoon, mink and otter in the area. There were occasional coyote and deer sightings as well.

Post Katrina, the wildlife status is still marked in the unknown column because the area just hasn’t been explored enough since the storm to know how everything fared.

As for waterfowl, teal, wigeon, gadwall, shoveler, mottled, pintail, mallard and snow and blue geese usually make their way to the Biloxi Marsh in winter. Whether that remains true this year will depend on how the grassbeds in the ponds rebound after being submerged under so much salt water for so long.

Third, it is huge. Bordered roughly by the MRGO, Lake Borgne, Mississippi Sound and Breton Sound, the Biloxi Marsh consists of 39,583 acres of prime St. Bernard marshland.

Fourth, it is easily accessible from several launch points, but it is only accessible by water. Hopedale, Shell Beach and the Chef or Rigolets offer the most immediate access, but as of right now, Shell Beach has no launch facilities.

Fifth, though the area took a severe pounding by Hurricane Katrina and was deluged by over 20 feet of floodwaters, the marsh survived surprisingly well. The surrounding infrastructure such as marinas, fuel docks, camps, etc., was ravaged, most beyond repair.

But the Biloxi Marsh itself, though it definitely experienced serious erosion and silting, did not suffer the severe scouring of the marsh that other nearby areas experienced, such as in Caernarvon.

Wildlife and Fisheries waterfowl biologist Robert Helm suggests that the Biloxi Marsh’s survival may be largely due to the fact that it is a brackish/saline marsh, and the intense inundation of salt water damaged it far less than it did largely freshwater habitats.

“By and large, Biloxi Wildlife Management Area seemed to fare far better than other areas. I have made several flights over the area since Katrina, and while there was damage, the whole area has remained largely the same,” Helm said.

That sentiment has been echoed by several anglers who fish the area regularly. The main channels and bayous are mostly the same, and the marshes, though eroded, look pretty much like they did pre-Katrina.

Capt. Frank Moore (504-887-4960), who has been fishing the area for some 20 years, says the biggest factor affecting anglers is the silting in of several popular wintertime ponds, lagoons, passes and lakes.

“The biggest problems I’ve found so far have been in Pete’s Lagoon, which has silted in a lot, and Cut Off Lagoon,” he said. “Also, the north side of Lake Eugene is very silted in. Where there used to be 3 or 4 feet of water, now there’s only 2 feet and that at high tide.

“Even the passes are silted in. Normally, the passes are deeper because the constantly moving current kind of scours out the bottom and digs a deeper channel, but I’ve been kicking up mud running the passes since Katrina. I’d recommend avoiding it altogether on low tides, at least for now.”

Moore says Stump Lagoon and Mussel Bay have some silting also but remain navigable, and better yet, they’re producing some good catches of specks and reds right now.

“The Biloxi Marsh is already producing some nice fish in very good numbers,” Moore said. “All the usual late-fall and early winter spots are firing up.

“What we have to remember is that our winters are not usually severe. We get spells of cold weather, which will drive the fish deep. If you fish during those cold snaps, you’ll have to fish deep holes and deeper channels, like bayous and canals. Bayou LaLoutre, Bayou Sue, St. Malo, Bayou Grande, Bayou Biloxi, Crooked Bayou, Engineer’s and the pipelines are all good places to find cold-water fish.

“During those cold days, especially in the mornings, the fish get kind of still so as to conserve energy; they will hold snug on the bottom, and their feeding instinct won’t be as strong. That doesn’t mean they won’t bite, because they will, but the bite is very slight, and you have to put your bait right in front of their face to entice them to hit it.

“I like to make a slow drift or troll those deeper channels and bayous, and bounce my bait right off the bottom.

“You have to slow down your technique, and you might have to slow down your drift on those days when the current is strong. Use a drift sock or a bucket, and make sure you have enough weight to get your bait all the way to the bottom.”

Moore likes to fish Bayou Chubs or Salt Water Assassins in almost any color. The common consensus is that darker colors work better in winter months. Purples, black, red or avocado, usually combined with a white or chartreuse tail, are good bets. But on bright days with moderate temperatures, break out the bright colors such as clear, chartreuse, glow, gold and pink.

“On those cold days, start with a ¼-ounce jig, and if you can’t feel the bottom, switch to a 3/8. Remember: No bottom, no fish, at least not in colder weather. It’s also a good tactic to fish tandem jigs, because you have an extra bait in the water, and the additional weight helps get you on the bottom,” Moore said.

“But the cold snaps don’t last long down here, and the sun will warm up the water a bit and the fish will start seeking their comfort level. Then you want to fish the same areas, but instead of fishing dead on the bottom, start casting up on the ledges and drop-offs, because that’s where the fish will be.

“If we get a spell of moderate weather, then they’ll move into nearby ponds and bays, over the oyster reefs and flats, and you can even catch them under a cork. But they will stay near deeper water throughout the winter, and will not venture far from it.”

Moore says Stump Lagoon, Mussel Bay, Pete’s Lagoon (especially near the pipeline canals), Cut Off Lagoon and the no-name ponds and washouts around them, Goose Flat (very shallow and should be ventured into only on higher water conditions), the backside of Lena Lagoon and Lake Eugene are all excellent producers throughout most of the winter months.

“The Lake Borgne shoreline normally holds fish in the winter also, especially on a falling tide at the mouths of all the bayous and at drains and points.

“Trout, redfish and flounder will congregate at those spots to inhale shrimp and baitfish sweeping out with the tide. Sometimes you’ll even see birds diving at spots like that, feasting on the shrimp. It’s a good place to cast live shrimp or minnows or soft plastics like DOAs and Speckulizers under a popping cork.

“Last year I didn’t hear many reports of fish at those areas, but then again, not many people were fishing anywhere in the lake or the Biloxi Marsh last year.”

The new rigs and wells in Lake Borgne have also been producing some nice fish with pretty good consistency, and are best fished with live bait on a Carolina rig, or with soft plastics tightlined and bounced off the bottom.

Recently, Moore invited me to make an exploratory trip with him and his brother, Harry. We met at his new double-wide camp on the bayou, at the site where his former house floated away during Katrina. The new place is one of the few inhabitable dwellings out there, and he has it set up to accommodate about 20 people.

We stowed our gear aboard his boat and made a quick stop at Campo’s for ice and live bait. It’s good to see that Blackie, his oldest son FJ, and grandsons Mike and Robbie have reopened in Shell Beach, offering live and dead bait, ice and fuel. They still cannot launch boats, but these are good, hard-working folks, and many anglers hope they will soon be able to remedy that.

Moore headed for a spot where shrimp have been washing out of a bayou into a bay, and the trout have been feeding aggressively.

“I noticed birds diving there one day, and I decided to stop and give it a try. Lo and behold, we caught trout! There were some throwbacks, which is typical at this time of year, but there were plenty keepers too, in the 13- and 14-inch range,” he said.

After a 20-minute run and some sneaky twists and turns, he pointed the bow toward the shoreline of a bay where hundreds of birds were diving and shrimp were jumping out of the water in a desperate attempt to escape certain death from the mouths of underwater predators. He dropped the trolling motor and got us to within casting distance of the action, and we went to work.

Harry and Frank baited up with live shrimp, and immediately had trout on. I decided to fish a shrimp-imitation lure under a Cajun Thunder popping cork, knowing that plastic usually produces just as much under such conditions. But this was a day of surprises. I had a few tugs at my plastic, but no takers. Meanwhile, Frank and Harry were loading the boat.

“I thought you wanted to catch some fish today,” Frank said. “Pull off that plastic and put a live shrimp on that hook.”

I held out a few minutes longer, but still after not a single solid hit, I took his advice and switched. And on my first cast, I had a hookup.

For the better part of an hour, we watched shrimp dancing across the surface of the bay almost everywhere we looked. The birds never stopped diving, and the trout inhaled every live bait we tossed. We limited out in short order and left them biting, and I’m convinced they’re still there. Now all I need to do is figure out exactly where the heck we were!

But no matter. This month, the Biloxi Marsh moves into its prime, and anglers will find fish from the lake to the sound and all points in between. The only people who won’t catch fish this month are the poor saps who stay home. Don’t be one of them.

Capt. Frank Moore can be reached at (504) 887-4960.

Subscribe now, get unlimited access for $19.99 per year

Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and

About Rusty Tardo 362 Articles
Rusty Tardo grew up in St. Bernard fishing the waters of Delacroix, Hopedale and Shell Beach. He and his wife, Diane, have been married over 40 years and live in Kenner.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply