Throw suspending baits this month, and you’ll catch the biggest trout in the area.
You’ll be making a big mistake if you write this month off. I know how frustrating it can be to fish in March. After a cold and dreary winter, most of us anglers are happy to see sunshine again, and we’re eager to get out on the water chasing specks and reds. But we also know from past experience that March is a moody and fickle lady. She can entice us with several warm and sunny days only to snatch them away when we reach for them.
March is appropriately called a “transition” month, which, like late September and early October, marks the change of the seasons. Winter is grudgingly giving up its hold on the thermometer, and spring is slowly but surely getting the upper hand in the struggle.
The fish are caught in the middle of yo-yo-like temperatures, straying out over oyster reefs and flats when it warms up, and scurrying back into the deeper canals and bayous when winter shoots down another blast.
Hunger drives them out of the deep interior marshes where their food supplies are disappearing faster than crawfish at a Boudreaux family reunion, and instinct propels them steadily toward the coastline, where warmer waters, the urge to spawn and baitfish aplenty await. That means fish tend to be scattered rather than schooled, and constantly on the move.
Add to that those blustery March winds, and you see why some frustrated anglers decide to simply sit March out rather than fight it.
But that would be a big mistake, according to Capt. Charlie Thomason (504-278-FISH).
“March is the month we specifically target big trout, and 4-, 5- and 6-pound trout are not uncommon,” he said. “In fact, I love to fish in March for several reasons.
“First, we don’t have to buy live bait, which is usually scarce anyway so we are spared that expense. Second, we don’t have to run far at all to get into some great transitional trout action, and third, we have virtually no competition on the water because so many anglers choose not to fish this month.
“Plus, this is one of the best times of the year to fish suspending baits for some big trout action.”
To experience first-hand just what Thomason was talking about, I made a recent trip with him to get in on some of the action.
My long-time fishing partner, Sal Scurria, and I met Thomason at his just-completed camp and dock in Hopedale for a run into the nearby marsh. We stowed our gear aboard his 24-foot Triton, and he fired up the 225 Honda and got us under way.
He promised us a short ride, and he lived up to his word. In almost no time at all, we were casting plugs in an open bay. Thomason ties suspending baits directly to the end of his line. No leader, no swivels, no snaps. And the plugs he uses are either MirrOlure Catch 5s, Catch 2000s or the new MirrOminnows or MirrOdines.
“These are suspending baits,” he explained. “They don’t float on the surface like a topwater bait, and they don’t really sink to the bottom either. They are made to suspend and swim anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet below the surface. So you cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve, and twitch as you reel in.
“You have to vary your retrieve until you find what the fish want. Sometimes a straight retrieve with no twitch at all is what they’ll hit. Other times you might have to reel, pause, twitch, reel, pause, twitch. Or reel faster, slower and twitch.
“The idea is to try varying your retrieve until something provokes a strike.”
Thomason says the twitching action is important because it really puts some flash in the water, which the predatory species see, and the twitch moves some water, which they can feel. And the bait rattles when you twitch it, which they hear, so it attracts them on many levels and provokes them to attack.
“Why not toss a soft plastic under a cork?” I asked.
“My technique for March is to target bigger trout, “Thomason replied. “You could fish some of these same areas under a popping cork or tight-lined, and you’ll catch some fish. But you won’t catch the quality of fish I’ll catch using suspending baits.”
And when casting the plugs, he lets the boat drift, using the trolling motor just enough to control the drift and keep the boat positioned for easy casting.
And speaking of positioning, Thomason does something else that you’ll want to remember. Instead of drifting off the shoreline and casting toward the bank as most of us normally do, he does just the opposite. He snugs the boat up tight against the shoreline, and drifts as close to the bank as he can, casting into the open water.
“This is very important to remember at this time of year,” Thomason said. “The bigger trout are feeding on small baitfish right now — mostly minnows and mullet. Mullet becomes their primary source of food in March and April, and that is a key to finding trout.
“Look for any signs of baitfish in the water, and toss your bait in there. Use a lure that resembles their prey, either a minnow- or mullet-imitation lure. And keep in mind that the mullet are usually not clinging to the bank right now, they are hanging off the shore along ledges and ridges, and that’s where you have to toss your plugs.”
Thomason was tossing a Catch 5, and I was casting the smaller and lighter MirrOminnow, but it was Thomason who got the first good hit. He reeled in a 2-pound trout that smacked his black back/white body lure.
I wasn’t getting as much distance with my casts tossing the lighter lure, so I switched to a Catch 5 in the green back mullet color. Thomason pushed a button, and the PowerPole hummed as it stuck us fast to the bottom and stopped our drift.
“I think there are some fish in this section, so let’s work it thoroughly before we move on,” he said.
We worked that area and put a few more trout in the boat, and then resumed our drift, only to return and re-drift the same area again. And that’s the procedure we followed throughout the morning.
At times, we drifted farther into the open bay a good distance from the shore, but always we kept drifting until we got into some action. Whenever we did, Thomason pushed the remote button he wears around his neck for the PowerPole, and we’d stick until we were sure nothing else was biting.
We picked up some really nice trout in the process, some tipping the scale at nearly 5 pounds — all caught on suspending plugs and all caught casting away from the bank.
“I will basically focus on five areas this month, and all are close to either Hopedale or Delacroix Island: Lake Amedee, Lake Ameda, Hopedale Lagoon, Lake Robin and Lake Coquille,” Thomason said. “I’m not saying those are the only areas to catch fish, but that is where I normally focus my efforts.
“All of those lakes hold some good trout in March. What you want to find is a shallow lake or bay with between 1½ to 5 feet of water with a good oyster bottom. We talk about fishing the oyster reefs here a lot, but in actuality, our reefs are really mostly a cover on the bottom.
“But that’s what you want to fish, a shallow lake with an oyster bottom. That’s where the mullet and baitfish will be, and that’s where you want to cast your suspending baits. If you’re not sure if a lake has an oyster bottom, look for lakes and bays with PVC pipes sticking up; that’s what the oyster fishermen use to mark their reefs and boundaries. Drift those areas with suspending baits, and keep varying your twitch and retrieve until you get on some fish.”
“This is probably my favorite area to drift,” Thomason said. “I fish the entire west side, from Petain Lagoon to the Reggio Canal, anywhere from 20 yards to 100 yards off the bank. The biggest trout I’ve ever caught in March have come from that area.
“Patience is necessary whenever you target bigger trout, and you’ll do a whole lot of casting and retrieving. But I’d rather catch a smaller number of bigger fish than a larger number of small fish any day.
“Keep your boat tight to the shore, and cast into the open water. Try varying your distance from the bank and fishing farther off the bank until you get into some action.”
Thomason holds to the view that darker-colored lures work best on cloudy and overcast days, while bright-colored lures produce better on bright, sunny days.
“I fish a lot of dark blue, dark green or black/orange lures on cloudy days, and chartreuse is a good color too. On bright sunny days, I fish black/white, green/white and pink/chartreuse colors. But my all-around favorite lure and color is a purple/chartreuse Catch 5. That outproduces them all in my book,” he said.
“I like the whole south side of Hopedale Lagoon,” Thomason said. “The north side is very shallow, so avoid it, but there is enough water on the south side to fish it, and there is always a good tide movement through the south side.
“Get close to the bank and cast out, and don’t let the oyster-boat traffic discourage you. The fish are used to it, and the boat traffic scatters the bait and keeps the trout moving.
“If the wind is blowing too hard to cast into it, go farther toward the middle with your boat and cast with the wind so you can get your bait 15 to 20 feet or so off the bank.”
“The south and west sides of Lake Ameda have the most oyster shells on the bottom and the better tidal movement flowing through, all of which makes for more bait and more fish chasing them,” Thomason said. “I especially like the west side of Ameda, but the whole lake holds trout. Drift the west side from top to bottom following the same technique. Stay tight against the bank and cast out, and keep varying your twitch and retrieve until you find the presentation they want.”
“The whole northwest side of Lake Robin has a good, thick oyster bottom, and that section of the lake always seems to hold mullet. That combination makes it a top spot for March and April trout,” Thomason said. “I especially like to drift the section between Bayou Batola and Bayou Robin, which is generally the most productive area.”
“I like the northwest corner of Lake Coquille from Bayou Bernard to Grand Pass,” Thomason said. “That whole section of the lake has a heavy oyster bottom, and it holds mullet. Where the bait is, the trout are.
“Another thing about Lake Robin and Lake Coquille in March and April is the redfish often move into the same areas in huge numbers to prey on the big mullet population, and that makes for some great fishing action. The reds will hit the same suspending baits, and they will definitely put a bend in your rod.”
We headed back to the dock with the nicest box of big trout I’ve seen since the summer slams in the Sound.
And you can bet I won’t be sitting March out.
Capt. Charlie Thomason can be reached at (504) 278-FISH.
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