They might not be the Pearly Gates, but these under-fished gems offer anglers a little bit of heaven on earth.
A thick layer of fog hugged the ground as I wound my way east on Highway 90 through the Rigolets and north toward the East Pearl Launch at the base of the Pearlington Bridge. The public launch there is concrete and is the only place my friend, Terry Googins, will launch when he fishes the area.Googins is not a charter captain or fishing guide, but he’s one of the most serious and dedicated anglers I know, who pounds the water several times a week all year round in search of speckled trout and redfish.
The plan was to meet him and another friend and fishing fanatic, Chas Champagne, at 6 a.m. at the launch, but the dense fog already had me running behind schedule.
Just by its nature, fog is most dense over water, and Highway 90 crosses several rivers as it winds its way past the Rigolets bridge. Drivers cross over West Pearl, West Middle, Middle and Old Pearl before they get to the East Pearl bridge.
And on a morning like this, with no wind and apparently the perfect atmospheric conditions to produce it, the fog hovered low and clutched the ground like it intended to stay.
I pulled into the launch at the foot of the bridge, and Googins and Champagne were already in the boat waiting. I threw my gear aboard, and Googins pointed the bow south, headed for the cut into Old Pearl.
We motored slowly due to the fog, staying close enough to the shoreline to keep it in sight, and headed to one of Googins’ trout and redfish hotspots.
Googins has been fishing the Pearls for 30-plus years, and is convinced the area is largely ignored as well-known regions like Lafitte, Delacroix, Hopedale, Lake Pontchartrain and the Bayou Lafourche area get all the attention.
The Pearl River actually forms in Winston County, Miss., from the confluence of Nanawaya and Tallahaga creeks. The 485-mile river becomes part of the border between Mississippi and Louisiana, and is entirely a freshwater river until it splits and nears its mouths. East Pearl empties into Lake Borgne and West Pearl into Pass Rigolets and from there into Lake Borgne.
The lower section of each river has become prime brackish-water habitat for redfish, speckled trout and flounder, as well as bass and striper.
We chatted over the drone of the engine about the last time we fished together. Googins was fishing then out of a 16-foot flatboat, and we made a trip along the Twin Spans, the Highway 11 bridge and the Trestle, after launching out of Tite’s. That trip was quite memorable because Googins slaughtered the trout, all in the 4- and 5-pound range, while I became frustrated and discouraged trying to follow his methods.
Fishing the legs of the bridges can be extremely productive or just as extremely frustrating if you haven’t quite grasped the technique, but that’s a story for another day.
Nevertheless, Googins now fishes out of an 18-foot Pathfinder with a 90-horsepower Mercury, a rig he won several years back in the STAR tournament for an 8-pound-plus speck he nailed along those bridges.
Fifteen minutes later, Googins killed the outboard and dropped the trolling motor over in a section of Old Pearl near the juncture at East Pearl.
“We’ve been on a real good trout bite in here lately,” he said, “on both sides of the river. I like to toss my bait right up against the bank and then work it back toward me, not too fast, letting it drop down to the bottom, and then work it up.
“The fish are up close to the shoreline on warmer days and down deeper along the drop offs on colder days. Your job is to locate them. Once you find where they are holding, deep or shallow, you can concentrate on that area and depth and put some good numbers of fish in the boat.”
For bait, Googins uses soft-plastic Hybrids on a 3/8- or ½-ounce plain round jighead. Purple/chartreuse, magic minnow and shrimp are the colors he tosses most often, but on a bright day with warmer temperatures, he’ll break out the topwater baits, gold spoons and spinners.
“During the winter months, I mostly toss Hybrids and fish off the bottom,” he said. “The exceptions are those times when we’ve had several days of warmer weather and the fish go shallower and become more aggressive.
“Then I’ll put a Hybrid on a No. 4 spinner-blade and work that over the shallow flats and up close to the shorelines around points and coves. A spinner-jig is one of the most versatile baits you can use. Everything will hit it — reds, specks, bass, flounder, even striper. I don’t understand why more people don’t use them.”
We worked our way along within casting distance of the shoreline, concentrating our efforts at drains and points, and we pounded the bank pretty thoroughly. Initially we had no takers, but Googins started working his bait farther out toward the middle of the river along the ledges, and that’s where they were.
“Got one,” he said. “This is a nice red. The water is still cold this morning, and the fish are holding on the drop-offs in deeper water. Once the sun warms everything up, they’ll move close to the bank in shallow water. It drops down to 10 or 12 feet deep here, so cast farther out and let your bait go all the way to the bottom.”
He worked the hefty fish to the side of the boat, and lifted it aboard without bothering to net it. That’s a procedure I watched him repeat throughout the course of the day, but it’s not one I’d advise. First, it’s hard on rods. And second, you lose good fish that way. Googins lost a whopper redfish later that morning trying to lift it in. Champagne and I promised to net any more redfish he hooked that day.
We put six or eight reds in the box before we moved over to West Middle and finished off our limits. Once again, we trolled and worked our baits against the shoreline, and on down the ledges. The fish were mostly concentrated near points and drains, and in the process of limiting out on reds we almost put a limit of specks in the box as well.
Champagne says the Pearls have been extremely productive for both trout and redfish ever since Katrina. Flounder and bass are also commonplace, and striper ranging anywhere between 2 and 8 pounds are not uncommon.
“All in the same areas, all on the same baits,” he said.
A baker’s dozen
The whole plan for the day was not merely to fish this underfished and undervalued commodity, but to pry some vital information out of Googins. I wanted to know where these fish were hanging out and how to fish them. I wanted to know for my own sake because I definitely plan to do this again. And I wanted to know for your sake, so you can discover these undiscovered gems.
Googins willingly agreed, and supplied me with this treasure map and his personal instructions on how to fish each spot.
• Nos. 1-2: Little Lake, or as the locals call it, Mud Lake.
“This is probably my favorite place to fish,” Googins said. “But it’s a shallow lake so it’s not a real cold-weather spot. But you can fish it during the winter when the weather has been warmer for a few days.
“Troll along the north shoreline or the east shoreline, and fish the cuts, drains and points thoroughly.
“This is a great place to fish either a Hybrid on a ¼-ounce jig, or toss a beetle-spin or even a topwater bait. The lake is shallow and usually grassy, but it can be incredibly productive. It’s a great spring and summer spot as well.”
• No. 3: Johnson Pass.
“This pass connects West Pearl with West Middle, and it averages 10 to 12 feet deep,” Googins said. “It holds fish throughout the winter for its entire length. I drop my trolling motor and start fishing as soon as I enter it. I put my boat right in the middle and fish both banks with a 3/8- or ½-ounce jig and a Hybrid lure in purple/chartreuse, magic minnow or natural shrimp colors.
“There are trout, reds, flounder and bass here, and on warmer days, you can fish them with beetle-spins. There are some good cuts from the marsh in this pass, so concentrate on them.”
• No. 4: East Middle.
“There’s great redfish action in this section of the river,” Googins said. “Drift or troll, preferably on a falling tide, and stay out and cast in to the bank. If you get no action, back off the bank and fish closer to the middle, letting your bait dribble down the ledges.
“Use a heavy jig, ½- or 3/8-ounce, because there’s usually a lot of current and you have to get your bait all the way to the bottom to catch fish. Sometimes I limit out at one spot along this stretch, and sometimes I have to keep moving.”
• No. 5: The West Pearl Intersection.
“This area is usually loaded with pogies, and when the baitfish are there, so are the trout and redfish,” Googins said. “There are good flats on both banks, and the fish could be hanging anywhere from tight against the shoreline to dead in the middle of the bayou. It’s also a great spot to toss topwaters on a warmer day.”
• No. 6: Where Middle and Old Pearl converge.
“This is an excellent cold-weather spot. In fact, the colder it is, the better it produces. Fish all the points, the bend and the middle on a 3/8- or ½-ounce jig, and you can expect a great mix of fish, including reds, trout, bass, flounder and striper,” he said.
• No. 7: The Lagoon.
“You’ll always catch fish in the Lagoon,” Googins said. “It’s loaded with reds right now, and whenever we have a stretch of moderate weather, the trout will be all over it. Fish this area tightlining a ¼-ounce jig, a beetle-spin or even with topwater baits.”
• No. 8: The Bridge Canal at East Middle.
“The shoreline all along this canal is good,” Googins said. “Work the marsh on both banks for trout, reds and bass.”
A word of caution: There are some underwater pilings just below the surface that can tear a hole in your hull or rip off a lower unit, about 50 or 60 yards before the bridge in the bend. The pilings are on both sides of the canal and extend out for a good ways, so to avoid calamity, stay in the dead center of this canal when you navigate it, he advised.
• No. 9: The north side of the bridge.
“Fish points, cuts, turns, flats and shoreline, all the way into Buck Bayou, working both sides of the bank,” he said.
• No. 10: Middle River.
“This spot always has fish,” Googins said. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone there and failed to catch something. The point is very productive all year round, and the shoreline across from the point is also good. We catch fish against the bank, along the ledges, and dead on the bottom in the middle of the river.”
• No. 11: Old Pearl at East Pearl.
“This stretch usually produces a lot of trout, and this year it’s thick with redfish. Just drift or troll, and work your baits on both banks. If the fish aren’t hitting up close to the shoreline, back off and fish the ledges,” he said.
• No. 12: Polecat.
“This is a great shoreline that reaches its peak in the spring and summer. But it’s one of those places where you either strike it rich, or you strike out. It’s either on or it’s off,” he said.
• No. 13: The Pilings.
“This set of pilings has produced incredible numbers of fish, and you should never pass them up. Fish them just like you’d fish rigs. But once again, either the fish are there and you wail on them, or they’re not. It should really turn on in another 4 to 6 weeks,” he said.
So there you have it: the best spots in the Pearls from an angler who’s fished them for 30 years. Study the map, and follow the directions. You will find silver and bronze spot-tailed gems in these Pearls.
Then eat the map. We wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands.