A mild cold front the evening before produced a chilly breeze at the boat ramp that morning when J. Read Hendon and I launched my skiff, Shallow-Water MARC. It was late September, and Hendon, a fisheries biologist for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, in nearby Ocean Springs, and I planned to fish for seatrout post oil-spill mess. Looking for shelter from the wind, we ended up in Graveline Bayou. And what I saw upon entering this estuarine marsh surprised me.
Graveline Bayou is one of the few relatively undisturbed bayous and small tidal creeks in Mississippi. The majority of the system is a landing area for migratory birds, as well as a nursery for baitfish, crustaceans, and predators the likes of seatrout, redfish and flounder. The shallow marsh bottom is a mix of mud and oyster bars, all of which were vivid with my Lowrance StructureScan. If you stray from the channel and get too tight against certain areas of the marsh, you’ll know it fast. Fortunately, Hendon knows these waters, and we had to concentrate only on catching fish.
What got my attention most was the lack of any evidence of oil, which, admittedly, was my concern. I’m not implying there were no problems associated with the spill, just that things looked normal to me: birds frolicking about, clean marshes and beaches, and no residue on the fishing lines or boat. In fact, the number of recreational fishing boats in and near that bayou was great to see, topped only by the hundreds, if not thousands, of menhaden that were crammed into that system. There were so many menhaden that I wondered how we’d compete for the seatrout’s attention with our topwater plugs and live shrimp. But we were ready to give it a heck of a try.
Seatrout Soft Spot
Admittedly, I’m a big fan of seatrout, having grown up fishing for them in Miami’s North Biscayne Bay. I still target them a good amount today and am experienced at catching them on topwater and swimming baits, soft-plastics, and live baits such as finger mullet, herring, pilchards, croakers and even shrimp. Yet Hendon showed me something new: trolling live shrimp. I’ve certainly drifted with live shrimp before, but never trolled them. And I was a bit skeptical when I saw him rig a small to medium live shrimp on a light spinning outfit, cast it behind the boat and place the rod in a gunwale holder. And if that weren’t enough, he did so with a second outfit on the opposite side of the boat. He then told me to speed up the trolling motor slightly and head up the creek.
My initial thoughts as I chucked my topwater Rapala from the bow of the boat centered around the shrimp not getting deep enough without weight on the lines, and their propensity to spin. I was confident I was about to take Hendon to school on catching trout until I saw one of his rods bend. He picked it up and reeled in a frisky trout, which was promptly measured, tagged and released for ongoing GCRL research. He then rebaited and cast again. Any thoughts I had of him just getting lucky quickly dissipated when the other rod went heavy with a trout. Then the doubleheaders came. Soon Hendon had gotten so far ahead of me with trout that I just had to learn all about his simple setup. There had to be considerably more to the technique than met the eye.