August 3, 2008

Katrina Reef is a Blessing

By Robert L. Brodie, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Aug. 3--For any angler, it's not hard to realize just how unbearable the summer heat can be.

When the wind dies out its brutal, and getting to the fishing grounds extremely early, or late in the afternoon, can deliver a bit of relief. However, by fishing on or near the bottom can increase the bite ratio well into the heat of day, a time when many fish will hunker close to the cooler depths.

Last week, much time was spent fishing near the concrete island known as the Katrina Reef, a protruding mass of pilings and rubble, formerly the old Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge. Although the reef is the result of one of the hurricane, a wealth of world-class light-tackle fishing is now being generated off this fish-attracting structure.

Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, white trout, ground mullet and flounder have taken up residence. So have sand trout, croakers, catfish, spadefish, mullet and a plethora of small sharks.

With a continuous west to southwest wind keeping the Mississippi Sound rather turbid, and then the tremendous heat thrown into the mix, a plan to keep baits in the cooler depths would pay off all last week.

At the Katrina Reef, the depth is 8 to 10 feet, and many species lurk close to the bottom in an effort to keep cool. Bottom rigs were used to catch speckled trout, flounder, white trout, ground mullet and Spanish mackerel.

There was also a bycatch of unwanted species like eels, pinfish, grunts, stingrays and small sharks.

But don't try calling the bycatch a nuisance to children. It draws the interest of young anglers, and if it keeps them happy, let them ogle the odd creatures.

A variation in bottom rigs was used at the reef. For ground mullet and white trout, a simple three-way bottom rig was deadly on the fish teeming on the bottom.

The key was to keep the bait close to the bottom and make sure the leader was short. Let's say the weight's leader was 10 inches long, and the hook's leader was 8 inches. This proved to be ideal. The bottom bites came consistently with fresh dead squid or live menhaden.

Yes, there are times when the fish are so thick and all over the water column that the leader length isn't that critical, but on certain days and under certain conditions a small adjustment can highly increase you catch.

To make the bottom rig take a 2-foot length of 25- or 30-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon leader material, fold in almost in half, and then make a three turn overhand knot in the bent end. This will form a loop that will later be attached to the reels main line by another loop. On the shortest end attach a 1/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook, or a 1/0 O'Shaughnessy j-style hook.

On the longest end tie on the weight, generally a one-ounce bell or disk style sinker. To attach the leader to the main line first make an overhand loop in the main line. Next, slip the main line's loop through the loop of the leader, and then pass the entire leader through the main line's loop.

When cinched up tightly this will from a neat clinch, and prevents the need of using a swivel of any sort. Thus, a very stealthy leader can be presented, and there is no metal swivel to be reeled up into the tip of the rod that may damage the rod's tip.

Now with fish holding deep, even big specks, make a slight adjustment to this rig for deep live bait presentation. Simply make the weight's leader short say six inches or so, and lengthen the hook's leaded out to three feet. With this set up the live bait is now allowed to swim more freely about in the current and off the bottom.

And while on the subject of live bait, many of last week's big catches were the result of presenting live menhaden into the depths below.

This is a great time of the year because the majority of menhaden in coastal bays have reached a two- to three-inch length, an ideal size for hungry speckled trout, as well as those teeming white trout. Tossing those small live menhaden on the standard bottom rigs proved to be deadly on the reef's white trout, and was contributed to catching plenty of the bigger "yellow-mouth" specimens.

It seems in those murky conditions the tantalizing flash of lively menhaden proved to be irresistible to the white trout, drawing faster and harder strikes, and producing bigger than average fish.

However, the fishing conditions can change rapidly at the reef, and when the seas calm down and water conditions begin to clear up fish will begin to move back up the water column

Ben Benoit and Ted Baer II fished the reef last week in better conditions, and on an afternoon outing in the same area that I had fished deep, they used popping corks and hammered the big white trout, a few nice specks, and 12 big Spanish mackerel. Both fished with live menhaden.

So just like that, a cooler time, calm seas and clearing water were the ingredients that changed the strategy.

Catching menhaden is easy, and all one needs is a 5- or 6-foot brill net. Good vision is needed to locate the nervous patches of water created by menhaden schooling just under the surface, and just one well-placed throw will produce more bait than needed.

However, keep some squid or shrimp as backup. The flavor of the day can change from one minute to the next.

The Katrina Reef has been a blessing to south Mississippi anglers, and as time goes along it will produce more and bigger fish, and that's something we can all appreciate.


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