John’s Note: Captain Sonny Schindler was born and raised fishing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After graduating from college, Schindler worked on tugs and private boats before moving to Venice, Louisiana, in 2002, where he fished blue water full time for tuna, marlin, dolphin, wahoo, snapper, grouper, cobia and more. For the last few years, Schindler, who fishes every day, has been a captain with Shore Thing Charters in Bay St. Louis, Miss. You can contact him at [email protected] or 228-342-2295.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to catch the most speckled trout in the shortest time is to fish the birds.
“A school of speckled trout will chase shrimp or baitfish to the surface,” Captain Sonny Schindler reports. “Often, you can see shrimp and/or baitfish jumping on the surface when the speckled trout and redfish are feeding. Seagulls make their living by eating the shrimp and baitfish that the speckled trout and redfish push to the surface. The size of bait you see on the surface usually determines the size of the speckled trout in the school. If you spot big shrimp or large baitfish jumping, you’ll know there’s big trout in that school. If you see medium-sized shrimp or medium-sized baitfish, the trout in that school usually will be legal-size keepers. But small bait jumping more than likely means only small trout are in that school.”
The schools of trout are easy to find, because you’ll see a cloud of seagulls above the baitfish. Once you spot the seagulls, look for some of the gulls diving down to the water and picking up bait to eat. Anglers call them working birds, since these birds are working for their lunches. You may think all you have to do to catch speckled trout is to cast live shrimp or plastic grubs right under the gulls. That’s true, if you don’t commit one of the sins of speckled trout fishing.
Sin No. 1: Running Your Big Motor Too Close to Working Birds. “Speckled trout aren’t deaf,” Schindler reports. “If you run your boat right into a flock of working birds, the speckled trout in that school will scatter, and you may not catch any of them.” Once Schindler sees birds working, he’ll drive his big engine toward the flock of birds, shut down his big engine about 100 yards from where the seagulls are picking and eating bait and then wind drift or use his trolling motor to move closer to the birds. As Schindler says, “I want to stay about a good cast away from the birds.”
Most often, Schindler will fish with a jig tied directly to the line, or he’ll put a live shrimp, a live croaker or a plastic jig below a popping cork and use a No. 2 treble hook. When the cork hits the water, Schindler allows it to sit still to see if he gets a bite. If he doesn’t get a bite within about 10 seconds, he’ll give a hard jerk with his rod to cause the popping cork to splash and make a sound on the surface that imitates feeding trout. “If you have good-sized trout in the school and if you don’t get too close to the school, you often can limit-out on speckled trout fishing on just one school of trout.”
Sin No. 2: Making Noise in the Boat. Speckled trout have very good hearing. For this reason, if you jump up and down in the boat, if you drop a fish on the bottom of the boat when you catch it, or, if you make any other type of noise in the boat, the trout can hear it, and they’ll scatter. “That’s why Shore Thing Charters prefers using a dip net to land all our trout and redfish,” Captain Schindler explains. “Then we can take the fish out of the net, unhook it and quietly put it in the ice chest.”
Sin No. 3: Don’t Throw in the Anchor. Many times when you start catching trout under a school of working birds, if the school isn’t moving, you can put your anchor in the water and catch your limit of trout. However, if your anchor chain hits against the side of the boat, or you throw your anchor out, you’ll spook the trout. Schindler very carefully takes his anchor out of a storage compartment and eases the anchor over the side of the boat. He makes sure neither the anchor nor the anchor chain hits the side of the boat or makes any noise at all. Next, he gently eases the anchor down to keep it from hitting the bottom with a thud sound.
Sin No. 4: Deciding That When You Don’t See Working Birds You Can’t Find Trout. Oftentimes, the trout won’t force the bait they’re feeding on to the surface. Especially if they’re feeding on croakers, they’ll kill, crush or eat the croakers underwater. But croakers and other saltwater prey fish have oil in their bodies. When the trout kills the bait and eats it, the oil in the baitfish’s body rises to the surface where you’ll see an oily slick as the trout are feeding. “If you watch the area where the trout are feeding, you’ll see that slick begin to form in a certain direction,” Schindler explains. “Generally, the trout will be feeding out in front of the slick. By watching the slick and keeping your boat positioned in front of the slick, you can cast to the school and catch them. Also, trout will hold just off any type current break, and they’ll feed in the mouth of any type of creek or slough, when the tide’s falling, and the bait’s coming out of the estuary.”
For more information about fishing Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and to get John’s eBooks and print books “Fishing Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and Visitor’s Guide,” “The Best Wild Game & Seafood Cookbook Ever: 350 Southern Recipes for Deer, Turkey, Fish, Seafood, Small Game and Birds” and “13 Saltwater fish Recipes You Can’t Live Without,” click here.