May is tops for inshore fishing in Mobile Bay.
Oh, what to do, what to do? Those were my thoughts as I eased away for the launch with my charter. It wasn’t that the fishing was so tough. On the contrary, the inshore fishing was so good that I was having trouble deciding which opportunity I wanted to take advantage of on this beautiful May morning.
I made up my mind and threw the power to the big Yamaha and away I went. The trip was a huge success. We fished some deep structure with live bait…shrimp mostly. But honestly, I could have done a number of different things. Due to the water temperature and salinity ranges, as well as a somewhat stable weather pattern, May offers us anglers the opportunity to enjoy every aspect of fishing in Mobile Bay. A fun trip can be had by doing everything from wade-fishing with artificial baits to red fishing to deep-water live bait fishing like we did on this charter.
Here are the unique techniques that I use during this exciting fishing period.
One of my favorite ways to fish any time of the year is wading. This works very well in May because the fish stay active all day in shallow water. Also, by May both the bay and sound are loaded with fish, so I can be picky about where I plan to fish.
I check the wind direction when planning a wade-trip. I like the wind to be blowing off of the land that I plan to wade. This creates a lee, keeps the water clear, and allows for longer casts. For example, if the wind has a southerly component, I wade the west end of Dauphin Island on the Mississippi Sound side. If it’s northerly, I like all of the marsh area on the north side of the Mississippi Sound.
I always start with a top-water plug and throw it as long as I am getting strikes. The heavy plugs can be cast a long way and often get reaction bites when no other lures are working. I have a nice wade-belt that has a small tackle box, a small rubber mesh net, and floating pliers all attached with elastic lanyards. If you don’t have one, I recommend at least a small Tupperware box with an extra lure or two and a pair of pliers. You’ll almost certainly lose a lure, so having a spare prevents a hustle back to the boat when the fish bite is hot.
When wading, use the wind to your advantage by wading with it rather than against it. This will keep bow out of your line and let you cast farther, thus covering more ground. I keep moving until I find fish and rarely fish any closer than 50 yards from my boat. The whole idea of wade-fishing is to be quiet. A big boat with waves slapping against it isn’t quiet, so I get away from it.
Both the bay and sound have miles and miles of productive shallow oyster reefs and grass flats. These areas offer luxurious fishing in May. Again, because the water temps are conducive to keeping inshore saltwater fish active all day in the shallows, I choose the reefs to fish based mainly on the current weather. My lures of choice again are top-water plugs, at least to start with, but I catch most of the fish in this application by using a live shrimp or shrimp imitation under a popping cork.
“One of the keys to a successful drift-fishing trip is to locate the fish.”
I like the cup-shaped popping corks from No Slack Tackle. There are diagrams of the live bait popping cork rig on my website under the “Rigging for Trout” tab. The artificial bait popping cork rig is very similar to the live bait rig, except that I use a “bobcat” style hook rather than the treble and don’t use a split shot. I have had success with the ¼ oz. D.O.A. over the years, but have really been doing well with a new lure that I found from a company called Category 5 Outdoors. Theirs is a split-tail shrimp and I rig both of them on the bobcat hook.
One of the keys to a successful drift-fishing trip is to locate the fish. The easiest and most effective way that I have found is to look for slicks. A slick is formed when trout feed and expel small amounts of digestive fluid. When you locate a slick, set up a drift upwind and make casts in front of your drift. Be ready with a pole or small anchor and when you get a bite, quietly stop the boat. You’ve located a school of fish (if they aren’t spooked) that will bite for awhile. Popping corks are designed to be “popped.” I instruct my charters to try to break the line when they pop. You really want to thump the water to help bring fish into your bait.
A fishing trip in the month of May would not be complete without some red fishing. The marsh systems on the north and west sides of the Mississippi Sound teem with slot reds and the bars at the tips of all of the barrier islands get loaded up with bull reds.
On a windy day, I spend many of my trips fishing the protected marsh systems like Grand and Heron bays. Both usually produce slot-sized reds for me on charters. Popping cork rigs with either live or GULP shrimp is my setup of choice for this. Focus on small creek mouths, especially if the bottom has oyster shell, and try to present the bait like a small crab or shrimp that is being swept out of the marsh.
If the weather cooperates, the tips of the landmasses at the mouth of the bay and sound are great places to catch oversized reds. I try to line up a drift with the wind and tide and cast GULP on a jighead.
Top-waters and gold spoons also work well, but the key is to cover ground to find the fish. Like the trout, the big reds usually school during the spring and early summer, so if you do find one, you’ve found a bunch more. The oversized redfish aren’t very difficult to catch when they are found and have really become the symbol of the positive effect of catch-and-release.
You probably won’t impress anyone with a box of big dead redfish. Moreover, you’ll also find that the food quality of these monsters is very poor. Be sure to handle them properly, meaning the use of a wet hand or rubber net to land them—not a gaff. Take a quick picture and release them. That way, they can produce the small marsh reds that we will all continue to enjoy.
Deep-Water Structure Fishing
As the water temperatures warm to the mid and upper 75-degree range, which is typically later in the month of May, I find that my best success is to move to structure in water deeper than eight feet. Both the bay and sound are covered with this feature and every—and I do mean every—piece of structure in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound in eight feet of water and deeper has trout on it during the late spring.
“Live bait—shrimp and croakers—are my favorites when fishing deep structure, but a soft plastic on a jighead will produce as well.”
Live bait—shrimp and croakers—are my favorites when fishing deep structure, but a soft plastic on a jighead will produce as well. My buddy, O.P. Harrison, turned me on to the slip-cork rig. For me, this type of fishing hasn’t been the same since. A cork, whether fished deep or shallow, offers two advantages to the angler. First, it allows for a very natural presentation of bait that is being swept by the current. Second, it allows you to cover ground. You can anchor upcurrent from the structure—rig, wreck, rock pile, etc.—and drift the bait too, across, and downcurrent of the structure.
To do this properly, you’ll need to leave the reel out of gear so it’s free to be pulled with the current. You want it to look natural. The slip-cork rig that I use has been through some evolution and is probably about as good as I can make it. It’s also on my website www.ateamfishing.com.
When using croakers, I like to use a tight-line rig (again on the website ) and just let the bait do the work. The croakers are hooked through the top lip only and the rod is left in the rod holder. When it bends over and nearly touches the water—then and only then—is anyone allowed to pick it up. The key ingredient to my tight line is the Kahle hook. It almost always hooks the trout in the side of the mouth, which makes them easy to unhook and they very rarely get loose.
May—What a Month!
It’s wonderful to have a fishery such as Mobile Bay. The tidal rivers and delta are truly amazing during the late fall and winter, the flats are great during the early spring, and summer offers fantastic deep-structure fishing; plus year-round red fishing is available. But when May comes around and all of it works harmoniously, you’ll feel you’ve attained what the ancient Greeks called thumos, that special time when all that is best within oneself blends with all that is eternal in the universe, a perfect synchronicity. That’s when the true beauty of the Mobile Bay system is appreciated most by the angler.