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A special time of the year for anglers

9/8/2009

This is an exciting time of the year around the Mississippi Delta area, especially around Venice, La.

The "Muddy" Mississippi River, as it is known throughout the world, begins drastic changes. As the sediment-filled waters flowing downriver begin to slow, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico starts to work its way up the river system, bringing in clean, green water. It is amazing how clean it has become in just the past week.

As the river clears, several changes occur.

Hoards of baitfish gather where currents from the river flow through the marshy areas, and huge schools of mullet are beginning to raft together, preparing for spawning season.

Combined with the increased salinity, sportsman now have the opportunity to catch many saltwater species of fish directly in the Mississippi River. Speckled trout, redfish, flounder, jack crevalle, black drum, sheepshead, sharks and several other species move into the river system.

That's right. This smorgasbord of fish can and will be found in the normally freshwater areas of the Mississippi River.

This special time has been enjoyed by anglers for decades, but many of us are guilty of taking this astounding fishery for granted. How many others places can you catch both freshwater species like largemouth bass alongisde saltwater species like redfish and flounder?

From the mouth up to Venice, all the way into Hopedale and Delacroix, deep into the marshes that surround Lakes Ponchatrain and Maurepas, and back around to the west into the surrounding marshes of Lake Catawachee and the Lafitte area, anglers look forward to this time of the year.

From now until Christmas, the waters in these areas will clearer. That is, of course, as long as the Mississippi River stays at a low stage. That is usually anything below five feet at the Carrolton gauge in New Orleans. And if it gets below three feet, it becomes truly amazing.

As an angler, searching out remote pockets — smaller ponds that have cuts or smaller canals allowing tidal flow or river current — will afford great opportunities. In most of these areas you will find an assortment of grasses that help filter the waters as well.

Load up your tackle boxes with a variety of baits, because fish, especially redfish, become aggressive and will attack nearly anything. These bullies of the marsh will attack topwater, spinnerbaits, gold spoons, soft plastics, crankbaits, basically any bait in your tackle box.

Clean water also allows the ultimate fishing experience: sight casting to your target. Stalking, sighting and then presenting a lure to a redfish just doesn't get any better.

Trout and flounder are also at the top of the list for inshore anglers. They are not great for sight casting, but flounder bunch up on flats close to deeper water, and it's a plus if near moving water. A 1/4-ounce jig head with a scented plastic bait works well, but for best results, add a piece of dead shrimp.

If using live bait, a Carolina-style rig works best. Make your leader 18 inches, attach a small bearing swivel then add a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce egg sinker on the main line side. Working the flat close to a drop-off during a rising or high tide yields the best results.

Work the drop-off on a falling tide, presenting bait along the the deeper side. Make sure the bait is on the bottom and work it slowly.

For the speckled trout, moving water is essential, whether it is tidal or wind-driven. Finding bait and being in clean water will equal success.

If you pick your spots properly, you can find most of your favorite species all within casting radius of each other.

Let's not forget that little green fish. I think they call it a largemouth bass. Again, this is the time of the year when the bass enters the playing field with his saltwater buddies. Casting Baby Minus-1's, soft plastics, and spinnerbaits along the edges of the grasses will usually result in a mixed bag of reds and bass.

I've even found myself pulling a couple of those green ones on my deck, and next thing I know, I'm kissing them and screaming "Never Give Up!" while closing my eyes and picturing myself winning the Bassmasters Classic.

You don't really believe that, do you?

The reality is from now through Christmas, anglers can find a special treat in Southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta: clear waters and a smorgasbord of fish.