By Captain Sonny Schindler:
Most of my customers might think I am rude guy on the boat ride out. After getting the boat on a plane I will rarely look a customer in his or her eyes (something my dad always told me do). I like to think I am a very polite guy, but I am a very passionate fisherman. The reason I don’t lock eyes with anyone, or anything for that matter, is that I constantly scan the horizon. Being aware of your surroundings can turn a good day into a great day, quick.
Training your eyes to look for feeding birds can put you on fish in almost any body of water on the globe, but diving birds in the marsh usually mean one thing, trout. One good flock of diving/feeding birds can put a cooler full of trout in your box in no time. Fishing birds is very easy to do, but there are a few things that make it very effective. With a few simple tricks and observations you can put up good numbers of fish and have fun doing it.
The reason for fishing diving birds is very simple:
The trout (and other fish) are feeding on shrimp and minnows. The fish push the bait to the surface were it jumps, or stays close to the surface. The birds are hovering above and dive to get the easy meal. Not all birds follow trout and not all conditions produce them either.
Once you find a flock of birds take a few seconds and watch what is going on. I know in the Biloxi Marsh area, if the birds are mostly gulls, then more than likely the trout are under them. The smaller birds, usually terns, seem to follow the rain minnows. Yes, trout eat rain minnows, but with warm water the trash fish are here too. Lady fish, blue fish, mackerel, and the beloved cat fish for seem reason, follow the same thing the little terns do. Gulls are more prone to follow the shrimp and trout are gorging on shrimp, so play the safe bet and follow the gulls.
In trips past, location has played a key factor for the quality and quantity of our (Shore Thing Charters) catch. Open water has not produced as well as bays. I prefer diving birds as close as possible to land for a nicer box of trout. For the area we fish the closer the birds are to land/marsh the better the catch has been. Open water for our area is usually in 10 to 12 feet of water, while the marsh area is in 8 to 1 foot. Rarely have we put together a nice catch in water less than 8 feet while fishing birds.
Approach to a flock of diving birds is crucial. If you come full speed into the diving birds pushing a big wake, they are as good as gone. Come in slow and watch which way the birds are diving, they will tell you which way the fish are swimming. Ease your trolling motor in the water and try to travel parallel to the birds. If you do not have a trolling motor get up current or upwind (which ever is stronger) and try to drift on the outside of the feeding birds. If you are in water shallow enough and the birds are not moving too fast drop an anchor over. The anchor scenario works very well especially if you have a cajun anchor for quick and quiet anchoring.
The fishing under the birds is usually fast and furious until the fish move, taking the birds with them. We hook fish, sling them in the boat, measure if need be and throw the keepers on the deck. If you keep making trips back and forth to the fish box you will make noise and not be making casts. These fish will feed like piranhas sometimes for over an hour if you don’t spook them. Make every cast count, and try to cast in the spot were the birds dove last. Keep looking around for other flocks in the area, rarely is there just one.
I prefer a good spinning reel for this type of fishing. Okuma makes several reels ranging in price that can cast a country mile. The fish are not sows, with most fish seldom going over a pound and a half. More importantly, you will have situations where you will have to cast into the wind and the bait casters backlash too often. 20lb power pro can usually handle anything that swims under the birds. A good popping cork (BOAT MONKEY FLOAT COMPANY) is a must for several good reasons. The corks with extra weight cast extra far and that are what you want. A good popping cork makes that “clicking” sound to mimic a feeding trout, which also draws strikes. 3/8 to 1/2 ounce jig heads give you enough weight to launch your rig while keeping your boat well away from the fish. A good soft plastic is all you need to get the job done. We use baits like the Savage Gear 3D shrimp or Matrix soft plastics. Light almost clear colors work best for me but I try to mimic the color tone of a shrimp (match the hatch).
If you are just getting started fishing or would like to get your children involved, this is the type of fishing you need to do. Imagine taking your young child to a flock of birds and getting bit every single cast. Fishing the birds is not only fun, it produces good numbers of fish for you and your family. If you need help getting started charter a boat and ask questions. Most captains don’t mind showing areas were birds are, because there are usually areas that hold birds and trout.
Lastly, if you come upon a flock of birds, and another boat is fishing them, look for another flock. If you cannot find another flock stay out of the primary boats way, he was there first. Try to be as quiet as possible and stay on the opposite side of the diving birds. As always, have fun and be safe.
Captain Sonny Schindler
Shore Thing Fishing Charters
Bay St Louis, MS