Can you say Cobia! March is the unofficial start to the new fishing year! March brings a variety of new species to the mix as the weather is warming, but the one that really gets fisherman fired up is cobia!
You will also see the first king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle of the year. Many of the early kings will be very good sized, over 40lbs. Over the last few years, the kings have shown up in great quantities. The piers have had 40 or 50 a day caught when the weather is right late in the month.
Spanish will also invade the inshore areas, pompano numbers go up, and spring breakers fill the beaches.
Cobia can show up at anytime in March. The earliest I can remember them showing was in the mid-2000 time frame when the Full Pull saw one on February 26. They hooked one on the 27th, but lost it. Then, the weather turned bad for a couple days and they caught the first one of the year on March 2 (if my memory serves me right).
There are several ways to catch cobia. Most are caught spot casting from a boat or pier.
For the boat fisherman, most of them fish with live eels, live pinfish, jigs or savage eels. The boat fisherman head out of the pass and generally fish to the west in the morning to have the sun at their back. Around midday they’ll head back to the east again with the sun at their back, making it easier to spot the fish.
Pier fisherman usually fish with jigs and stand on the east side of the pier looking for the cobia that are migrating from east to west.
Cobia can be caught bottom fishing, chumming or trolling, but the fisherman taking advantage of boats with towers or piers tend to have the best luck. Why? They don’t have to just wait and hope for a bite but actually hunt the cobia down to catch them.
Spanish can show up any time in March. Many or the old timers say look for the Spanish to start biting on the morning of the 3rd foggy day of the month or when the dogwood trees start to bloom.
Spanish can be caught trolling the bay, harbor, pass and along the sand bars just off the beach with mackerel tree rigs, straw rigs, spoons and Yo-zuri lures.
You can also get good numbers of Spanish off the piers and jetties using jigs, Gotcha lures, spoons, bubble rigs, and Yo-zuri lures.
Spanish are excellent eating, fun and easy to catch and provide all day fun for kids!!
Kings should arrive mid-month. The earliest ones normally get caught buy boats drifting live baits while bottom fishing and shortly after the word gets out about those anglers fishing the beaches targeting kings or while looking for cobia troll lures while searching for cobia start getting them regular.
Kings can be caught by fisherman in boats in a variety of ways. Troll dead cigar minnows on a duster wigged with a planner or down rigger, use Yo-zuri plugs, Rapala’s or spoons.
Another great method is slow trolling live baits (cigar minnows, herring, or hard tails). Use a stinger or Carolina king rig with a 4 to 8oz trolling lead and troll wrecks and reefs as slow as you can go.
Pier fisherman will catch plenty of king drifting a live or frozen cigar minnow off the end of the pier. Lots will also be caught casting large spoons, Berkley swim baits 5 or 6 inch size, plugs and big rattle traps.
March and April are big shark season! This is when the big mako sharks come to the beach to feed on cobia and jack crevalle. Not only are the mako sharks big, fun to catch they are excellent eating. You can do grilled, fried and smoked. It’s very similar to eating swordfish. Most of the mako sharks are caught by fisherman looking for cobia and spot the big mako sharks cruising just several hundred yards off the beach and just along the sand bar.
For other sharks, pick out a area of natural bottom or large wreck. Mix a batch of chum, some for a chum bag and some for tossing over chunk style. Use a few pieces of bonita or mackerel for bait.
There are plenty of sharks all year if you just want a tug on the line.
Scamp grouper are generally found in the 75 to 400 foot range, They prefer natural bottom but will congregate on some wrecks. Fishing a carolina rig with 1oz of lead for every 10 ft of water. Best to use live cigar minnows, pinfish or frozen northern mackerel.
Vermillion snapper, aka mingo snapper or beeliners, are another one of the better eating snappers. In my opinion they are much better than red snapper and can be caught all year. They normally range 1-3 lbs but we catch them up to 5-7 lbs. If these little guys grew to 20-30 lbs no one would care about red snapper. Use a 2 or 3 hook bottom rig with circle hooks no bigger than a nickel in size. The best bait is squid, northern mackerel or bonita cut into 1in chunks. Fresher is better. They can be caught on wrecks or reefs in 50 to 175 foot depths. Another bait not many people use but very effective is Fishbites or Gulp!
Triggerfish are one of the more tasty fish and fairly easy to catch. Use a 2 or 3 hook bottom rig with circle hooks no bigger than a nickel in size. The best bait is squid, northern mackerel or bonita cut into 1in chunks, fresher is better. They can be caught on wrecks or reefs in 50 to 175 foot depths. Another bait not many people use but very effective is Fishbites or Gulp!
Amberjack are generally found fishing wrecks in 50 to 400 ft range. Unlike grouper, they tend to like large wrecks rather than natural bottom. Live cigar minnows, hardtails, pinfish, and vermillion snapper are preferred baits. Use a Carolina rig with extra long leaders, up to 20ft when fish are picky. Amberjack also love butterfly jigs and large swimbaits.
Red grouper unlike most bottom fish seem to bite better on what we call trash bait. Trash can be anything from a frozen northern mackerel to a butterflied vermillion snapper. Live baits typically don’t work as well for red grouper unlike other groupers as they tend to be very lazy. Also we catch them in much shallower water. normally 50 to 150 foot depths.
These little guys don’t get any attention but if they grew bigger they would be held as one of the top fish in the gulf. Rarely do you see one over 2lbs and most people consider them as trash, but these are one of my personal favorites for the dinner table. When you fillet one, the meat is more clear than white and sparkles when you cut it across the grain. Catch them just like you would fishing for vermillion snapper or trigger fish.
Surf, Pier and Jetty Fishing
The surf and jetty will provide plenty of action for those looking for pompano, whiting, Spanish mackerel and sheepshead.
Pompano and whiting can be caught bottom fishing with sand fleas, fresh peeled shrimp and fiddler crabs. Another method that can be used is casting jigs from the surf, pier or jetty bounced along the bottom.
Bonita can be caught from the pier casting white jigs and white swim baits. Normally they only bite at first light for a few hours and the colder the better, especially on slick calm north wind mornings.
Sheepshead tend to hang out on the jetties and pier and the best baits are live fiddler crabs and live shrimp fished on a Carolina rig right next to the pilings or rocks.
Redfish patrol the jetties and shallows at the pier and prefer live shrimp for bait!!
Spanish Mackerel will be chasing small baits along the coast, use spoons, Gotcha lures and jigs. To locate the Spanish, look for birds working along the beach and jetty.
You can catch king mackerel from the pier using live or frozen cigar minnows drifted off the end of the pier. Cast plugs or swim baits will also work well. You’ll need to rig with 40 to 60 lb wire because of the teeth on kings.
Cobia are frequently caught casting jigs in pink/white or chartreuse/orange color. Most of the cobia are caught spot casting.
Trout will be found in deeper water this time of year. Try fishing deep water boat docks, bridges, deep holes in the bayous, and channels. Your best baits for trout will be live shrimp, pinfish, croakers, and pigfish. Fish these on a Carolina rig or under a popping cork.
Deep running or sinking plugs, DOA shrimp and Savage shrimp are some of the best lures. Fish this very slow this time of year. When the water is cold, trout are less aggressive and fishing the lure too fast will limit the number of bites.
A good way to locate trout is to slow troll with a shrimp tail soft plastic jig in the deep channels of the bayou to locate the trout and then switch to live bait to get the max number of bites.
Most or the redfish will be caught fishing live shrimp, pinfish, croakers and pigfish. Reds will be hanging on docks, bridges and jetties. You’ll get most of you bites fishing your live bait on a Carolina rig on the bottom. Redfish have to be between 18 and 27 inches to keep.
There are a lot of bull reds around during the winter months and you’ll find them in the passes, deep channels and around deep water bridges. These bull reds are fun to catch and release. If you choose this type of fishing make sure to net the fish and do your best to unhook them while still in the water while using the net to control the fish. Troll for them using deep running lures. If your lures have large lips and troll 15 or more foot, you can run them by themselves. If you have lures with small lips you may need to add a trolling lead of 4 to 6 ounces to get the lure deep enough. Because bull reds need to be released (when they are out of the slot size), use single hooks with your lures rather than the treble hooks that normally come on them. Single hooks make it easier to release the fish unharmed.
Sheepshead and Black Drum
Sheepshead and black drum look very similar. The biggest difference is in their mouth and dorsal fins. Sheepshead have teeth that look like molars and the black drum has more or less sandpaper in the mouth. The dorsal fin is much more pronounced and spiky on the sheephead than that of a black drum.
You will find both around bridge pilings, jetties and oyster bars. They love live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas. Fish these baits on a Carolina rig with a small straight J hook. For most species I like circle hooks bit for sheepshead and black drum because of the shape of their mouth and teeth a J hook no bigger than a dime work best.
Expect to see some wahoo, dolphin and tarpon start to show up in the coming months.
There are a few species closed right now, most notably Gag Grouper (July 1 to December 31) and Red Snapper (Opens June 1, season length TBD).