When Jeff Bruhl talks about the Pearl River, there’s a reverence in his voice.
And with good reason.
“There’s so much here that you can fish here all year,” Bruhl said just after launching his bass boat at the no-fee ramp off U.S. 90 on the Louisiana side of the East Pearl.
There’s another launch that serves anglers and boaters on the West Pearl.
This stretch of waterways isn’t the normal, single-flow stretch of a river. It’s reasonable to assume the Pearl was the Mississippi River a long time ago, and that there’s a West Pearl, a Middle Pearl and an East Pearl. This system certainly looks like the crow’s foot of a major river at its terminus.
It’s the East Pearl that makes up the southeastern boundary between Louisiana and Mississippi.
Targets for this summertime trip were first, bass, and second, goggle-eye, and there wasn’t a live bait to be found on the boat.
“The goggle-eye turned on to Gulp! Crickets this week,” Bruhl said. “Make sure you have some.”
While that worked, the goggle-eye were just as receptive to blue-white tube jigs under a cork and a pinkish Roadrunner. The common thread was everything worked on light, even ultralight, tackle.
But it didn’t happen early.
“You have to wait for the tide to move. Like almost every other place around here (southeast Louisiana), moving water is one key to catching fish,” Bruhl said.
It’s more than that: No matter if it’s the East, Middle or West Pearls, Bruhl said years of working the banks has proved that rising water almost always sends fish to the banks, and falling water pulls fish off the banks to dropoffs, places in the river where deeper water means more comfortable living conditions.
This movement by predator fish also corresponds to baitfish moving into the shallows to feed on the rising tide, then to the depths on falling tides. The latter move keeps them from hungry wading birds.
The tide didn’t start rising until close to 9 that morning, so Bruhl spent the time between launch and first water movement looking for bass.
A frog fished over grassbeds in the East Pearl and a buzzbait worked along tree-lined stretches in the Middle Pearl produced a handful of strikes.
Then it started, and the other panfish showed they were ready to catch a cricket while the goggle-eye apparently were still sleeping.
Chinquapin, bluegill and sac-a-lait liked the small offerings before the first goggle-eye, a monster weighing more than a pound, jumped all over a blue-white tube worked about 16 inches under a cork.
“It’ll be like this all summer,” Bruhl said.
After leading when tides are moving, reading rainfall in the Pearl River system is the next X factor.
The river runs from Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson, Miss., and collects rainfall through several Mississippi counties and Washington Parish, then marks the eastern boundary of St. Tammany Parish and out into Mississippi Sound. Its diverse habitat of piney woods transitions into cypress-tupelo gum swamps, then into coastal marsh making it unique among the Florida Parishes rivers.
That means rainfall anywhere in this length run can lead to muddy, downriver water. Those are the wrong days. Fish react to high-and-rising, fast-flowing, muddy water just like fish do in other places with the same conditions. Fish move on this abrupt change. It scatters them and puts them in hard-to-catch places.
Another feather in the Pearl’s cap is that late summer and fall months provides the opportunity to catch bass, panfish, redfish and speckled trout on the same trip.
There are other things anglers must know: You must have a Louisiana saltwater license to fish waters south of U.S. 90, and you must have a Mississippi fishing license to head inside the east bank of the East Pearl.