The Gulf Islands for Reds and Trout
September 30, 2010
The waters around Cat, Horn, Petit Bois, East Ship and West Ship islands are alive with saltwater predators in June. These tips should help you set a hook in a few redfish and seatrout there this month!
By Robert L. Brodie
It's June and it's already sweltering hot. What's a fisherman to do? The answer is simple. Head out to one of Mississippi's offshore barrier islands and enjoy fishing for speckled trout and redfish in some of the most gorgeous environs known to man.
Separated from Mississippi's mainland by the murky, yet nutrient enriched, waters of the Mississippi Sound, the offshore barrier composed of Petit Bois, Horn, East Ship, West Ship and Cat islands is a prized commodity to the Magnolia State's local recreational fishing community.
Merely seven to 12 miles from Mississippi's mainland, these isles offer an incredible array of fishing environments to choose from. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico kiss the south side of these isles. It's there, just off the isle's sun-bleached shores, that miles and miles of fishing haunts in the form of flats, sandbars, tidal guts, gullies and points await the anglers willing to seek out speckled trout and redfish cruising these beaches.
The north sides of these isles, which face the Mississippi Sound, deliver an astonishing seascape of sprawling dark patches of grassbeds, endless expanses of shallow sand flats, sporadic areas of nearshore gullies, and bayous and lagoons. Anglers looking for a picture-perfect setting to spend time in wade-fishing, surf-fishing, or slowly poling along crystal-clear shallows in search of reds, specks and many other saltwater species need not look any farther than these islands.
Jeff McAllister of St. Martin caught his redfish on the north side of East Ship Island. Photo by Robert L. Brodie
SECRETS TO SUCCESS By June, the temperature in southern Mississippi can be scorching, and it can be even hotter at the barrier islands. To compensate for the heat, smart anglers concentrate their fishing efforts during the early morning or late afternoon hours. It's during these cooler periods that the action around the isles is usually the most productive.
Shallow flats and grassbeds are good areas in which to catch redfish and speckled trout. Such sites located near holes, gullies or other deeper water are usually the most consistent producers. A good rule for success is to concentrate on areas of dark water. Any of the isle's major points have dark-colored dropoffs into channels, and the isles' Gulf sides are paralleled with plenty of deep and dark-colored gullies.
Tidal troughs are great areas in which to find concentrations of fish, and the ones running parallel to the beach are consistently used as highways by fish on the move. On the isle's inland side, any darker water, especially near shallow expanses, is sure to hold fish. Fish can be very spooky in the shallow waters of the barrier islands, so try to stay as far away from the location as possible by making long casts.
Fishing the tides plays an important role in catching game fish around the barrier islands too. Morning hours during June deliver flood or rising tides, while afternoon tides are on the ebb or falling. Either can trigger fish into a feeding mode by putting baitfish on the move. During a flood tide predators usually are near the beach, while on an ebb tide they have a tendency to move farther from the shoreline.
Boat Ramps The boat ramp at Long Beach Small Craft Harbor is convenient for access to Cat Island, while the ramp at Gulfport Small Craft Harbor is good for reaching Cat, East Ship and West Ship islands. The Biloxi Small Craft Harbor provides a jumping-off point for East Ship, West Ship and Horn islands. Finally, the boat ramp at the end of West Beach Boulevard in Pascagoula is good for reaching Petit Bois and Horn islands.
Fishing Guides Although these islands can be easily accessed by anyone possessing even a small open boat, you may want to charter a professional guide for at least your first trip to the area. Such services can be arranged with Capt. Steve West at the Broadwater Marina in Biloxi by calling (228) 432-0172 or (228) 388-2211. For fly-fishing, contact Capt. Richard Schmidt of Chandeleur Outfitters in Ocean Springs at (228) 818-0030 or via e-mail at www.chandeleuroutfitters.com.
SITES TO FISH Although you could spend a lifetime learning how to fish all the miles and miles of beaches the five barrier islands have to offer, here are a few key areas you can target to get you on the right track. On Petit Bois Island, fish the isle's east end, both on the surf side and on the inside flats and grassbeds down to the lagoon entrance. At Horn Island, fish the stumps on the isle's east end, and on the north side try near the ranger station and lagoon area where the trees start on the isle's west end.
Around East Ship Island, try both the east and west end of the isle, the stumps and pilings on the outside beach, and the inside grass flats near the lagoon area. On West Ship Island, concentrate on the isle's east end in Camille Cut, which separates this island from West Ship Island. Check out both the gullies on the outside beach, and the inside flats.
When at Cat Island, concentrate your efforts on fishing the gullies at its northern tip, the stumps on the outside beach, and the big bar and flats area off South Spit.
PROVEN ARTIFICIAL BAITS To be successful at fishing these waters, you don't need a wide assortment of artificial baits. Just a handful of time-tested lures can fool most of the species lurking around these isles. Thirty-five years of experience have proved that a shiny, slow-sinking jerkbait is ideal for the fishing. It closely simulates the pale, washed-out appearance that mullet, pinfish and bull minnows take on over the clear sand bottom. To properly fish this bait, take a few cranks on
the reel's handle, and then give the bait a sudden twitch. The cycle is then repeated.
Most species that are found around these isles fall victim to this lure and tactic, and bigger speckled trout are especially likely candidates.
Another lure that is always effective around the barrier islands is a shiny spoon with a wobbly action. It is deadly on bottom-rooting redfish. A silver model in either a 1/2- or 3/4- ounce size, sporting a yellow bucktail, is also tantalizing to most barrier island species.
This bait can be retrieved fast to attract the more aggressive species like ladyfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. When fished more slowly along the bottom, the spoon even catches flounder bedded down in the sandy Gulf floor.
Also, topwater baits work well in these clear shallows, especially over the numerous grassbeds that darken much of the inside skinny water. Productive color schemes for surface baits are red head, white back and silver scale belly; chartreuse head with black body; and chartreuse blue back, translucent chartreuse belly, and silver scale sides.
FISHING TACKLE To fish these isles, you will find that either baitcasting or spinning gear works. Load the reels with 12- to 15-pound-test clear monofilament line. Make sure you are able to cast your lures extremely long distances with ease. This is an important factor because it allows you to cover a lot of water, and you won't spook as many fish by keeping your distance from them. Since this a rather remote fishing destination, always carry at least one or two spare fishing combos.
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