July 13, 2018
The Chandeleur Islands, off the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts, are in constant transition. Today, remnants of the islands that existed for past generations, are slipping below the sea's surface. As Mother Nature continues to ravage the barrier chain, the ugly truth is, these islands may not be around for future generations to enjoy.
Still, the 50-mile-long chain of islands holds an abundance of red drum and seatrout beckoning anglers from all over. The crescent-shaped chain of grass, scrub and sand isles also attract a multitude of other fish species. Jack crevalle cruise the shallow waters, along with migratory cobia and tarpon during the summer months. Flounder, bluefish and Spanish mackerel occupy the flats as well.
With no permanent structures allowed, the Chandeleur Islands are uninhabited by humans. Along with the 30 or so miles of open ocean that separates them from the mainland, boat traffic is minimal. They are an uncrowded paradise for the serious angler.
Though almost due south of Biloxi, Mississippi, Louisiana lays claim to the Chandeleur Islands. Lore has it that in the 1800s a dispute arose between the two states as to their possession. Ownership was established by drifting a barrel down the Pearl River that divides Louisiana and Mississippi, allowing wind and current to determine which side of the islands the barrel would drift. The barrel traveled northeast of the main chain, thus Louisiana claimed ownership.
A New "Mother Ship"
Fishing the Chandeleur Islands had been a bucket-list item of mine for decades. It didn't take a second thought to say "yes" to an invitation to spend a couple days aboard a new "jack-up barge" and fish the islands. I zeroed in on the fact that I soon would be wading, fly rod in hand, these legendary shallow flats in search of red drum and trout.
There were five of us in our group. We met at the marina in Pass Christian, Mississippi to catch our shuttle to the islands. Though skies were clear, the seas were choppy and our 38-mile trip took the better part of two hours, a great deal longer than normal.
Our "home away from home" the Chandeleur Islander Fishing Lodge was very different from a typical "mother ship." It was a jack-up barge that had been re-purposed from its previous use in the oil rig industry. The vessel was a barge with legs that rested on the ocean floor, raising its large platform about the water's surface — stable and secure from rough seas or weather. The legs can be raised making the barge movable, if desired, to follow the fish.
Fishing the Chain
Using a huge crane, the crew unloaded our gear. Meanwhile, we ate lunch and then rigged our rods to get in a few hours of fishing. Though the Chandeleur chain is within wading distance of the Islander, we jumped into a fellow angler's boat and shuttled closer to an island known as Redfish Point. Located near the center of the chain, the grass and sand-covered flat of this island is popular with anglers.
After anchoring a hundred yards of so from the scrub island, we eagerly hopped over the side and began flinging our flies and lures. Wading toward a depression in the sand just off the bow of the boat, I placed my purple and chartreuse fly in the center of it and immediately hooked up! My excitement turned to mild disappointment when my catch turned out to be a hardhead catfish.
In fact, by far the most fish we would see in the clear water over the next few days, would be hardheads. We quickly learned to distinguish them from other species as they navigated the flats in pods of two or three. They put up a good fight when hooked, but became somewhat of a nuisance with their abundance. On the other hand, and to the delight of one angler in our group, they provided a target for casting a fly, when the bite was otherwise slow.
As the afternoon continued we hooked and released a few speckled trout and some more hardheads. I managed to catch one redfish that was tucked in close to a grass edge.
We waded the 1 to 3 feet of water slowly, partly due to the stingrays that shared the flats with us and mostly because dispersed throughout the hard sand bottom were very soft areas of mud in which one could quickly sink up to a knee or higher.
The pattern of motoring to different spots and either fishing from the boat or hopping out to stalk the shallows for red drum, continued as we explored additional islands the following day. We targeted the "blue holes" for big trout and cast to the occasional jack crevalle that would swim by. A four-foot bonnet-head shark provided a hearty battle on a 10-weight fly rod for one of our anglers. For most species we encountered, an 8- or 9-weight fly rod was suitable.
The almost deafening sound of birds could be heard as we approached some of the larger islands. We saw gulls, terns, pelicans and skimmers. Loaded with wildlife, both in the water and in the air, the Chandeleur Islands are a magical place — a final frontier on the northern Gulf.
The Chandeleur Islander Fishing Lodge
If you would like to fish the Chandeleur Islands but the idea of a day trip wears you out, the new Chandeleur Islander Fising Lodge is a stationary and stable jack-up fishing lodge located in the midst of the chain.
There are four, six-man bunk rooms with a sink area, private bathroom and shower. Guests have a personal locker and the individual curtained bunks are outfitted with a shelf, light and outlet for charging cameras and phones. Wifi is available in the galley for emergencies.
The air-conditioned kitchen or galley seats 10. Tables and chairs on the deck allow guests to enjoy the ocean breeze. All meals and beverages are included, are hearty and satisfying. Bring your own alcoholic beverages.
Anglers can wade directly from the barge or a pontoon boat is available on board to shuttle guests to fishing grounds.