The Gulf of Mexico is well known as a vacation haven for families, but not many realize that there are also locations that cater to anglers, with first-class lodging and fishing. (You can "cast-and-blast," too)
The Gulf of Mexico is a magical place filled with countless locales featuring sun, sand, fun and tons of fishing. In fact, there are even some places that cater to anglers in search of the ultimate saltwater adventure.
Those who want to get away from it all, but still enjoy the comforts of life, need go no farther than seven miles off the Mississippi coastline.
"The Cat Island Experience is the only operation of its type, at least in the northern Gulf, possibly the entire Gulf of Mexico," said Sonny Schindler with Shore Thing Charters. "We created this to allow maximum time on the water, but if people just want to hang out at the house that is fine as well."
The Cat Island house, a three-story 4,000-square-foot home, sits on a canal running into the interior of the T-shaped barrier island that separates Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico. The experience includes transportation to and from the island, guided fishing, lodging and food.
"If people walked in blindfolded, they would think they were in anybody's house in a nice subdivision in America, not seven miles offshore," Schindler quipped. "We do family groups, big corporate functions, parties, retreats, you name it. We love kid trips. When kids come, we try to do everything with them. We take them to the beach and take them shrimping or do a little crabbing."
On a good day, the voyage from Long Beach Harbor on the mainland takes about 20 minutes. During rough weather, the crew sometimes hires a larger boat.
If the weather makes the passage unsafe, the staff might cancel or reschedule a trip. Once at the island, anglers enjoy excellent and diverse fishing by boat, wading beaches or paddling kayaks.
People can fish grassflats, marshes, beaches or artificial reefs for speckled trout, redfish, flounder, black drum, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and more.
"We usually don't have to go far to find fish," Schindler said. "Sometimes, we'll fish in the canal right outside the front door of the house. We try to do as much as we can around the island to maximize fishing time, but sometimes we fish other barrier islands or the Louisiana marshes. We'll even run north to fish near the coast or look for tripletails in Mississippi Sound."
Before or after the island experience, many visitors try their luck in one of the casinos on the Mississippi coast or head to New Orleans. The lodge books trips from spring through fall.
Calcasieu Lake and its associated waters in Louisiana produce numerous speckled trout in the 6- to 9-pound range and some double-digit giants.
The estuary also holds many other species. Anglers might even glimpse Pinky, an extremely rare pink dolphin first photographed by Erik Rue with Calcasieu Charter Service in 2007.
"Nationally heralded as a trophy trout paradise, Calcasieu Lake is one of the most prolific estuaries on the Gulf Coast," Rue stated. "Speckled trout, redfish and flounder are the most common species we target, but we might catch many other fish species, such as black drum, white trout, tripletail, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead and other species."
Known locally as Big Lake, Calcasieu Lake covers about 52,700 acres. The Calcasieu Ship Channel connects the estuary to the Gulf of Mexico. On the eastern edge of the lake, about 15 miles south of Lake Charles, Rue runs a full-service lodge that can accommodate up to 20 guests in five private rooms with custom bunk-style beds.
Under the supervision of Erik's wife, Tina, the lodge staff serves three meals a day for guests. Her chefs prepare a combination of old-fashioned Southern cuisine and Cajun favorites like seafood, shrimp and grits, and more topped off with fantastic desserts.
Rue also hunts waterfowl on nearly 5,000 acres of flooded fields near Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge. At the southern terminal of the Mississippi Flyway, these soggy fields offer some of the best waterfowl hunting in the nation with hunters bagging a variety of ducks and geese.
"One of our most popular packages is the cast-and-blast option," Erik said. "Each morning, we awaken our guests to the smell of hot coffee brewing. We feed everyone a full breakfast before the hunt. We hunt until about 10 a.m. and return to the lodge for hot gumbo. Then, we fish in the afternoon. We encourage families to come here. It's important for children to have good outdoors experiences when they are young so they get interested in hunting and fishing."
When it comes to catching monster speckled trout, Texans naturally think of Baffin Bay and Matagorda Bay. Both systems hold trout exceeding 10 pounds. The third largest estuary in Texas, behind Galveston Bay and the Laguna Madre, Matagorda Bay measures about 6 feet deep and covers more than 1,090 square miles of the Colorado River Delta.
"It's pretty amazing what this fishery will hold," said Bink Grimes with Matagorda Sunrise Lodge. "We catch a lot of 6- to 8-pound trout and release big fish just about every day. The system does produce some 10- to 11-pound trout. In 2016, we were averaging about one 30-inch trout a month. Anyone could catch a really big trout any day on Matagorda Bay."
Ideally situated on the Colorado River between Matagorda Bay and East Matagorda Bay, the lodge can sleep up to 34 people. The staff provides full service, including breakfast and a box lunch on the boat. In the evening, the guides clean the fish while guests relax and wait for supper.
After eating, many anglers enjoy fishing under the lights on the private pier. Sometimes, people take an evening flounder gigging expedition.
"We primarily fish for trout and redfish, but we do a little flounder gigging," Grimes noted. "Sometimes, we do a little offshore fishing. Some people bring their own boats but stay at the lodge and eat with us. Besides speckled trout and redfish, our fishery also holds a lot of sand trout, or white trout, with many of them in the 2- to 2.5-pound range. That's a good bonus fish. They are really good table fare and there's no limit on them in Texas."
Anglers might also catch black drum, sheepshead, croaker, jack crevalle, sharks, tripletail and other species. During the fall and winter, the lodge also provides dove and waterfowl hunting services. Teal season takes place in September, while waterfowl season generally runs from November through January. Usually, people hunt in the morning and then fish in the afternoon.
"We'll tailor our trips to whatever people want to do within their budget," Grimes explained. "We have many different packages for anyone's budget. Our afternoon fishing in the fall is just as good as in the mornings. At that time of year, we have a good chance of catching a really big trout by throwing topwater baits under the birds in the afternoon."
$$ Dauphin Island Harbor House
Dauphin Island, Ala.
This 10-room structure on historic Dauphin Island has welcomed sportsmen for more than four decades, providing easy access to surrounding waters. The inn works with several inshore and offshore guides for abundant fishing options where Mobile Bay meets Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. Some people take their own boats and use the lifts at the inn.
$$$ Caribe Resort
Orange Beach, Ala.
Enjoy the views and the fishing, too! The Caribe Resort sits on 30 acres of a peninsula and offers two-bedroom, three-bedroom and larger condominiums packed with amenities. Guests can take advantage of pools, tennis courts, saunas, game rooms, a private beach and a 5-star restaurant. When not fishing, try parasailing, jet skiing or many other recreational activities.
caribe-resort.net, 888-607-7020 or 251-980-9000
$$$ Perdido Beach Resort
Orange Beach, Ala.
Situated on the white sandy beaches lining Perdido Pass where the Perdido River Estuary meets the Gulf of Mexico, Perdido Beach Resort offers everything a vacationer wants. People can stay in 344 rooms in either of two luxury high-rise complexes overlooking the private beach. When not fishing, enjoy the meals in several resort restaurants or take advantage of a host of other amenities.
$ Dixie Belle Motel
Port St. Joe, Fla.
On U.S. Highway 98 about a mile from the Port St. Joseph Marina, this quaint roadside motel caters to fishermen on a budget and their families. It offers 10 rooms, three that come with full kitchens that can accommodate up to six people. Guests can use a free boat wash area and fish cleaning station on the motel grounds.
$$$ Gasparilla Inn and Club
Boca Grande, Fla.
Overlooking the "Tarpon Capital of the World," this resort offers everything anyone might anticipate in a luxury resort. People can choose from among 163 rooms in addition to surrounding houses and quaint cottages. When not battling mighty silver kings in Boca Grande Pass, enjoy the spa and fitness center, play golf, tennis or participate in numerous other activities.
the-gasparilla-inn.com, 877-403-0599 or 941-964-4500