By Polly Dean
For years, I had dreamt of casting my line in the pristine waters surrounding the Chandeleur Islands. So, when I received an invitation to visit these legendary islands and stay at a unique “lodge,” I couldn’t resist. The mention of a “jack-up barge” in the invite didn’t faze me. All I could focus on was the opportunity to explore the fabled flats off the Mississippi coast. These shallow sand and grass flats are renowned for their abundant redfish, speckled trout, and a myriad of other species that either call these waters home or pass through during their migrations.
A Haven for Anglers
The fishing in the Chandeleur Islands is exceptional, with prime conditions prevailing from spring until the end of the year. While red drum and big seatrout are the primary targets for most anglers, there is a cornucopia of game fish available. During the summer months, herds of jack crevalle grace these shallows, providing an exhilarating challenge. From May through July, migrating cobia and tarpon make their grand entrances, offering an angling experience like no other. In addition, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and flounder are always ready to bend a rod.
The Unique Experience
Located 30 miles from the mainland, the Chandeleur Islands require a strategic approach. Many anglers opt to maximize their fishing time by staying aboard a “mother ship” overnight. Our chosen vessel, the Chandeleur Islander, was a cleverly renovated jack-up barge that comfortably accommodated our group of anglers and several other enthusiasts. Once used for oil rigs, this converted barge proved to be a practical and cozy home away from home.
Interestingly, even though the Chandeleur Islands lie almost due south of Biloxi, Mississippi, they are under the ownership of Louisiana. Legend has it that in the 1800s, a dispute arose between the two states regarding the islands’ possession. Eventually, ownership came down to a simple yet elegant solution – a barrel was placed in the Pearl River dividing the states, and its drift with the wind and current determined Louisiana’s rightful claim.
Casting Off into Adventure
Our journey to the Chandeleur Islander began with a thrilling 38-mile run aboard a shuttle boat from Pass Christian, Mississippi. Although rough seas extended our voyage to two hours, the anticipation only heightened. Once on board, the crew diligently stowed our gear, ensuring our comfort by providing bean bag chairs on the deck. While guests are welcome to bring their own boats, the barge’s portable dock offers convenient access for safe anchoring nearby.
The Thrill of the Hunt
As soon as I stepped onto the flats, I cast my line into a “blue hole” and was rewarded with an immediate strike. To my surprise, the fish that eagerly took my fly was a hardhead catfish. These saltwater cats were an ever-present sight as we waded through the waters. Some viewed them as a nuisance, while others saw them as a pleasant distraction when the fishing slowed down.
Later, we joined a solo fly angler from Texas on his 24-foot Scout, who graciously allowed us to join him on his boat. Together, we explored the various islands, searching for shallow areas where we could wade while keeping the boat afloat during the falling tide.
The air was filled with the symphony of bird song as we approached the larger islands. Gulls, terns, pelicans, and skimmers created a vibrant spectacle against the backdrop of this salty paradise.
Redfish Point: A Fishing Haven
We chose Redfish Point as our starting point, a central spot in the chain that is popular among anglers. However, to our delight, we were the only boat and anglers in the vicinity. The water had a slight stain due to the wind and waves, but it remained clear enough to see the bottom even in the shallower depths of one to two feet. The expansive terrain ranged from white sand to a mix of sand and grass, providing a diverse and captivating backdrop. We quickly learned that while most of the bottom was firm, there were soft spots scattered sporadically. Careful navigation was essential to avoid sinking up to our knees.
As we explored, we all had the opportunity to hook fish. Whether it was hardhead catfish or the occasional speckled trout, the experience was exhilarating. I even managed to catch a small redfish with a blind cast to a grass edge. Our guides assured us that this was a relatively slow day in the Chandeleur Islands. Such is the nature of fishing – some days are hot, and others are not. However, in an exotic destination like this, simply having something on the end of your line is a victory in itself.
Embarking on an adventure to the Chandeleur Islands was a dream come true. Exploring the legendary flats, witnessing the abundant wildlife, and engaging in thrilling angling experiences made this journey truly unforgettable. If you’re seeking an extraordinary fishing destination that offers a slice of paradise, look no further than the enchanting Chandeleur Islands.
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