On the east side of the Chandeleur Islands is a thin rim of beach facing the open Gulf of Mexico. On the west side, thousands of acres of shallow grass flats and sand holes where sea trout, redfish, flounder and other inshore species thrive in numbers unimagined in more accessible waters: Chandeleur Islands fishing is heaven.
The Chandeleur Islands are a necklace of uninhabited barrier islands located 50 miles east of New Orleans on the edge of the Gulf. They’re about 25 to 30 miles south of Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula. The form a sandy arc bowed slightly from north to south, with a total length of around 45 miles.
It’s possible to run out to these storied islands, fish all day and run back by sundown, but that’s a very tough day on the water.
A whole lot better way to go is to take advantage of the numerous floating fish camps that make multi-day trips to the islands, giving anglers a place to sleep, three squares a day, showers and a place to relax, along with a home base for a fleet of flats boats.
Mike Hayes, owner of MDH Foundation Repair in Daphne, Al, has made the trip many times, usually with a crew of anglers from his company and associated businesses. Hayes, for the last 20 years, has operated a well-known foundation repair and basement waterproofing company on the east shore of Mobile Bay.
“It’s a great chance for a bunch of guys that love inshore fishing to kick back, relax and get to know each other without the pressures of work,”Hayes said. “It’s also some of the best fishing you’ll ever find anywhere.”
He pointed out that the most recent trip, on the 88-foot “I’m Alone” out of Pascagoula, was typical great Chandeleur Islands fishing action.
“You get out there before daylight, they feed you a big breakfast, and then everybody hops in the boats and goes fishing at first light,”Hayes said. “Most of the flats are two or three feet deep so you can see where the grass is and where there are sand holes and the fish are usually in the sand holes.”
Hayes said that most anglers throw paddle-tail plastic jigs on 1/8 to ¼ ounce heads, using typical flats tackle, seven foot spinning rod with a 2500 size reel, loaded with 10 to 15 pound test braid, with a couple feet of 15 to 20 pound-test fluorocarbon leader to the lure.
“You can catch about anything that’s out there on the jigs,” Hayes noted. “You can load up on trout and reds, you’ll catch flounder, pompano, big jacks and ladyfish. I caught a 40 pound black drum on the last trip and one time I caught a 40 pound redfish.”
However, he said that anglers who are focused on lunker spotted trout might want to throw topwaters.
“You can just about catch the smaller trout until you’re tired of it on jigs, but for those big fish, a big topwater that will walk the dog definitely does better,” Hayes said. “You don’t catch as many, but the big ones really blast something like a Rapala Skitterwalk.”
He said the big trout near the Chandeleur Islands bite best at dawn and dusk, but some hit all day for those who stick with the topwaters. Anglers who want to concentrate on redfish might offer a Vudu Shrimp or a DOA Shrimp under a popping cork.
Here as elsewhere, some areas are red hot while others nearby have few or no fish. Anglers should look for current, bait schools, “live” flats with lots of rays and sharks, and of course diving birds and slicks.
Anglers fish until noon, then head back to the mother ship for lunch and maybe a brief nap before going out to fish until sundown. Then it’s back to the big boat for a shower, a drink and a steak or seafood dinner before bed. Life is good, huh?
Most Chandeleur Islands fishing trips include two full days of fishing plus a half day on the last day, with three to four hours spent in transit out and back. An especially nice feature of booking these trips is that the skipper knows where the hotspots are from previous trips, and will not drop anchor until you’re in the center of the action so long runs in the small boats are rarely necessary.
There are a number of charter services offering Chandeleur Islands fishing trips out of nearby Mississippi and Louisiana ports, and most provide skiffs or center consoles 14 to 19 feet long to fish from. Anglers can also make arrangements to have their own boats towed out to the islands. All boats are supplied with radios, making it possible for those fishing together to share the wealth when they get on a school of fish.
For those who like to wade-fish, there are miles of flats shallow enough to enjoy this tactic. All you need is a pair of wading booties. While waders don’t cover as much water as those drifting, they spook fewer fish and can sometimes load up from a single large hole.
Louisiana limits apply throughout the chain of islands; 25 trout daily, plus 5 reds, meaning you can bring back a whole lot of fish. See the full limits here: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/fishing/saltwater-finfish
The shape and extent of the islands vary with each passing hurricane, and scientists say sea level rise will someday make them no more than a memory, but for now, they’re a great fishing destination.
Bottom line is if you’re a serious flats angler, the Chandeleur Islands should be on your basket-list. Cost is typically $700 to $1000 per angler, and that’s a darn good deal for an all-inclusive trip that includes transportation, lodging and food plus boat use and of course you’ll be bringing back an ice chest loaded with fresh fillets that make the experience all the more valuable.
Chandeleur Islands Charter Services:
Due South Charters, http://www.duesouthcharters.com
Southern Sports Fishing, https://chandeleurfishingcharters.com
Diversion Charters, https://chandeleurfishing.com
Southern Way Charters, http://www.southernwaycharters.com/about-the-islands
Chandeleur Charters, http://www.chandeleurcharters.com
Joka’s Wild; https://www.jokaswild.com
Southern Belle Fishing Tours: https://fishsouthernbelle.com
Chandeleur Islander Lodge: https://www.chandeleur-islander.com