The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!



The Chandeleur Isles

by Chester Moore, Jr.
Gulf Coast Closeup Summer 2004


Chandeleur Islands - a favorite destination...

Located off the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana, the Chandeleur Islands do not look like much on a map.

In fact, the long chain of thin barrier islands barely show up on coastal charts, but do not let that fool you.

They offer some of the most amazing fishing anglers can find anywhere and are my favorite distant fishing destination.

One of the most exciting things going here in the spring is the enormous amount of redfish along the shorelines, especially around Freemason and Breton Island.

"Those areas can be red hot. I like to throw a topwater or gold spoon to the reds in those areas," said Capt. Mike Morgan, a frequent visitor to the islands. Anglers wading or fishing with carpeted flat bottom boats or skiffs should look for tailing reds or fish cruising along shorelines of the islands.

A way to increase the odds of seeing these fish is to wear polarized sunglasses, which take the glare off the water and allows you to see into the water much better.

"The water here is clear but you still need some good glasses to seriously look for reds," Morgan said.

When casting to these reds keep in mind they have what I describe in my new book Texas Reds as a "cone of vision".

This means they will usually only hit what is thrown even with their eyes. If you see reds, make a point to throw in front of them or they're likely to move on to greener pastures.

"If you don't actually see the reds, cast for them in transition zones between shallow and deep. There is a point at Freemason where the island goes off to a point and the shallow and deep meet quickly. This spot can be loaded with reds," Morgan said.

Another option for anglers looking to score on redfish is at the short rigs located off the islands.

These rigs are stacked with oversized redfish and some of them are located within state waters where you can keep redfish. Regulations prohibit retaining redfish in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Cut mullet fished on the bottom is a good way to bag these redfish, but sometimes they seem to prefer bait suspended in the water column. In this case, fish with a mullet or whole blue crab on a free-line.

I frequently catch bull reds this way and use the same setup I do for sharks in the summer. I use a four-foot long steel leader finished off with a 14/0 Eagle Claw circle hook or a Daiichi Tru-Turn hook.

The leader offers some protection from the pilings of the rigs and the circle hook allows me to catch and release the big reds without harming them. Most of the time the circle hook lodges itself in the corner of the red's mouth.

If you have never used circle hooks I would recommend sitting the rod in a rod holder in the boat and allowing the fish to hook it. Do not try to set the hook as you would with a regular j-style hook. After the rod starts bending over give the rod a slight tug and start reeling in. You will actually catch more fish this way than you would with a j-style hook.

Using chum like menhaden oil or cans of jack mackerel can greatly aid in catching these big redfish. Most anglers do not utilize chum when seeking reds, but I have found it to be very useful. I always hang a lingerie bag filled with mashed menhaden over the boat to attract fish.

For anglers who would like to catch these massive reds on lures a one-ounce gold spoon chunked toward the platform legs can be a real killer. At rigs located off Breton Island, I have thrown a spoon out about 10 feet from the leg to let it flutter down and have bull reds hit it as soon as it touched the water.

Speckled trout fishing at the Chandeleurs begins to pick up in late spring and reaches a fever pitch by summer.

The islands do not produce many genuine trophy fish, but the amount of quality trout caught here is unsurpassed. Fish in the three to six pound range are quite common and seem eager to please anglers.

Most anglers wade the shorelines of areas like Breton and Bird Islands.

Another good method for trout fishing in the area is to drift the shoreline and fish a live shrimp either free-lined or under an Alameda Rattling Float or under a Mansfield Mauler rig.

Also, fishing soft plastics with a fast retrieve can yield results.

"Most people wade the islands, but I have found you can do just as good in a boat and cover more ground," said veteran outdoor television host Keith Warren.

Any of the shorelines of the islands adjacent to the channel around Breton Island can provide a good topwater bite early in the mornings, especially if the wind lays. People get the impression that you cannot fish a topwater when there's wind, but that's not necessarily so.

Calm days are usually better for a topwater bite, but a lot of that has to do with locating feeding fish. It is easier to locate feeding fish on calm days.

"Something to be wary of is the huge amount of ladyfish you'll see around the islands. If you run into feeding ladyfish move on because they won't let your lure get to the bottom," Warren said.

Flounder fishing can also be spectacular in the islands and the area around Breton Island is unquestionably one of the best spots I have fished for flounder.

A live mud minnow or finger mullet slowly dragged across the bottom is a sure way to hang into one of the area's "saddle blanket"-sized fish.

Flatfish enthusiasts should not overlook gigging as a highly effective manner for getting flounder in the islands.

For those who are not familiar with gigging, it involves using a light and pronged instrument (gig) to stalk shallow, sandy flats. The gigger stealthily approaches the flounder, hits it with the gig and carefully lifts it out of the water. Flounder are very vulnerable to this technique because they enter shallow, clear waters to feed at night where giggers can easily find them.

As is noted in my book "Flounder Fundamentals", flounder feed in shallows and sandy flats on incoming tides. Look for them on calm nights around mouths of cuts and along marshy shorelines. Hunting them on a calm night is very important because any major ripples on the water will greatly reduce visibility.

Looking for flounder on the bottom can be challenging. Giggers should look for anything unusual, like an outline or eyes reflecting in the light. It is very important for giggers to be sure they're looking at a flounder before gigging it.

Stingrays conceal themselves in the same way and in the same places at night and they can deliver a very nasty blow with their "stinger". One sure-fire way to tell if the creature you are looking at is a stingray is to see if there's a thin whip-like tail attached to it.

Wading these shallow areas while gigging is very effective, but the amount of rays and the next subject I am going to tackle here make push poling thrown an area with flat-bottomed skiff or aluminum boat safer and just as productive.

Besides the ease on the leg muscles and safely factors, push poling allows giggers to work over mud bottoms where wading may be impossible.

Something else to consider when fishing the Chandeleur Islands is the presence of sharks. I have fished all over the Gulf Coast and have never seen so many sharks, many of which are the deadly bull shark.

I learned this a couple of years ago while wadefishing in chest-deep water off one of the islands.

I had just caught and released a small speckled trout when I noticed a dorsal fin barely sticking out of the water less than 10 yards away. The water was exceptionally clear that day and it was obvious I was viewing a bull shark. Its blunt nose and devilish grin befitted its six-foot length and impressive girth.

The shark began to make a wide circle around my position. My thoughts ranged from "This is so cool" to "Oh my God. This is the end!" But after completing the circle, the shark swam off slowly toward deeper water and gave me a chance to head toward shore.

Saying the encounter did not scare me would be a lie, but I would also be stretching the truth to say the encounter didn't thrill me to the extreme. It is not every day that you can view wild, wonderful predators in their own environment at point blank range. This was not "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel. This was the real thing and it reminded me to be extra careful with my wading stringer. I never fish the area without a 20-foot stringer and I am always mindful to keep it far away from my body.

The islands are a long boat ride away from a hospital so any attack could turn fatal before you can reach help.

Just a little common sense will keep you out of trouble and have you planning a return trip to this amazing area.

I have been every year since my first trip in 1998 and plan on making the Chandeleur Islands a yearly tradition. All of the sharks in the world could not keep me away.

In fact, they make the area that much more exciting.

(Some highly recommended outfitters for this area are Gene Campbell, Chandeleur Island Charters 281-428-2549 and Beau Rivage Lodge: 888-576-2746.)

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