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Departing the "Mothership" Double Trouble in the background, a kayak is towed to the fishing grounds...
I didn't really fish too much growing up. Sure, I hung my share of sunfish here and there while camping with the family, but it wasn't until college that the addiction took hold. I credit (blame) two people in particular for this affliction, Perry Trial and Jason Grace. As the years have rolled on I don't see these guys very often, and the opportunity to fish with them is an even rarer occurrence. So, when chance and circumstance distilled into an opportunity to fish with Jason for four days, we went whole hog. After a cold beer and a long phone call, we decided to load the kayaks up and head to the Chandeleur Islands.
We contacted one of the areas best Mothership services, Chandeleur Charters, operated by Captain Troy Fountain of Biloxi Mississippi. Captain Fountain has fished the barrier islands from skiffs on his Mothership the Double Trouble for years, and Troy knows the area waters like your mother knows when you're lying.
As luck would have it, Captain Troy had a group from The Texas Fly Fishers
scheduled to go out. As an active member and knowing Chris Summers and John
Carpenter, the organizers of the trip for TFF, Jason and I signed on.
We car topped the kayaks and road tripped from Houston to Biloxi. When we arrived at the docks on Thursday night the weather reports were, well sporty. Waves were predicted at 4 to 6 feet out of the southeast. It was gonna be one heck of a night. The Double Trouble is a 65 foot twin diesel trawler, and would be more than capable in even bigger seas, but five foot waves weren't going to make for a Club Med pleasure cruise.
We left the docks around 8pm with designs to be anchored and rested for break of dawn fishing the next morning. Going out was a roller coaster. The 5 footers and the occasional swell of 6 or 7 feet were made worse by the occasional easterly roller. The easterlies would cause the boat to slide sideways adding yet another assault on our already bruised equilibriums. Even the deck hands looked green in the sloppy seas. It was a tough ride, but we anchored up around 1:00am and headed to the cabin births for some well deserved sleep with hopes of calm seas and big fish for the morning.
I now know what an errant bobber feels like. Dawn broke to 4 foot seas and 20 mph winds. Bouncing around the ship, we downed some coffee and a great breakfast cooked by the crew, and then we tried to figure out our fishing plan. As a kayaker one always has to factor safety into your fishing excursions, and the current conditions were going to be rough for the mothership's skiffs, much less our kayaks. We decided (after very little discussion) to be safe and fish from the skiffs Friday morning.
The Captain had anchored us on the lee side of the northern most islands in the chain. We had miles of unpressured grass flats intersected with channels, cuts, and sand bars. Even in the high winds the water was fairly green with good visibility. We scouted the area finding a nice flat that carried about 3 feet of depth, and set up a drift. Working soft plastics and top waters, we eventually located some good fish and started consistently hanging trout. Most of the fish measured out around 16" with an occasional 18" fish brought to hand.
The barrier islands of the Chandeleurs have always been a great destination for the devoted fisherman. From Rudy Grigar and the early pioneers of the 60's, to todays graphite wielding weekend fishermen, the islands have a certain end of the earth appeal. They are undeveloped and desolate for the most part. Like some divine presence spilled a giant hourglass in a curved, sandy trail towards the Louisiana/Mississippi border, they have a timeless quality. There are always monied parties that throw up Fish Camps and Floating Cabins, but they are pruned every few years by Mother Nature via a hurricane. I noticed fewer "Fish Camps" on this trip than my last pilgrimage to the Chandi's which was pre-Katrina. The islands, post hurricane, have a few more cuts and channels, but the sea grass seems healthy and our fishing would reinforce the fact that big storms may run off Fish Camps, but they can't run off the fish.
On the second day of our trip the winds abated and the kayaks were rigged up for action. Many of the party were still in the Double Trouble's skiffs and we decided to tow the kayaks upwind for a big long drift back to the mothership. We launched about a mile from the mothership in gin clear water. Our track would take us along the edge of a shallow grass flat that abruptly dropped off to 6 feet of water over a white sand bottom. We were grinding away with no success when, on a whim of pure desperation, I tied on the ugliest soft plastic I could find. This thing was neon green with a yellow tail and looked more like a Halloween candy bag reject than any living bait fish. It proved in all of its nuclear colored glory to be the magic lure. We started hooking trout and ladyfish consistently and even landed a little blue runner and a baby jack. We repeated this drift pattern, catching fish, sun, and enjoying the isolation of the islands. At day's end we were treated to steaks, fresh fish and cold drinks to cap two days of glorious company and glorious fishing.
On Sunday it was about time to head back to the Biloxi dock. We had time for one quick drift before pulling anchor. We found the biggest trout of the trip on that last morning. They were exploding on topwaters and bum rushing any presentation, fly or conventional lure. No trophies were caught, but every fish was in that 18" to 22" range. Decent sized specks by anyone's standard.
Fishing is almost always an enjoyable diversion from our day to day routines. When combined with a group of good friends in isolated and foreign waters it can evolve beyond mere diversion to become something more. I can't say what exactly. But, I figure that I'll forget hundreds of good fishing trips, but every run to the Chandeleurs has found permanence in my recollection of great fishing adventures.
Contact Captain Troy at www.ChandeleurCharters.com