From start to finfish, Coastal Mississippi anglers have lots of options
By Steve Bornhoft
With the first warm weather of spring, the sea monsters arrive along the Mississippi coastline. As a game fish, they are not a marquee species, but they run large and, said Capt. Sonny Schindler of Shore Thing Charters in Bay St. Louis, “I’ve got people who fish with me, and that’s all they want to go after. You can tell them the speckled trout are stacked up in the marsh, and they’re not interested.” What Schindler calls sea monsters are commonly referred to as black drum, a close cousin to the far more popular redfish.“If you’ve never caught a big fish of 30 or 40 pounds and you don’t want to run way offshore to get one, black drum may be just the ticket,” Schindler said. “We catch them within a mile of the shoreline.”
Schindler and the guides who pilot the seven boats in the Shore Thing fleet are adaptable. And, Mississippi’s saltwater fishing playground, including marshes, bays, reefs and barrier islands, is diverse enough to present anglers with lots of options. “We do whatever gets us to the point where everyone is smiling,” Schindler said. “It may be that Little Johnny has his heart set on catching his first shark, so Daddy hires us for four hours and we go out and get him a shark.” At the opposite end of the continuum, a veteran angler may be willing to devote a trip to trying to catch his first tarpon on a fly. One Shore Thing guide, fishing from a Tideline catamaran, likes to take clients offshore for red snapper.
It is true, then, that a person can generalize about Shore Thing trips and fishing in Coastal Mississippi only to a limited extent. “We offer phenomenal and unique fisheries, and what further distinguishes us is everything else we have to offer,” said Milton Segarra, CEO at Coastal Mississippi, the tourism entity representing Mississippi’s three coastal counties. “There is nothing more rewarding than having a great day on the water and then joining with family or friends at a restaurant, bar, casino or other attraction.” Segarra suggests that visitors planning a multi-faceted, land-and-sea trip consult coastal mississippi.com for information on all that the region has to offer. More than 75 percent of people who visit Coastal Mississippi come back for more. “Every time they visit, they encounter more new things to do,” Segarra said, “so they don’t feel the need to try other destinations.” Most of the fishing takes place inshore or near shore, from backcountry sloughs to grass flats and artificial reefs made up of Hurricane Katrina debris.
Speckled trout and redfish are favorite targets, but a day’s catch might also include flounder, tripletail, sheepshead, jack crevalle and mackerel. An angler mopping up on specks may suddenly find himself dealing with a fish of another color. “The redfishing last year was insane everywhere we went,” Schindler reported. “Not just slot fish, but big bulls, especially at Cat Island. I’d round a point and there they would be, rolling at the surface for acres and acres.” Schindler had a client on board who was steadily catching a mixture of speckled trout and white trout in three feet of water when a bull redfish happened by and sucked up his soft plastic lure. Ten minutes later, a 46-incher hit the deck, the longest red that an angler fishing with Schindler has ever caught. Family vacations and corporate trips account for most of Shore Thing’s business. Novices outnumber experienced outdoors enthusiasts. “We have live bait on all of our trips,”
“There is Southern hospitality —
and then there is Coastal Mississippi hospitality.”
Milton Segarra, CEO, Coastal Mississippi
Schindler said. “Call it insurance. But our goal is to find the bite and then switch anglers (even rookies) over to artificials. But, if someone is content to soak a shrimp and watch a cork go under, that’s fine by us.” Schindler, as it happens, usually throws Matrix lures, made in Slidell, Louisiana, about 20 minutes from his dock. “But I tell people that it’s not what you throw so much as where you throw it,” he said. “If the fish aren’t there, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a hundred-dollar lure.” Shore Thing conducts multi-day trips out of a house on Cat Island, seven miles offshore. “It’s not a cabin; it’s not a camp. It’s like you plucked a house out of a very nice gated community and dropped it on the island,” Schindler said. The three-story hostelry, owned by two physicians and leased by Shore Thing, sleeps up to 14 people. What Shore Thing bills as its “Cat Island Experience” goes for a package price that includes everything but alcohol. Shore Thing guides and a caretaker who lives year-round at the house take turns handling the cooking. Visitors may take a break from fishing to watch an SEC football game on DIRECTV. Groups visiting the house must number at least six people and stay at least two nights. Cat Island season runs from late March to early November. Throughout those months, the island hosts stunning numbers of shorebirds and seabirds including frigate birds, poonbills, oyster catchers, herons, egrets, eagles and ospreys. “You don’t have any neighbors out there,” Schindler said. “You can howl at the moon. Heck, you can howl at the sun.”
Steve Bornhoft is the executive editor at Rowland Publishing Inc. in Tallahassee, Florida.
To learn more about Coastal Mississippi visit gulfcoast.org.