Sport­fish­ing

Louisiana’s Chan­deleur Is­lands pro­vide spec­tac­u­lar in­shore fish­ing only about 70 miles from Bour­bon Street.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By John Brown­lee

Con­verted “jack-up” boats. World-class red­fish and speck­led trout. Louisiana’s Chan­deleur Is­lands have it all.

Men­tion the Chan­deleur Is­lands to just about any shal­low-wa­ter fish­ing afi­cionado and you’ll likely see a know­ing grin spread across their face. As the Florida Keys are renown for tar­pon, bone­fish and per­mit fish­ing on the flats, so the Chan­deleurs are known for world-class red­fish and speck­led trout ac­tion. And not just a few fish, or small ones ei­ther. If you en­joy catch­ing lots of big fish in a rel­a­tively pris­tine area, you’ve prob­a­bly heard of this place and might even have vis­ited.

This string of un­in­hab­ited bar­rier is­lands to the east of the Louisiana delta stretches about 45 miles from north to south, and the open Gulf lies east of them. Most of the Chan­deleurs lie within the Bre­ton Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, the sec­ond-old­est wildlife refuge in the U.S. You can get there from most ports on the east side of Louisiana High­way 23, which runs south from New Or­leans to Venice, or you can cross over from Hope­dale as well.

But many cap­tains and an­glers make the run south from Mis­sis­sippi, from a jump­ing-off point some­where be­tween Biloxi and Pass Chris­tian. It’s only about 30 miles from Pass Chris­tian to the north­ern­most tip of the Chan­deleurs, and from there, you have ac­cess to a vast num­ber of lo­ca­tions to fish, all the way south to the Bre­ton Is­lands at the south­ern end.

It’s a fairly long day trip no mat­ter where you be­gin, so moth­er­ship op­er­a­tions that en­able you to spend a few days and nights on­site have be­come the pre­ferred op­tion for lots of an­glers seek­ing the rel­a­tive soli­tude of the Chan­deleurs. These vary in price and ameni­ties, from sim­ple live­aboard boats that pro­vide small skiffs pow­ered by tiller-han­dle out­boards for you to fish on your own, to lux­u­ri­ous yachts that pro­vide guides. Or you can bring your own boat. Many peo­ple en­joy wad­ing these shal­low wa­ters.

We re­cently filmed an episode of An­glers Jour­nal TV aboard a moth­er­ship that brings a new el­e­ment to the game. The Chan­deleur-Is­lan­der Lodge is a con­verted “jack-up” boat, a spe­cial­ized ves­sel used ex­ten­sively in the Gulf of Mex­ico oil fields. These boats have re­tractable legs, which can be raised to lift the boat above the sur­face of the wa­ter while work­ing, then low­ered to float the boat once more.

The main ad­van­tage of such a setup comes when bad weather pops up, of­ten in the mid­dle of the night. The jack-up rig is im­per­vi­ous to in­creased wave ac­tiv­ity since it’s sus­pended in the air. No sud­den at­tacks of mid­night mal de mer here.

My old friend Bart Had­dad of South­ern Way Char­ters set us up with the new out­fit be­cause his own moth­er­ship op­er­a­tion was booked at the time. Capt. Ron­nie Daniels, with whom I had fished with pre­vi­ously, agreed to guide us, and we made the run to­gether from Pass Chris­tian to the lodge, which sat about twothirds of the way down the is­land chain.

The Chan­deleurs have lots of places with fishy names, and oth­ers of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance: Red­fish Point, Shrimp Boat Chan­nel, Old Schooner Cut, Hol­ly­wood Bayou, etc. The is­lands scat­tered in­side the cres­cent-shaped bar­rier chain have sto­ried his­to­ries as well.

Freema­son Is­land ranks as one of the best. Like all of the Chan­deleurs, Freema­son now ex­ists as just a frac­tion of what it was his­tor­i­cally, a nar­row strip of shell and sand. But it once looked en­tirely dif­fer­ent. “Fifty years ago or more, peo­ple lived on Freema­son,” Daniels ex­plained. “There was a farm here and there even was a land­ing strip for light planes at one point.”

Daniels guided us to Freema­son late on our first af­ter­noon, only to find a cou­ple of boats had beat us there. A group of waders cast

from the western tip of the is­land, spread­ing out along the shore­line to cover as much wa­ter as pos­si­ble. We saw sev­eral tell­tale “slicks” form­ing: oil ris­ing to the sur­face where feed­ing game­fish were at­tack­ing schools of bait.

We cast top-wa­ter plugs at these slicks and im­me­di­ately had our plugs smashed by large speck­led trout. Catch­ing big trout on top­wa­ters ranks as one of the coolest ex­pe­ri­ences in light-tackle fish­ing in my book be­cause it’s vis­ual, and we had con­tin­u­ous ac­tion for al­most two hours on specks be­tween 3 and 7 pounds, un­til the light got so low we had to leave.

The next day, we fished a shal­low bar on the north end of another nearby is­land where Daniels had ex­pe­ri­enced great ac­tion in the re­cent past. We had gone per­haps 100 yards on the elec­tric trolling mo­tor when a school of about 200 chunky red­fish swarmed around the boat. We both hooked up al­most in­stantly, and as we pro­gressed down that bar af­ter re­leas­ing those first two fish, wave af­ter wave of the fat drum showed them­selves, and they were all ea­ger to eat.

In our three days in the Chan­deleurs, we ex­pe­ri­enced some of the finest in­shore ac­tion I’ve ever seen. The moth­er­ship as­pect greatly en­hances that ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause you can wake up early and be on­site, fish­ing when the sun comes up, ei­ther in a boat or wad­ing the shal­lows. That’s hard to do when first you have to make a 40- or 50mile run in the morn­ing.

The Chan­deleurs get smaller and smaller each year, and sci­en­tists tell us that one day they will cease to ex­ist. Re­cent hur­ri­canes like Ge­orges and Katrina have wreaked havoc on the is­lands. Some now ex­ist only as sub­merged sand­bars, while oth­ers, like the once-pop­u­lated and pro­duc­tive Freema­son, cling to ex­is­tence as lit­eral sliv­ers of what they once were.

I hope time proves the sci­en­tists wrong, but in the mean­time, the fish­ing re­mains out­stand­ing. If world-class, shal­low-wa­ter ac­tion in a re­mote yet easy to reach lo­cale ap­peals to you, you’ll find no bet­ter des­ti­na­tion than Louisiana’s Chan­deleur Is­lands. Edi­tor-at-Large Capt. John Brown­lee is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of An­glers Jour­nal TV. Catch JB and all the ac­tion on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel and on way­pointtv.com.

Think you know about The Big Easy? Un­less you’ve fished here for red­fish and speck­led trout, think again.

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