BILOXI, Miss. — Picture yourself wading through warm, gin-clear water off a deserted island. You're holding a fly fishing rod in your hand. You look off in the distance as the sun dancing off the water lulls you: Not a living soul around. The only sounds come from the incredible array of birds, on the shore and in the sky, and the waves lapping on shore.
Thirty yards to your left, you see a fin tailing in shallow water.
You work a little closer, make the cast, feel the tug and set the hook. The line whines across the flats, where the water is deeper and turquoise-colored.
Bahamas? Caribbean? South Pacific?
No, sir. Louisiana.
The Chandeleur Islands are about 90 minutes south of New Orleans, or about 18 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Chandeleurs are a 50-mile stretch of barrier islands teeming with fish and birds — it's a federally-protected bird sanctuary, in fact.
Some say this is the best wade-fishing on the Gulf Coast, where arm-length trout and redfish feed year-round in the clear, shallow waters.
The only way to get there is by boat or plane, and the most luxurious way to fish and explore the islands is by way of what are called Chandeleur boats, vessels up to 100 feet that unload smaller skiffs for anglers.
Most of these boats are based in Biloxi, in that city's large, charter fishing fleet. They go to the islands for extended stays and have sleeping and dining facilities. In the winter, some offer Louisiana marsh fishing and duck hunting.
So, on your next trip down to play golf in Biloxi, you might want to consider stowing the clubs for a few days and experience some rare, deserted islands off the U.S. mainland; scientists say the cumulative effects of hurricanes are eroding the islands to the point they may disappear eventually.
"It's a well-kept secret," said Tom Becker, head of the Biloxi Charter Captain Association.
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You can also fish the islands on your own, if you prefer to use your own boat. It's easy to move from island to island, following the fish. April through October is the best time to fish the Chandeleurs, where you can wade for miles without seeing another angler.
It's classic flat-fishing — sight-fishing for tailing reds and big trout, using either light spinning or bait-casting tackle or fly rods.
If you do, be sure to bring tackle with 10-14 pound test and 18 inches of leader, tossing spoons with pink teasers or plugs like the Cocahoe Minnow, or any mullet-imitating lure.
For flyfishermen, seven or eight weight fly rods are best, using No. 1 deerhair divers or poppers.
Be aware that some charters do offer day trips to the islands, but multi-day stays are the norm. For two-and-a-half day trips, you'll be paying in the range of $600 each for one to six passengers, down to $475 or so if you go with a group of 10-12. Day trips are in the $150 range.
The Chandeleurs are just one way to fish Biloxi if you want to take a break from golf.
Slideshow: Big Easy returns The Gulf waters off Biloxi are one of the top saltwater fishing destinations in the country, with more than 200 species of fish waiting for the hook. There are also marshes, estuaries and brackish bayous that make up the nursery grounds for the Gulf. It's year-round fishing, but be advised winters months can be chilly.
Sportfishing is big here, the home of the Southern Kingfish Association and the annual Billfish Classic.
Hurricane Katrina devastated the charter boat fleet, destroying many boats and driving others out of business by keeping tourists away, but the industry is slowly coming back.
"We're about half right now from the boats we had," Becker said. "This year, the trips are up, we're getting big groups back. Last summer, we had no place to tell you where you could get a room. When the rooms started becoming available, people started coming back. They're not going to pay exorbitant price at a Motel 6 like they were last year."
The fish have returned with the tourists, according to Becker.
"The fishing is better than it was before the storm," he said. "Maybe it's because the (fishing) pressure isn't out there. Last year, we were going out on eight-hour trips and limiting out on king mackerel, red drum Spanish mackerel, bonita, in half a day. Everything we're seeing is it looks like it's going to be that good again."
It's usually fairly easy to find a charter in your price range. You have several options:
• Open day boats are your basic charter. They carry one to six passengers and offer camping and birding as well as fishing. They're usually less than 30 feet and are very versatile, carrying light tackle to deep sea tackle.
• Day boats with heads also carry one to six people. They sometimes have mates to help with the fishing chores.
• Day boats with air-conditioning and heads. They have enclosed cabins and are 30 feet or longer. These boats have mates.
• Multi-passenger charters hold more than six, are normally 40 feet in length or longer, and have air-conditioning and heads. All have mates.
• Chandeleur boats.
For do-it-yourselfers, there are more than 30 boat launches, some of which are in various states of repair because of damage from Hurricane Katrina. Make sure you check the Department of Marine Resources for updates.
If you've blown all your money on greens fees, you can always fish Biloxi-area beaches; the entire beachfront is available for wade fishing in the spring, summer and fall months. There are also the public fishing piers and jetties.
Nothing fancy here, just use live shrimp under a popping cork. If you want to try some reef fishing, again, check the Department of Marine Resources Web site for GPS coordinates.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.