On The Fly Saltwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs
Slipping out of the Pass Christian Small Craft Harbor on the Magnolia State’s western coast, our boat turned south. The course took us roughly a dozen miles across the slick waters of the Mississippi Sound, toward the string of barrier islands that rested on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
This string of jewels is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and east to west consist of Petit Bois, Horn, East and West Ship Islands. However, our destination was the western end of the chain at Cat Island. Unlike its neighboring isles, Cat Island is shaped like a T laying on its side with the top facing the east. Its unusual shape is heavily influenced by being near the outflow of the Mississippi River and also being washed by currents moving westward. That unique shape resulted in a spine of uplands covered with pine trees running from east to west. But, the north-to-south axis across the top of the T is composed of white sand beaches built up by the water pushing ashore from the east. But none of those features were what drew us to the island.
Rather it was saltwater marshes lining Smugglers Cove on the southern shore that issued the siren call. More specifically, the opportunity to toss flies to seatrout and redfish in the shallow grass-lined channels of Middle Spit that fronted the cove was our goal.
The grass channels of Middle Spit.
Running the channel between Cat Island and West Ship Island to the east, the brick vestiges of Fort Massachusetts came into view on that latter isle. The masonry fortification dating from the Civil War period appeared in the process of being reclaimed by shifting sands, creeping vegetation and erosion by the waves.
Rounding Goose Point to the west at the southern extreme of Cat Island, we arrived at our fishing destination. An expanse of green marsh grass created a vista to the north, backed by the hazy line of pines on the main body of the island. The island got its name when early French explorers mistook their sightings of the abundant raccoons to be cats. Though the isle had several periods of habitation, it now has no full-time residents – unless one counts the alligators in the freshwater bayous or the numerous reds and trout found along the shore.
Illustration by Zane Jacobs.
Beaching the boat, we bailed over the side to wade the hard sand bottom that fringed, and ran back into the maze of channels in the grass of the spit. Starting at the low tide and moving inland with the flow, virtually all of the spit was wadable. Although the area looked like it was made to hold redfish, on this day they proved elusive. Seeing no tailing action, I opted to tie on a gold spoon fly to strip down the middle of the shallow channels. After several casts, the spoon jerked to a halt halfway through the retrieve. But rather than an expected redfish bulldogging into the bottom, the fish immediately broke the surface, revealing itself to be a 16-inch seatrout. That proved to be just the first of a number of such hook ups back in the grass. But that was not the only option for some action.
Later I moved out to the edge where the grass met the Gulf of Mexico. Here a shelf ran along the edge, dropping from just a few inches of water down to a 15- to 18-inch depth. Shuffling along on top of the ledge and working the fly in front of me down along the drop provided more hook ups with trout in the 14- to 16-inch range. Fortunately, I did keep in mind a tip I’d gotten from my host on the trip and stayed up on the ledge. Shortly a commotion right at the drop-off caught my eye. As I followed the movement, I recognized the broad, flat, almost catfish-like head of a bull shark finning right along the drop and passing within feet of me. It made it very obvious why I had been advised to stay up on the grass ledge!
The rest of the day provided more of the action for seatrout. Changing patterns, it became obvious the fish were here to feed and were not very picky about what they were eating.
Getting out to Cat Island is the first obstacle to overcome, but either the small craft harbor at Pass Christian or the one at Long Beach, Mississippi are good jump offs. In fact, some angler even paddle kayaks on the 8-mile run out from Long Beach. Any small boat can make it during good weather.
If you prefer to be guided, check out Shore Thing Fishing Charters and Capt. Sonny Schindler. They offer boat and wade fishing adventures. Also, their Cat Island Experience offers fishing and accommodations in their fully furnished house on the privately-owned portion of Cat Island.