Fly fishing is very popular on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and barrier islands. The species sought after most often are speckled trout, redfish, cobia, tripletail, and sharks. Some folks even like to tackle offshore species such as red snapper and spadefish.
How to Catch Mississippi Redfish by Fly
From accurate casting prowess to the strip-strike hook-set, what you need to know about targeting the ‘workingman’s bonefish’
While Florida, Louisiana, and Texas often grab most of the redfish headlines, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi has plenty to offer saltwater flyfishing enthusiasts.
Biloxi, Miss., may not be on many of the itineraries of those seeking supreme flyfishing adventure on saltwater flats. But it should be.
After all, there may not be a better spot in the world to hook up with a double-digit redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) on the fly than this spit of sand and brine lying on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“They eat flies so well,” said Richard Schmidt, co-owner of Chandeleur Outfitters in Biloxi. “It’s such a visible sport and has all of the aspects of bonefishing, but they’ll forgive mistakes a little more and they’re so accessible.”
“Maybe they’re the workingman’s bonefish. They’re not going to take you into your backing like a bonefish will, but then you’re not going to catch a 35-pound bonefish, either.”
“Fly Fishing America” host Chad Foster, a native of nearby southern Louisiana, has experienced the big bull reds of the Mississippi coastline in the fall.
Not once, but twice, during the filming of this week’s ESPN2 episode of “Fly Fishing America,” Foster hooked and lost the redfish of a lifetime on a fly rod, two reds well in excess of 30 pounds.
Despite those disappointments, Foster went on to land a number of other hefty redfish on the fly and counts himself among the species’ biggest fans.
“For the flyfisherman, this is an incredible opportunity to sightcast to fish and to fight a fish that pound for pound is among the hardest-fighting fish in the world” Foster said.
So how does an angler chase away the Biloxi blues and get a serious case of redfish fever?
Well, here’s a crash course from Schmidt and his partner and fellow guide, Rick Lauman, on what to bring to the Mississippi saltwater flats:
When you fly fish for redfish along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, keep a camera ready. You never know when you’ll hook up with the bull red of a lifetime.
What Size Rods to Use
Tough gear: This is not the land of the 6- or 7-weight rod, according to Schmidt.
While most redfish caught will be in the 5- to 10-pound class, the chance to hook a much larger bull red is present on any cast.
“Bring at least an 8-weight, but a 9-weight is better because you can put more pressure on the big fish,” Schmidt said.
Additional gear to bring includes a stout saltwater fly reel loaded with a weight-forward floating line and a couple of hundred yards of backing; 7½- or 9-foot monofilament leaders that test to 10 to 12 pounds, with 15 to 20-pound bite tippets; polarized sunglasses; a good hat; and long pants and shirts to ward off the sun and insects.
What Flies to Use
A simple fly box: Planning a session at the fly-tying vise? Then keep it simple, according to Lauman.
“We primarily use crab imitations, including variations of the Merkin pattern,” Lauman said. “It needs to be fast-sinking, though. We’ll also use Clouser minnows in either pink or chartreuse/white. Fly sizes are basically 1/0, No. 1 or No. 2.”
Gold-colored spoon flies also are good patterns to carry in the fly box, Schmidt said.
Putting It All Together
Solid casting skills
Relax. No 60- to 90-foot shots into the wind for ultra spooky fish are necessary on the Mississippi flats. Redfish aren’t nearly as high strung as bonefish or permit and will generally tolerate a closer approach and presentation.
“Accuracy is typically more of an issue than distance; most of the fish we catch are within 40-feet of the boat,” Lauman said.
Schmidt explains that the need for accuracy comes partly because the mouth of a redfish is located on the bottom of its head, causing the fish to look downward as they search for crabs or mullet.
Plus, redfish are really, in essence, saltwater couch potatoes.
“These fish are so lazy,” Schmidt said. “They’re fat and don’t expend a lot of energy to go and chase food down, so you’ve got to put it right where they are and make it easy for them to eat.
“Most of the time, you have to lay it right in front of their nose.”
A good hook-set
Schmidt is adamant on this skill, citing it as one of the primary reasons that big redfish become unbuttoned during a fly-rod battle.
“Anglers need to strip-strike on the hook-set; don’t lift the rod,” Schmidt said. “Don’t do the strip-strike and rod-lift combo, either, because Rick popped off a state-record redfish doing that the last time we fished together.
“Point the rod at the fish, jerk back horizontally hard on the line, but don’t raise the rod.”
The guide said that such a hook-set is necessary because if the redfish doesn’t eat the fly, it has darted forward like a fleeing baitfish but is still within easy striking distance of the coppery-hued predator.
And the power generated by such a forceful hook-set is usually enough to drive the sharp hook point deep into the redfish’s tough, rubbery mouth.
Fight them hard and fast
Once an angler has hooked up with a big red drum, it’s time to get the fish on the reel and to lay as much law down to the fish as the rod and tippet will allow.
“You need to try and wear them out as quickly as you can,” Schmidt said. “If you keep them on the line too long, there’s a better chance that something bad is going to happen.”
But even if something bad does happen and the tippet snaps, saltwater flyrodders in Biloxi don’t need to fret; there’s usually another big redfish waiting around the corner, ready to pounce on a fly and provide an angler with flyfishing’s sweetest sound — the reel’s drag working overtime.
Places to Fish
The Biloxi Marsh
The Biloxi Marsh (aka-Louisiana Marsh) is located due south of Bay St. Louis, MS. It requires a Louisiana Fishing License (Non-Resident Freshwater and Saltwater – not cheap), but provides great fishing. The water is somewhat protected to it can be fished when conditions are not optimial, but it may be rough getting there if the seas are up.
Cocodrie is located due south of Houma, LA on Hwy 56. When you run out of road, you have arrived. My favorite launching point is Coco Marina. They have lodging, a restaurant and can provide guide services.
Cocodrie is located on a marsh that is very well protected. It also provides access to Terrebonne Bay, its many connected lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. Coco Marina guides run “Marsh Trips” and “Shoreline Trips,” both of which are very productive. The largest Red caught on my last trip was caught in the marsh on half a crab by a friend of mine on a bait casting rig. It weighted 36 pounds.
Delacroix is a huge marsh area with excellent fishing. The key to fishing Delacroix, for saltwater species, is to fish it when the weather has been dry. Rain flushes the saltwater out of the marsh and the saltwater fish follow the salinity they prefer. If you plan a trip to Delacroix and it rains, you are not dead in the water. You can follow the saltwater, moving further out or switch to bass fishing.
Chandeleur Island is in Louisiana water, and is located due south of Ship Island. It is approximately 25 miles off the coast of Mississippi, which causes the weather to dictate when fly fishers, with the typical boats we use, can make the trip comfortably. It is known for fine Red and Speckled Trout fishing.
There is a Lodge located near Chandeleur Island known at the “Pelican.” For those of you who have not been to the Pelican, it is a Lodge, consisting of three barges rafted together in a protected area just off Chandeleur Island.
One barge consists of a screened in room with a table and comfortable chairs. The center barge houses the Generator, Kitchen with eating areas and a small bed room, a marine head, staff quarters and a remarkable deck topside. The other barge is sleeping quarters with 4 bunk beds (8 people) and a rest room with shower and marine head. There are decks surounding each barge and the topside deck provides the best Sunset and Martini you could ever hope for.
Pelican Sunset Friends on the Pelican
It is 30.5 miles South of Biloxi, we departed from the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor and headed to Ship Island, then south from Camile Cut. Shortly, we saw the channel markers that guide ships to Gulfport Harbor via a track just north of Chandeleur Island. We headed for the east most Channel marker we could see until we saw the Island.
There are several Towers and a light on the north end of Chandeleur Island. There is a sand bar a fair distance off the island, which is often just under the water, depending on tides, and runs parallel to the West side of the Island, so approach slowly and watch your depth. We stayed outside the sandbar and ran parallel to the island south until we saw an Orange ball and white “Danger Buoy,” this marks the entrance to the channel to the Pelican.
At the Orange ball we entered between the Buoy and Ball and stayed within the PVC pipe markers, where it is 5-6 feet deep, there are shallow flats on either side of the channel. At the Pelican, there are two PVC pipes, which mark the turn to head to the barges. I trimed up the motor and proceeded slowly, it is shallow.
Cat Island is easily accessable and close enough to brave when the weather is somewhat against you. Smuggers Cove to the south of Cat Island is very protected and often holds Reds and Trout. Areas of East Cat Island have also been productive, depending on Tides. The North end of Cat Island has been productive for Red, Trout and several other variety of fish.
Ship Island offers many great fishing opportunities, from Surf fishing on the South shore to Flats fishing near the Quarantine Station.
Horn Island is located east of Ship Island and offers a variety of good fishing, due to the variety of bottom features surrounding Horn Island. There are flats, channels that run close to shore and deeps water just south of the island. You can always find something to fish for at Horn Island.
Other Resources & Helpful Articles
Fishing Reports from MS Lakes
Updated reports from Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
Going Coastal for March Redfish
Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Mississippi Game & Fish
Mississippi River Oxbow Bass Fishing
These cut-offs along Mississippi’s western boundary offer good prospects for catching some largemouths in the hotter months.
Mississippi Striped Bass in the Brine
The coastal rivers of southern Mississippi provide some interesting fishing for striped bass.
Mississippi Stripers Fishing
Our Fading Magnolia Stripers
Mississippi: Chasing Redfish in the Heart of Dixie
Sizzling Nighttime Striper Action
Summer Spots for Speckled Trout
From Pascagoula to Bay St. Louis the Magnolia coast offers a number of locations for seatrout angling this month. Let’s join the author in sampling a few of them.
The Gulf Islands for Reds and Trout
The waters around Cat, Horn, Petit Bois, East Ship and West Ship islands are alive with saltwater predators in June.
The Red Tied