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March 15, 2013

Chandeleur Soaring

Northern Gulf Floatplane Trip Offers Excitement, Convenience, Beauty and Big Fish

Reds by Winter, Trout by Summer


big redfish
Thirty-five pounds of bull redfish coming at you! During the winter, these monsters can be found by the bushel.


I certainly did. I gazed down in awe on the way out, first at the vast networks of endless grassy marsh, then over the oil-platform-dotted Gulf of Mexico shallows and, finally, above the long-stretching barrier islands. It was both inspiring and adventurous.

And, of course, the fishing was hot right from the get‑go.


Our May trip coincided with the beginning of trout season, but these island fisheries are active year-round, weather permitting.

From mid-April through the end of September, trout is the name of the game, and the out-island chains are renowned for quality fish. You won’t see 8‑pounders in this region of the Gulf of Mexico, but three- and four-pound fish in numbers are not uncommon on a good day of fishing.

“They come into the shallows to gorge on baitfish,” says Bourgeois. “These islands are like a buffet in the Gulf; all that bait hangs out around here, so it’s a perfect feeding ground.”

The trout are aggressive in these warm waters and can be caught any number of ways — on soft plastics fished on ¼-ounce jigheads either bumped along the bottom or suspended under popping corks. Or, says Bourgeois, “you can catch big trout on topwaters all day.”

Unfortunately, we did not get into seriously big trout during our short trip, but we did find lots of them, and they were caught at all levels of the water column. The big, lunchtime redfish was an unexpected bonus, mixed in with topwater trout.

trout and plane
There’s no more enjoyable way to fish the Chandeleurs than by floatplane — plus, you can be home in time for dinner!

But redfish — big redfish like this one — become the rule from October through March.

“There are thousands of them out there during the colder months,” says Bourgeois. “They range from 10 to 40 pounds.”

These bull reds push in extremely shallow, taking ­advantage of the quickly warming waters over sandy bottom. “Between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., they move in tight,” Bourgeois says. “There’ll be 30‑pound fish lying in a foot of water. It’s a fly-fisherman’s dream. They don’t fight quite as good as summertime fish, but they’re there for the taking. And they still fight pretty darn hard!”

Bumping the bottom slowly with soft plastics and ¼‑ounce jigheads is the best method to take these wintertime bulls, either by blind-casting or sight-fishing to specific fish.

During March and April, mixed bags of reds and trout can be caught, but regardless of species and regardless of time of year, Bourgeois insists that fishing these islands is about one thing — trophy fish.

“You can have the trip of a lifetime out here,” he says. “If you appreciate trophy fish more so than numbers, and like looking at a lot of nature, that’s what this trip is about.”