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March 15, 2013

Chandeleur Soaring

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

Alaska with a Touch of Gumbo

There’s no question that this is a visually stimulating fishing trip. “You can see what the pelican sees flying over those islands,” says Bourgeois.

In fact, we decided not to land at Gosier Island — just north of Breton and south of the Chandeleurs proper — after spotting the many large, shadowy figures lurking in the shallows far below. “Sharks,” said Bourgeois, as we circled overhead and turned back south to Breton.

Generally, it’s not the sharks, but wind direction and velocity that dictate much of the when and where of this fishing. When alighting, Bourgeois typically puts down on the lee side of any given island. And he generally won’t head out if winds are up more than 20 mph.

He’ll also coordinate more than one plane if necessary. “I’ve been out there with two and three planes before,” he says. “If you get a group of six to eight guys, you need the room.”

The best part of such a trip is the fact that you can ­experience a remote, wild place, yet have the ability to enjoy a few drinks and a delicious Cajun meal back at the lodge with your friends. And, yes, the food is ­Louisiana-good at Bourgeois’ place.

“We’re trying to capture the last frontier with this trip,” he says. “I always wanted to go to Alaska when I was young, but it’s too far, and I don’t like the cold! So I took that idea and added a little gumbo, and started fishing out there. It’s a unique trip. You can’t compare it to anything else on the Gulf Coast.”
And you never know — you might even latch onto a monster red from the plane itself.

come prepared

Come Prepared

Fishing these island chains via plane is an in-the-water affair. You’ll be wading — typically in knee- to waist-deep water — and Bourgeois warns that there are hazards in the Gulf. “You’re in Mother Nature’s backyard,” he says. “There are stingrays and sharks. There are crabs that can pinch you and jellyfish that’ll sting you.” While no such critters of any significance were encountered during my trip, you should come prepared — bring sturdy wading shoes, protective long pants, and hats and neck gaiters for sun protection. Bourgeois also likes to carry a customized backpack that can carry tackle and supplies, as well as two additional rods.

A Birding Paradise

You know you’re in the presence of a lot of birds when you can actually smell them. That’s precisely what I discovered while walking the length of Breton Island. But as an avid birdwatcher, it was worth it. The Breton National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for nesting wading birds and seabirds as well as wintering shorebirds and waterfowl. Twenty-three species of birds use the refuge, with 13 nesting throughout the islands. The number of brown pelicans I saw was staggering, as were the laughing gulls. The noise was staggering too! However, these barrier islands are constantly in flux and changing with storms. The recent tropical activity in the northern Gulf has hit these islands hard, and Breton Island itself has actually decreased in size from 820 acres in 1869 to only 125 acres as of 1996.