4. Joka's Wild
Port: Biloxi, Mississippi
Vessel name: Joka's Wild
Capacity: 10 to 12 (anglers must book as a group)
Length of trips: Two- or 2½-day charters
Contact info: 228-392-0989, www.jokaswild.com
Getting there: Fly directly to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and take a cab or shuttle, or fly to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International, 70 miles away, and rent a car to drive to Biloxi. The vessel departs from Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.
Vessel description: The Joka's Wild launched in 2004 as an 80-foot custom aluminum yacht designed and built on the Mississippi Gulf coast by its captain, George Pelaez Jr. The Joka is U.S. Coast Guard-certified to carry 48 passengers, with overnight accommodations for 12.
The main salon features oak-paneled walls and oak flooring, two oversize leather sofas, a flat-screen TV with DVD player and VCR, and a stereo system. The back deck offers a lounging area, wet bar, ice makers and surround stereo.
The Joka operates an open galley with stainless-steel appliances. Guests dine at a large banquet table with nearby coffee bar. Breakfasts include eggs, bacon, cereal and fruit. Lunches usually comprise a local favorite of fried fish and red beans and rice, along with cold cuts and sandwiches. Dinners may range from prime rib or shrimp spaghetti to shrimp Alfredo or seafood gumbo.
Six guest staterooms in the Joka house two twin bunk beds and a small dressing area. Below are two large bathrooms with full showers.
You and a fishing partner share a 14-foot fiberglass skiff with a Yamaha 15 hp outboard to navigate the flats after redfish and trout. Skiffs are ready each morning, complete with full fuel tanks, livewells and all safety equipment, including VHF and GPS handhelds.
Crew info: Capt. George Pelaez Jr. was born in Biloxi and grew up on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. At age 16, he and his father built a small headboat in their backyard. Later, they built shrimp boats and converted dive boats and yachts. Since then, Pelaez has built three Joka's Wild vessels for Chandeleur fishing, successively adding more and more amenities.
Deckhand Kirk "Kirky" Thompson is also from Biloxi and has fished Gulf waters since he could walk. Thompson works with the guests and their tackle, offers tips, prepares the boats and substitutes as captain.
The second deckhand and cook, Bubba Kisner, hails from Biloxi as well. He has been with the Joka (on the current vessel and its predecessors) for 12 years and is a jack-of-all-trades.
Location description: According to gulfbase.org, the Chandeleurs comprise a chain of islands, including Breton, Grand Gosier and Curlew, about 60 miles east of New Orleans and 30 miles south of Biloxi, Mississippi. The Chandeleurs represent the remnants of a former Mississippi River delta; they were explored and named in the early 1700s by the French after a religious celebration known as La Fete de la Chandeleur, or Candlemas Day.
The outline of the islands has been described as crescent-shaped. The islands form a buffer zone between the Gulf and the mainland, helping protect the New Orleans area from wind and storm surge.
However, Hurricane Georges in 1998 destroyed much of the Chandeleurs' landmass, which featured hard ground over a 24-mile stretch. Then Katrina, in 2005, took its toll. Pelaez says about 70 percent of the land has disappeared, though there are still some exposed keys, and sand is building back up on the islands. Trout habitat was devastated as submerged grasses were covered with sand.
The Chandeleurs still hold great numbers of trout and redfish, but no one knows how much of the region will come back or even how much longer the islands may exist. The center portion of the island chain still hosts marsh grass and bayous throughout an eight-mile stretch.
The Joka's Wild fishes the Chandeleurs from mid-March through the end of November. While conditions usually range from pleasant to hot year-round, strong fronts push through during winter months, making small-boat operation around the islands more difficult.
Fishing description: Most of the Joka's clientele like being on their own in their own skiffs; most are seasoned anglers and boaters. Primary target species for this region are redfish and speckled trout, though anglers do catch other fish such as sharks and mackerel.
In spring and fall, redfish numbers spike. Pelaez says it's not unlikely to see schools of 50 to 100 fish. However, even in summer months, anglers get into reds when they expect trout, and bull reds can be found in the surf.
Anglers catch the largest trout in March and April over grass; in June, school trout - 1- to 2-pounders - thrive. If the captain chooses to run to several nearby rigs, bigger trout may be found in those deeper areas during summer.
At the Chandeleurs, the tides change once a day, rising and falling just one to two feet. So fishing generally isn't tidally driven, though low tides make navigation tougher.
Anglers mostly fish artificial lures, though some customers bring along live bait to fish structure. They buy shrimp or croaker at the tackle shop and put the bait in the skiff livewells. For several customer groups, Pelaez tows two open fishermen behind the Joka for fishing deeper water.
Anglers may keep their catch as governed by Louisiana limits. A Louisiana skiff license is mandatory for nonresidents and costs $30 for three days.
Tackle info: Anglers should bring the following tackle. The boat does not provide rods, reels, tackle or bait.
Two casting or spinning rods for ¼-ounce to 118-ounce lures
Two reels for those rods, filled with 12- to 20-pound-test line
Small tackle box containing artificial baits such as cocahoe minnows, saltwater Bass Assassins, Berkley Gulp!, Johnson spoons, MirrOlures (regular and floating), popping corks, Mr. Champs and shad rigs
If you plan to wade, bring a wading belt, dehooker, stringer and proper shoes.
Cost in U.S. dollars: Two-day trips cost $550 per guest; 2½-day trips cost $625. Prices include all food, nonalcoholic beverages and fishing. A fuel surcharge may apply if road diesel exceeds $4 a gallon.
Prices do not include tackle, bait, gratuities or Louisiana fishing license. Licenses are available online, but contact the operation for the mothership number.