Wade Fishing the Chandeleur Islands

It's hard to reach these barrier islands. But once you get there, you never want to leave.
Speckled trout from the Chandeleur Islands
Outdoor television show host Kevin Ford had his hands full of speckled trout on a perfect June wade-fishing trip to the Chandeleur Islands. Todd Masson

The ultimate goal of Elon Musk’s SpaceX is to one day establish a colony of humans on Mars, a planet 140 million miles away. Reaching the Chandeleur Islands is only slightly easier. Formed more than two millennia ago when the Mississippi River was dumping sediment into its St. Bernard lobe, the Chandeleur chain is a 60-mile stretch of sand, shell, mangrove and dune grasses. It more resembles an unexplored moonscape than a popular fishing destination.

That’s partly because the area was included in the Breton Island Reservation by President Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago, and development of any kind — even primitive camping — is illegal there. But it’s also because the Chandeleur chain is so freaking far from absolutely anywhere. Though it’s part of Louisiana, the nearest ports are actually in Mississippi. Still, it’s a 30-mile run over open water from Gulfport.

Boats that can handle those big offshore swells may not be best for exploring the shallow-water grass flats that seem to go on forever behind the protection of the islands. That’s why for many anglers, the best way to fish the islands is to plunk down a wad of cash, hop aboard a mother ship and fan out over the flats on skiffs with tiller-controlled outboards. A number of outfits along the Mississippi coast offer the service.

A DIY Chandeleur Island Fishing Trip

A speckled trout from the Chandeleur Islands
Capt. Justin Bowles caught this beautiful speckled trout while scouting the Chandeleur Island chain for a good wade-fishing spot. Todd Masson

Other anglers with more of a DIY mindset wait for days with perfect conditions, load up on fuel and roar across Breton Sound in their bay boats. That’s what outdoor television-show host Kevin Ford and I did with our good buddy Capt. Justin Bowles during a June trip not too long ago. We had a night reserved at the Chandeleur Islander, a jack-up barge that provides hot meals and bunks for visiting anglers, so our plan was to scout on day one while fishing from the boat, in hopes of locating an area to wade-fish the morning of day two.

Most fishing plans, of course, require some adjustment on the fly, but this one worked to pure perfection. We launched along the Mississippi coast, and after a ride out that was a little bumpier than ideal, we arrived at the Chandeleurs mid-morning. Even though all of us are jaded lifelong anglers, we still stood in marvel at the sight of gin-clear water over seagrass flats as far as the eye could see.

We employed a hit-and-run strategy, fishing for a few minutes in a number of different areas, looking for the right mix of water clarity, depth and bait. Though we caught tons of fish from the boat, it was mostly a scouting mission to locate an area that would give us a reasonable chance of success while wading the next morning.

Great Fishing at the Chandeleur Islands

Speckled trout catch from the Chandeleur Islands
The author had one of the best fishing trips of his life at the Chandeleur chain in June. Todd Masson

Lucky for us, it was an embarrassment of riches, with almost too many options to choose from. We all agreed on what we figured would be the No. 1 spot, and then spent the waning minutes of the day catching speckled trout within sight of the Islander. The next morning started well before dawn with way too much breakfast and that nervous chatter that always precedes fishing trips in new areas. We loaded our gear, and with only a hint of twilight to the east, we scooted down to the area we had found the day before.

With Bowles’ bay boat securely anchored, we fanned out over the grass flat, while a constant cacophony of nesting-shorebird calls washed across the flat surface. Before I even made a cast, I knew this was going to be one of the best fishing trips of my life. Everywhere around us, speckled trout were crashing into schools of mullet, emitting that characteristic pop sound big trout make when they suck in bait, water and air.

The fish clearly couldn’t tell the difference between our topwater plugs and the real thing. The explosions were relentless, and we all caught speckled trout almost every cast for the next three hours. It was epic.

But really, for the Chandeleur chain, it was just ordinary. The area is so vast, unspoiled and underfished, trips there that rank as the best of your life are the rule rather than the exception. Plant your toes in the sand at the right spot, and you simply won’t be able to believe how many fish can crowd into one area. I’ll be back out there soon — assuming Uncle Elon doesn’t come through with that ticket to Mars.