Mississippi Madness at Cat Island

Cat Island, lying some 8 miles off Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi, in the Gulf of Mexico, is an overlooked angling jewel of our southern coast. It's alive with fish life, from trophy speckled trout over 5 pounds to various species of sharks that provide half-hour battles on medium-power saltwater tackle. Best of all, you fish with rarely another boat in sight, unlike hot spots in Florida and Louisiana.

Cat Island is one of a series of barrier islands in the shallow waters of Mississippi Sound, a highly fertile bay that extends from the Louisiana marshes east toward Alabama. This island has a long and colorful history: as a hideout for rum-runners from Cuba, temporary refuge for privateers like Jean Lafitte who anchored in its labyrinthine canals, and a U.S. army training ground for dogs during World War II.

Last summer, my old friend from Cabela's, Chuck Smock, arranged an exploratory trip to the region, bringing along Mike Jones, a local angling expert and Program Manager for the tourism agency, Visit Mississippi. We stayed on a spacious house on Cat Island and fished with Capt. Sonny Schindler and Capt. Kenny Shiyou of Shore Thing Charters, which offers various fishing packages, including lodging on the island, kayak trips, and inshore fishing.

A bull shark is released to continue feeding on the vast schools of mullet in Mississippi Sound.

In clear, shallow inshore waters, we sight-fished for outsize redfish and trout, and worked topwaters over sandflats on calm summer mornings. Closer to the open waters of the sound, huge Jack Crevalle and sharks ruled the waters, along with pods of dolphins that continually herded vast schools of mullet. We tangled with three species of shark: the acrobatic spinner, speedy black-tip, and powerful bull shark, using cut pieces of ladyfish, always a favorite snack for big toothies.

The area also offers incredible action for big black drum, that live beneath a bridge at the mouth of the Jordan River, where it enters the gulf at Bay St. Louis. Along with my personal best jack of 40 pounds (landed after a harrowing 59-minute battle), I was fortunate to wrestle up a 45-pound black drum. Hiding among the rubble of a bridge demolished by Hurricane Katrina, this fish was landed with just a few remaining strands of 40-pound-test Spectra after a prolonged tug-of-war. Though a change in weather during our visit had the tripletails scarce, the countless old crab pots and navigational markers in the sound represent prime cover for these curious fish that sometimes top 20 pounds here.

With a lack of fishing pressure and bountiful marine life, this area is destined to become a mecca for marine adventurers.

Contact: Shore Thing Charters, 228/32-2206, shorethingcharters.com; Visit Mississippi, visitmississippi.org.

Chuck Smock of Cabela's enjoys a hot surface bite for Jack Crevalle.

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