Cat Island, only 7 miles from Long Beach Harbor, may have the best and most-dependable fishing year-round off the Mississippi Coast. One of the advantages that anglers have who go to Cat Island to fish during January is that they always can find protected waters there with speckled trout and redfish.

"Regardless of the time of year and which way the wind's blowing, we not only can find protected water but also can locate clear water at Cat Island, even when the Gulf of Mexico and the bay are muddy," said Capt. Sonny Schindler of Shore Thing Charters. "The prevailing wind during January will come from the northwest, which means you can fish both sides of Cat Island.

"Trout Bayou is a really neat place to fish, because there are plenty of small pockets and drainages, plus it's riddled with oyster beds. Some of the best fishing will be in the sloughs and pockets that come off the North Bayou on Cat Island. However, you may want to bring a buddy with you to fish, since some of these drainages are extremely remote and very shallow. You may get your boat stuck in them."

If you look at a map of the area, you won't be able to see that these cuts, sloughs, and bayous tend to go on forever. Some of these waterways often will run halfway through the island.

"Cat Island actually has about 20,000 acres," Schindler says. "The fishing for redfish in those sloughs, canals and drainages is phenomenal, and you'll rarely, if ever, see a boat at Cat Island.

"The people fishing in January usually will be in the Biloxi Marsh. To fish Cat Island, you'll need either a real shallow-draft boat or a kayak. If you fish Cat Island with a kayak at any time of the year, you can fish virgin water that very few, if any, anglers ever have fished. These little drainages are small, but if you fish them, you'll feel like you're in another world."

"You can look back at the shoreline of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and see it from Cat Island; however, if you look in the other direction, you'll think you're at the end of the earth," said Kenny Shiyou, another guide who fishes Cat Island.

The trout at Cat Island will be holding in holes - perhaps 4-feet-deep to as much as 8 to 10 feet.

"Some of the deepest water in North and South Bayous may only be 4- to 8-feet deep," Schindler says, "but that's the deepest water that the trout have to hold in at the island."

To catch the trout in January, Schindler suggests fishing live minnows or lead-headed jigs with minnow-body imitations like the H&H Cocahoe and Strike King Glass Minnow, or any soft-plastic bait that resembles a finger mullet or another type of baitfish.

"The colors I prefer in January for trout are smoke gray or a darker color like root beer or motor oil," Schindler said.

When fishing for redfish, live mud minnows and fresh dead shrimp may be your best bets. But the real fun of fishing Cat Island at this time of the year is sight fishing for reds with spinnerbaits like the Strike King Zulu or Redfish Magic or Bayou Thumpers.

"However, to have a really fun day, throw some topwater baits to those redfish," advised Schindler, who prefers the Zara Puppy, She Dog, Pop-R and Spit-N-King.

The best all-around bait for redfish, speckled trout and flounder is the mud minnow, a killifish.

"If you can find live mud minnows, you've got real prizes," Schindler said. "They're tough as nails and will live in a bucket without an aerator longer than in a livewell. I like to slow-bounce a mud minnow off the bottom in the lagoons and the deep holes, because in January, trout, flounder and redfish don't want to move much to eat. When the fish see mud minnows staying in one place on the bottom, they'll move up to the minnows and suck them in."

In a day of January fishing, Schindler will start off the day fishing Cat Island's deep holes for speckled trout. He knows he can catch limits of 15 trout per person that will weigh from 2 to 4 pounds each. On some days, he'll catch a 5-pound trout or two.

Then he'll move into the lagoons and expect to catch a limit of at least three slot-limit reds per man in a day of fishing. No matter what January's weather, you usually can find protected, clear water at Cat Island.

Schindler usually leaves from Long Beach Harbor because it's the closest harbor to Cat Island. All the launch sites in Harrison County provide the straightest routes to Cat Island. Anytime a warm front is moving in, the fish seem to bite more aggressively.

To contact Schindler, call 228-342-2206.