The rising sun peaking over the ice glass waters of the Mississippi Gulf Coast on a bluebird day is a sight to behold. For the salt angler, the shimmering ripples across the great bays forebodes great fishing. All along the Mississippi Coast — from Pascagoula west to Waveland, then on to Grand Island and the waters off Pearlington — the saltwater fishing opportunities abound.
Although Hurricane Katrina and then the massive offshore oil spill took its toll on the fishery, Mother Nature has done double duty to restore it as a prime recreational treasure.
In fact, the fishing has never been better.
Destination: Horn Island
With all of the options for places to fish the Gulf’s smorgasbord of saltwater fish species, those anglers focused on a ice chest full of speckled trout would do no better than to troll the waters from the local marinas out to Horn Island.
Perhaps not the most widely fished area for trout, it has the advantage of being less popular — so there is less competition.
By mere geographic description, Horn Island is a long, thin barrier island lying near due south of Ocean Springs and Gautier. It is part of the Gulf Island National Seashore.
The island is several miles long but less than a mile wide. It contains roughly 2,760 acres of long stretches of white sand beaches, dunes, pines, lagoons and seashore wetland habitat.
The island is teaming with wildlife, including an extensive rookery with numerous species of bird life, especially a number of migratory species.
Damage from Katrina is still obvious along the stripped tree line, but work continues to restore the island’s original habitats.
Horn Island’s fishery habitat
As a barrier island, Horn Island aids protection of the waters between the island and the Gulf Coast shoreline. This "protection" affords considerable benefits to the fishery, offering both natural and man-made fishing structure.
Within this territory is some of the best speckled trout fishing along the whole coast, due mainly to numerous aspects of the native fishery habitats but also uncounted inshore reef sites.
Placement of all types of supplemental fish structures, from concrete piles to old ship hulls, on both the north and south sides of the island have also created excellent grounds for the expansion and nurturing of species native to these waters.
For speck anglers these waters are the place to fish.
"There are 15 permitted offshore reef sites," the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Web site reveals. "The sites combine over 16,000 acres. with sites ranging from three to 10,000 acres in size.
The sites located on the north of the barrier islands consist of concrete rubble, while sites located south (of the island) consist of concrete culverts, steel hull vessels and ‘Florida limestone’ artificial-reef pyramids."
Anglers wanting more information on fishing structure around Horn Island can check out the DMR website at www.dmr.state.ms.us for the GPS coordinates of the placed fishing structure all around the island.
Also, besides the obvious strategy of fishing Horn Island via watercraft, there are options for wade fishing and bank fishing off the sand beaches and from the rock banks at various locations around the island.
Guided by Garretson
Although Charlie Garretson now lives in the Ellisville area, he was raised in Southeast Mississippi in Leakesville just an hour from the Gulf Coast. He grew up hunting deer, turkey and small game in the swampland woods on family property along the Chickasawhay River, but spent considerable time trekking back and forth to the coast.
He loves saltwater fishing.
In fact, Garretson would probably give up hunting for the rod and reel. He just about has.
"I guess if I were to have done something different in life or maybe even after I retire, it might be to become a full-time saltwater fishing guide," said Garretson. "It certainly is in my blood and among my most-favorite outdoor pastimes.
"I have not counted all the years now I have fished the Mississippi Gulf Coast trying to learn the ropes out there, but it has been a lot of time on the water."
And that time has been worth the investment.
"I have really been working it hard the past five years or so and my confidence in guiding friends and business associates is coming along nicely," Garretson said. "I now know when to go, where to go and what to use to catch limits of speckled trout and redfish, along with picking up extras like flounder and other species.
"Most everyone likes to fish for the trout and the reds. It’s a toss up, but I might lean toward the trout as my personal favorite."
The name of his Sea Pro bay boat shows how much time he puts in.
"She bears the name Branch Office since I am in the banking business for Community Bank," Garretson said.
He said there really is just one key to filling the boat with speckled trout.
"Catching speckled trout is not particularly difficult, but there are a few tricks to it," he said. "Finding the reef spots and artificial fish habitats is key. I prefer to try proven spots, anchor to fish for a while to test the action."
Garretson said he likes to cast as far out as possible and reel back with moderate retrieve, using a slight jerking motion to "pop" the cork.
Trout have soft mouths, so it took me a few tries before I was adding trout to the cooler. It wasn’t long before the sea waters around Horn Island yielded more than enough specks for dinner.
The barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi are a national treasure, I have just one fear: If I make too many trips with Garretson after trout, I may give up hunting.