Capt. Glenn Ellis and I arrived at the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor well before daylight, launched his boat and headed south.
Upon arrival at our destination, we anchored in knee-deep water, hopped out of the boat and headed to our starting point on the south side of Ship Island.
I’m already leery about wading, but wading when I can’t see where I’m walking is a whole ’nother story — let’s just say I was on high alert.
We started casting our topwaters from the beach — a long cast then a rhythmic walk-the-dog presentation back to where we were standing, then rinse and repeat — and slowly eased into the light surf.
Once Ellis saw my nerves had settled a bit, we split up to see if we could find some fish.
This is a tactic waders use: Stay close enough to keep an eye on your buddy but far enough apart and trying different tactics to put together a pattern for a successful trip.
I was starting to get more comfortable and eased farther out — about waist-deep — to try and fish deeper water.
There was enough ambient light from the stars and moon that I could see the surface of the water and my Spook Jr. walking back to me. When my topwater got within 20 feet or so, right before I was about to reel it in for another cast, a saw a large wake making a beeline for my lure.
This is when time seemed to slow down and my brain went into overtime.
In that split second before the fish hit my topwater, my mind replayed every shark attack scene from the movie Jaws, a scene or two from Friday the 13th and Jonah 1:17, where Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
The huge fish hit my lure, did a complete 180-degree turn, followed by an aggressive tail slap on the surface that sent a splash of water onto my face that covered my glasses and blurred my vision.
I don’t know if the scream was out loud or in my head, but it was real.
The topwater attached to my line was heading south while I backpedaled to the beach like a man possessed.
Once all my extremities were out of the water the fight was on.
Several minutes and a few drag-peeling runs later I had the sea monster on the beach: It was a huge redfish, not a shark, barracuda or kracken.
During the melee, Ellis had made his way over to see what the ruckus was. He helped me unhook the beast, revive her and send her on her merry way.
We fished a few more hours and caught several ladyfish, redfish and trout — just a typical summer morning fishing one of our beaches.
I’ve fished with Ellis several times since that trip, and we’ve always started very early.
“The main thing in July is you want to get there as early as possible,” he said. “You want to be fishing pretty much at nautical twilight, especially on the immediate beaches and around some of the shallower areas.
“The water starts to warm up quickly and those trout will start shifting out of that shallow water as the sun comes up.”
Nautical twilight is typically about an hour before sunrise, with just enough light to see the horizon.
Yes, ma’am, it’s early. But it’s worth it.
Another important tactic is to start casting from the beach and slowly ease your way into the water.
“A lot of people will walk through trout to get to where they think they ought to be out deeper,” Ellis said. “I’ll start fishing in knee-deep water, especially around structure, whether it’s some of the old pier pilings along front beach or some of the drainage culverts: anything that’s unique to a certain stretch of beach.
“You’ve got 26 miles of beach that is a lot of the same, so you want to look for an area that sets it apart a little bit.”
The beach along the immediate coast has similar characteristics to our barrier island beaches when it comes to shallow bars, undulations in the sand that create troughs, along with the added benefit of the man-made structure Ellis spoke of.
A topwater is a good bet just about year round on the coast, with the hot summer months being one of the prime times.
“Nine times out of 10 I’m going to start with a topwater plug at daylight,” Ellis said. “It does a couple of things: It’s productive for one, but it’s also a good locator.
“Even if you start getting a few hits on a topwater plug but don’t hook up, it gives you confidence that fish are there, and then I may switch over to a jig if I’m not getting hooked up on a topwater plug.
“That’s the two primary baits I’ll use: a downsized topwater plug like a Spook Jr. and a 1/4-ounce jig with your favorite plastic bounced around the same areas.”
Ellis uses the same rod and reel combination for both baits: a lightweight baitcast setup.
“I’m using 6 1/2-foot medium-light baitcast rods, and I’ve switched over to a H2O Express reel that Academy makes,” the guide said. “It’s actually a CCA-branded reel that I’ve been using for three or four months now — basically a smaller low-profile baitcaster that I have 30-pound braid on, and then I’ll usually have a 4- to 6-foot 20-pound leader (on which) I’ll use a uni-knot and then come down to a loop knot.”
That terminal knot is important, he said.
“I’ve been using a loop knot on all my baits, whether it’s jig heads or top waters or anything,” Ellis explained. “It just seems like it gives the bait additional action, especially on the topwater plug, because it give is more range of motion.
“Even on the jig it seems like it’s increased my bites a little bit more.”
We have 26 miles of sandy beach that’s easily accessible from Highway 90. The beach features various types of structure, from active fishing piers, old pier pilings, culverts and seawalls.
We also have countless miles of beach at our barrier islands that are teeming with fish.
The best way to get started is to pick a stretch of beach — whether on the immediate coast or at one of the islands — and start fishing.
If you see a big fella standing in ankle-deep water making long casts with a Spook Jr., come over and say, “Hi.”
It might be me.
Editor’s note: Capt. Glenn Ellis can be reached at 228-297-7258 or online at goincoastalcharters.com.