Capt. George Pelaez of the Joka's Wild charter boat, docked at Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi, operates trips to the Chandeleur Islands. His boat, the mother ship for a Chandeleur Islands' adventure, carries 12 to 14 people who sleep and eat on the boat and then go out in skiffs to fish the Chandeleur Islands.

"We fish all the Chandeleur Islands except Breton," Pelaez says. "On our trips, we spend three nights on the boat and fish 2-1/2 days.

"We start at Schooner Harbor and fish to the wreck at Monkey Bayou."

 

What to expect

Throughout March and April, wade fishing is one of the favorite ways to catch speckled trout, redfish and flounder at the Chandeleur Islands. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has closed the islands for a clean-up operation and because birds are nesting there. As long as you stay in the water and don't step on land, you can wade-fish all around the islands - a regulation affecting all the Chandeleur Islands.

"Most of our trips during March and April caught between 175 and 250 trout per trip," Pelaez explains, "not including redfish and flounder."

During March and April, anglers also caught and released a large number of Spanish mackerel, and a number of fishermen had their lines cut by the Spanish mackerel.

"The redfish are everywhere right now - all along the Chandeleur Islands," Pelaez said. "I've been fishing on this boat since I was 6 years old, and we're seeing the biggest schools of redfish I've ever seen in my life.

"On the last trip we made to the Chandeleur Islands, our anglers caught and released all the giant redfish they wanted."

Anglers can keep five redfish (16 to 27 inches, with only one greater in length than 27 inches). If you want some rod-bending, drag-squealing, muscle-popping action this month, you can't beat fishing for the big bull reds - often weighing 30 pounds or more - that roam the Chandeleur Islands in May.

"Calm weather means slick water, and schools of baitfish will start popping up," Pelaez said. "You'll generally find the redfish under the baitfish."

The average trout will weigh 2 to 2 1/2 pounds with some solid 4- to 5-pound trout mixed in the catch.

"The biggest trout we caught on one of our trips weighed 9 pounds, and the redfish we keep generally weigh about 6 or 7 pounds," Pelaez reports. "The problem is that you usually catch more big redfish than the slot-sized reds."

The fishing at the Chandeleur Islands is fantastic, and the food on the Joka's Wild is phenomenal, with menus including prime rib, shrimp spaghetti, fried fish, red beans and rice and crawfish étouffée, all prepared by an onboard cook.

 

How to fish

The trout and redfish at the Chandeleur Islands eat almost any bait cast to them. Although plastic lures seem to be favored, early in the morning, when the water's slick, you can get some exciting action with topwater lures. Pelaez's favorite lure is the Bass Assassin in salt-and-pepper color.

To successfully catch trout and redfish this month, look for baitfish. Flounder are incidental catches. Most trips produce 10 to 12 flounder.

Pelaez says that in May, your best fishing will be out on the flats, fishing from a skiff.

"This month, the bait will start moving out from inside the islands," he says. "The shrimp will be coming in from the Gulf, and we'll generally find and catch the most fish on the grass flats.

"About 90 percent of the fish will be caught from skiffs this month, but there are some people who still enjoy wade fishing. The fish will be holding in about 3 to 5 feet of water in the grass, and that's a little deep for wade fishing. We usually fish on the west side of the islands along the grass beds, where there's protected water."

The Chandeleur Islands - one of my favorite places to fish - has beautiful water, tons of fish and an abundance of wildlife. Although Pelaez runs three-day trips, I also enjoy fishing up and down the Islands, even on one-day trips out of Biloxi. When you go to the Chandeleur Islands, you won't see crowds of folks or boats huddled up trying to fish over one wreck or reef. If you're wade fishing, the only conversation you'll have is with yourself.

To experience some of the best shallow-water fishing in the world, plan a trip to the Chandeleur Islands this month. The weather should be gorgeous and the fish will be biting. To contact Pelaez, call 228-392-0989 or email jokaswild2@aol.com.