Waist Deep - A Team Adventure to the Chandeleur Islands

A crew of us from The Backpacker Team just got back from a trip off the coast of Louisiana where we spent two sun-filled days and one awesome night exploring the Chandeleur Islands in search of adventure and maybe even some fish. This crescent-shaped chain of barrier islands stretches 50 miles and separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Chandeleur Sound. A place I had heard about my whole life, I was finally going to see.

Leaving the dark storm clouds behind us and with blue skies on the horizon, our five-man crew set off across the rough waters of the Chandeleur Sound. This was a first for all on board, except for Michael. A veteran of these waters, Michael navigated us toward our first fishing location near the southern end of the Chandeleur Islands, sharing every historical detail and landmark along the way.

While cruising along, Michael suddenly spun the boat around in excitement, saying to grab a rod. As the boat came about, we could all see the reason for his sudden maneuver. The water ahead of us was erupting with a school of bull reds. Rob and Tyler quickly cast into the middle of the action and immediately both of their reels came to life with a scream! The fight was on and the fish on the other end of the line had no intention of giving up. After 10 intense minutes, Rob’s fight ended with a snap of his line. All of our attention was now focused on Tyler, who was now standing on the bow of the boat and who was now bending back and forth trying to bring whatever was on the other end of his line into view.

The fish finally rose to the surface of the water with a flash of silvery gold; this was no bull red. The Jack Crevalle took off and was out of sight again in an instant. After another 15 minutes of wrenching the Jack toward the boat time and time again to try and net him, the Jack finally made a quick dart in front of the boat, just nicking the line against the bow and, with a loud "NO!!," the line snapped and the fish was gone. Michael refocused us all on our real target, and within minutes we were back on our way.

As we approached the shallows of the thin sand-covered island, excitement began to grow. With rods in hand, we all jumped ship and waded out in search of fish. Our party stretched along the shores of the small island, and you couldn’t help but feel as though we were the only people on the planet. Pods of curious dolphins kept popping up to check us out while being sure to keep the fish away. As the sun began to set, we decided to call it a day and head in for a warm shower, a hot meal, and a drink. 50 miles of open water stood between us and what we wanted, but it just so happened that Michael had made other arrangements.

After a short boat ride, a small illuminated structure came into view, hovering out of the water like something from a sci-fi novel. The stationary jack-up rig is home to the Chandeleur Islander Fishing Lodge. Owners Ron and Erin Hellyer greeted us at the dock with a warm welcome and immediately made us feel at home. It was up the stairs and onto the main deck of the lodge that was suspended 30’ above the water. It was surreal. After a warm shower, we made our way into the galley, where dinner was waiting for us. Drinks and good conversation accompanied our delicious meal and carried us on into the night.

After dinner, Rob and Tyler decided to see if they could heal the wounds from the ones that got away by trying their luck fishing under the lights. Within a cast or two, each of them was pulling in keeper trout. After a while, all of us had made our way down to the dock to find that the bite had slowed due to several 5’-6’ bull sharks feeding below us. Before the night was over, Rob was reeling in a trout when one of the sharks decided he wanted Rob’s catch. Again, Rob’s reel screamed as the shark ran off with the trout, snapping the line and bringing an end to day 1 of our adventure.

Unloading our gear for a night at the lodge. The North Face Base Camp duffle is essential for every adventure.

Tyler and Rob night fishing off the Dock of the Chandeleur Islander Fishing Lodge.

Waking with excitement from a restful night’s sleep, we made our way out of the cozy bunks and onto the deck just in time to see the morning sun peek out from beyond the horizon. In the early morning light, you could just start to make out silhouettes of mangrove-covered islands in the distance. Hot coffee and breakfast had us ready to embark on day 2 of our island adventure.

We headed back toward the islands to the infamous Redfish Point. This was a very different experience than the isolated areas we had fished the day before. Large boats referred to as "motherships" sat in the sound, sending skiffs of fishermen out toward the mangrove shoreline. We weaved through the early morning traffic to a perfect spot to drop anchor just below Redfish Point.

My first cast of the day, just off of Redfish Point.

Will M. casting from the bow.

We grabbed our gear once more and were waist-deep in minutes. Confidence was flying from the tips of our rods with every cast in these picture-perfect conditions. The honeymoon didn’t last long, as skiffs began to take up positions around us. Once again, in the midst of it all, a pod of dolphins swam just in front of us, and the memory of sharks feeding a short way away the night before quickly made things a bit more exciting.

Back on board, we headed north toward what was once the location of the Chandeleur Island Lighthouse. We traveled past the northernmost point and circled back to the gulf side of the islands. The water here was clearer than anything else we had seen, with sandbars echoing along the shoreline, creating deep pockets perfect for holding fish. We waded through the deep water, spread out along the sandbar, and began to fish. There were fish here. You could see the trout coming up out of the deeper water, chasing the bait, and then quickly turning away and disappearing again. After observing this behavior for several minutes, it became evident that something was spooking the fish. While luring a trout in close and again seeing it dart off, an unmistakable shape turned and chased after the trout. While we all knew that these sharks were not interested in us, it was the fish that we were after. 

Wading further down the sandbar, I finally hooked up on a large trout and was able to get it in. Rob and Will had made their way back on board to fish from the boat. The rest of us were wading back to the boat when Rob again hooked something big. Within a few minutes, Rob was able to land his first redfish; a beautiful 22lb bull! Deciding to end on a high note, we started making our way back across the sound and home.

Me with a 4lb speckled trout.

Rob with his 22lb bull red.

North of the Chandeleur Islands lies the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a national park made up of barrier islands running east to west off the coasts of Mississippi and Florida. As Michael pointed out different landmarks along the way home, he brought our attention to Ship Island, now resting on the horizon. None of us had ever been there before, and before we knew it, we were floating just offshore, staring out at Fort Massachusetts rising out of the island. He dropped us off on the beach and told us to explore; he would pick us up on the other side. A long boardwalk cuts across the island, connecting the two beaches and granting access to Fort Massachusetts. There was no one else to be seen on the island, and the fort was locked up, but out of nowhere, a ranger appeared and offered to let us into the fort. It is a truly amazing place that you have to see for yourself.

The fort has a "D" shaped design that provides nearly a 360-degree view of water and land approaches. One of the most noticeable attractions within the fort is the 15-inch Rodman gun. Installed on top of the northeast corner of the fort in 1873, the Rodman weighs 50,000 pounds and could fire a 400-pound cannonball three miles. What fascinated us was trying to figure out how they managed to get a 50,000-pound cannon over the walls to its high perch back in 1873. We finished exploring and headed back to the boat that was waiting for us on the north side of the island.

As our time on the water came to an end, it was amazing to think about all we had experienced in the last day and a half. Out there, you are cut off from the rest of the world; no distractions, no cell phones, only adventure!

 

Essential Gear We Used:

 

Join Our Team! Some of the perks for working at The Backpacker include paid time-off for going on adventures for both full and part-time positions, flexible work schedules, and skills development to help you grow your career with us!