A series of islands ranging from less than a mile to over 15 miles offshore shields the beaches and coastline of Mississippi, creating the shallow and often murky Mississippi Sound. Ship Island is probably the best known of these, lying roughly 15 miles off Biloxi and Gulfport. The cuts and channels between these islands, particularly Camille Cut - formed when Hurricane Camille literally cut Ship Island in two - provide prime locations and numerous shoals and sandbars that hold bait and feeding redfish. In addition, simply walking along the beach and watching for reds in the surf can often provide numerous shots at large fish. Wading the associated flats, sandbars and grass beds usually yields shots at cruising reds, not to mention trout, jack and bluefish. The only drawback to fishing these locations is that a boat and/or guide is necessary.
Specific locations fishermen favor include shallow-water structure just off the beach of Ship Island, including the Quarantine Station, the rocks at the Lighthouse, the Ship Island Pier, and the stumps and the wreck off of Fort Massachusetts, to name a few. Smuggler's Cove on Cat Island remains a spot worth checking for big fish, and the lagoons at Horn Island, along with the grass flats just off its beach, offer tremendous wading opportunities for both reds and trout. In fact, these protected lagoons saved several potentially disastrous trips for me when the weather just didn't cooperate.
Although technically not a barrier island, the Chandeleur island chain holds some of the most productive waters off Mississippi, weather permitting, especially for big redfish and giant trout. During the warmer months, everything from pompano to cobia frequents the islands' flats, providing excellent opportunities for fly-fishermen. Since the 30-mile run to the Chandeleurs can prove quite rough during the cooler months, small boats generally don't make the trip. However, numerous ''Chandeleur boats'' (local mothership operations) and the Sportsman's Lodge (operated by the Beau Rivage Casino) offer comfortable and convenient access to these waters in relative luxury.
One of the most convenient and scenic fishing options is the Back Bay area of Biloxi. It always holds reds of all sizes no matter what the conditions, and the added chance at large trout, flounder and sheepshead makes fishing these shallow salt marshes worthwhile. Plus, you can begin fishing within minutes of leaving the dock.
Generally, most of the fishing in the Back Bay involves sight-casting to both tailing and cruising fish on the shallow flats. Guides who regularly work the area also blind-cast into waters they know hold fish. While these fish run smaller than their offshore brethren (often under 10 pounds), on the right tide they represent as close to a sure thing as you can get in the fly-fishing world.
For those just passing through or spending some time at the local casinos, the Back Bay offers a few opportunities to venture out on your own. Unfortunately, fishing along most of the mainland beaches tends to be unproductive, especially on fly, but wade-fishermen should be sure to try one of the local redfish and trout holes right in the heart of Biloxi, within walking distance from several casinos. The spot sits directly behind the old seaplane hangar at Point Cadet, right at the headwaters for the Back Bay under the Ocean Springs bridge on Highway 90. Local anglers regularly pull 8- to 10-pound trout and good-sized reds from the oyster beds in this area, so the place can get a little crowded on weekends. Still, it's usually worth a look.
The same could be said for Mississippi in general: When fishing begins to trail off in many areas of the country, head down to the Deep South, try your luck at the slots and console your monetary loses with a Rebel red or two.