All right, admit it - Mississippi probably isn't the first place you think of when it comes to fishing. It's often overshadowed by the productive waters of its western neighbor, Louisiana, or just overlooked altogether. That's too bad, because as good as the fishing is in Louisiana, it's just as good off Mississippi. Anglers regularly catch redfish, trout, cobia, kingfish, jack, tarpon, bluefish, bonito and snapper in these waters, and opportunities for game fish like dolphin, tuna and marlin lie just a little farther offshore. The relatively recent addition of the casinos to the Mississippi Gulf Coast has changed the former sleepy shrimping towns of Gulfport and Biloxi into first-class tourist destinations. Add to that a pervasive local hospitality, history, cuisine and small-town charm, and there are few places that compare.
For those who aren't familiar with the Mississippi Gulf Coast, 26 miles of beach run from Bay St. Louis to Ocean Springs, with easily 10 times that distance in shorelines along the bayous. And that doesn't account for the barrier islands, such as Ship Island, Cat and Horn islands, or the Chandeleurs (pronounced just like the thing that hangs over the dining room table). All in all, these waters make up a fly-fisherman's dream.
You won't, however, hear talk of stalking fish in gin-clear water. In fact, except around the outer islands, the water tends to look more like strong tea than gin. Still, potential for excellent sight fishing always remains. Redfish in the 5- to 10-pound range are commonplace almost year round in the shallow ponds and lagoons around the islands and in Back Bay. Gator trout, or ''specks,'' of up to 10 pounds also frequent these waters. But perhaps the biggest attraction for fly-fishermen begins in the fall when huge schools of bull reds, some well over 20, 30 and even 40 pounds, turn up around the barrier islands and eventually push inshore.
Be warned right up front, though: Fly-fishing is not yet the rave among Mississippi's saltwater anglers. A small local contingent of fly-fishermen regularly ply these waters, but they are the minority. You'll find only a handful of guides who specialize in fly-fishing and just one serious fly shop here, though numerous light-tackle guides and captains willingly accommodate fly anglers.
As soon as water temperatures begin to cool, usually sometime in October, the migration of the big spawning redfish begins to push through coastal Mississippi waters. Depending on those temps, the push can last through the end of December. Typically, the first of the big fish make their presence known in the barrier island channels and passes, though it doesn't take too long for them to make their way into the nearshore zone.
These migrating schools of bull reds can easily contain hundreds of fish. In fact, at this time of year the reds can school so tightly and in such numbers while feeding that the water takes on an unmistakable red tint when viewed from above. The large schools of feeding fish stand out from several miles away and prove difficult to spook, willing to strike almost anything within range. Such bulldogged determination almost takes the sport out of it ... almost.
Conventional-tackle anglers routinely pull 20- to 30-pound fish out of the schools, and even bigger fish are possible; the state's record fish weighed in at 44 pounds. The few fly-fishermen who fish these waters routinely catch double-digit fish up to 20 pounds, particularly on the flats around the Chandeleurs and other barrier islands.