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Sound Decision Near-shore opportunity provides action

By Bobby Cleveland

bcleveland@clarionledger.com

D’IBERVILLE — Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel has two great fishing passions, sow red snapper and record-book cobia.

Every time he slides his 25-foot Whipasnapa boat off his trailer and into the Gulf of Mexico, he’d love to turn its bow south to the oil rigs.

But making a living as a charter captain requires that he often temper that desire.

“There’s a lot more people wanting to book inshore and shallow water trips now, so of course, that’s what I have to provide,” Capt. Earl said. “The limitations placed on snapper, the two-fish limit and basically a three-month season, has really hurt.

“And the cobia, it’s so hit and miss. Sometimes conditions are great and we get a big spring season on them when they move up on the shallow bars to spawn. This year, it seems like it was such a small window. It’s almost like we had a two-week run.”

But Capt. Earl has an out, and he shared it with us during our Week on the Water travels.

“We can launch at the front beach or in the bay and catch plenty of fish in the Mississippi Sound without running more than a few miles,” he said. “I think you’ll be surprised. We got such a mixed bag of species we can go after, and most of them are good to eat. We got white and speckled trout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead, ground mullet and flounder. We catch all of those and then we have some other species that keep us busy, too, like croakers, which we will keep and use for bait, and catfish. If you like to catch fish on light tackle, it’s a fun trip.”

Launching in the bay below the I-110 bridge, Capt. Earl’s first stop was the new Biloxi Bay bridge that connects Biloxi and Ocean Springs. He fished the edge of the main pilings that form the main shipping channel under the new high-rise span.

“Great for redfish, black drum and sheepshead, when the water is running good, but I like it more on the outgoing tide,” he said. “We’re fishing a rising tide until about 2 this afternoon, and then it will turn and fall. I thought we’d stop and try this spot anyway just to see if we can pick up a stray, ’cause it’s right on the way to where we’re going.”

Live shrimp fished along the walls of the support failed to produce a bite, and Capt. Earl knew better fishing awaited a short run through the cool morning air.

Turning into the boat channel behind Biloxi’s casino row, he raced west toward the front beaches.

“One of the positives that came out of Katrina was that we got a lot of new fishing reefs built to attract and hold fish, right off the beaches,” Capt. Earl said. “These reefs were placed shallow enough that you can wade to most of them from the shore, but also fish them from a boat. They hold a lot of fish, especially this time of year. We’ve been hammering the white trout and I mean big white trout, up to three pounds. We’re also having good luck with ground mullet and flounder, and we have caught an occasional red and speck there.

“But it’s the white trout that makes these places so good.”

How good? At our first reef, we put about 30 to 35 really nice white trout in the cooler in an hour. Using light tackle, it was a blast because every cast produced a bite.

“That’s the beauty of this kind of charter,” Capt. Earl said. “I know it’s not the kind of big game fishing trip that a lot of people like, but it is ideal for families, especially with young fishermen. Kids need a lot of action to keep them interested and there’s enough that it does that. And most of them don’t care what they’re catching as long as they’re catching something.

“A lot of people turn up their noses at white trout, but when you’re catching whites between one, two and three pounds, you’ve got a good eating fish. You can’t tell the difference between it and a speck when it’s cooked fresh. And nothing beats flounder and ground mullet.”

Our day ended with a box full of white trout, with the majority in excess of 1› pounds, a few ground mullet and a flounder.

“Like I said, it’s an alternative that is just right for families and kids, looking to have fun and take some fish home to eat,” Capt. Earl said.

Heck, I’m nearly 55 and I had a ball.

For information on fishing with Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel visit www.whipasnapacharters.com

BobbyC