Surf fishing on the beaches of Breton Islands in southern LouisianaBreton Island is located at the bottom of the Chandeleur Island Chain that stretches from just off the Mississippi Gulf Coast almost to the tip of southeast Louisiana's boot.  It is a series of barrier islands that project up from the Chandeleur Sound that buffers southeast Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico.  Aside from the shrimp boats, occasional passing ships through the channel and a raccoon or two, these islands are home to marine birds, dolphins, shrimp, crabs and fish, plenty of fish.

The Breton Islands are the southernmost stretches of sand and scrub vegetation that provide safe harbor for a handful of privately-owned houseboats finding refuge from sometimes stormy seas. Hot showers, comfortable beds in cold, air-conditioned sleeping quarters and south Louisiana cuisine are a rare find on these primitive islands. Not only is Breton Island unique in that it offers unparalleled seclusion, it is one of the best saltwater fishing spots in the state.  If you are going for a day trip or a few days stay aboard a houseboat, here is what you'll need to know to have a safe and successful trip:

Getting There

Unless you will be travelling down the island chain from the Mississippi Coast, there basically are 3 ways to get to Breton Island.  The shortest distance to cover by water is from Venice.  From the launch you go east across the Mississippi River, continue through Baptiste Collette (a major pass) into the sound.  From there it's 20-30 minutes to Breton Island.

Another choice, which is a considerably shorter drive for most is to launch from Shell Beach or Hopedale and follow the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (a.k.a. Ship Channel) to the islands.  It is a 1-11/2 hour run from there.  In either case, a seaworthy boat is needed to handle the chop in the sound and the wakes of passing ships and big trawlers. Beware that getting to the islands to fish the surf requires a shallow-draft watercraft that can be anchored in a couple feet of water.

To get there quickly and avoid any water travel there is air transportation available.  Southern Seaplane Services has regular flights to the islands from their landing strip in Belle Chasse in Plaquemines parish.

Fishing Techniques

You might say that every method used to catch saltwater fish with the exception of trolling is available at or near the islands. Of course because of its uniqueness, surf fishing there is the most popular. But at night or at times when the surf is not productive or conditions not right there are some options. There's also a variety of species to go after.

There's something about being able to wade-fish without sinking thigh-deep in a mucky bottom that thrills Louisiana fishermen. Places where this can be done are scarce as Cajuns who don't like crawfish. It's also a way to fish all-day and beat the heat. Those cool, underwater currents are welcome on 95-degree summer days. Wade fishing does require that you get wet and getting up close and personal with some of the residents, which I'll get into later. But it's a relaxing and productive way to catch mainly specks, reds and flounders. Early morning and late evenings are the best times if you like to throw topwater baits like the top dog chug bug, spooks, etc. Otherwise the standard soft plastics like sparkle beetles, cachahoes, grubs and finshads will all catch trout and reds. Be sure to have gold and silver spoons, especially for the reds. Fishing with live bait is extremely effective, but not very practical when travelling light is necessary. Fly-fishing is extremely popular at the islands. There are no trees to contend with and miles and miles of shoreline to cover. Telltale signs to look for while wading the surf are the same things you would read on open water.  You should run immediately to diving birds within casting distance and fish slicks whenever you encounter those situations. Besides the surf at Breton, you can "island-hop" to Chandeleur, Little and Grand Gosier Islands to the north.

If getting in with the fish is not your cup of tea or if the surf is simply not producing, there are lots of rigs and channel markers that offer underwater habitat that can hold some tremendous fishing opportunities. It's not uncommon to catch a variety of species, especially at the rigs just a little to the south of Breton in about 15-20 feet of water. I've caught at the same rig, specks, reds, sheepshead, drum, lemonfish, spanish mackerel and flounder.  On a recent trip we used live croakers and shrimp to catch 3 ice chests of specks 2-4 pounds in just a couple of hours at a single channel marker.  Night fishing excursions are very popular at lighted rigs. Some of the best fishing will be when you bring your own lights to rigs that are underfished.

Specialty Gear

Because fishing the islands is unique, it calls for specialization, equipment-wise. Surf fishing is probably the biggest culprit and many would-be wade fishermen find themselves disadvantaged because they go there unprepared. So here's a checklist of specialty items and why you'll need them.

Stringers or fish baskets - Once you've caught fish in the surf you've got to have somewhere to put them. A floating stringer at least 15 feet long to keep fish safely away from your legs in case a passing shark might make a mistake is a must. Easier to deposit fish into is a floating ring with a net attached to the bottom and drawstring on top. Some of the deluxe versions of these also have rod and tackle holders built on. A short-handled landing net can be handy but not absolutely necessary. When landing a fish in chest-deep water, they will invariably tangle in anything floating or hanging nearby.

Wading belts - Outdoor Outfitters and Nu-Mark are two manufacturers who offer waistband belts that can carry a variety of items like pliers, tackle, sunscreen, a spare rod and a host of other items waders will need to transport down long stretches of beach without the benefit of an ice chest, tackle box or boat.

Footwear - While some naturalists like the feel of sand through their bare toes, it's not really a good idea for obvious reasons that are only remedied by tetanus shots.  Most popular are neoprene or elastic, rubber-soled wading shoes or boots. They're lightweight, comfortable, rinse sand easily and dry quickly. Old tennis shoes work okay except they tend to get waterlogged and heavy, trap more sand and don't dry very quickly. Be sure to bring an extra pair for a dry ride home. The only time neoprene or rubber chest-waders are necessary is during the winter and spring months when water temperatures are too cold for the body.

Comfort items - The biggest enemy of surf fishermen is the sun.  And because half the body is submerged in cool water, the upper half many times doesn't get the message until it's too late. Wide-brimmed hats, long-billed caps, back-of-the-neck shades, long-sleeved shirts and plenty of sunscreen with one of those high numbered SPFs are all the fashion rage at the islands. If you plan to spend several hours wade fishing the islands, it's a good idea to bring a portable canopy to provide temporary escape from the midday sun. It can serve as a central campsite for ice chests with liquids and supplies that can be toted along the beach.

Self-defense Precautions  – We’ve already mentioned the shark solution (shark attacks on humans are very rare) but there are a few other island residents that will try to make your stay miserable. Stingrays are common along the beaches. By shuffling your feet through the sand called the “stingray shuffle” you will chase off most before you step on them which is when they inject their venom into a leg. To be safer there are ray guards, similar to snake leggings available. Jellyfish and sandflies are much more common and while other than being aware of their presence and avoiding walking into them, there’s no preventative for the slimy stingers. And because you’re mostly in and out of the water there’s only a limited use for insect repellant for the biting flies.

Communication – Sometimes wade fishermen will find pockets of fish tightly contained under diving birds or on points and in cuts where tides and currents are pushing bait. Consequently, only several hundred yards away, fishing buddies are unaware of nearby action. That, along with emergency reasons, is why having portable two-way radios is important. While I know of no completely waterproof models the Motorola TalkAbout models have a range of about 2 miles and keeps fishermen in touch and up to date with current conditions. They are very compact (4.5 inches tall) and light (7 ounces including batteries) and operate for up to 30 hours on three AA batteries. It can also serve as a communications base from houseboat or boat to anglers on the beaches.

Louisiana’s offshore islands may not be as lush as those in the tropics but they can certainly provide a paradise for light tackle saltwater anglers.