Colorado Hunter magazine
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D'IBERVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Recreational fishing is making a strong comeback on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But small charter boats are getting more of the business.
At the D'Iberville Marina, Captain Robert Brodie pours buckets of water on the dock and tosses out the morning catch.
"Today we caught Florida pompano, that's sort of like an exotic species we catch at the barrier islands. Also, we caught southern kingfish, which are commonly called whiting. Today we also caught some really big flounder."
Brodie's business, Team Brodie Charters, charges $375 for half a day and $475 for a full day. He can take up to four people.
"The fishing has really come back strong. Doing little boats like we do, we do the inshore. So we can fish no matter what the weather," Brodie tells Mississippi Public Broadcasting (http://bit.ly/NgjQRB).
For Jane Clare Edwards of Brandon: "Oh, the fishing was great. We got rained on, but we made it work and we had a great time.
"We live on the reservoir, so we fish a lot at home. This is our second year. We came last summer and had a great time and caught a lot of fish. And so we're back this summer. We went out further this time, and so we caught bigger fish this time."
Other people are coming back, too. Last year 65,000 people bought recreational saltwater fishing licenses. This year, it's up to nearly 70,000, according to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
At the marine supply store, President of the Mississippi Charter Boat Captain's Association Tom Becker is buying a new rod holder for his boat.
"Recreational fishing, if you're talking strictly fishing, the fish are out there, believe me, they are out there. The problem is, the people, to my type boat, which is a big offshore boat, they don't have that kind of money," he said.
Becker charges $750 for half a day and $950 for a full day. Fuel alone costs at least $200 for a trip, then he has deckhands to pay. Usually about 10 people charter the boat, to cover the cost. Becker says with the cost of fuel and the weak economy, in the past few years, he's lost about half of his business.
Capt. Kyle Jarreau runs the Jus Add Water out of its home in a Bay St. Louis marina. Jarreau is one of four captains who put guests atop schools of sport fish at Shore Thing Fishing Charters.
They also say recreational fishing is bouncing back after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and the release of freshwater from Lake Pontchartrain in 2011 into the Mississippi Sound.
Along with the closing of fishing at times because of them, recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico off the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts went through several years of hard times.
"I think it's helped. (The oil spill) gave the fish a whole year with no pressure," Jarreau tells the Hattiesburg American (http://hatne.ws/LHaUSK).
He said that while fishing is seasonal and success hinges on the caprice of multiple marine species, trips lately have produced cooler-loads of keepers.
"The storm and the spill happened, we can't change that," said Sonny Schindler, an inshore charter boat captain with Shore Thing. "Hopefully, something like that will never happen again. What happened, it stinks, and we are so sorry for those who lost their lives (in the oil rig explosion).
"But the fish and the ecosystem got a two-year break of fishing. We suffered, of course, but we got basically two bonus generations of the food chain that is running wild.
"The trout fishing has never been as good, they are big and plentiful," Schindler said.
Jim Franks, a fisheries biologist at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, agrees that the fish population is bouncing back, although he is more cautious.
"We had a lot of environmental insults the last seven years," Franks said. "Coastal Mississippi has undergone quite a number of environmental challenges.
"We are hopeful and optimistic. We have some of the best fishing in the world, one of the most highly productive areas in the world. We are optimistic that things will reach their capacity again. In some ways, it is at that point now."
There are more than 120 charter boat captains in this state, according to the Mississippi Charter Boats Captains Association.
Some take their customers to the deep water to hunt for snapper, cobia, tuna, marlin, wahoo and dolphinfish.
Others, like captains at Shore Thing, keep their boats in shallow water above reefs, keys, points and contours, hoping to put redfish, trout, tripletail and flounder in their customers' crosshairs.
The people who want to fish on charter boats seem to be getting past the fears of the 2010 oil spill because they're keeping the charters busy.
From veteran fishermen to corporate outings to newcomers to the sport to people just wanting to go for a boat ride and enjoy the scenery, they are making up for lost time.
"Because more boats are out now than ever, the running joke among the charter fleet is, 'What recession? If the economy is plummeting, why are all these people out here?'" Schindler said. "People are enjoying the heck out of it."