Thirty miles into the Gulf of Mexico out of Biloxi, Miss., on a flat sea under a cloudless sky, the Bo-Joh-La crosses paths with a shrimper. Whether or not the encounter was planned, I don’t know, but Captain John DePineuil throttles back the twin 225 V-6 Suzukis and the 28-foot Bo-Joh-La rocks in the wake of the massive work boat, its rigging silhouetted against the morning sun.
DePineuil was shorthanded this morning so his friend Captain Matt Smith agreed to serve as mate. Smith, wearing wraparound sunglasses, operates Biloxi-based Subdude Charters along with his twin brother Mark. Today, he’s doing grunt work. He slices squid and lays out the bait; skewers a hook and gets a line in the water before the Bo-Joh-La can ride the wash from her own wake. The action is instant.
“Jack crevalle,” Smith yells. It quickly becomes a tug-of-war. The fish strains the tackle and circles the boat four times before Smith brings it to the gaff.
The next strike is a little tunny and it is anything but a heavy-puller. Little tunny are sprinters, saltwater hoodlums that roam the Gulf in packs. They could make careers of gutting medium-weight spinning reels.
DePineuil and Smith rotate from the transom to the wheelhouse so both men can catch fish, while I do my best to wear out one of DePineuil’s rods on the seemingly endless supply of little tunny, and an occasional jack. This rotation continues nearly nonstop for more than an hour, already making for a hugely successful trip. When the action finally slows, DePineuil suggests we venture offshore another 10 or 12 miles to a spot where cobia and king mackerel like to hang out. I immediately agree. My back can use the rest.
A couple of oil rigs come into view. DePineuil circles one while scanning the water. He is likeable and relaxed, a good captain and a good fisherman, and a man who seemingly has his priorities in order. He survived Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed (the Bo-Joh-La was in dry dock).
The boat comes to a stop and DePineuil and Smith talk it over. DePineuil wants to catch a cobia, which he calls a “lemonfish.” These guys are highly prized and apparently not the easiest fish to catch. DePineuil and Smith spot two, the largest about 70 pounds. Excitement seizes the boat. DePineuil brings the Bo-Joh-La around while Smith baits a rod with a 20-inch live eel, then sets it aside and starts pounding the water with a Doll Fly jig.
I don’t ask but DePineuil explains anyway.
“They may not be feeding, but a lemonfish will usually follow an artificial bait out of curiosity. And then they’ll usually take live bait.”
Usually, maybe, but not this time. Neither fish turns.
King mackerel are also prowling near the rigs and they are more agreeable to our offerings. Kings appear as knife-shaped shadows: stunningly fast, surprisingly aggressive and armed with a bony mouth lined with sharp teeth. They prove difficult to land. I have a strike, but miss the chance to set the hook. Smith hooks one, but then loses it. I hook another one and bring it near the boat, but it too escapes. Smith finally gets one onboard; it’s a silvery monster with dark, staring eyes that suggest it would reduce its tormentors to mincemeat given the opportunity.
When it’s time to head in, we pull the lines and DePineuil powers up the twin outboards. We only run a couple of miles before the captain idles the engines and brings us to within casting distance of a spread of sargassum grass. I can’t imagine what he thinks might be lurking near this patch of weeds when we’re surrounded by water that meets the horizon in all directions. I took an 8-weight fly rod that hasn’t been out of the case. DePineuil leans from behind the wheel.
“String up your rod.”
A head shake indicates that it won’t matter so I tie on a No. 6 chartreuse and white streamer. Before I can get the fly in the water, Smith has cast a jig near the grass fringe and is already wrestling with an effervescent, rainbow-tinted fish – a dolphin about the length of a computer keyboard and twice as thick. In an instant the water is boiling with them. DePineuil, Smith and I are shoulder to shoulder like kids crowding a bluegill bed in a farm pond. I hook six of the dazzling critters on as many casts before overshooting the target and hanging in the grass. By the time I disentangle my line the action is over. It’s the most fun we’ve had all day.
“Chicken dolphins,” DePineuil says while shoveling ice over the half-dozen he tossed into the cooler. “They’re delicious.”
Biloxi Fishing Information
Contact Capt. John DePineuil at (228) 396-4920 or at Bo-Joh-La Charters. Trips start at $600. The Bo-Joh-La can accommodate up to six anglers.
For information on Subdude Charters go to Subdude Charters or contact Capt. Matt Smith at (228) 348-1447.
For area lodging, area attractions and other information visit the Mississippi Tourism and Outdoor Development website or call 1-866-733-6477.