It’s hard to explain if you’ve never done it, but fishing the ocean is a different kind of fishing. For one thing, there’s nothing quite like floating around on saltwater in the heat. But the fishing itself? That’s where things shine.
A lot of time, you find yourself floating over a spot that’s got fish. You drop a line in the water and watch as it disappears into the depths, heading straight for the bottom. What happens next is one of two things: You either wait around for a while or your rod tip wiggles a little bit, then the whole thing folds in half as a fish grabs the hook.
You start reeling and reeling, but you have no idea what’s on the other end of the line. Whatever it is, you can feel a surprising amount of power every time it pulls. If you’re lucky, it’s a nice red snapper, perfect for dinner. But it could be a shark, or any number of other fish. The only way to know for sure is to get the fish to the surface and onto the boat.
That sense of the unknown is what makes fishing the Gulf of Mexico so thrilling. Sometimes it goes exactly as you’d expect and you walk away from the boat with a cooler full of whatever you were after, but other times, you end up catching something else. You’ve still got a cooler full of fish, but if the sea has different plans, you get a different fish.
That’s the thing about fishing in a place like Keesler AFB, in Biloxi, MS. Even when it doesn’t go according to plan, you’re still having a great time.
The heart of the Gulf
Biloxi, Mississippi has a long history of fishing. In the early days, Biloxi became known for its shrimping, something that’s still very important to the region as one of the major economic drivers. Seafood is such a part of the culture in Biloxi, there’s a Maritime & Seafood Museum that highlights the history of the fishing industry in Biloxi.
Keesler Air Base is located right in the middle of the action, right on the water within the city limits of Biloxi. It isn’t all about fishing, but that’s definitely one of the main reasons a lot of people travel to the area.
Fishing on the Gulf of Mexico
Fishing out of Keesler AFB is a treat. First, the boat isn’t your typical smaller fishing boat that you might expect from a local fishing charter. You get a 50-foot boat that’s been exploring the waters around Biloxi since the 90s (if not earlier). Second, like a lot of the fishing around there, you don’t really have to go far into the Gulf to find fish. “Most of the fish catching happens within 2 to 20 miles of the coast,” says Emily Williams, of the Keesler ODR. But it depends on the coast, she adds. If it’s been raining or if spillways in Louisiana have been opened, the salinity of the bay changes because of the added freshwater and the fish get pushed into deeper water.
Regardless, when you show up to fish at Keesler, you get there early, around 6:30 in the morning, to learn some of the basics, and then the day starts. What you’re targeting, depends on the time of year. The summer starts off strong, with red snapper season. “That’s the fish to catch,” says Emily. But ultimately, “We’re after whatever bites,” she adds. “As long as it’s legal, you can keep it.”
Of course, there are no guarantees when you’re fishing, but if the bite is tough, there are options. “If we’re not getting bites,” says Emily, “We’ll go somewhere else, and we’ll troll along the way.”
If the snapper aren’t interested, the Gulf of Mexico is home to some of the best sportfishing in North America, so there’s always a shot at something. Depending on the kind of trip you’re taking, you can try your hand at shark fishing, go after hard fighting species like redfish or jack, there’s also black drum, cobia, sea trout, and if you’re really lucky, Mahi Mahi.
You’ve got all day to catch fish, but on the best days, you’re not out long at all. “On the best days, you limit out and come home early,” says Emily.
If you’re really looking for a different fishing experience, bow fishing is also an option. Bowfishing involves a hybrid bow and fishing rod. You go out at night and target species like redfish, flounder, and gar.
It’s not all about fishing at Keesler
For those who aren’t excited about spending all day on a boat, the good news is that you’re not limited to only fishing at Keesler. It just happens to be how a lot of people like to spend their time there.
Keesler is located right beside a 17-acre park and the rivers and bayous in the area are well worth exploring. If you’re brave, you can venture out in a kayak and have up close and personal encounters with alligators, manatees (depending on the time of year), dolphins, snakes, even sharks.
Kayaks make it easy to approach animals that are usually skittish around people, but of course, you need to be cautious when trying to sneak on something like an alligator.
What need to know before you go
Keesler AFB is only about 9 miles away from the Biloxi airport, so getting there is easy. Renting a car or taking a cab are the easiest options.
When you’re there, all you need is a desire to fish, some snacks, and (of course) sunscreen. Everything else is taken care of by the boat crew. You don’t even need a fishing license because it’s covered by the charter. The biggest thing to note here is that crew works hard to make sure you have a great day, managing everything from keeping the boat floating to cleaning your catch. Tips are always appreciated.
Go where the water takes you
The hardest part of fishing in a place like the Gulf of Mexico is deciding what you’d like to do. From out of Keesler, you can do single-day trips, or go further out to target some of the bigger species of fish that the Gulf holds, like tuna or marlin. It’s really up to you. “The sky’s the limit,” Emily says, “As long as the fuel holds up, we can go anywhere you want.”
It’s up to you to decide which dreams you want to chase when you’re out there, and how long you want to spend chasing them.