We spent a week in Coastal Mississippi, which started with the perfect day on the water.
The conditions seemed perfect. We were steps from the beach, the sun had just casted its first orange, watercolor stroke across the horizon and the air offered a fresh, salty taste.
A light breeze preserved a glassy coat across the water that begged for wakes.
It was only the aches of waking up bright and early after a long day of traveling that calibrated reality.
The conditions were perfect.
When Wide Open Spaces Editor Eric Pickhartz and I found out we'd be exploring the 62-mile-long Mississippi Gulf Coast for a week, we had fishing at the top of our list, so hitting it the first day was only fitting.
Eric and I grabbed our morning coffee before making the short walk from our hotel down to the marina where we would meet Sonny and our Coastal Mississippi host, Anna Roy.
Introductions came naturally, as each of us was equally excited to get lines in the water.
We didn't waste any time before cutting through the seemingly pristine sea that divided the Pass Christian coastline and Cat Island in Sonny's 2017 Avenger 26 skiff.
First Light, First Cast
Marshland extended far off of the edge of the island, offering ample fishing opportunities for speckled trout, a fish none of us (besides Sonny) had caught before.
Each of us enjoyed the fruits of Sonny's labor and expertise, as we would each leave with at least two fish apiece. Anna caught her first-ever fish and Eric earned bragging rights for catching the biggest trout.
We used live bait--palm-sized croaker to be exact--which yielded consistent results. The baits were about 3 feet lower than the floats, which were cork poppers that delivered dual-purpose functionality.
A few trout struck instantly, but most fell victim to the periodic popping action.
Once we exhausted our first honey hole, we bounced around to a few more, loading the cooler up with eight trout we would cook up later.
As we reached the midpoint of our day, Sonny treated us with a surprise stop at his vacation house--one of only four on the entire island--where we would grab some water and shade.
Sonny and his colleagues use the Cat Island house to provide lodging for groups that want a super-remote retreat.
Only accessible by boat, it feels as secret as the rest of Coastal Mississippi. While I could share photos, I think it's the sort of thing you have to see for yourself. The entire region has that feel, and this house, which is available to anyone who wants to book a reservation, embodies that sentiment.
Trust me, though, it's perfect for a guy's weekend or a family reunion, so make the call.
Raising the Stakes
As opposed to the first half of our day, the second prioritized quality over quantity; we wanted to catch something big.
To do that, we would need to switch up our strategy, meaning we needed a new area and new bait.
Sonny fortunately had some active crab traps on standby near the house, which supplied us with enough blue crabs to finish out the day.
Redfish hadn't been biting all day, so Sonny elected to show us one of his favorite spots to catch black drum, which did anything but disappoint.
We ditched the popper floats, sinking crab-baited hooks alongside some heavily weathered concrete structures.
Using some surprisingly light tackle, we managed to net three, mine conveniently being the largest. However, none of these fish were small.
Black drum have a tendency to deceive your rod hand, either fighting harder than their size would suggest or sluggishly submitting despite their imposing size.
Inconsistency would play no role here, though, as each of our three drum had a field day with our reels' drag systems.
Perhaps this had to do with our lighter tackle, but we unquestionably had to earn each catch.
Straight to the Table
We didn't keep any of the drum, but eight trout were more than we could ever eat in one sitting anyway.
Sonny made quick work of them on the cleaning bench, leaving us with 16 fillets and an unforgettable day's worth of memories.
We left the fate of our catch in the hands of Hook's esteemed chefs, which was easily our best decision of the entire trip.
Servers came out with the 16 fillets roughly divided into three categories: blackened, fried and grilled. We were treated with a series of sauces for each, which included a creole crawfish cream, a cocktail sauce and a butter-garlic dip, respectively.
While I could sing praises for all three variations, if I ever returned for a similar expedition, I think I'd go all in on the blackened trout with the crawfish compliments.
If you ever recreate this fishing trip on your own, though, finishing with a fresh-catch meal at Hook is an absolute must.
Fishing Coastal Mississippi is an incredible experience for anglers looking to explore saltwater options while obeying the confines of a tighter budget. But what truly made this trip so memorable were those who accompanied us.