Friday, June 7, 2013

Horn Island

When I moved down to Mississippi almost three years ago, I quickly developed two main goals in terms of outdoor pursuits. Number one was to figure out how to sightfish for redfish. Number two was to kayak to one of the barrier islands.

Five barrier islands grace the relatively short coastline of Mississippi. They are Petit Bois, Horn, East Ship, West Ship, and Cat. Horn Island is considered to be the prize of the Mississippi barrier islands due to its large size, tidal lagoons, numerous trees, and beautiful beaches. There are barrier islands all along the Gulf of Mexico, but the Mississippi barrier islands are special because they are almost completely undeveloped. This is probably due to the fact that they are further offshore than most Gulf barrier islands, but for whatever reason, there are no bridges to the islands, there are very few man-made structures, and all except Cat are completely within the Gulf Islands National Seashore. So while there are no condos, beach houses, or high rises to attract tourists, the lack of development, in my opinion, makes the islands much more special.

Horn Island lies near the cities of Gautier and Ocean Springs, ranging from 6 to 10 miles directly south of the coast. The Mississippi Sound in between is a large, shallow body of water where waves can kick up in a relatively short period of time, making it a serious open water paddle. Most people look at me funny when I say anything about paddling out to Horn. Fortunately, I found a friend who is just as crazy as I am!

The trees of Horn Island are just visible above the pelicans - roughly 7 miles from our launch point
We planned to meet at our launching point at 6:00 am Saturday morning. Due to alarm clock operating error, I didn't show up till 6:15, and on top of that, I had to run back for my life jacket! Life jackets are somewhat important for extreme kayaking expeditions... We ended up leaving at 7:00 and some fairly large waves awaited us. I was very glad for my sprayskirt and waterproof hatches. Despite the waves, our trip was uneventful, and we paddled about six miles across and then four more miles down to the west end of the island where we camped.

Did I mention the fishing is good? Right, so I'd actually been to Horn once before, and this happened. I did some fishing this time around too. The only luck I had was on a sand flat with some patches of grass on the Sound side. Strangely, I caught three different types of fish standing in almost the same place over the course of about an hour.

Redfish, sheepshead, speckled trout. Pretty cool to catch all three in the same place. That was the extent of my fishing luck, and sadly I caught them too early in the day to be cooked for dinner. Despite my tendency to release fish, I was hoping to cook one up on this trip.

The west tip of the island where we camped is very popular due to its access to both the Gulf and Sound and the fact that the mosquitoes, gnats, and flies that thrive on Horn tend to be less of a problem on the treeless tips. The downside is that with no trees and only short dunes, the tips are much less scenic compared to the middle. Regardless, boats were parked all along the tip during the day, but most left around 6:00 pm leaving us in relative peace, just a couple other groups spread out along the shoreline for the night.

These short dunes are all that separate the Sound from the Gulf at this point.
Lantern light and  Biloxi in the distance
No trees on the west tip - helps keep the bugs away
Morning brought a beautiful sunrise, but swarms of gnats sent me scurrying back into my tent. When I emerged for a second time, my mosquito head netting slowed the gnats down but was too coarse to keep them out completely. Eventually the wind picked up and we were left in peace.

With the direction of the wind, we were going to have to fight it all the way back to our launching point, so we got an early start to our 8 mile journey. It was a long three hours of steady paddling, but we made it back early Sunday afternoon, exhausted, but with a feeling of accomplishment.