PASS CHRISTIAN, Mississippi — Like so many others who grew up on the Mississippi Coast, the Gulf of Mexico is a way of life for Brian Garriga of Reel South Fishing Charters. Catching speckled trout, redfish and other fish on a rod and reel are pieces of his genetic code. So is gigging flounder.
"I used to go (gigging) with my granddad on the beach," Garriga said. "I can remember him getting me up at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning to go. Everything had to be perfect."
For Garriga's granddad, perfect meant the right tide, the right wind and the moon phase he preferred to chase these flat, spotted delicacies out of the not-so-deep.
When conditions were to their liking, the pair spent the morning wading along front beach, gigs and gas lanterns in hand, looking for the tell-tale spade shape or eyes of a flounder peering out of the sand.
These days, fishers still gig flounder along the beach, but they have a lot of company.
"In the last five years, it's quadrupled in the number of people doing it along the beach," Garriga said. "I guess it's just people figuring out how fun it is and the table fare.
"It's grade 'A', number one. It's my favorite fish."
Fortunately for Garriga, it only takes about 20 minutes to separate himself and his clients from the crowds.
Just a few miles southwest of Pass Christian, Cat Island is known for some of the best flounder-gigging in the state. The protected waters of Cat Island, the lack of pressure and better water clarity than on front beach make it Garriga's go-to spot to put friends and clients on flatties.
"On the islands, a good night is 60," Garriga said. "On the beach, you're lucky to get five or 10. On the islands, you've almost always got a place to get out of the wind where you can find flounder."
Garriga's fishing partner Alex Lizan of Pass Christian said he started gigging at a young age and soon after began frequenting Cat Island.
"My dad got his first bigger boat, and that's when I was introduced to floundering out there," Lizan said. "That's my favorite place to flounder."
His catches attest to the island's productivity.
"Back then there was no limit on flounder, but I would stop at 50," Lizan said. "All the years I've floundered, I can count on one hand the number of times I went out there and got under five flounders."
Garriga said floundering at Cat Island is as much about the experience of being there at night as it is about the catch.
"Seeing all the different aquatic life," Garriga said. "You see stingrays and sometimes a sea turtle.
"Plus, it's just so peaceful out there at night. And it's a bonus when you stick a big ol' flatty."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com