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July 18, 2012

Fishing The Gulf's Open Waters

Go beyond the rigs. How to fish the Gulf’s open-water structure like an expert.



Covington advises anglers familiar with rig fishing to scale down their tackle, another advantage.

“When fishing rigs, you often need so much drag on such heavy tackle and line that anglers have to fight the fish with the rod in the holder,” he says. With lighter gear, they can fight the fish on their own. You also might find you’ll need less terminal gear, since structure you’re fishing over isn’t nearly as grabby as are submerged legs and cables of rigs.

In between spots with structure or relief on the bottom, it pays also to keep an eye on what can be seen on the surface, since habitat of a different sort might attract what you’re after. “Surface structure” might take the form of a ship at anchor or a weed line, such as the one we came upon while running to a spot.

Covington slowed and we began casting to it with lead‑heads and crankbaits, looking for tripletail, jacks and maybe cobia. We found a pod of the latter — or perhaps it was they who found us — and quickly hooked up a couple in the 20- to 30-pound range. Those smaller fish had beaten one considerably larger to the punch; when I dropped a jig with a 14-inch ­chartreuse Hogy tail in front of it, the big cobe pounced. After some exciting moments, a missed swipe with a gaff knocked it off at the boat; fortunately, it wasn’t a “release” I really minded making.

Top-Down Fishing Style
But for all its benefits, fishing OWS has its challenges as well.

“Fishing structure or relief in open water requires some skill,” Covington says, “since you might have to hold the boat directly over spots that can be very small. Some we fish are no larger than a picnic table.” Covington’s favorite places are fairly deep (200 to 400 feet) in water often churned by hard currents and choppy seas. So the helmsman has to know his stuff to sit tight and let anglers’ lines reach bottom. (Drift too fast and all might get hung before any can get bit.)

Sometimes the smallest area of relief will hold big surprises. But Covington lists as favorite open-water structure oil platforms cut off in 300 to 350 feet with at least 60 percent of their height from bottom to surface still intact.

When fishing such platforms, Covington employs a top‑down approach. “First, we fish shallow — from the top of the cutoff structure to the surface — for mangrove snapper, cobia and kings. Then we’ll work from the top of the structure down to within about 30 feet of bottom with big live baits and Butterfly-type jigs for red snapper, AJ, almaco, and gag and scamp grouper,” he says. “Then, we’ll finish off on the bottom for grouper — snowies, yellowedge and Warsaws.” He’s found OWS, including hard-bottom reefs, to the west that hold other species, such as speckled hinds and longtail bass.

It’s worth noting that during the days I fished OWS with Covington, we were hooking red snapper anywhere from near the surface to close to bottom. On one occasion, we fished a toppled rig that came to within 40 feet of the surface, and Covington and Capt. Scott Sullivan soon had live-chummed almost to the top a wad of mangrove snapper that averaged six to nine pounds. Dropping liveys with no weight brought immediate hookups.

Another OWS favorite: pipeline crossings. “They typically have no more than 10 feet of vertical relief but seem best at attracting grouper. The largest scamp and red grouper I’ve ever seen were caught on crossings,” Covington says.

Finally, he mentions pinnacles and salt domes, which offer a larger area and, for those not accustomed to such fishing, more drift time to keep baits down.

Wahoo Wonderlands

Covington follows a loose tripartite calendar for fishing open-water structure off eastern Louisiana.

January - April: “I like to troll and chunk — especially cutoff rigs with high relief — for wahoo, yellowfin and blackfin tuna,” Covington says. Go deeper and hook amberjack and scamp.

May - September: Prime time on OWS such as pipeline crossings or rocks for snapper (both gray and red), grouper, AJ, cobia and occasional pelagics. “This is also a great place in the summer to make bait: We catch a greater variety of bait than around oil platforms, from bonito and little blackfin for marlin to the blue runners, goggle-eye, and herring we use for summer yellowfin and dolphin.”

October - December: “We have a magnificent run of really big wahoo — 50 to 100 pounds and more — and they love to congregate around open-water structure,” Covington says. As in the winter, grouper offer an option down below, including Warsaws, snowies and yellowedge in 400 or so feet.

In some respects, the open-water-structure fishing can be too good. Particularly when fishing on small spots, says Covington, “the most important thing is to move after taking just a few fish from any one spot. Many of these open-water spots are small and can be quickly fished out.”

But such specific, open-water drop zones will always get far less pressure than rigs that rise far above the surface. Couple that with responsible fishing, and you can count on the myriad rigs and reefs you can’t see to remain some of the northern Gulf’s best bets for action.


TRIP PLANNER

While there are some acceptable hotels near Venice, Covington and his associates can accommodate groups of up to 12 in their lodge.

Contact Information

Fishing:
Mexico Gulf Fishing Company; four captains — Rimmer Covington, Scott Sullivan, Kevin Beach and Billy Wells — run four fast offshore boats; visit
 www.mgfishing.com or call 601-951-3981.

General information:
 www.plaqueminestourism.com, 888-745-0642 or 504-394-0018

Marinas:
Venice Marina; www.venicemarina.com, 504-534-9357
Cypress Cove Marina; www.cypresscovevenice.com, 504-534-9289