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May 27, 2011

Oil Rig Tuna Fishing On Louisiana Gulf Coast

Louisiana's offshore fishing has come back with a vengeance.

Last July, I flew from Miami to Las Vegas for the annual ICAST tackle show. The plane’s flight path went over the northern Gulf of Mexico south of the Louisiana mainland, and although it’s impossible to be certain, I think we flew very close to the actual Deepwater Horizon spill site.

From 35,000 feet, the passengers could clearly see the oil. People throughout the plane strained to see out the windows to get a glimpse of the massive slick on the water’s surface and of the dozens, if not hundreds, of boats large and small working on the cleanup.

The spill appeared much larger than we had imagined; we flew over oil for almost two hours. Many of us wondered aloud whether this incredible body of water, which has for decades provided some of the best fishing opportunities found anywhere in the world, would ever recover.

Fast-forward to March of this year, only eight months later. Early one morning, my wife, Poppy; friends Bobby and Kevin Carter of Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Jeff Pierce from Mustad; and I headed out of the southeast pass of the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana, with captains Rimmer Covington, Scott Sullivan and Eric Newman on an exploratory trip into the very waters I had flown over that past July.

Our small fleet headed east to a natural-bottom area in the midst of several large oil rigs. This part of the Gulf has many natural reefs, as well as salt domes, underwater ridges where salt has pushed up through the surrounding rock, forming what’s known as a diapir. When we reached the desired spot, Sullivan began cutting up menhaden and chumming with a steady line of chunks.

Targeting Yellowfin

While chunking might seem like a nonscientific method at first glance, there’s actually a lot of strategy to it. “We cut the menhaden into chunks that we consider ’portional to yellowfin,” Covington said, “meaning they’re the right size for big yellowfin to eat.” This crew fishes Mustad’s 7/0 39950BLN Demon Perfect Circle hooks on 80-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, and in every hook bait Sullivan handed us, he’d cut a slot in which to hide the hook.

There’s additional strategy in deploying the chunks, since you want them to drift down naturally with the chum chunks. Getting one to do this involves coiling your line before tossing the chunk overboard, then pulling line off the rod tip with the reel in free-spool and the clicker on, piling line on the surface next to the boat so there’s almost no tension on the bait. You watch the line closely, and when the line speeds up, you throw the reel into gear and wind tight to the fish.