Fans of the buddy-cop flick Lethal Weapon 2 will recall the scene where Sgt. Riggs (played by Mel Gibson) comes to the rescue of his partner, Sgt. Murtaugh (Danny Glover), who is trapped in a compromising position on the toilet. As Murtaugh finishes reading the Salt Water Sportsman article about blue marlin in the Gulf of Mexico, he discovers that the commode is wired with enough plastic explosives to blow up the house. The good guys survive, but moviegoers were tipped off to a secret many of us already knew: If you want to tangle with a really big blue, the central Gulf is one of the top destinations to make that goal a reality. I recently talked with three Gulf pros about how and where they catch tournament-winning fish.
Capt. Mike Rowell co-owns and runs the charter boat Annie Girl, a 62-foot custom Resmondo based at Zeke’s Landing in Orange Beach, Alabama. Rowell has been a charter skipper for 24 years and marlin fishes up to 50 days offshore annually. He led his team to victory in the 1993 Pensacola International Billfish Tournament with a 660-pound blue marlin. His crew released an 800-pounder north of the Spur a few years later and also broke the Alabama state yellowfin record with a 176-pound tuna.
“The Spur or Desoto Canyon in July, August and September is where I like to target big fish,” Rowell explains. “The rigs are good too, because they hold so much bait. The Patronis rig is in 1,600 feet of water 60 miles due south of Orange Beach, and from there on out, there are tons of rigs south and west of that. Everybody loves to fish the rigs because they have so much potential.”
Rowell has caught his biggest marlin on lures, and purple-and-black Mold Craft Softheads are his favorite. “You want the lure to pop every three-count,” he explains. He’ll also run ballyhoo skirted with blue-and-white or purple-and-white Ilander lures in the spread. If he spots marlin feeding along a weed line or near a rig, he’ll slow-troll a blackfin tuna or small dolphin. Live baits are bridled through the eyes with dental floss and 12/0 to 16/0 circle hooks. “The guy with the freshest bait gets the bite,” he says.
Rowell’s marlin tackle consists of Penn 80 Wide reels spooled with 100-pound-test nylon monofilament. Lures are rigged with double hooks offset 90 degrees on 15-foot monofilament leaders of 300- to 400-pound-test. A snap swivel is tied to the main line with an offshore knot to quickly change rigs.
Rowell studies different forecasting charts beforehand to look for patterns in the currents. “The closer I can get to the Loop Current or spinoff eddies, the happier I am,” he explains. “I don’t worry about water temperature that much. But I do look for trends in currents and upwellings. The hardest part is finding the fish. Once you do, you can usually catch ’em.”
Veteran mate David Perry has been aboard Bella Maria, a 52 Viking home-ported in Destin, Florida, the past two seasons. Before that he worked on Uptoit, a 60 Hatteras, for several years. Both boats have consistently been in the money on the Gulf tournament circuit.
“I like to run lures off the outriggers and naked ballyhoo in close on the flat lines,” Perry says. “Typically I’ll put the long ’rigger lure back about 70 feet, but it all depends on the boat and conditions. If it’s rough, you want a lure that stays down in the water. If it’s calm though, I’ll go with one that really makes a commotion.” Perry likes lures in black-and-purple, blue, green-and-black or blue-green-and-silver. “I like to mix it up to start. But if something is working, we’ll run two of them.” On smaller lures, Perry prefers a slightly beveled head to impart more action.
Perry deploys a squid daisy-chain teaser just in front of the flat lines to attract marlin to the circle-hook-rigged plain-swimming ballyhoo. The drags on the 80-class reels are set as light as possible so the marlin won’t feel any resistance before the angler gets to the rod. Fifty-pound-class outfits are used in the typical four-rod outrigger spread. Perry will sometimes add a bird-and-lure combination down the middle and way back, but his normal pattern is a tight, short spread close to the boat so he can easily spot fish.