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June 21, 2013

Dog Days in the Gulf

Lower Gulf of Mexico wrecks provide hot summer action and plenty of variety.

3. Fish the Entire Water Column

It's easy to do on a wreck in 10 feet of water, but it takes a little extra forethought to do it effectively if you're on a deeper wreck. What works in 10 feet may not work in 50. Pay close attention to your sounder and make sure you're presenting baits at every level where you mark fish. You may need to experiment with different-sized sinkers and longer leaders to make it work, but sometimes schools of fish hold deeper than usual, and your bait has to get down into the right zone.

If the fish don't see it, they won't eat it, and by utilizing the entire water column, especially where you're marking something, you may entice a strike you would otherwise miss. Obviously, match the tackle as well. If you're dropping to the bottom for that big grouper, a 6-pound outfit is probably a bad choice.

4. Rig for Stealth
Both permit and cobia can be enthusiastic eaters at times, but they can also drive you crazy, exhibiting frustrating cases of piscatorial lockjaw. You often must wait out these periods (usually until a tide change), but rigging correctly in the first place will help bring on the most bites.

Fluorocarbon leaders make a big difference, even though the water tends to be slightly murky in the Gulf. I go with 30-pound fluorocarbon for permit and 50-pound for cobia and other, larger species. I always carry larger and smaller diameters, as well, to be prepared in all situations, but those two sizes seem to work well day-to-day.

I use circle hooks exclusively, preferring the offset Owner Mutu Light series in 3/0 (for permit) and 5/0 for just about everything else. These hooks almost never miss, and since most of the species you're liable to encounter out there are decisive eaters, you rarely need a drop-back and therefore almost never gut-hook a fish you intend to release.

5. Use Chum Judiciously

Unless you're specifically targeting snapper and grouper, frozen chum may cause more harm than good. That's because the Gulf has a large population of sharks of all sizes, and they home in on chum quicker than just about anything. I've seen everything from small blacktips and bonnetheads to tiger sharks and hammerheads weighing close to 1,000 pounds out there.

One exception is if you want to collect some live bait on site. Many wrecks teem with bait schools in the summer; ballyhoo, threadfin herring and razor-belly sardines (pilchards) are the most common. With a little chum and a Sabiki rig, you can load a livewell in a hurry. Just watch out for those sharks.

6. Use Your Eyes
The visual aspect of Gulf wreck fishing can't be overstated. Keep your eyes open and train yourself to recognize subtle signs indicating the presence of fish. The first time I ever went Gulf wreck fishing, we pulled up to a spot and were greeted by at least 100 permit tails piercing the slick-calm surface. We didn't need sophisticated spotting skills that day!

But many times the fish are much harder to see, especially on overcast days. Telltale wakes and boils will alert you to the presence of fish, as will signs like a sudden spray of baitfish far away from the boat. Key in on these signs and learn to use them to your advantage.

The difference between an angler who can read these signs and one who can't becomes substantial on days when the fish are not showing themselves in an obvious manner. Only trial-and-error will help you get better at it, but fortunately, that's a fun process.