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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.

In the southern Gulf of Mexico, off the southwest Florida coast between Naples and the Florida Keys, numerous wrecks, reefs and other bottom irregularities attract baitfish and, in turn, predators. These predators include permit, cobia, jacks, tarpon, king mackerel, tripletail, grouper and snapper, with a ubiquitous supply of barracuda and sharks thrown in. Truth is, you never know what will show up at a Gulf wreck, and most of these species like the heat of summer just fine.

Permit and cobia, inherently curious fish, often rise to check out your boat as you approach a spot, and the permit tend to circle a given area repeatedly, making passes by the boat and affording repeated casting opportunities. Light tackle works great in these situations, with a few notable exceptions, and it's a great place to hone your casting skills. Plus, there are dozens of these wrecks to explore within an easy run of several South Florida jumping-off points.

This type of fishing is fun, productive and diverse, so here are eight tips to help you maximize your chances of scoring on Gulf wrecks this summer:

1. Crabs Make the Difference
No other bait compares to a small, live crab when it comes down to effectiveness on Gulf wrecks. Virtually everything that swims out there will eat them, with permit and cobia at the head of the list. A dollar-sized crab hooked through one point of its shell can be cast, drifted in the mid-water column or fished with a lead sinker on the bottom. A crab cast in front of a school of permit rarely escapes intact.

Just make sure you pinch off their claws before you put them in the livewell! And don't trust the bait shop to get them all. There's nothing more startling than reaching into the well as a school of 100 permit swim by, only to have one of the little critters latch onto your finger. It's amazing how bad that hurts, plus your subsequent gyrations will undoubtedly spook the permit.

As good as crabs are, you also need a plentiful supply of pinfish in the well. Pinfish run a close second to crabs in the effectiveness department, and you should always have one soaking on the bottom while anchored. Everything except permit will eat a pinfish.

2. Rig for Diversity
Always keep an array of tackle rigged and ready when on the wrecks, since you never know what's going to swim by. I like to keep two stout plug rods rigged, one with a 2- or 3-ounce bucktail jig with a 6-inch grub-tail attached (deadly for cobia), and another with a large, noisy topwater plug on it. The topwater works well for irritating the schools of barracuda, and if a large amberjack or jack crevalle shows up, all the better since they also attack plugs with enthusiasm.

It also pays to keep small bucktail jigs rigged on light outfits. I always keep a 6- and 8-pound rod ready for smaller cobia, blue runners, jacks and mangrove snappers. These light outfits provide lots of fun, and there's almost always a fish eager to take an artificial.