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October 23, 2012

Night Fishing the Gulf of Mexico

Extend your range and your fishing beyond the limits of a day trip with careful planning.

While the yellowfin pulled a no-show, we had enough blackfin that were more than happy to crush a topwater and provide plenty of sport that night. The next morning, just as color appeared in the east, we managed a few smaller yellowfin by free-lining blue runners beneath the lights. Then it was time to head back.

On the return, we stopped at Flower Garden Banks yet again to troll for wahoo and made a couple of drops for amberjack. After we boated a wahoo and a couple of reef donkeys, it was time to find some cobia, dorado and snapper. Looking at the coordinates we had for fishing spots between us and the dock, we chose some buoys, rigs and reefs as close to our return track as possible and headed home. 

Plan, Plan, Plan

Since our first trip, we have learned much about overnighting. If there is one tip I can offer, it’s be efficient. Don’t clutter the boat with unnecessary items, but make sure that you have all that you need. Nothing sucks more than being hungry or thirsty and knowing that you still have a four-hour boat ride back to the dock. Or even worse, wondering if you will have enough fuel to make it back.

Safety 

When you’re planning an overnight trip into the Gulf, safety is the first consideration. Know the limitations of your boat. Is the engine reliable? Can you carry enough fuel to make the trip and have plenty of reserve should it be needed? What is the weather forecast? These are but of few of the questions to ask yourself before setting out on an extended adventure. 

It’s also important to ensure that all of your communications and safety equipment is in good working order. I recommend carrying a backup GPS and a satellite phone in case of an emergency.

File a float plan that details the trip, including compass headings to and from the fishing grounds and lat/longs of every anticipated stop, with a loved one or friend. Provide an estimated return time, and agree on a time they should alert the Coast Guard should you fail to make contact with them. Also remember that operating a boat and fishing at night can be dangerous. Nothing can put an end to a fishing trip quicker than striking a deadhead or running into an unlighted standpipe. In addition, there are tons of small hazards strung about the boat. One night I woke up from a short nap in the beanbag and walked to the back of the boat. Half asleep, I grabbed everything that I could find to keep my balance. I woke up quickly when a large treble hook ended up embedded in my hand. 

Carry plenty of illumination on the boat, and stay aware of your surroundings, both around and on the boat. Most importantly, make sure someone is always awake, whether the boat’s drifting in open water or tied up to a rig or buoy. The direction of the current can change, and you never know if the captain of some crew boat or shrimp boat bearing down on you is asleep at the wheel. Sharpen your instincts, make a sound plan, and pack smart; overnighting in the Gulf is worth all the effort you put into it once you're far from land, into the fish and in no hurry to move on.