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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.


With time a precious commodity and fuel prices nearly tripled in the last 10 years, fishing the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico is more difficult than ever. Out of my home state of Texas, consistent fishing for grouper and tuna often requires trips of 70-plus miles. By the time you add in stops for catching bait, this leaves little time to fish in a day, even in a fast center-console. Over the years, several of my good friends have figured out how to “stop the clock” and get more bang for those dollars spent at the gas pump by staying out in the Gulf overnight.

Horizon Bound

About seven years ago, I got a call from my buddy John Thomas Dusek, who owned, at the time, a 31 Yellowfin. “We’re heading out to the floaters tomorrow morning, and we are coming back in the next day at noon,” he informed me. “You in?”

It was a new concept to me, but the thought of throwing topwaters under the lights all night for tuna made my heart race, so I jumped on board.

Preparing for the trip was no different than for any other except we needed more food, more to drink and more bait. None of this was a big deal, though space gets tight when you put four people and everything they need for 36 hours on a center console. Where normally you need lunch, you now need two lunches, dinner and breakfast. 

A stop at our favorite breakfast taco stand took care of the last part of the equation, and the rest was taken care of by Subway and Buc-ee’s, our favorite convenience store down by the beach. The next hurdle was bait. You never know what you are going to find in regards to bait when you head into the Gulf, so our buddy Pat Varga, who would be accompanying us on the trip, stayed up late the night before catching pinfish to ensure that, should we not be able to find good numbers of blue runners, we would not be wasting our time.

It was a beautiful thing. Instead of getting up at 4 o’clock to meet and get the boat ready, we could sleep in, meet up later, make the long run out, make several stops to catch bait, reach the fishing grounds around midafternoon, fish until dark and through the night, and then fish our way back in. 

Stepping Out

On the way out, we made a few select stops to look for cobia and amberjack. Our success in finding for cobia was limited at the two or three offshore drilling platforms, but we boated a couple of sizable amberjack and then dropped the hammer for Flower Garden Banks, a prominent reef system 100 miles off Sabine Pass. The goal was to reach the area before the sun made it to the horizon and to troll for wahoo, which feed best at sunrise and sunset. That evening was perfect as could be, and we added a nice ’hoo to the box before heading even farther into the Gulf.

What I remember most is pulling up to the rig known as the Gunnison just after dark. I wondered if the guy who dreamed up this monstrosity had any idea that he was creating one of the largest fishing lights ever, a beacon that attracts millions of baitfish, which in turn lure some of fastest, hardest-fighting fish to it every night.