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July 18, 2012

Fishing The Gulf's Open Waters

Go beyond the rigs. How to fish the Gulf’s open-water structure like an expert.

I love fishing Gulf oil rigs.  I hate fishing Gulf oil rigs.

What accounts for this love/hate relationship? On the one hand, because these offshore structures are home to coral-reef ecosystems that attract many large predators, it’s unlikely you’ll have much trouble hooking up when you drop a jig or bait.

On the other hand, because you have to fish so close to the structure, don’t look for real high odds of landing whatever snatches your offering, unless you’re very fast and/or lucky, and using tackle much heavier than you’d otherwise need to avoid getting “rigged.”
But there’s an alternative — one that many (literally) overlook.

Out of Sight = Out of Mind
“It’s amazing how most anglers here have tunnel vision,” Capt. Rimmer Covington says, as we run out one of the many passes south of Venice, Louisiana, through which Mississippi River water churns. “We’re so spoiled, with so many rigs to fish; we run right over rigs, reefs, pipelines, wrecks and other relief that we can’t see, never stopping to drop a line.”

In one day of dropping jigs over various types of relief while fishing aboard Covington’s 39-foot SeaVee, I was one of several anglers to catch grouper — yellowedge, scamp, Warsaw, snowies, gags, reds — plus red and gray snapper, almaco jack, amberjack, bull redfish, true Atlantic bonito, kingfish and more.

Of course, it also helps to have a GPS full of numbers marking such open-water structure (OWS). Covington and his partners in the Mexico Gulf Fishing Company, based in Venice, owe their livelihood to knowing such spots. But with a bit of effort, weekend anglers can get in on the action, as well.

For example, those who do some homework can get their rods bent regularly by dropping to rigs that were toppled as part of Louisiana’s rigs-to-reefs program.

(That state program, by the way, while of value, is limited in scope and can do little to save the 650 or so oil platforms now scheduled for demolition and removal within the next five years by the Department of the Interior, as explained in SF’s April editorial.)

“There are nearly 30 toppled or cutoff rigs within reach on a day trip from Venice,” Covington points out. “Numbers for these are available to the public through Mississippi and Louisiana marine-resource agencies.”

Anglers can find many submerged rigs off Louisiana at; search “artificial reef program.” For Mississippi waters, visit; search “marine fisheries” and “artificial reef.”

In general, Covington says submerged structure/relief in the northern Gulf gets far less fishing pressure than rigs, both because they’re eminently visible and also offer an easy place for tying up.

The Essential Sounder
The best OWS or relief of any kind is likely to be that you find yourself, and nearly as good are numbers you get from a friend. Odds are these might be known to relatively few anglers.

Covington points out that he tries to monitor his sounder while going from place to place, marking anything he passes over that looks interesting so he can come back and check it out at some point. His GPS is full of numbers, marking not only rigs or pieces of them, but large rocks, interesting hard-bottom patches, wellheads, pipeline ­junctions and wrecked vessels.

“I’ve found literally hundreds of these spots,” the skipper says, “mostly by accident — by paying attention to the sounder. That’s the most important piece of equipment on my boat. Even with a limited budget, you should allocate as much as you can to the highest-quality sounder you can find.”

For Covington, that’s a Simrad NSO15 with CHIRP technology, coupled with an Airmar 3-kilowatt transducer with frequencies ranging from 33 to 210 kHz. A particularly welcome feature on his sounder, Covington says, is the BackTrack that “allows us to scroll back to structure that has already scrolled off the screen, and mark its location without having to turn the boat around and find it again.”