Bottom fishing is one of the most popular types of fishing along the
Gulf Coast. Snapper, Trigger Fish, Mackerel, Cobia, Grouper, Bonita,
and Wahoo are top the list of the species you may encounter.
The Gulf Waters off of the coast of Alabama have a diverse environment
which promotes a thriving marine ecosystem.
Natural bottom structure of rock ledges and coral heads in the deeper
waters ( 200 to 300 feet deep) are home to species such as Grouper,
Scamp, Vermilion Snapper and Amberjack. Trolling in the upper water
column here can produce Wahoo and Black Fin Tuna.
The shallower waters (75 to 150 feet) have very little natural bottom
structure. The pioneers of fishing in our area discovered that man
made habitat in these areas not only produced new fishing grounds but
it also created a new environment and ecosystem that reproduces. These
artificial environmentally friendly reefs are inspected and permitted
by the Alabama Conservation Department before deployment.
Today Alabama is proud to have the largest artificial reef program
in the country and only 2nd to Japan in the world.
Marlin / Tuna / Wahoo / Dolphin
There are many types of fishing: freshwater, saltwater, inshore,
offshore, small fish or big fish. All of these types of fishing are
interesting to someone, but my favorite type of fishing is billfishing
or offshore trolling. It is probably the most challenging form of
fishing. There are many controllable an uncontrollable factors that
one must overcome as well as a lot of luck involved.
First of all, to billfish you must have a good boat capable of handling what
may come up while you are offshore. The boat must be sturdy to stand up to sudden
storms and heavy seas, the boat must be able to carry enough supplies and food
for the entire trip and it must have a place that the passengers can take shelter
in rough weather. Many of the boats like this cost well over a million dollars.
Also to go billfishing you must have a enormous amount of expensive equipment.
At least five rod & reels, which usually run upwards of 1000 dollars
each, a fighting chair, which can cost thousands of dollars, 50 or more
cost from 25 to 50 dollars each, gaffs, coolers, ice, ropes, outriggers,
and most important of all a good captain and crew.
It is the captain who tries to take to where the fish are and to do this he must
know where the fish are. Your captain is also the one who is responsible for
the well-being of the passengers. The captain cannot do all of this by himself
so a good crew is essential. The crew is the one responsible for taking out the
captains orders and for catching the fish when they are there. The crews job
is more a lot more than it seems.
There are many preparations that have to be completed before the boat even
leaves the dock. All the drags on the reels must be set with a scale so
that when a
fish hits the line doesn’t break. All the hooks must be sharpened.
The line checked for frays, hundreds of pounds of ice loaded, food loaded,
tanks topped off with fuel.
Using very sharp hooks is a very important thing for catching blue marlin.
The inside of the mouth of a billfish is hard and there is not many places
hook to lodge. Even with 2 hooks that are 6” long an 3” wide many
fish are lost. When we are fishing the hooks are sharpened several times a day
with a special sharpening machine so the don’t lose their edge while
they are running through the water.
Another big part of hooking a billfish is in the presentation of the bait. When
trolling with plastic lures the baits must be in specific locations. If the bait
is not in the proper spot behind the boat then the lure will not imitate a bait
fish an the billfish will not be induced to bite. With the advent of plastic
lures the rate of catching billfish has doubled because fishermen can now cover
many miles in one day instead of staying in one spot.
All the tactics of hooking fish are no good if there are not any fish there
to be hooked. Before the trip the captain will do much research into where
fishing. A report from a plane can be bought from pilots or what is called
a Roff’s report can be purchased. A Roff’s report is a satellite
report that indicates changes in water temperature. Baitfish are attracted
to warm water
so the billfish are often in the warm water. Often there are pockets of
warm water in certain places that are good places to fish. Other places
in the Gulf
that are good to fish is such places as the Elbow, Nipple, Double Nipple,
Squiggles, and the Canyon. All these names refer to the shape on maps that
the hundred fathom
curve makes with changes in depth. Baitfish frequent these places often,
so they are usually a good place to fish. Another safe bet on a place to
fish is around
drilling platforms. These are huge platforms out in the gulf that provide
good structure for baitfish to live around all the time.
The main part of fishing, though, is catching fish and that is what the crew
is mainly responsible for. There are many different tactics for billfishing.
One of the most popular methods is trolling. When trolling most people use a
five rod configuration. With two lines spread out on the outriggers which are
to long metal rods that are on the side of the boat which keep the lures apart.
A center rigger which is another metal rod that comes directly off the back of
the boat and raises the center line which is the longest of your lines. There
is also two flat lines which come directly off the back of the boat. When this
is not successful you can go to live baiting. To do this you must catch about
a five pound dolphin or tuna to use for bait. You put the small fish on a line
while it is still alive and wait for a fish to bite.
Hooking the fish is very challenging, but the real battle begins when the
fish is on. A blue marlin can weigh 1000 pounds and with 100 pound test
line and only
28 pounds of drag the fight can last hours. The captain and crew must maneuver
the boat and care for the angler if the fish is to be caught. Often the
captain will have to back down the boat to keep the fish from stripping
out all of the
line even with the large reels holding 800 yards of line. When the fish
is brought near the mate must grab the wire and pull the fish near enough
to be gaffed or
tagged. The gaff that is used on billfish is called a flying gaff. Its
hook is capable of coming off and has a rope that is attached to the boat
so that when
the powerful fish feels the cold steel and has a burst of energy that person
with the gaff doesn’t have to try to hold on.
In reality most of the billfish caught are not killed; they are tagged and released
to be caught again. Most billfish are tagged because there numbers are few and
they are not great table fair. In this day and age no one kills a billfish unless
they are in a tournament which regularly give 100,000 and as much as 200,000
dollars for the biggest Blue Marlin, which is plenty reason to kill just a few.
All the skill and preparations cannot outweigh the importance of luck. You can
have fish being caught all around you and not get a bite or be the only boat
out that catches a fish. After all the most important thing is being in the right
place at the right time. And with so much water to cover even seeing a fish is
lucky in itself.
All of this probably seems difficult and it is, but its all worth it to
see that giant Blue Marlin come up after the bait and hear those two magical