Here’s the happy crew of the “Another Getaway” with a great wahoo caught on a summer day. Pictured are (from left) Carl Boone, Kevin Graves, Eric Rochester and Thad Stewart.
Blue-water fishing can be a big deal; big water, big boats, big fish, and yes, big money. Most of the time, a blue-water trip entails a long ride to get to the fishing grounds and trips are typically 36 to 48 hours in length due to the distance to the area you are going to fish. Once you are in, you are pretty much committed because it’s a long way home. Yes, the typical blue-water trip is not for the casual angler. The overnight stays and long boat rides can be brutal. But for the avid big-game angler, it’s worth it.
At times, however, under the right weather conditions, the blue water off shore of the Alabama coast moves in closer; much closer than normal. And this opens up big-game fishing for a much larger cross section of anglers.
“If we have strong south to southeast winds in the spring, and limited fresh-water influx from the Mississippi, the blue water can move in to a range of about 35 to 55 miles from shore during the period from July through September” said Capt. Don McPherson of Getaway Charters out of Orange Beach. “And that makes a big difference when compared to the typical 75- to 100-mile range of the blue water the rest the year.”
Capt. Don’s 46-foot Hatteras Sport fisherman, “Another Getaway,” is ideally set up for taking advantage of this phenomenon, and he offers 12-hour blue-water trips out of Zeke’s Marina in Orange Beach when the conditions are right.
“This year is panning out to be a good year,” said Don. “By June 1, the blue water was already approaching the 35-mile mark.”
Of course he is primarily focused on the short red-snapper season in June, but you can bet by early July he’ll be cruising the blue water looking for pelagics.
Trolling Out and In
Don said he heads out of Perdido Pass on a southeast bearing. Within about 8 miles of shore, he’ll put a couple of lines out and fast troll for wahoo using skirted bubble head jigs. When trolling at speeds of 13-16 knots, a trolling lead, placed on the line ahead of the jig, will help keep the bait down. Depending on the speed and sea conditions, he’ll use inline weights from 16 to 32 ounces and even up to 48 ounces at times.
Sometimes the lightning-fast wahoo will be in as close as 8 to 10 miles from shore, but Don says he doesn’t really expect action until he’s approaching 20 miles out. On a trip with Don last year, a big wahoo hit us at the 18-mile mark. Expect wahoo to run between 20 and 80 pounds.
Blue Water Action
Once he reaches the blue water, Don slows down and breaks out the outriggers.
“We like to put out a spread of five to seven baits and troll at about 7 or 8 knots,” said Don. “We’ll use skirted baits in a variety of colors, but we find the multi-color (blue, yellow, green) to resemble Mahi and the blue-white combination of the flying fish to be effective choices.”
Adding a ballyhoo to enhance the skirted jig is always a good idea.
Don and his crew use a lot of the baits from 5th Day Bait Company www.fifthdaybaitco.com. These baits are all handmade from extremely hard exotic woods and will hold up very well against razor-sharp teeth and vise-like jaws.
With the baits spread out, Don combs the blue water in search of marlin, sailfish, big dolphin (mahi-mahi) and even tuna.
For this big-game trolling Don has both 50-kg class and 30-kg class outfits aboard, and the big Hatteras is equipped with a fighting chair for the really tough battles. Dolphin and sails are often around in good numbers and the occasional marlin surprises a happy angler.
Sailfish run in the 35- to 60-lb. range. White Marlin usually weight around 100 pounds, and blue marlin, which aren’t very common, will range from 150 to 500 pounds. You will occasionally catch an open-water turn that’ll weigh between 30 and 100-plus pounds.
One of the advantages about this “close-in” blue-water fishing is that it offers options.
“We can troll all day if the client wants or offer other activity if the trolling isn’t producing,” said Don. “One great alternative is a deep-drop action.”
Don said the deep-drop technique is fishing on, or near, the bottom in depths of 400 to 1,000 feet of water.
“Deep drop is a possibility and adds a whole new dimension to the offshore excursion,” said Don.
This specialized type of fishing requires a unique set of equipment. Heavy rods and electric reels are the order of the day. For depths up to 1,000 feet, Don uses hefty boat rods set up for rod holders. He uses Daiwa Tanacom Bull 1000 reels spooled with 100-lb. test braided line. The rigs include a 200-lb. test mono leader, up to 2 pounds of weight and three circle hooks. A light stick or battery-operated clip-on light is added to the rig for visibility.
“There is very little natural light at those depths,” said Don. “And that flash of light can be quite an attractor.”
Cut bait, generally squid or northern mackerel, round out the offering. At that depth, the most likely catches are either golden tile fish or long tailed sea bass.
At the shallow spots, around 400 feet, Don scales the tackle back a bit to straight-handled boat rods with Tanacom Bull 750 reels, again spooled with braided line.
“This smaller outfit allows the angler to hold the rod and feel the bite,” said Don. “The angler then has the option of cranking in the fish or engaging the electric reel to let it do the work.”
At that depth, snowy grouper and yellow edge grouper are the primary targets.
All the deep-drop fish mentioned above make excellent table fare.
Just for fun, if you want to get worn out, ask Don to stop at any of the numerous wrecks in the area and let you do battle with a big amberjack. There are plenty of them around, and they put up a big fight. One or two should do you just fine.
Don said that from now through September the weather is generally good unless a tropical storm blows through. Winds are usually light and the seas calm. So you can really have a comfortable day of fishing, and with the length of the trip, you can be back at the dock in time to have a local restaurant cook some of your fresh caught tile fish or grouper.
So, if you have been avoiding blue-water angling because it is just a bit too much for you, you might want to try this option and take advantage of the unique opportunity the close-in blue water allows for the next couple of months. Give Capt. Don McPherson a call at (251) 981-8047 or visit his website at www.getawaygulffishing.com.
If you need accommodations, try Liquid Life Rentals (251) 424-1118 for a condo or the Island House Hotel for a beach-front room. It’s located across the street from Zeke’s. Check them out at www.islandhousehotel.com.