John N. Felsher's Offshore Fishing Adventures
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The tops of thunderheads glowed pink, but everything remained dark
at surface level when we pulled out of Cocodrie, La., shortly after 6 a.m.
With Capt. Eric Pellegrin of Custom Charters at the helm of the 30-foot
boat, we headed south, keeping an eye on the weather. Only Phil and Will
Fowler, makers of Frogg Toggs rain gear, hoped to see a thunderstorm.
“We have storms around us, but we can still go out,” the captain said.
“They are scattered. We’ll try to avoid them. First, we need to make bait.”
About 20 miles out, the captain spotted schools of baitfish on the
surface. He tossed a sabiki rig, several tiny jigs attached to the same line,
toward the baitfish. Within seconds, he dropped struggling baitfish in the
“We caught our first two species if you want to count baitfish,” Pellegrin
said. “I put thread herring and greenbacks in the baitwell.”
With enough bait, we headed south into the Gulf of Mexico, stopping at
a rig in 63 feet of water. Bill Raper and Chris Pardue of Calcutta Baits
tossed their realistic 6-inch Flash Foil Swim Shads around the platform
legs. Soft plastic encasing internal weights, these swimbaits closely
resemble baitfish. With flared gills for a lifelike appearance, they range in
size from two to six inches.
Howard Hammonds rigged a 6-inch Swim Shad on a Carolina rig.
Landing the first keeper, he pulled up a gag grouper that gulped his Swim
Shad. Will landed a mangrove snapper, followed by my son Daniel boating
a red snapper to boost our species tally to five. We also added a blacktip
shark, hardtail jacks and triggerfish.
“Looks like a thunderstorm is about to catch up to us,” the captain
advised. “Time to Togg up.”
With Will and Phil smiling, we donned our rain suits to ride out the
storm. Light and airy, the Frogg Toggs suits provided plenty of comfort and
protection. The fabric “breathes” to let heat escape, but still keeps water
The squall soon passed, but the heat returned with vengeance. To
beat the heat, Phil and Howard wrapped Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads around
their necks. Dipped in water, these fabric pads cool a body through
After the rain, we stopped at a rig in 150 feet of water about 50 miles
offshore. Here, we caught more snappers, amberjack, a king mackerel and
some bluefish to increase our species count to 11.
I rigged a 6-inch Swim Shad on a light rod equipped with 12-pound test
just for fun. I tossed the lure toward the steel platform legs and let it fall
about 20 feet deep before something nearly yanked the rod from my
hands. After a spirited battle and plenty of drag action, I landed a 10-
pound mangrove snapper.
“You guys want to get into some big fish or finish out our limit of
snappers?” the captain asked. “Another 20 miles or so and we’ll be in
blackfin tuna waters. I’ll see if we can go far enough for yellowfins, but I
don’t know with these storms.”
Unanimously, we voted to try for tuna. Pellegrin pulled up behind a
shrimp boat anchored 60 miles offshore in water 162 feet deep.
Shrimpers typically trawl all night and anchor at dawn, culling anything
they cannot sell. When shrimpers cull their “trash,” blackfin and yellowfin
tuna, sharks, king mackerel, cobia and many other species go nuts. Even
when a shrimp boat sits on anchor with the crew asleep, big fish hang
around waiting for their next handout.
Recreational anglers cannot possibly compete with shrimpers tossing
chum, so they must look for boats that recently completed operations. To
lure tuna away from the idle shrimp boat, Pellegrin threw generous chunks
of chum, or fish pieces, into the water.
Water erupted as blackfins, cobia, sharks, bonito and other frenzied
species slashed at the bait on the surface. At point blank range, we
tempted tuna and cobia with a technique Pellegrin calls “cane-poling.”
Using less than 10 feet of line, we dangled baits over the surface until we
spotted the fish we wanted to catch. Then, we dropped succulent morsels
in front of them.
For the next hour, fish smashed our baits and Calcuttas at the side of
the boat. With so many fish ready to gobble anything that hit the water, we
faced the difficult challenge, not always successfully, of trying to keep less
desirable fish from swallowing our baits. Flashing like lightning, bonito
quickly grab anything that hits the water. Besides tuna and bonito, we
added cobia and bull sharks to our list to bring the count to 15.
“We’ll have to go another 20 miles to reach yellowfins,” Pellegrin said.
“With the southern horizon turning black, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
We’ll make one more stop at a rig in 192 feet of water if the weather
At that rig, we caught Bermuda chubs and a jack crevalle among other
things to end our species count at 17. After six hours on the water, only
three actually spent fishing, we headed home with 11 blackfins, 10 red
snappers, 10 mangrove snappers, four cobia up to 45 pounds, four
triggerfish, one king mackerel and two gag groupers on ice, not to mention
the ones we threw back.
For booking trips with Custom Charters, call (985) 851-3304. On the
Internet, see www.customchartersllc.com.
Gulf of Mexico trip tallies at least
17 species off Louisiana coastline
Bill Raper of Calcutta Baits tempted this blackfin tuna in the Gulf of
Mexico off Cocodrie, La., using a 6-inch Flash Foil Swim Shad.