John N. Felsher's Offshore Fishing Adventures
denizens of the
deep test even
Capt. Tommy Pellegrin of
Custom Charters in Cocodrie,
La., shows off two large
amberjacks he caught off the
coast of Louisiana.
Nearly 300 feet below the surface, the fish inhaled a menhaden and
took off running toward the nearby oil platform like a nuclear submarine.
Nothing flashy, just incredible raw power, the fish dared us to pull it up
through nearly a football field length of water. Only brute force could
subdue brute force as we battled against one of the strongest fish in the
Gulf of Mexico. Eventually, my football-player son, Daniel, wrestled a 45-
pound amberjack to the surface for Capt. Tommy Pellegrin of Custom
Charters in Cocodrie, La., to gaff.
Louisiana allows each angler to keep one greater amberjack per day,
each with a fork length at least 28 inches long. Not many people would
want to catch more than a few per day. In the Gulf of Mexico southwest
Cocodrie off the central Louisiana coast, we caught several amberjacks in
the 20- to 45-pound range, but an amberjack can exceed 150 pounds.
“People usually catch 20- to 30-pounders, but there are some
monsters in the Gulf,” Pellegrin said. “Divers tell me they’ve seen
amberjacks in the 120- to 130-pound range with several hooks hanging out
of their mouths. With the power of an amberjack swimming next to a rig, the
chances of landing a 100-pounder are slim. The biggest I’ve ever had on
my boat weighed about 82 pounds. Sometimes, we hook something we
can’t move. We call it a UFO, an Unidentified Fishy Object. Usually, that’s
a big amberjack or grouper.”
A determined, brawny amberjack can test even the toughest tackle and
easily pull a line across a barnacle-encrusted platform leg to pop it. For
monster amberjacks, many people use 300-pound test braided line.
“If people struggle to catch a 40- to 50-pound amberjack, think how
much trouble they’d have fighting a fish with double that power,” Pellegrin
said. “We catch big tuna and marlin because we have a lot of line and the
fish are running away from structure into the open. An amberjack runs right
to the bottom of the platform to cut the line. To catch monster amberjacks
use a reel with a welded drag that won’t give. Attach that to an unlimited
class rod and fish from a good boat with a good rod holder. Have the
captain use the power of the boat to pull the monster away from the
Around deep rigs and wrecks, people can tempt monster amberjacks
with live bait. Hardtail jacks, menhaden and other baitfish work. Anglers
can often catch fresh bait with light tackle by dangling sabiki rigs or small
silver or chrome spoons around oil platforms. The bigger the bait,
generally the bigger the fish it will attract.
We actually set out that morning to catch red snappers. At each stop,
amberjacks usually beat the snappers to our baits. I hate to leave big fish
biting, but we filled our amberjack limit early and had to slowly work our way
back toward Cocodrie. Finally, we found the red snapper hole in about 100
feet of water 35 miles from shore.
“I can’t tell amberjacks not to bite,” the captain quipped. “Amberjacks
usually like a little bit deeper water than snappers. I’ve caught amberjacks
in as little as 80 feet of water, but most of the time we start looking for them
at about 150 feet. The optimum depth is probably more in the 200- to 300-
foot range. If people want to challenge bigger amberjacks, they can fish in
even deeper water.”
To find snappers and amberjacks, Pellegrin prefers to fish near the
oldest platforms around. Years of growth on steel platform legs builds
artificial reefs. Sometimes, people fish on one side of a platform, but not on
the other side depending upon where currents hit the legs and other
conditions. In addition, bottom structure might differ on one side than on
“If I’ve never been to a rig and there are many rigs around, the first
thing I look for is the oldest rig,” Pellegrin said. “Years of barnacles and
growth will be thicker on it so it has more time to make itself into a reef.
Reefs produce little fish and bigger fish eat those and so on. Sometimes,
we find more fish around manned rigs because people throw stuff
overboard and fish eat it.”
By early afternoon, we headed back to Cocodrie with limits of
amberjack, red snapper and some cobia. Then, the work really began at
the cleaning table!
To book a trip with Custom Charters, call (985) 851-3304 or send an e-
mail to email@example.com.
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