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Gulf Oil Rigs Attract Anglers and Fish

by Ray Huntzinger

I was still tired; the alarm had come early–3 a.m.

By 4 a.m. we were at the D’Iberville Marina getting on the Whipasnapa with Captain Robert Earl McDaniel, his friend Mike Fournier and my friend Cesar Gallego. I was extremely excited at the thought of seeing the sun rise 40 or 50 miles offshore.

The full moon welcomed us to the sea as we passed Deer Island. The moon was our only light as we headed southeast into the Gulf.

After a couple of hours, we began to see lights from the oil rigs that dot the Gulf. Shortly after that, the sun started to peek up in the east. The Gulf was calm but not quite flat; a slow, comfortable roll kept the sea moving. We had the new sun on one side and the falling moon on the other; it was beautiful.

As the sun brightened, we pulled up to the first oil rig of the day. Visions of big snapper,cobia and amberjack danced through my head. I was itching to start.

We had all kinds of bait: live bait, cut bait, and squid. I wanted to start with a nice, fat croaker, so I reached into the live well and grabbed a nice and lively bait. I was anxious to get that first fish on. I had a new rod and reel from West Marine that hadn’t yet felt the pull of a fish.

Not long after dropping the croaker to the bottom and reeling it up a few cranks, I felt the first tap. Then the fish decided it wanted the croaker and grabbed it and ran. My first fish on the new Penn!

I knew it was a good fish. It was not a monster, but a nice 10 pound red snapper. What a way to start off the day!

After boating the snapper, I switched over to lighter tackle and went after the many mangrove snapper that swam around the rig. These fine- tasting fish are fun to catch, hard fighting, and very pretty. The smaller fish a cherry reddish black color; the bigger they get the darker they are. Mangroves hang out alot higher in the water column, making it easier to be successful with light tackle but can’t give not drag.

The mangroves were definitely hungry. Unfortunately, sharks moved in, so we move on.

At each rig, Capt Earl told us what we would catch, and his assessments were always on the mark. He has a nose for fish, so to speak.

At the second rig we got right back on the mangroves and started to fill the fish box. We also added a couple of more red snapper.

Then we saw the first 2 cobia of the day, silently cruising just under the surface. Capt. Earl and Mike got one on and got it to the boat, but it was a little short so we let it go. Then the other one hit, and this one had some shoulders on it. When we got it to the boat, we could tell with one look that it was a legal fish.

It was only 9:30 a.m. and the fish box was half full already.

Capt. Earl decided to take us to another rig, this time for fig amberjack. Once again, the fish were there.

Mike and I were quickly latched onto a double. We had dropped large hardtails down as bait. It felt like a freight train coming through when the big AJ’s hit. Now this was a fight!

The limit on AJ’s is one per day (more than one or two of these, strong fish is almost too much; they can wear anyone out), so after getting our fish up, we went to work on getting a big AJ for Cesar. It was Cesar’s first offshore trip. He done well on the mangroves, and now we wanted him to catch something big.

It took a few hookups, but Cesar finally had a big AJ on solid enough to get to the surface.

Other boats could see us hooked up and came over to the rig to try their luck. These other boats didn’t have Capt. Earl’s special touch; they all caught almost no fish. The whole time we were there, we had hook up after hook up.

We went to work on the red and mangrove snapper after getting our AJ limit. Then we saw more cobia! I threw out a live saltwater catfish, which is one ofa cobia’s favorite meals. It didn’t take long for the cobia to find it. BAM! I had yet another big fish on my new rod.

Once we had that fish in, we went after another. This time Mike hooked up on another big cobia.

It was 11 a.m. and the fish box was getting full of snapper, cobia, and AJ’s.

We kept going after the snappper. Mike was great at finding the bigger fish, although Capt. Earl wanted to land some really big snapper. Capt. Earl is used to getting the big sow snapper. On this particular day, the fish over twenty pounds were hiding. I can’t wait to go back and go after those monsters.

Mike ended up catching a few 10- to 18- pound red snapper. I loved seeing these big, beautiful, sweet-tasting fish come in the boat.

At the last rig, we were joined by a very curious and very large sea turtle. This lovely creature was just hanging out on the surface and watching us fish.

After catching more mangroves, it was time to head in. The fish box was full; it was hard to believe that we’d filled up such a large box. So Capt. Earl pointed the Whipasnapa north and we headed for the marina.

This was one of the very best trips I’ve ever been on. Capt. Earl opened my eyes to the great snapper fishing that’s available to Mississippi anglers.