The Gulf isn't Dead

Sport Fishing Magazine Editor Doug Olander provided this special report from the Gulf of Mexico-- Oil on the Gulf? Not here. Rows of commercial fishing boats, commissioned to skim oil, show no oil staining of the still-clean booms with which they were outfitted after BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April. What about offshore? Capt. Tommy Pellegrin out of Houma, Louisiana, had insisted he'd seen virtually no oil off western Louisiana and few anglers but in regular forays offshore - beyond the sizeable federal closed area - the fish were snapping. So four leaders of the recreational-fishing community joined me in Cocodrie recently where we fished the Gulf with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. The images that follow offer some idea of just how true Pellegrin's assessment proved to be. Photo by Ted Venker
Close encounters of the political kind. My inadvertent overexposure while taking this image at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, in Cocodrie, of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's black helicopter about to touch down ironically ended up resembling a scene from a sci-fi flick.
At the dock, Jindal is greeted by Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association, as troopers from the State Patrol look on. To the left is the governor's chief of staff, Timmy Teepell.
Teeming with fish: That's what Jindal and four recreational-fishing-community leaders found on the very first stop at a rig some 50 miles offshore with Pellegrin, after running through a large federally closed zone. According to Pellegrin, during many such crossings, he never saw oil. The huge gray (mangrove or, locally, "mango") snapper that swarm around these rigs began swatting live croakers immediately.
A very unhappy cobia does its best to make a break for the rig support from which it darted to grab a croaker. The angler - state trooper Dwain Rand, on security detail for the governor - is not exactly a pushover, though, and holds tight with the Penn Torque's dragged cranked down while Pellegrin goes for a gaff.
(From right) Jindal, Rand and Pellegrin inspect their prize, enjoying not only the prospect of cobia for dinner, but a perfectly calm Gulf - as is often the case on summer mornings.
Gorgeous Gulf red snapper - with the year's shortest season ever (just over 50 days) long over, regulations have made these prized and remarkably abundant sport/food fish a nuisance for many anglers who find it hard to get away from them.
Trophy red snapper linger around rigs like this one and even, I discovered while jigging, minimal structure in open areas of the Gulf. Here, Teepell is joined by Center for Coastal Conservation president Jeff Angers in a quick pre-release shot.
While rerigging a spinning outfit, I chatted with Jindal, who insisted we simply call him Bobby and drop the "governor." He emphasized the significance of sport fishing to the state with a strong family tradition as well as the billion-dollar importance of recreational fishing to its economy. Photo by Ted Venker
Yet another gray snapper showing the remarkable average size around Louisiana rigs, here held for Jindal by Ted Venker, editor of Tide, the Coastal Conservation Association's magazine.
Though it's hard to beat live bait for big gray snapper, I proved they'd hit Gulp! plastic baits when rigged with minimal weight (here a 1/8-oz Z-Man hook).
Like any group of fishermen anywhere, this group of recreational-fishing-industry leaders along with the governor of Louisiana reflects the end of a great day offshore in their smiles.
On the morning of our second day, Pellegrin stops over the shallow "Lake Pelto," a nearshore Delta area where pockets of birds are working bait all around. The idea is to cast small plastics for small trout (white trout or specks) to use as bait offshore. (This is legal, says Pellegrin, when counted as part of the day's limits.) We found small trout hard to catch with other, bigger predators around, as the next image proves.
Big bull redfish love Louisiana's delta. Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association, learned that quickly on this "bait" stop when this near-20-pound red made for a real battle on one of Pellegrin's little Penn Conquer 2000 spinners with 10-pound Fireline.
Olander hauls in another nice red, released moments after Venker took this photo.
Just about every predator that swims these waters will grab metal jigs, especially in the hands of an expert jigger like Kramer. He proved that the trick to hooking some of the abundant scamp grouper means getting a jig near bottom before a red snapper or amberjack can nail it as it plummets downward.
Although very similar to scamp, yellowmouth grouper like this brace for Pellegrin and me, can be easily discerned because they live up to their name. Both of these struck metal jigs. Photo by Ted Venker
Don't be fooled by the look of anguish on the part of Angers, here; his surprise catch of a blackfin tuna - taken near bottom in 200 feet of open water while drifting over bottom with just a bit of relief here and there - pleased him no end both in the boat and later at the table.
Another surprise taken near bottom in open water (not around an oil rig): a large silk snapper. Longer and narrower than a true red, the silk also sports the unmistakable yellow eye. Kramer took this one while jigging.
It's tough to fish Louisiana rigs without hooking quite a few almaco jacks and amberjacks. This AJ couldn't resist a new red-and-white Williamson Stingsilda jig the author had put down - one of many metal jigs he lost to rig structure before the day had ended.