Tides   

Offshore Gearing Up for the Gulf Loop

One of the last frontiers in fishing exists in the Gulf of Mexico, protected by the barrier of distance from the vast majority of anglers who have now explored pretty much every fishery within easy reach of Florida's coast.

One of the last frontiers in fishing exists in the Gulf of Mexico, protected by the barrier of distance from the vast majority of anglers who have now explored pretty much every fishery within easy reach of Florida's coast. The deep gulf begins roughly 100 miles west of peninsular Florida, at the point where the continental shelf drops rapidly away from approximately 200 foot depths to inky canyons more than a mile deep.

The deep Gulf is fed by the Yucatan Current, which brings Caribbean Sea water northward. This current turns right or loops eastward then southward to flow through the Straits of Florida between the Florida Keys and Cuba. The loop current formed by this rotation in the Gulf is a source of dark blue water and highly migratory fish, according to oceanographers.

When the current boundaries are favorable and persistently push over good bottom topography, they concentrate bait fish. Big game fish home in on this prey. This means that the fishing action on any given day is controlled by relatively short term (hourly to daily) and relatively small scale (one to four mile) movements of the currents and their water mass boundaries, according to the experts at Roffs.com, a current and sea surface temperature forecasting service depended upon by many offshore billfish anglers. Relatively small changes in the conditions can have dramatic effects on the fishing action. These daily fishing forecasts improve chances to find the feeding fish with the least amount of time and fuel. For more info, visit www.roffs.com for details on their services.

The best offshore fishing for Billfish, Dolphin, Wahoo and Tuna (Blackfin and Yellowfin) typically begins in April and continues through September in the offshore waters of the Gulf. As the water cools later in the fall, most of these tropical species follow the current and the bait back south for the winter.

Yellowfin TunaYellowfin Tuna are a common catch in the deep Gulf beyond the continental shelf. Like other gamefish, they follow the bait transported along the Gulf loop current. (Photo Credit Yamaha Marine).

Needless to say, it takes a big, seaworthy boat to make a run to the edge and beyond. Thirty-five feet is about the minimum most seasoned skippers consider safe, and bigger is better. Dual engines are a must, and of course cavernous fuel tanks are necessary even with the most parsimonious power plants. The general rule is you burn no more than one quarter of your fuel on the way out, one quarter while trolling out there, one quarter on the way home, and hold one quarter in reserve. That reserve is just in case strong wind and big waves are working against you when it’s time to go home. These conditions can easily jump your fuel consumption enough to require every drop of that reserve. A long range communication system like satellite phone or SSB radio is also a must; your cellphone or VHF definitely is not going to be able to reach help if you need it. Survival gear, including an offshore-grade raft and a portable food and water supply, is also essential. And traveling with a companion boat definitely adds hugely to the safety of an offshore adventure.

We'll look closely at gear and tactics for fishing the blue waters of the Gulf in a future edition of The Online Fisherman, but in general, you'll do well simply by dragging a spread of rigged Ballyhoo, Mullet or Mackerel along the weedlines and color changes; there's very little competition out there, and most of the fish have never before seen a hook.

By: Frank Sargeant



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