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Posted on Jun 6, 2008 in Top Shots
Deep Dropping in the Gulf of Mexico

Just back from a couple days waaaay out on the northern Gulf of Mexico and I thought I'd share a few interesting moments and observations. Of course, you'll read and see more in a Sport Fishing feature next year, but in the meantime....

We left Destin about dark on Capt. Gary Jarvis' Back Down 2 and traveled southwest until about 9 a.m. That put us somewhere off Alabama, I guessed, and in about 400 feet. (Yes, much of the Gulf is indeed a pretty shallow body of water.) Our first objective was to do some deep dropping and there, in 400 feet, we did.

In my book, that's on the shallow end of true deep dropping. However, when the current is screaming, as it was this morning (thanks, Murphy!), 400 feet can seem very deep indeed. I foolishly tossed out a 12-ounce Williamson metal jig. Forget that: Half a spool of 50-pound braid later, my line trailed off the stern at a 30-degree angle. No way were we going to get such gear near bottom.

Doing that would take several pounds -- more than our heavy spinning or conventional jigging reels could manage.

That's when we broke out the Daiwa Dendoh electrics. Without them we might never have had the chance to find out what was on Jarvis's lat/lon numbers. But with 6 1/2 pounds, we did get some baited circle hooks to bottom. We pulled in several grouper from a couple spots, not staying too long on either. Notably, we caught three impressive yellowedge grouper of at least 30 pounds or so. Hardly common, the yellowedge surprised even Jarvis.

Also notable, I thought: the fact that even though oil rigs dotted the horizon in pretty much every direction, Jarvis chose to leave that obvious structure to other boats and concentrate on small piles of rock or rubble to find fish.

In the afternoon, we trolled for pelagics, but even a nice weedline that seemed to stretch out infinitely didn't give up a fish. No doubt part of the dilemma lay in the fact that the water far offshore was as green as the Mississippi River. That definitely put a kibosh on our hopes of finding yellowfin.

Just before dark, Jarvis's crew set up to night-drift for swordfish. We ended up catching three, though all were pups and only one legal.

Still, Jarvis made sure to point out that this was some crazy number of swordfish trips in a row - 12, I think - without failing to catch at least one.

That's notable, too, it occurred to me, particularly in the context of another Atlantic big-game pelagic, bluefin tuna. Bluefin are on the skids, big time. Anyone who reads news in Sport Fishing and our editorials (most recently in the June issue), knows that. The Coastal Conservation Association has courageously come out for a total moratorium on catching Atlantic bluefin tuna (commercially or recreationally). If you doubt that could restore bluefin tuna populations and create phenomenal fishing, just look at swordfishing today -- where skippers enjoy the sort of success Jarvis relates, along the Atlantic seaboard and through the Gulf.

Fifteen years ago, so few swordfish remained in these waters that virtually no anglers bothered to target them. Then the feds banned longlining from large areas of our exclusive economic zone where they pup and grow and, bingo! The broadbill are back.

While I also support the idea of a moratorium to address the desperate straits in which bluefin now swim, the swordy's success particularly illustrates why federal fishery managers need to close our Gulf of Mexico waters to longlines where bluefin tuna bycatch occurs because this area is the prime breeding grounds for the entire western stock of north Atlantic bluefin.

Here's hoping those same fishery managers find the will to do for bluefin tuna what they did for swordfish. Granted, the ocean-crossing bluefin's situation is even more complex and confounding, but this is one action the U.S. could do unilaterally that would make a difference.

I'd love to think that maybe in 15 years, we'll be taking Gulf combo trips: catching big bluefin by day and big broadbill by night.