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January 21, 2009

Freelance Free-for-All

Fish the Gulf's easternmost fringes in late winter to catch anything and everything

The Gulf can be a place of many awesome and unexpected sights. One of the most surprising for me came  just as I'd climbed the tall tower on the BnM to snap photos of anglers in the cockpit fighting cobia. Before I could raise the camera (of course), I watched something I'd never seen before: a hooked 35-pound cobia play tarpon, completely clearing the water in one spectacular leap. Everyone knows that hooked cobia don't jump; I guess this one hadn't read the rule book.

Tackle Matters
To really take advantage of this  special fishery, you need the right  tackle. And that could be pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Put another way, when in doubt, take it out!
Fairly light gear will handle most of the game fish you'll encounter. For Spanish, blues, smaller jacks, blacktips and the like, 6- to 10-pound line is fine, whether on spin or levelwind. Best also to bring some medium spin and/or light conventional tackle with 10- to 20-pound line for kings, cobia, permit, larger jacks and sharks, gag grouper and snapper.
Since neither heavy current nor any kind of depth pose a problem, you can certainly fish either mono or braid; these days, however, more and more anglers seem to be choosing braid.
For sheer hookup rates, it's hard to beat the various live baits we had with us: shrimp, pilchards and pinfish. Circle or J hooks and small sinkers suffice, but add a wire bite leader when there's a good chance for macks, blues or sharks. For sheer fun, it's hard to beat artificials. And among artificials it's hard to beat lead-head (bucktail or nylon) jigs and small metal lures such as Hank Browns, Gotchas and Krocodile spoons, as well as soft-plastic swimbaits such as Storms, Gulp!s, Z-Mans and others. Also, keep a topwater lure handy if you can since there's no more exciting way to take advantage of a surface bite.