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September 10, 2007

One Lump or Two?

Northern Gulf of Mexico salt domes create vast fishing hot spots.

Quick Links: Prominent Lump Locations

Few people think of mountains when they think of Louisiana. Marshes yes; mountains no! However, the Gulf of Mexico - just off the Bayou State coast - features an underwater mountain chain that offers anglers access to highly productive honey holes for multiple species.

Several natural reefs and numerous salt domes rise along the edge of the continental shelf, which varies greatly in width. The shelf drops into deep water about 8 miles off the Mississippi River Delta, but in other areas, the shelf extends more than 200 miles, says Dr. Harry Roberts, a marine geologist and Louisiana State University professor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
  
"On a bathymetric map, [which shows ocean-bottom contours] people can see a string of mounds that parallel the transition between the shelf and the continental slope," Roberts says. "To the east, some lumpy areas occur along the edge and even on the shelf itself off the Mississippi and Alabama coasts. These natural features offer many nooks and crannies where fish can hide. Since light penetrates to these areas, there are all sorts of creatures living on these mounds."


Past Midnight
Probably the most famous salt dome to anglers - the Sackett Bank - rises from the bottom of the Gulf to crest about 200 feet below the surface. Known locally as the Midnight Lump, this massive structure covers roughly 2 square miles and lies about 18 miles south of the Mississippi River mouth and 5 miles north of the Mississippi Canyon.
 
"The Midnight Lump is fished often because it's one of the closest structures to any [boating] access point," Roberts says. However, a number of knoll-like features in 300 to 500 feet of water along the Mississippi Canyon, 12 miles west of the Midnight Lump, also create potential fishing hot spots. 
 
In the winter, the Lump offers some of the finest tuna fishing anywhere. The Lump produced at least six of the Louisiana top-10 yellowfin, each one exceeding 206 pounds. Anthony Taormina landed the Louisiana state record yellowfin, a 240.19-pounder, in March 2005. One year earlier, Tom Moughon caught a 235-pounder near the Lump. 
 
In May 2003, the crew of the Miss Cathy - Mike and Paul Ippolito, Pat Fitzmorris and Ron Roland - landed a 1,152-pound bluefin tuna, the largest game fish ever landed in the Gulf, while fishing over the Midnight Lump. The Lump also produces excellent blackfin tuna catches including the 37.6-pound state record, caught by James Hawkins in February 2001.
 
While the Midnight Lump might host more than 100 boats chumming for tuna on any given winter day, several other salt domes provide equally impressive action. These lumps congregate fish because plankton-laden currents flowing deep in the Gulf smack into the submerged  mountains, which then divert the flow toward the surface. Baitfish gather to feast on plankton and game fish like king mackerel, dolphin, cobia, wahoo, marlin and sailfish come to feed on the bait.
 
"Anywhere that people can find some type of discontinuity, they'll find fish," says Capt. Scott Avanzino (985-845-8006, www.paradise-outfitters.com). "It might be bottom structure, a color change or a temperature break.
 
"Most offshore fish feed on the up- current side of the structure because that's where they get the first shot at bait coming over the structure. We catch most of our wahoo on the southwest corner of the lumps in the Delta. The fish are just waiting there for the bait to get swept over."
 
Besides the Midnight Lump, Avanzino fishes several other lumps off the Mississippi River Delta, including those at Main Pass Block 305 and South Pass Block 62. A "block" describes a 3-mile-by-3-mile section of the Gulf used to identify oil-platform locations. Avanzino says some anglers fish small reefs in Mississippi Canyon Block 311 and 258 and near West Delta 152.