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Spring is time to fish at offshore wrecks

By ED WALKER
Published March 24, 2007


Early spring can be an excellent time to fish the offshore wrecks of the gulf. Most of these structures hold a wide variety of species, including permit, grouper, snapper, kingfish, barracuda, goliath grouper, sharks and cobia. With so many possible targets, advance planning and preparation are very important.

One item that is very helpful out on the wrecks is chum - lots of chum. Many charter operators carry two types for each trip, frozen blocks to hang in a mesh bag over the side and a sand mixture to get the bite going on the bottom.

Whenever possible, I also like to bring a bucketful of dead scaled sardines or freshly chopped fish. By adding the bigger pieces periodically to the mix, you add more scent and introduce the flash and shine of a piece of bait falling through the water column. This can be very helpful when you are trying to bring in migratory pelagics such as kingfish or blackfin tuna.

One important thing to check once you set anchor at your chosen spot is your position in relation to the wreck. Ideally, you are up current from it. If you are off the mark, chumming will only pull some of the fish away from the structure or simply drift out into empty water.

Once you are sure that the wreck is directly down current from the boat, it is time to initiate the steady flow of chum. Grab a handful of the freshly cut stuff and steadily allow it to trickle out of your hand. I usually lean over the side and set it in the water before letting it go.

Next, place a frozen chum block into a mesh back and set it overboard, where the wave action will help break it up. Perhaps the most important part of fishing with chum is to wait until it starts to draw fish before wetting a line.

As the scent is distributed on the bottom by small fish such as grunts and snappers, the bigger fish gradually move in to investigate. By the time you send a baited hook to the bottom, you should have a miniature feeding frenzy taking place below the boat.

While things are happening on the bottom, be alert for the arrival of something higher in the water column. Bonito, kingfish, cobia and mackerel are attracted to chum and the struggling fish you bring up from the bottom.

Between the scent on the bottom and the flow of fish bits on the surface, you should soon have the attention of every hungry fish in the area.

This is when having a wide variety of tackle rigged and ready to go can really come in handy. You never know what might cruise by.

One minute, you might be hooking grouper on the bottom. Then a king or cobia might appear on the surface.

You might also get a strong bite of mangrove snapper started. Next, the barracuda or sharks might appear. When the sharks become a problem, break out a heavy rig with a wire leader and turn the tables on them.

Most of the sharks found around local reefs and wrecks are in the 70- to 150-pound class, although there are quite a few big bull sharks as well. We often see bulls in the 200- to 300-pound class while diving on the Pasco artificial reefs.

The same tackle you would use for sharks also might be adequate to land one of the giant goliath groupers found in the same spots. Last year at this time, there was one goliath at the Pasco No. 1 reef that looked to weigh more than 600 pounds. You probably will not catch him, but the challenge of landing any of them makes it exciting.