September 28, 2010
Redfishing success may hinge more on the rig you park your boat next to than on the rig on the end of your line. (June 2006)
It's not unusual to catch a bull red around Louisiana's many oil-field structures.
Photo by Pete Cooper Jr.
Almost two decades have passed since that day of particular revelation -- a bright early-summer morning tailor-made for sight-fishing for reds in the broken marsh between the bays southwest of Buras: clear, calm, not quite hot. But I remember the events almost as clearly as if they'd occurred yesterday.
The enthusiasm that had built within me by the time I pulled away from Joshua's Marina faded rapidly after I arrived at a favorite flat to discover a gill net stretched across it. A second spot was cursed with the same plight, and two boatloads of commercial guys were just leaving the third spot that I pulled up to, their webbing woven across the shallows in such a manner as to render it completely unfishable.
For a long moment I just sat there in my skiff, wondering if there was any way I could reap a few ice-chest benefits from such a fine day. And then I noticed the small production facility a short distance across the bay.
At the time, I'd caught a few reds around such structures, though those had been much larger and in much broader bays than the one that'd just piqued my curiosity. However, the thought arose that the waters around it just might be considered too difficult for deploying nets, and could hold a few fish.
I approached the facility slowly on the trolling motor, noticing on the way in that the pipework around it was badly corroded, some of it having actually rusted through and fallen into the water. Plenty of snag potential here, I thought as I lobbed my jig to a point between two of the platform's pilings, allowed the lure to sink a bit, began a slow retrieve with easy pumps -- and almost immediately felt resistance.
Snag! was my first reaction, but then a couple of violent headshakes proved me wrong. For some unknowable reason, the fish decided to make its bid for freedom in open water rather than to dive into the structure's pilings, and a while later I netted a 11-pound red that was larger than any other I had taken so far that year! But not for long! By working the perimeter of that rather small, run-down production facility, I caught well over a dozen more beautiful reds, one of which was even larger than the first.
On that quite memorable morning, a pattern was formed that has since led to some outstanding redfishing throughout all seasons of the year, and often at times that have seen the competition in some difficulty.
Up and down our coast, oil-field-related odds and ends constitute perhaps the most valuable form of inshore redfish structure. The best of that is iron; the best of that is old.
The aforementioned production facility is a prime example. So much corroded iron lay on the bay bottom around it that the reds, especially the bigger ones, had little trouble cutting a line on it. Because of that, the place became fondly known as "Hell Hole Number One" -- and those friends to whom I introduced it quickly learned the reason!
Still, losing reds around such structure is simply part of the exercise. I once tried to determine if flipping would lessen those losses; it didn't, But I'll tell you this: The results of slamming the hook into a 6-pound red that's only a few feet away from you can be quite entertaining. If you feel that your redfishing has become somewhat tame lately, try short-range flipping for them around some oil-field junk.
But don't even think about doing so with your regular gear, or you'll assuredly be shopping for replacement tackle shortly thereafter. A heavy 7 or 7 1/2-foot actual flipping stick, 30-pound mono, and a reel with the drag screwed down to "stop" will be required. Think that sort of gear isn't sporting? Try it and see!
While flipping is indeed an exciting and profitable method of fishing for reds around oil-field structures, a moderate chop can generate hull-slaps that will render it completely ineffective. When that rather common circumstance arises, you've got to work the structure from a distance in order to prevent the noise from spooking the fish, but to facilitate having at least some control over hooked fish, that distance should be as short as possible. This is best accomplished by working the structure in the direction that creates the least amount of hull noise. Think about that before you begin prospecting one.
Anchoring the boat in order to work a particular part of the structure is not advisable. Stay on the trolling motor, and if a hooked fish makes a dash away from the line-shredding pilings, junk, and whatever else is around, follow it quickly into safe water, and then do your utmost to keep it there. Admittedly, that can be rather difficult once a fish has reached double digits -- but that's when it really gets fun!
Throughout most of the year, my largest inshore reds have almost always been taken from oil-field structures. Besides offering these fish a degree of protection, rigs draw in and retain a variety of prey. In other words, they create a microcosm of sorts for reds, providing virtually everything that the fish require.
And that can be the case with structures much smaller than even the smallest processing facility. I recall a particular gas well supplemented with a small platform that supported some drying equipment. The platform was constructed perhaps 50 feet from the well, and both were situated along the edge of a narrow but relatively deep channel. The channel dropoff between them was littered with shells and marked with rusty iron stakes, several of which had fallen to the bottom of the channel. Reds regularly loitered within that short section of dropoff.
The lesson: Equipment's not the only form of fish-holding structure that an oil field provides. Irregularities in access routes to particular areas, protective cribbings for wells and any associated equipment, and even breakwaters that shelter critical docking facilities can all hold fish. Which is to say: Anything that wouldn't be in our interior coastal waters but for the oil fields can -- and often does --hold redfish!
Usually, straight-up 1/4-ounce jig/soft-plastic combos are preferred for this opportunity, since offerings are subject to being lost at any time around these structures, and jigs are relatively inexpensive. On days during which the water is a bit stirred up, try suspending the jig a couple of feet beneath a small weighted popping cork. In both cases, work the lures as close to the structure as is feasible.
Finally, offshore platforms can also hold reds, ofte
n in numbers that are difficult to believe. Fish caught around structures standing in state waters can be retained, but reds caught in federal waters (the Exclusive Economic Zone or "EEZ") cannot be possessed. In either case, work your jigs slowly and near bottom. Bull reds are common around these platforms, especially those near shore, and you can wear yourself out playing catch-and-release with them.
In recent years, much of the best of the oil field's old iron has been removed, and with it have gone quite a number of erstwhile hotspots. And the recent storms wrecked others to the point that they too must be removed. Simply put: Far fewer of these redfish magnets are around these days than once were out there.
But some still stand, so keep a lookout for them -- the older and junkier the better. One of them might just yield some of the best redfishing you've ever experienced!