Rodeo At The Rigs

Gulf Fever Hits Hard Along South Coastal Texas

Capt. Steve Dougherty October 29, 2013

We huddled around the center console as the stepped hull 36 Invincible plowed through the warm waters of the expansive Gulf of Mexico. We were on our way to Surfside Marina and experiencing a true Texas rodeo in the form of a brutally inhospitable Gulf of Mexico. With crisp four-foot seas at four seconds and 20 knots of wind in our face we were cold, wet, hungry and grinning from ear to ear. We had scored big, but I was learning firsthand the Gulf doesn’t let its bounty slip away without a punishing battle…and we were feeling the blunt of her wrath.

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Photo: doughertyphotos.com

Among coastal towns littering the Gulf, few are as friendly and welcoming as the quaint fishing village of Surfside, Texas. Located an hour from Houston, Surfside provides die-hard offshore enthusiasts a gateway to the Gulf. As much a part of the seascape as palm trees in Florida, drilling platforms litter the coast and from southern Texas east to Venice, Louisiana there are thousands of oil platforms among the otherwise barren seafloor. From permanent rigs affixed to the bottom in shallow water, to floaters tethered to the dark depths of the continental shelf, these extraordinary engineering feats provide the energy to power the United States and beyond.

Coinciding with a trip to The Lone Star State was the Texas Center Console Shootout presented by Pelagic Gear…

These self-sustaining platforms transport oil and gas through underwater pipelines to refineries across Gulf States. Offshore oil production in the Gulf accounts for approximately 23 percent of crude oil production in the United States. Furthermore, 40 percent of the United State’s petroleum refining capacity and 30 percent of U.S. natural gas processing occurs along the Gulf. To say that the Gulf powers the fishing economy and more is a vast understatement. These rigs tapping underwater energy supplies provide what is arguably the greatest network of artificial structures in the world, attracting nearly every species of fish that swims in the Gulf. It’s clear these platforms are a major source of life and support impressive communities of pelagic and demersal species.

However, in addition to the consistent action found in the near vicinity of massive drilling platforms, the Gulf features bountiful current rips, color changes and weed lines that stretch for miles. Permanent weather buoys anchored to the seafloor and a fleet of shrimp boats provide additional opportunities to explore all the Gulf has to offer and additional structure for game fish that otherwise wouldn’t call the Gulf home.

With all of the incredible angling opportunities, there’s equally impressive fishing culture, heritage and passion. Many don’t associate Texas with big game sport fishing, but the area holds some of the world’s greatest opportunities with blue and white marlin, bluefin, big eye, yellowfin and blackfin tuna, dolphin, wahoo, swordfish and more.

While a trip to the expansive coast of south Texas could focus on the impressive inshore opportunities with bull redfish, speckled seatrout and more, I was in for a lifetime experience that would take me deep into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico. Coinciding with a trip to The Lone Star State was the Texas Center Console Shootout presented by Pelagic Gear and hosted at the awe inspiring Surfside Marina. Providing a gigantic center console dry stack and sportfish yacht basin, this world-class facility is located minutes from the Gulf and an integral part of big game sport fishing in southern Texas.

The inaugural TCCS featured a fishing format the enabled teams to depart Friday morning and return by 6:00 p.m. the following evening. Target species included dolphin, wahoo, tuna and swordfish. Our chariot for the Gulf’s adventure was a tricked out 36 Invincible captained by Bill Platt with mates Captain Preston Mixon and Captain Joey Austin. Papotanic was rigged and ready to go, and with a topped off 475 gallon fuel tank and two additional 55 gallon drums of fuel I knew we were in for the long haul. As we raced offshore, the triple 300 Yamaha’s purred as we made our way to a near-shore rig to make bait. After a few stringers of hardtail we were back on plane racing in the direction of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, but were interrupted by a giant convergence zone featuring a weed line, rip and color change. Within five minutes of having lines in the water we plucked off a 25-pound wahoo and a few chicken dolphin. We trolled a bit more and raced on, knowing we still had many miles to cover before reaching the offshore oil platforms.

Every now and again you see something you won’t soon forget, and as we left the action around the convergence zone it didn’t take long before something else caught Bill’s eye. An anchored shrimp boat is a diamond in the rough in the open Gulf and the action we encountered was nothing short of legendary. As we approached the anchored vessel and tossed in some chunks, the water exploded with cobia, bonito, blackfin and sharks. In only 15 minutes of fishing we proceed to nearly fill the box with stout blackfin, cobia and bonito, which would later be used to chunk for tuna.

While fishy features of the Gulf were constantly interrupting us, we finally made it to the Flower Garden—one of 14 protected National Marine Sanctuaries, and the only one in the Gulf of Mexico. After picking off a few more dolphin we continued our search and steamed even deeper into the Gulf so we could reach the rigs before dark. Or target rig was Auger, operated by Shell and located over 200 miles southeast of Houston. This tension leg platform rests in approximately 2,800 feet of water and represents a giant conquest in the exploration of deepwater drilling. Trolling around the active platform was an incredible experience and as day turned to night we began drifting and chunking for yellowfin tuna holding below.

The fact that the offshore waters of the Gulf are teeming with life shouldn’t be much of a surprise. This fishery is one of the world’s greatest and partially so consistent because it’s protected by the elements. The seas here can turn in a hurry and they at times are very unforgiving. After tuna fishing into the wee hours of the morning we eventually crashed in the beanbags to get a couple hours of shuteye. Awakening to blustery winds and rough seas, the 200-mile run back to the marina was not going to be pretty and one that would take a majority of the day.

After an arduous run back to the coast, we returned to the scale at Surfside Marina and were happy to set foot on land and eat a warm meal. When it was all said and done our team aboard Papotanic managed to defeat the field of twenty boats, taking top aggregate with two dolphin, two yellowfin and a wahoo, while also taking home top tuna honors for a combined payout of $12,057. Team Johnny B took home 2nd Place overall good for $2,137, while Prima Donna was awarded $6,500 for top wahoo. Under Cover took home $7,355 for 3rd Place overall and top dolphin.

The determination and incredible hospitality of anglers in the area made this trip one I won’t soon forget. While Texas is in the shadow of more glamorous big game destinations, the Gulf is seriously holding. When plying these fertile offshore waters anglers need to be prepared for anything and everything because that’s what swims in the Gulf! There’s no telling what you might encounter along the region’s fertile offshore structures and extensive ecological communities. Good luck, go deep and stay safe!

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