It was one of those days, a rare, midwinter break from rain, wind, chill and stormy sea that comes along so seldom that any fishermen — no matter their angling penchant — knows something good awaits the rising of that day’s sun.
Dane Mitchell and the other five aboard the 39-foot Contender knew it the minute they launched from Cocodrie and got ready to hit Mitchell’s favorite fishing spot away out somewhere — he didn’t say where — off Louisiana’s coast.
OK, so it wasn’t balmy and all aboard bundled against the 55 mph, 85-mile trip into the Gulf of Mexico, but how greedy can you be with calm seas and a bright sun seeping warmth deep into your bones.
“It takes a perfect day during the winter,” Mitchell said. “I’m not a rough water fan, and, this winter, we’ve had to cancel more trips than we’ve made. Fortunately, I work in a family business. My dad’s my boss and dad likes to fish, too.”
So set the day, invite the guys you know enjoy the same fishing pleasures, and can handle the strain of battling brutish offshore species.
What happened on this perfect day?
How about the six-man crew landing 21 wahoo, a delicacy fit for a king.
“It was phenomenal, the very best day we’ve had ever,” Mitchell said. “We left the pass about a quarter ‘til 5 (a.m.) and were done by 10 a.m.
“We made passes through the area, and on the last pass we picked up two (wahoo) and I told the guys that was enough.”
A good day, Mitchell explained from past trips, is five or six wahoo with the bonus of trying to fill the box with other species on the way back to the dock.
The winter bite
Deep-water winter fishing is a far cry from hitting the depths during the summer months. Offshore species venture into much shallower water this time of year, so summer’s hunt for bluewater to depths of more than 2,000 feet is replaced by finding spots over reefs and humps in less than 500 feet of water.
“We were on a reef in 400 feet of water, and it rises to about 200 feet, and that’s where we find them,” Mitchell said. “And, it’s this time of year when the wahoo school up and are concentrated in certain areas. Another guy was out where we were and he caught 10 pretty quickly and was headed in, too. It was just that kind of a day.”
Trolling hard-plastic lures is the trick. There are times when live bait will work, too, but you have to know the depth of the fish and what forage is there, and that puts added variables to the fish-catching equation.
Wahoo aren’t the whole story, but you must know wintertime fishing off Louisiana’s coast is, because of the weather, a high-risk, high-reward adventure.
Because running time is reduced, there’s the opportunity — especially on a day like Mitchell and his crew had — to chase other species.
“We had planned to deep-drop for grouper, or we were going to get behind a shrimp boat and try for blackfins (tuna), but we had plenty of fish,” Mitchell said. “And, at this time of year, you can also go for kings (mackerel) and mangroves (gray snapper), but the main goal that day was wahoo.”
Yellowfin tuna, another highly prized fish for the table, is another target, and Mitchell said they run into the shallower depths this time of year, too.
“I really like to catch yellowfins and red snapper, but we’ll save that for another time of year,” he said.
Mitchell said he’d like to make another wahoo trip again — probably not this week because of the weather — but work, a wife and two young children get first call.
“I used to fish a lot, a lot, but we know we’ll carve out a weekday because it’s less crowded than the weekends,” he said. “And we know the wahoo bunch up right after cold fronts, but you have to pick the right day. We’ve had several days set aside this year, but had to cancel because of the weather.”
What happened to all that fish?
Mitchell said they cleaned all 21, split up the meat and “ate our fill at the camp that night, and gave some away. I ate it for three or four nights at home before we had to freeze it,” he said. “I like fresh fish, but it had to get to the freezer. We vacuum-seal it and it stays good for several months.”
“The good thing is we know they’re out there and winter and early spring are when they’re schooled up and you can catch numbers,” Mitchell said. “We just didn’t know we’d have that kind of a day.”