Cobia photo

Charter skipper Miles Dixon takes anglers from Grand Isle in search of fall action on cobia while most recreational coastal fishermen are moving to inside waters searching for speckled trout and redfish. Dixon believes fall is a can't-miss time to battle offshore species.

Grand Isle gets quieter in October.

The bulk of offshore anglers who spent the summer dropping baits for red snapper and trolling weed lines for dolphin have turned their focus to inshore redfish and speckled trout, or climbing deer stands and building duck blinds.

Charter captain Miles Dixon isn’t one to get distracted by ducks and deer. He stays focused on the big water and especially the opportunity to find cobia ganged up on nearshore rigs within sight of the beaches at Grand Isle and The Fourchon.

“There are definitely more cobia around in the fall than at other times of the year,” Dixon said. “But the idea that they are just here in September or October is a bit of a misnomer. We can find cobia all the way through November and December. I just think guys stop fishing for them when hunting seasons start.”

Dixon likes to target the exceptionally curious but sometimes elusive cobia near oil and gas platforms and rip lines and color changes in 30-100 feet of water. He’ll find a rip line and slowly follow it, sometimes for miles, switching the boat back and forth from the dirty side to the cleaner side while scanning the surface for cobia.

While many anglers pitch pink-and-chartreuse hair jigs and six-plus inch soft plastics, Dixon said he prefers live bait.

“Jigs work but it’s a big chunk of lead and a cobia thrashing its head back and forth can shake that jig out its mouth,” he said. “A live croaker or hard tail on a 7/0 or 8/0 circle hook, I find, helps land more fish. The hook stays in the corner of the fish’s mouth. Some guys use pinfish or even take hardhead catfish and cut the spines off. If you put a live bait in front of the fish, they will definitely eat it.”

Cobia are the primary target for Dixon and other avid offshore anglers in the early fall, but there are plenty of other options on the rigs — both shallow and deep — as well as finding tunas following shrimp boats.

Mangrove snapper are almost always on the same oil rigs as cobia. While a couple anglers on the boat free-line chunks of cut bait or live croakers into the rig for mangroves, others can pitch baits and jigs away from the rig at passing cobia. Dixon said he changes his approach to mangrove snapper fishing a little as summer gives way to cooler temperatures.

“The mangroves can get smart in the fall because they have been fished for pretty hard all summer and the water usually gets clearer in September and October and the fish can see the line and not be as aggressive,” he said.

“Sometimes you have to switch to lighter fluorocarbon leaders, 30- or 40-pound, and throw more chum out to really get the mangroves interested. Also, try heading to areas that haven’t been fished as hard,” Dixon said.

“The shallow rigs you can see right out of Grand Isle and Fourchon get hit pretty hard and the fish can get shy.”

Mangroves will stay active at rigs in less than 100 feet of water through the fall and sometimes early winter, though hard cold fronts and cold water coming from the Mississippi River will drive them deep or push them farther offshore in late December and January.

October and November are usually two of the best months of the year to chase tuna in shallow water as well, though Dixon says this year yellowfins have been scarce compared to years past. He noted the Loop Current, which brings warm water and nutrients from Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula into the northern Gulf of Mexico, has been farther offshore this year, potentially hampering yellowfin catches.

Dixon said he’s been targeting blackfin tuna more than their larger yellowfin cousins, but cautions anyone chasing tuna to bring plenty of extra hooks and leader material.

“You can catch a few yellowfins and there have been some 200-plus pounders landed this fall already, but don’t expect to go out and catch 10 or so yellowfins in one trip,” he said.

“Catching 20-30 blackfins a day is definitely possible, but you’re going to have to fight through the sharks to do it. I’ve seen more sharks and lost more fish to sharks this year than I can ever remember.”