Offshore Targets of Opportunity

From the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, blasting far offshore requires significant planning and preparation. Long runs to deep water are not cheap, so maximizing your time and investment is the name of the game. Along with the requisite tackle, bait, and safety equipment, one of the most important considerations is an open-minded flexibility that ensures no opportunity goes unnoticed. Very often, unexpected encounters with “bonus” species can elevate the day’s experience for those prepared to capitalize.

Cobia: From nearshore channel markers and bridges crossing inlets, to offshore reefs and wrecks, the brown bombers regularly appear cruising near the surface. Cobia readily gobble a wide range of forage, so think about where baitfish gather and where swimming crabs ride the tide.

Prized for their table fare as well as tackle-testing strength, the cobia’s downfall is its curiosity. Anglers often speak of anchor fishing a reef or slow trolling a hard bottom spot when one or more brown figures suddenly appear around the boat. The general consensus holds that cobia rise to explore the boat shadows in hopes of finding baitfish harboring below.

Connecting with these inquisitive fish is pretty straightforward — keep a medium-heavy spinning outfit rigged with 65-pound TUFLINE 4ORCE Braid and an 80-pound TUFLINE XD Fluorocarbon leader tied to a 6/0 Mustad Demon Circle Hook. Short pitches ahead of the cobia usually meets with swift response.

Sailfish: Often seen slashing through baitfish, free jumping, or sunning near the surface, sailfish add day-making potential to any trip. Sometimes they’re roaming current lines where baitfish gather, other times, they’ll show up around the deep structure you might target for bottom species.

One of the best options for quickly engaging sails is a dead ballyhoo. Pre-rigged baits offer convenience, but it’s easy to prep a dozen or so ballyhoo and keep them on ice until needed for a few trolling passes. Cut the bills to about an inch long, and use a wire leader with a ringer swivel at the top end, which rests against the bait’s head. Add a chin weight as you wire the gill plates and jaws shut and then insert a Mustad Demon Perfect Inline Circle Hook 3X Strong through the ringer swivel’s O-ring.

Dolphin: Top-tier on the food chart, dolphin are a common bycatch of tuna and wahoo pursuits, while they also show up around deep water structures, including northern Gulf drilling rigs. Weed lines rich with baitfish and crabs are dolphin gold, so take a look at any sargasso gatherings you find. Same goes for flotsam of any kind.

A common offshore trick that works every time: Keep a hooked dolphin in the water and others will gather. These fish are highly aggressive feeders with a raging metabolism that pushes feeding competition into overdrive. When one dolphin sees another one with a meal, they’ll follow closely in hopes of stealing the food, or at least grabbing any fragments lost while chewing.

Once you’ve spotted dolphin, chumming with cut ballyhoo, sardines, etc. will attract a swarm of smaller fish, but watch for larger ones patrolling deeper. Often, you can target the quality fish by occupying the little ones with bait chunks dropped on Mustad Demon Circle Hooks and then sneaking a live bait past them by spacing it away from the juvenile cluster.

The B-Team: While the larger, more boast-worthy species take logical preference, don’t overlook the treasure trove of smaller bottom fish often inhabiting the reefs, rocks, and ledges where larger snapper and grouper live. Often dismissed as “reef rats,” this collection of grunts, lesser snappers, porgies, etc. can fill in the time between the heavyweights, while also offering kids and beginners a less demanding activity.

A double dropper rig, aka “chicken rig” comprising 1/0-2/0 Mustad Demon Circle Hooks on dropper loops and a 4- to 8-ounce weight (based on depth) below is your best bet. This rig is ideal for nabbing an intriguing selection of bonus fish — many of which will either fill out the dinner mix or add fresh live bait to your arsenal.


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