With Father’s Day upon us, you may be pondering what to get Dad.
Well, if your Dad reads this magazine he probably fishes. And since I began my career in this business at 19 years old some 25 years ago, I have found few anglers who do not enjoy offshore fishing.
Some have never been. Others might get seasick but when it comes to the sheer enjoyment of a good day offshore, every angler, whether it is diehard bass fishermen or those who fish the bays every weekend, loves the chance to tangle with big, hard fighting offshore fish.
You might want to consider booking Dad a trip with an offshore guide or taking the bay boat out to the nearshore oil and gas platforms and give it a go yourself. The Gulf offers amazing action and it begins right now, as Gulf waters are warming.
Red snapper are out of the picture for most of the year now in federal waters but there are other fish to thrill anglers in the northern Gulf of Mexico all along the Gulf Coast. There are state water snapper near some of the deeper ports but for now we will focus on species available to everyone.
King mackerel are one of those species.Any kind of cut or live bait will draw strikes from kings.
Big, lipless crankbaits are even better choices. Silver spoons are also great choices, especially those tipped with a jig or cigar minnow are great to troll behind culling shrimp boats.
If you fish the rigs for kings, bring along some chum like menhaden oil or throw out chunks of pogey to attract the big fish. I have found that canned jack mackerel makes great chum and it is very inexpensive.
All you have to do is punch holes in the can and put it in a lingerie washing bag or fish basket tied off to the boat. It will not take long to create a massive (but environmentally safe) oil slick. Spoons are also good for working around the legs of a rig to see if there are any mackerel prowling around. Simply throw out the spoon, let it flutter and float with the current around the structure of the rig.
One can hardly mention kings without talking about sharks because they run together a lot, especially behind the shrimp boats. These fish fight as hard as anything out there and they are quite tasty as well.
Large circle hooks rigged on steel leaders are the most popular terminal tackle for bagging sharks. Sharks cannot only cut a line with their teeth but also with their skin, which is sharp in its own right. One quick slap of the tail can cut even heavy-duty line with no problem.
For targeting blacktips and spinners, my personal favorite chumming method involves bringing along a bucketful of small menhaden, grabbing a handful and squeezing. Some of them will float, others will sink quickly and others slowly.
This creates a feeding frenzy situation with sharks that can allow you to sight cast to them with cut bait. The ideal setup for this kind of fishing is having one bait on the bottom for species like bull sharks and Atlantic sharpnose and a couple of free lines to get the species that feed in the upper level of the water column.
This time of year, a big bonus for anglers fishing around the rigs are the ling that are starting to show up in good numbers. Locating these unusual fish is no problem. They are suckers for structure in Gulf waters and can often be found hanging around oil platforms, stand pipes, jetties and buoys.
One of the best tactics for locating ling around structure is to rev up the motors take a paddle and pound the water’s surface to get the attention of the fish. The first time I saw this done I thought the guy doing it was crazy. I had always been taught to be quiet in the boat and to avoid spooking the fish. However, when I saw a huge ling rise up to the surface I was convinced that the technique was for real.
If you would like to catch ling try the standard summer fishing protocol: a handful of cut pogeys thrown overboard, and live crab or fresh cut bait hanging from circle hooks.
Crabs in particular are extremely good baits for ling. Almost every ling I have ever cleaned or seen cleaned had a belly full of crabs. Rods loaded with artificials should also be kept within reach since ling do not mind biting on plastic. Soft plastics like curl-tailed grubs or imitation ribbonfish are good baits for lings. One of my favorite baits is the big six-inch shrimp imitation in brown or chartreuse. Using chartreuse is interesting because most of the offshore guides in Florida swear by it.
A popular ling bait in Florida is an eight-inch chartreuse curl-tailed grub dressed out with a sparkled pink skirt. Guides there claim a ling cannot resist it. Hard plastics like shallow-running Mirrolures and Jointed Thundersticks can also be productive.
The ling themselves are fascinating creatures to study.
Their moves have baffled the scientific and angling communities but recent developments give insight that can help anglers catch more of them.
Out of several hundred tagged in the northern Gulf, 55 were recaptured the next year and 12 of them were caught in the exact same spot where they were initially caught. That means the big ling you just never could get to cooperate last summer might bite this year.
Very few of us fish offshore as much as we used to due to strict regulations and fuel prices but there is no question the most exciting fishing in our regions is out past the jetties in the sandy-green waters of the Gulf.
If you want to bless Dad with something special consider taking Dad out there. You will create lifelong memories and perhaps catch the fish of a lifetime.
The best part is it will no doubt fight hard and probably taste delicious.
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Although this is a traditional fishing time of year, the fact is hunting opportunities always abound here in Texas.
May 1-31 is the spring squirrel season for 51 squirrel heavy counties in East Texas.
There may be no better way to unwind in the woods than sitting on on a remote creek bottom and hunting squirrels.
In years past squirrel hunting was a gateway for young hunters to get into the sport. Most fathers made their children hunt squirrel and rabbit before trusting them to go into the woods to hunt squirrel.
Now, squirrel season can be a gateway to reconnecting with Dad. Maybe he hasn’t been squirrel hunting in years. Invite him to hit the woods in East Texas this spring and find smiles on both your faces.
If Dad is looking for a serious adventure then consider the myriad exotic hunting opportunities around the state.
As is noted in our Texas Outdoor Nation news this month, the axis deer rut is beginning in the Hill Country right about now.
Joshua Creek Ranche’s Kevin Wellborn said their property is loaded with free-ranging axis and there are plenty of trophy specimens.
“We hunt them from blinds and only shoot 30 plus in trophy axis. It’s amazing that we can shoot lots of big bucks every year and it doesn’t seem to impact our numbers. People love to hunt axis and there is something special about shooting free-ranging ones,” Wellborn said.
He noted that now hunters can find bucks in hard antler, some in velvet and many of them beginning to spar with one another. That rut typically peaks in late June or early July.
Free-ranging exotics are considered legal game 365 days a year if you have the consent of the landowner.
It is always illegal to hunt animals in areas where you have no permission but if the managers of your deer lease for example give you permission to shoot exotics that cross onto the property it is perfectly legal. Again, you must have permission and it is best to have written permission.
Many hunters have reported taking free-ranging axis on their Hill Country deer leases. Readers Rick Hyman and Nolan Haney both shot axis bucks this year on leases near Fredericksburg and Rocksprings respectively.
Aoudad from North Africa are also common beyond high fences but they are rarely seen. Aoudad are super elusive and are more likely to show up on a game camera than in front of a hunter or photographer. Blackbuck antelope, fallow deer and the aforementioned sika deer round out the most common free-ranging exotics.
Over the years we have ran photos on these pages however of red stag, corsican sheep and other exotics taken by hunters.
Visitors to the South Texas coast between Baffin Bay and the Rio Grande often encounter nilgai, a gigantic species of antelope that is second only behind axis in terms of numbers. Almost all nilgai are free-ranging and are hunted on the King and Kennedy Ranches.
The beautiful thing about Texas is there is always something biting in the water and available to hunt in the woods and on the prairies for Dad to enjoy.
—story by Chester Moore