One of the best guides on the Mobile Bay system gives us advice for fishing rigs.
On a fine, hot summer morning, we had launched our boat from the Billy Goat Hole ramps on Dauphin Island. We ran across the Dixey Bar and approached one of the big gas production rigs out in the Gulf. We dropped the big rig hook over one of the supports of the rig and played out some line to get us a little way off from the hard metal structure. As the Gulf water flowed past us, our boat drifted with the current and the shadow from the rig above us gave some relief from the hot sun. We tossed frozen cigar minnows on stinger rigs far behind us and dropped the rods into rod holders while we tended to our bait rigs with chunks of pogies and some super-sized live shrimp.
“The rigs serve big fish both protection and a chow line for feeding.”
Our baits quickly sank out of view. Almost immediately, our rod tips were jerked down to the water. Some large bull redfish around the gas rig had struck. We worked the big bronze fish to the boat. Just as my big red arrived, the spinning reel beside me starting making that sweet high-pitched sound it always makes when a big king mackerel takes my bait and reminded me why they’re called “smokers.” This was almost too much of a good thing — big redfish close to the legs of the gas rig and big powerful kings a little bit farther out from the rig. When fishing rigs is good, it’s very good. The rigs serve big fish both protection and a chow line for feeding.
Why fish the Rigs?
Gas and oil rigs work like magnets to attract and hold fish of all kinds. Government studies show that fish densities are twenty to fifty times higher near offshore platforms than in nearby open water. As much as 70 percent of offshore fishing trips make the area around offshore platforms their destination.
Where the rigs are located doesn’t matter. Rigs in Mobile Bay in 15 feet of water hold fish. Rigs in the near offshore Gulf waters hold other kinds of fish. All of that metal structure under the surface of the water attracts massive schools of bait, and the bait lure the big fish. It makes good sense to work the rigs. However, it’s not enough to just pull up to any gas rig and start fishing. There are ways to fish the rigs that make a difference in how many fish are caught. Some rigs are better than others. Listen to what an expert says.
How to Fish the Rigs
Captain Yano Serra has been guiding on the Mobile Bay system for a long time. He uses the rigs quite often in his client’s search for big fish. When fishing the Mobile Bay rigs, he says, “The best times to fish the rigs are from May to September for specks. Use live shrimp under a slip cork with enough weight to take the shrimp down. Standup jigs hopped off the bottom around the rig structure can be very good, too.”
Anglers looking for redfish on the bay will want to fish the rigs a little bit earlier in the season, say March and April, for some hot redfish action. Live shrimp is good, but the big reds like live croakers and cracked blue crabs.
Approach a rig slowly to determine the current strength and direction. This will allow the boat to be anchored up-current from the rig, which is the preferred side to fish.
For the near-shore rigs in the Gulf, Captain Yano advises anglers to also anchor up- current of the rig and let the bait drift back toward the rig structure. “The fish will be up-current of the rig. Drift back some croakers, silver eels, or live mullet and pogies. Almost anything is around the near-shore platforms; kings, cobia, mangrove snapper, tarpon, and some really big flounder at times. Early in the year, red snapper can be great around the near-shore rigs.”
Adjust the amount of weight used to take the live bait down. On slight tides, as little as 1/4 oz will work, but stronger currents require considerably more weight. Of course, anglers who prefer trolling can work around the near-shore rigs pulling favorite trolling lures for kings and cobia. Trolling a big crankbait like a Mann’s Stretch 25 works for both bull reds and kings. Trolling a silver and blue duster skirt in front of a frozen cigar minnow can hook kings and big Spanish mackerel, especially.
Which Rigs Are Best?
Consider the presence of a “mat” of rock, shells, and other material placed on the bottom of the bay around the rig. This “mat” is designed to allow jack-up rigs and other machinery used on the rigs to not sink into the soft mud bottom. This rock bottom is a great fish attractor. The best way to find these “mats” is to look and see where the other boats are fishing. The veterans will know which side of the rig is the hard-bottom side.
The big Exxon rig due east of Billy Goat Hole from Dauphin Island is a good place to start a Mobile Bay rig-fishing expedition. The bite will vary according to the tides. Some days the fish are more active on the incoming tide, but some days it’s the outgoing tide that’s best. For really big redfish, try live croakers or cracked crabs around the rig legs on a moving tide.
For a totally different but very productive kind of fishing, anglers can try fishing at night around the lighted gas rigs. Captain Yano says, “Kings are great at night around the rigs. Just use the lights off the platform. A chum-churn is used to make a strong slick to attract and hold the fish. Then use a big top-water plug for the kings. It’s a ball!”
Anglers are cautioned that bringing a hooked king into the boat is very hard on the fish. Most boated kings die. When catching kings, try to unhook and release them in the water if possible.
Of course, angling at night requires a special level of navigation skill. Watch for other boats and keep a very sharp eye out for bad weather.
What Are Some Cautions for Rig Anglers?
Remember, these rigs are not put in the bay and coastal waters for our benefit. They are working rigs. There will be lots of workboats coming and going from the rigs, so anglers need to listen in on channels 16 and 13 on the radio for instructions from approaching workboats. You may need to move if your fishing spot is where the workboat needs to unload.
“Currents can be very strong. Be careful of wind and current going against each other. It can get very rough when this happens.”
Also, Captain Yano says that very rarely will some very nasty gas be released from a working gas rig. He advises against downwind anchoring, and if ever a siren or other warning sound is heard coming from a rig, move away fast! This can be very serious stuff.
The major concern for gas rig anglers can be the current. Captain Yano says, “Currents can be very strong. Be careful of wind and current going against each other. It can get very rough when this happens.”