There are alternatives for days when the tuna just don’t show up at Louisiana’s hottest offshore spot.
The famed Midnight Lump which sits roughly 20 miles off of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River near Venice is considered the “go to” spot during the cold, blustery winter months. The area is actually comprised of a series of salt diapirs, or jagged mounds, that rise from 600 feet to around 200 feet as they reach for the surface.
It is a well-known fact that the Lump attracts mammoth yellowfin tuna, giant mako sharks and triple-digit wahoo; however, there are times when the fish just do not cooperate.
Those who fish the Lump religiously during the months of December through the end of March are guaranteed to encounter days when the fish simply disappear or develop a case of lockjaw.
The scenario plays out as upwards of a hundred boaters jockey for position deploying anchors attached to 600 feet of rope and heavy chain and praying the anchor will bite on the first attempt. Once securely on the hook, the crew begins to slice and dice pogies. After several hours of deploying a steady stream of chum with not so much as a bonito in their slick, VHF radios begin to buzz with idle chatter as captains try to pass the time and keep their crews from committing mutiny.
Professional charter captains are often faced with this dilemma, and have to make the best of a bad situation to appease their paying customers and put fish in the box. Several of the area’s top captains shared their secrets for going from “zero to hero.”
Capt. Hunter Caballero
Hunter Caballero, 22, operates a new 32-foot Twin Vee, and although he is among the youngest charter captains fishing the Lump, he is no stranger to offshore fishing. In 2005 he was on the gaff when the new state-record yellowfin was landed. A veteran captain, who is familiar with his fish catching abilities, refers to him as “a force to be reckoned with.”
Caballero suggested the following options when the fish pull a no show on the Lump.
“I like to troll for wahoo at rigs located in 200-plus feet of water, and I prefer water conditions of blue or blue-green,” he said. “I troll a three-plug spread at 6-8 knots consisting of a Braid Marauder, Rapala and MirrOLure in bright pink or blue/pink combinations.”
Another of his recommendations is to head for WD 143 and target amberjack. Try dropping a large 6- to 8-inch hardtail on a Carolina rig using a Mustad 16/0 circle hook snelled to 300-pound leader, which he deploys using a Shimano Tekota with the drag locked down. Hook the hardtail through the nose, and slowly deploy the bait to keep it from spinning.
Depending on the amount of current, Caballero uses 16 to 24 ounces of weight, and starts off with about a 30-second drop. If he doesn’t get a bite, he drops another 15 seconds until he hooks a fish. It is important to note the depth and drop time once the fish are located.
While at a rig, Caballero suggests anglers send a bait all the way to the bottom and come up five cranks. Several species of grouper might be found lurking near the rig legs. The closer you can position the boat to the rig the better; just remember you must get the first 30 feet to win the battle.
“Do whatever you have to do to not let the fish take any line,” Caballero said.
If the decision is to stay on the Lump, he says to try dropping a live bait to the bottom to see what lurks there. Caballero uses a double rig with a 16-ounce weight on the bottom and two 5/0 Frenzy Ultimate Circle hooks suspended above. He baits them with small bonito strips or small pieces of pogie.
“Don’t be surprised if you catch beeliner snapper, grouper, almaco jacks or amberjack there,” he said.
Another effective way to get a bite on the Lump when the fish are finicky is to deploy a kite bait.
“Keep it close, and use a larger bait such as a 12-inch mullet or 12-inch hardtail,” said Caballero. “We tend to catch some of our bigger fish on a kite.”
If all else fails, stop at the rocks at the end of Southwest Pass for bull reds on your way in. Keep in mind that you cannot possess redfish offshore in federal waters, so this should only be done at the end of the fishing day. Also remember most redfish found at the rocks will exceed the 27-inch slot, and only one of those per angler may be kept.
Capt. Scott Avanzino
Scott Avanzino captains the 30 Abemarle Balancing Act based out of Venice Marina, and he suggests the following alternatives when the tuna bite slows on the Lump.
“When the water gets dirty and cold from a high river, and the flow from Southwest Pass is moving steadily toward the Lump, it just seems the tuna move out,” he said. “I find that when the yellowfin aren’t there, we’re usually left with the trash fish such as king mackerel and sharks.
“Unless my customers are into shark fishing, we usually make a run to the south to platforms such as Medusa, Mars or Ursa.”
For smaller boats that may not have the fuel capacity or range, Avanzino suggests trolling the area adjacent to the Lump for wahoo. His favorite lures for targeting these toothy speedsters are Braid Marauders and skirted ballyhoo.
“You can troll for wahoo, but if you aren’t one of the first couple of boats doing it, you aren’t going to catch them,” he warned.
Avanzino is of the opinion that dropping to the bottom on the Lump was an alternative in years past, but feels that option is no longer a productive one.
“When you have such an excessive number of boats fishing the same area day in and day out, it doesn’t take long to vacuum the place clean,” he lamented.
Anglers who do drop to the bottom might still find a few amberjack, an occasional hammerhead shark, beeliner snapper as well as a smattering of oddball grouper such as marbled, yellowmouth, scamp, gags and rock hinds.
Avanzino offers a word of caution to those who might find themselves trapped in the river fog that often rolls in and blankets the area this time of year.
“The best advice I can give you about running in the fog is to avoid it,” he said. “If you don’t feel comfortable running the Mississippi River, I would suggest that boaters launch out of Fourchon or Grand Isle as they have an open run across the Gulf, which rarely has the fog problem that we do.”
Capt. Chris Moran
Capt. Chris Moran makes the 44-mile trek across the open Gulf from Fourchon to the Midnight Lump aboard his 34-foot Gravois Cajun Made.
“I kind of feel fortunate leaving from Moran’s Belle Pass Marina for two reasons,” Moran stated. “No. 1 is the safety factor of not having to run down the Mississippi River and deal with the fog, and No. 2 is that I pass so many really good fishing areas on my route to and from the Lump that it gives me the edge.
“I pretty much leave it up to my customers as to what they want to catch, but it seems that everybody loves to catch a limit of amberjack.
“Regardless of what we plan to fish for during the day, I always stop and catch hardtails every day on my way to the Lump.
“I find that fishing on the Lump is either feast or famine. Some days, catching even one fish is a great day.”
Moran often puts in overtime before heading home by slugging it out on the Lump dropping live hardtails to try and tempt bottom-dwellers.
Although many of the larger shrimp boats remain in port during the colder months, Moran says a high percentage of those still working depart from Fourchon or Grand Isle. They pass through the South Timbalier and Grand Isle blocks, creating yet another option for Moran.
“We target blackfin and even yellowfin around those vessels as they work their nets,” he said.
Wahoo fishing in the winter is phenomenal, and there are a couple of effective ways to target them, according to Moran.
“Sometimes there’s a strong grass line that forms up when the river’s high,” he said. “It’s usually located somewhere in West Delta and the Grand Isle blocks and just to the North of the Lump.”
Moran suggests anglers should be on the lookout for rigs located in blue water throughout the West Delta blocks, and try their luck pulling plugs.
“I’ll pull a three- or four-bait spread of Tremblers or Mann Stretch 30s in pink or chartreuse until I see what works,” he said.
When working lures around the Lump, Moran reminds boaters to be courteous.
“It’s not necessary to get right on top of everybody and foul their anchor lines. I find when I troll the perimeter there is plenty of action,” he said.
Just as it does in the summer, floating debris such as pallets, trees and boards holds bait and attracts fish such as wahoo. Keep a keen eye out for trash as not only is it a fish magnet, but it can tear up a lower unit or cause damage to a vessel.
One of the easiest alternatives when the Lump is off is trigger fish. Moran says many anglers don’t realize how many triggerfish are out there. He points out they are really easy to catch and great to eat. He targets them using a rig consisting of a weight on the bottom with several 2/0 or 3/0 J-hooks suspended above.
“What the customers really love about this type of fishing is that after being told time and time again NOT to set the hook on a circle hook, they get to rare back and jerk the rod every time they feel a bite,” he said.
On the trip back to Fourchon, Moran has opportunities to fish numerous rigs for amberjack. He prefers those situated in depths of 200 feet or more. He suggests anglers hit as many rigs in pretty water as possible on their way back to port.
“This time of year there isn’t a lot of bait in the water, so if you drop a live hardtail down to tempt an amberjack, it’s going to eat it. Usually getting our limit of jacks is not a problem,” he said. “In addition to live bait, I find that in the winter an 8-ounce nickel Challenger diamond jig or a 6-ounce Fishin Fever white bucktail Duralor produce some of the biggest amberjack of the year.
“While jigging for jacks we also catch a lot of grouper too.”
After a sluggish day on the Lump, what the customers need is some action and excitement. One of Moran’s favorite ways to provide a boost to morale is his ‘kamikaze’ tactic of chasing blackfin tuna in open water.
“I keep some smaller spinning reels handy, and I’ll run along until we see them jumping and then run straight at them and cast small plastics such as Tsunamis or the 5-inch Calcutta Flash Foil grubs and Yo-Zuri poppers into the school.
“It is action-packed and fun for the customers, and actually it is very effective.”
Capt. Bill Delabar
“As I do each day before I leave the dock, I consult the satellite imagery to see where a good rip might be forming, and if the Lump is not producing, I’ll head in that direction to try and pick up a wahoo by trolling plugs,” said Delabar, who captains the 32-foot Twin Vee Anger Management out of Venice Marina. “If I’m sitting on the Lump and nothing is happening, but the water is really blue, I’ll wait it out. If it’s dirty, I’m going to head south to WD 152 or even to Medusa to try and pick up wahoo and tuna.”
Braid Marauders in pink or blue/pink are his baits of choice. If the water is dirty on top, Delabar says it’s important to run the baits pretty far back to get them down or even deploy them on downriggers to get below the dirty water level.
“Wahoo will hold right on the break where the clean and dirty water lines meet,” said Delabar. “The one thing that people need to understand is that the Lump can go from hot to cold in a matter of days or even hours. One day you’ll kill them and the next day you may not even see a fish. That’s just the nature of fishing the Lump.”
For more information call Capt. Hunter Caballero (504-610-1686), Capt. Scott Avanzino (985-845-8006), Capt. Chris Moran (985-396-2442) or Capt. Bill Delabar (504-723-0742).
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