Snapper in Solitude

If you’d rather reel in fish than fight crowds, point your bow to the shallow-water rigs in the Ship Shoal area.

Gobs of snapper are ripe for the taking in the Ship Shoal blocks these days.Just ask Capts. Tommy and Eric Pellegrin of Custom Charters (985-851-3304). The father-son duo are racking up this summer, and they are basically all alone out there.

Line-stretching snapper and hungry cobia are lingering in and around the 200 line of Ship Shoal blocks waiting to be plucked from the water. For an area that has been tough to fish over the past few years, the fishing is now over the top, and the Pellegrins are very excited.

The captains have been targeting game on any of the Ship Shoal rigs, wrecks and reefs that are in depths of 40 to 100 or more feet in depth. This season, they have caught snapper as shallow as 38 feet in Ship Shoal, but more commonly they are in that 40- to 100-foot range. The key to catching snapper in Ship Shoal, according to the Pellegrins, is water depth.

“Your general rule of thumb is water depths. We don’t fish specific rigs as much as rigs or structure in that water depth that we know holds snapper,” Tommy Pellegrin said.

Work structure in those depths, and you will catch fish. Snapper migrate, though, and the Pellegrins have had to move about a little this summer to stay on top of them.

“After 15 years of doing this, we basically know where the snapper are going to be,” said Tommy. “Snapper move a pretty good bit, though. Sometimes they can move as far as 20 miles in one season. Where we’re catching snapper now is different than where we started hitting them in the spring.”

Don’t correlate the migration with intense pressure, though. There just aren’t many anglers making the long run out to Ship Shoal to pound the population. The snapper are just making natural movements.

And as for snapper population sizes, the Pellegrins are impressed. They’re seeing a lot of snapper this summer, and all in relatively shallow water.

With the fish located, the fun part of the trip starts.

“When we’re fishing a school of red snapper at a rig,” said Tommy Pellegrin, “we like to fish the sides of the rig, not always the upcurrent side. That puts us right on the snapper and cuts down on the others like triggerfish, king mackerel and sharks.”

Eric Pellegrin said fishing the right bait also helps.

“Sardines are probably the No. 1 bait this summer, and all you have to do is let the bait fall for about 10-15 seconds to hit those mid-range, suspended fish. If you don’t get a hit right away, reel on up because they already took your bait or you’re just doing something wrong.”

Yes, according to the Pellegrins, the fishing is that good.

The veteran anglers both agreed that the best approach once set on the rig or other structure is to start fishing the upper half of the water column and work up. The big harvests they have been taking back to the docks are a testament that fishing the upper 50 percent of water is good enough.

Rigs are not the only thing out there to fish. The Pellegrins recommend targeting wrecks that are scattered about the Ship Shoal blocks.

“We have some wrecks and debris piles that we know of and fish. You can easily find wreck locations on the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries web site, and once you get to those locations, you’ll find fish,” Tommy said.

Like their rig-fishing approach, the Pellegrins fish the water according to where the snapper show themselves. A wreck on the bottom will still hold fish halfway up the water column, not exactly right on the wreck itself.

“A lot of the fish we’re targeting, especially on a place like a wreck, are suspended. The wreck might be in a hundred feet of water but the fish finder will show the snapper only 15-20 feet down. They’re coming way up near the surface,” said Tommy. “We do have reefs too that we can fish. We have ‘The Reef,’ as we call it, where this hard-bottom reef comes up to 170 feet from over 400-foot depths. It’s like our own Midnight Lump, but in Ship Shoal. At that place, you catch grouper and amberjack as well as snapper and cobia.”

With the fish located, the next obvious key to the Pellegrins’ success is hauling them in. For that reason, they rig up with heavy duty reels on Challenger offshore rods.

“The Challenger rods are great for our style of fishing because they have a fast tip and a lot of backbone,” said Tommy. “We rig them with 50- or 60-pound Mustad Ultra Pro line with a 7/0 Mustad Ultra Point (39950BL) hook. It’s Carolina rigged with a weight, swivel, leader and the hook at the end.”

Eric said this setup is versatile.

“It doesn’t have to be changed often,” he said. “It works for a lot of different species so we can just fish.”

Now if a sassy cobia appears while the Custom Charter team has their clients on fish, they keep a few separate rods rigged and ready for just the occasion.

“When a cobia comes up,” Eric said, “we pull out a spinning rod combo with an Old Bayside jig tied on. Cobia will turn right away for that lure. If we get some cobia hooked up on the spinning rods and there are still some out there, we throw a regular drift line with live pogies tied on to bring them in.”

Cobia, according to the Pellegrins, love live pogies.

“We’re catching a lot of pogies this summer, and they are great for cobia,” said Tommy. “While we’re heading out, we watch for pelicans diving down, and we go out and catch some. Cobia really go after them.”

Some cobias go after anything and apparently have a great summer appetite. This summer, Eric had one client hooked up with an 8-pound snapper, and an 80-pound cobia came up and tried to eat it. That’s a hungry fish that any Louisiana angler with a pulse wants to fight.

Cocodrie adventurers aren’t the only people who can make the long run to seek red gold in the Ship Shoal blocks. Capt. Daryl Carpenter, owner of Reel Screamers Guide Service (225-937-6288), will also make the run to Ship Shoal, but from his eastern coordinates near Grand Isle. If the snapper bite slows for him in late summer, he makes the 45-mile run to put fish in the ice chest.

“There just isn’t the pressure out there because it’s water less traveled,” said Carpenter. “You don’t have anything close to the pressure like the West Delta, Grand Isle and Timbalier blocks get. As the summer drags on and the crowds get heavier around Grand Isle, we head west to Ship Shoal and leave them behind.”

Like the Pellegrins, Carpenter will primarily seek red snapper, mangrove snapper and cobia in the Ship Shoal blocks, and his rule is to follow the 100-foot depth curve.

“Ship Shoal is a shallower body of water that I can fish,” he said. “The shelf runs farther out there, and to me, it’s more easily fishable snapper water because a lot of it that I can reach is in 200 feet of water or less, and I basically just follow the 100-foot curve and drop down on top of the snapper.

“I like to fish for snapper out there with a Carolina-rigged setup. For mangroves, I like a long fluorocarbon leader below a weight and swivel.

“If it’s more bottom fishing for red snapper, fluorocarbon leaders don’t matter as much to me, so I use a heavier 80-pound leader with the weight on the bottom of the rig and the hook above it and below the swivel.”

But farther south and into the deeper part of the Ship Shoal area, larger game fish can be sought and found.

“We’ve been hammering the blackfin tuna at different times this summer, and we’ve been catching them in about 180 feet of water,” said the younger Pellegrin. “And a few days ago we brought in a 221-pound yellowfin, and he was only in 168 feet of water. They’re out there too, although not as many as the snapper and cobia.”

So if you want snapper, cobia, tuna or just to test your marine capabilities, give the Ship Shoal blocks a try this summer. The long run can mean a big payoff if you have the right equipment to be out that far.

Now, before hauling off and plotting a course south as the engine runs wide open, the Pellegrins advise that you prepare yourself with two key ingredients before making the run: Be sure that you are in a big enough boat, and fire up a quality fish finder.

The Ship Shoal area that is holding all the snapper these days isn’t just a quick ride offshore. Because of the distance, 35 miles from Cocodrie, the boat size issue is important for safety reasons because summer storms could blow up at any time. Tommy Pellegrin feels that anglers pursuing snapper and ling in those waters need a boat that can handle the ride and the conditions that may erupt in late summer.

A quality fish finder, like Pellegrin’s Lowrance LCX-111 HD, shows great detail of the water column under the boat, and he can pinpoint clouds of bait and the “long marks” that are the snapper holding near structure. He can eliminate a lot of water with a good fish finder, and then accurately locate the quality fish that his clients want to tangle with.

With the price of gas being what it is and the knowledge that great numbers of snapper are holding in Ship Shoal, most weekend anglers can use the Pellegrins’ advice to their fullest advantage.

“There just isn’t a lot of pressure out there and the fish are there. They’re in tight, and they’re taking bait as fast as you can drop something down to them,” Tommy said.

Eric concurred.

“Maybe on a big weekend or during a rodeo, we’ll run into other anglers,” he said. “Otherwise, the community boats stay in closer and fish the South Timbalier area.”

That may change soon, however, according to Carpenter.

“It’s a new (snapper season),” he said. “I bet a lot of dedicated anglers are going to start eyeing those waters and make that run more often from Fourchon because there is some good fishing out there.”

Good fishing, good waters and good times. Louisiana anglers just need to go the distance to be a part of it.

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About Marty Cannon 21 Articles
Marty Cannon is a teacher and varsity football coach in Iberia Parish. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his family and friends.

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