By Capt. Joe Kent
For the last 20 years or more offshore seaweed, which forms weedlines in the Gulf of Mexico, has been either over abundant or virtually nonexistent. When abundant, many species of fish follow the sargassum, or seaweed as it is more commonly called, as the patches, clumps and organized lines reflect the basics of the marine food chain.
During lean times, such as offshore Galveston anglers have experienced for several years now, there is a conspicuous absence in the number of pelagic fish in the nearshore waters of the Gulf. Most notably absent are the Dorado, Dolphin fish or mahi-mahi, as they are called interchangeably.
Dorado of all sizes hover around masses of seaweed and along with them are just about all other fish that roam the Gulf waters.
This year it appears that we may have more seaweed in our near shore waters and if so, look for a banner year of offshore fishing along the upper Texas Coast.
Seaweed attracts and is a refuge for small crustaceans and fin fish. Watching carefully from close range are larger fish waiting for an opportunity to feast. Behind those are billfish, huge Dorado, ling, wahoo, sharks and as mentioned earlier almost every species of pelagic fish in the Gulf.
Just about all marine life in the Gulf of Mexico waters can be found in the vicinity of this vegetation.
Now that we know what is offered in the way of fish around the seaweed, how do we take advantage of it and catch some of the fish?
Dorado, especially the smaller chicken Dorado, are one of the most common fish hanging around the shade and protection. Tripletail, small amberjack, king, ling, shark, wahoo and sailfish are others that are commonly found just outside of the masses of weed.
Anglers experienced at fishing the weed lines know that there are two ways to find the fish. One is to quietly move close to big concentrations of weeds and toss out small pieces of squid or cut bait. Any chicken Dorado close by likely will come out of hiding to pursue a quick and easy meal.
When this occurs, anglers using light to medium tackle will toss free-lined squid or other bait toward the seaweed and bingo, most of the time a group of small Dorado will inhale it. While battling the small Dorado many others will follow close by and the key is to keep the fish hooked while others in your party toss similar baits into the water.
On one occasion years ago my group of four landed over 100 while employing this technique.
Once the Dorado have scattered, slowly maneuver your boat along the edges of the weed line and look for either more Dorado or tripletail.
Often at some point large Dorado and ling will appear searching for the same chicken Dorado you are pursuing. Both ling and Dorado are curious fish and tend to check out noise. One technique that works in getting their attention is to pound the side of the boat with your hands.
If no fish appear, move on to another clump or line or begin trolling. Trolling is another way to find the fish. Try trolling the outer edges of the weed concentrations keeping enough distance to prevent the trolling lure for getting tangled in the seaweed.
The most active seaweed lines are going to be found in blue or blue/green waters. Lines found in off color water are hardly worth the time to check out.
Most of the strikes are going to be near the surface and visible. Every ling I have caught while working seaweed has come to the surface to check out the bait. Sometimes they just smell it and take off, other times they take it.
One mistake that newcomers make when larger fish like ling first take the bait is to try to set the hook too quickly. Free spool enough line that the large fish can take the bait and start swimming away before setting the hook.
For the chicken Dorado and smaller fish, setting the hook immediately is imperative.
One pointer for boats, especially those propelled by outboard engines, is that when working seaweed areas often the props get tangled in the vegetation. When this occurs put the engine in reverse and it should remove the clutter.
Hopefully we will see a good balance of weed lines in the Gulf this summer and we can enjoy the bounties of seafood they offer.