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Going offshore requires deep-water drilling

Blackfin tuna can be found deep along Alabama oil rigs or schooling near the surface. George Poveromo

I guess the first sign that I was overly eager to get to Orange Beach, Ala., and board Captain Ben Fairy's 62-foot sportfishing boat, Necessity, for a 44-hour fishing marathon some 100 miles offshore, was the Florida State Trooper who pulled me over in Tallahassee.

I was driving from South Florida and apparently speeding, as I was "clocked" doing 87 mph on a 70 mph interstate.

The Trooper asked why I was in such a rush? I explained about the fishing trip, secretly hoping the trooper fished and would cut me a break.

It didn't happen.

I then explained that my neighbor and good friend was the Sergeant for the Coral Springs Police Department — and I even presented the "get out of jail" card (aka courtesy card) he had given me, for just such an occasion.

That didn't work, either. I got a $300 fine and the option to go to traffic school to eliminate any points that would most certainly go on my driving record and jack up my insurance!

I was indeed quite enthusiastic about this long-range fishing trip, and somehow it made my right foot a little bit heavier than normal.

Even though I was a bit embarrassed and bummed out by getting pulled over and written up, I wasn't going to let it get me down. We had tuna to catch, and hopefully a lot of them.

BOUND BY NECESSITY

Ben Fairey (251-981-4510; www.necessitysportsfishing.com) is one of the premier captains in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

He runs his 62-foot charter boat named "Necessity" from the Orange Beach Marina in Alabama.

Although he's a noted cobia authority (Ben produced the current Alabama state record fish of 117-pounds), Ben also specializes in long-range trips into the Gulf of Mexico for tuna, dolphin, marlin, and swordfish.

I met up with Ben and his crew — first mate Tom Myers, Matt Graham and Jared Myers — around 5 p.m. and boarded the boat.

Our plan was to take an easy cruise offshore and overnight near several oil rigs some 80 miles from the marina. We'd get in a good night's sleep and rise an hour to two before the sun to try for tuna.

THEY'RE ALL ABOUT THE FOOD

The numerous oil rigs, semi-submersibles, and platforms scattered about the Gulf of Mexico serve as major fish attractors.

They provide structure within the mostly sandy and muddy Gulf bottom.

The more productive ones have legs and stanchions that are covered with barnacles and marine growth. This growth, in turn, attracts and feeds tiny marine organisms.

These tiny organisms then serve as forage for numerous small fishes which, in turn, attract larger fish which, in turn, ultimately draw in the large pelagic predators — such as tuna, wahoo, dolphin, marlin, swordfish and sharks.

These structures are basically mini ecosystems that support a large chain of sea life. The ones we planned on visiting were in depths ranging from 3,000 to more than 12,000 feet.

Choosing which rigs to start at was based on where Ben last found the tuna, and a review of a Roff's Ocean Fishing Forecast Analysis — a chart which is generated through satellite imagery and shows the sea surface temperatures from that particular day.

However, conditions didn't look favorable, as we had reports of dirty water and little current at the fishing grounds.

Yet, we were committed. We realized that we would have to look and fish harder to catch tuna.

RISE AND FISH!

We were up at 4:30 a.m. and fishing by 5 a.m. It was still dark, but tuna feed heavily at two key periods — at daybreak and at sunset.

I opted to start with a SPRO Sushi Spoon, a 4-inch long, weighted and tapered, fish-like jig.

I rigged the lure onto three feet of 50-pound test Sufix InvisiLine fluorocarbon leader, and fished it from a Penn International 16 VSX reel spooled with 20-pound test Sufix Superior clear monofilament line, and a 6' 6" Penn International V-series Stand Up rod rated for 20 to 40 pound test line.

I dropped the lure down 100 feet or so and began jigging it rapidly back to the surface, This was accomplished by quickly jerking the rod tip high overhead — which made the jig race up through the water column, and instantly dropping the rod tip back to the water to throw slack in the line — which made the jig flutter back down.

I maintained this jigging technique all the way to the surface, dropped the jig back down, and repeated the procedure. It didn't take long for the blackfin tuna to find my jig.

Surprisingly, given the poor water conditions, we had a good blitz going until about an hour after sunrise.

With the spoon bite tapering off, I cut off the Sushi Spoon and tied on a 5/0 circle hook. I added a four-ounce sinker and baited with a live alewife. I sent the bait down 100 feet. The tactic worked, as I ended up catching a chunky blackfin tuna!

When the action cooled down, we decided to go on the troll.

At this point, we knew our next good shot at catching tuna would be late in the afternoon.

Throughout the day, we trolled around the oil rigs and down major weedlines in the vicinity, and caught school dolphin.

In between fish encounters, we enjoyed a good lunch cooked up on the vessel's grill by Matt Graham and readied our tackle for the late afternoon and early evening tuna bite.

LATE AFTERNOON DELIGHT

Our strategy changed somewhat that afternoon. We still kept the SPRO Sushi Spoons in play, but we primarily concentrated on chunking and live-baiting, as the Necessity's livewell was filled with live alewives.

Captain Ben Fairey edged up near an oil rig and shut down. We dispatched a few 30-pound test outfits rigged with 50-pound test Sufix InvisiLine fluorocarbon leaders and 5/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hooks.

To join the leader to the fishing line, and to prevent line twist, we used Size 4 (130-pound test) SPRO Power Swivels.

On one outfit, we hooked a live alewife through its nostrils, freelined it out about 200 feet, and set it in a rod holder.

The other two outfits were "working lines." That is, each one was baited with either a small chunk of menhaden, mackerel or cigar minnow, and freelined out with a handful of chunks the crew tossed over for chum.

The trick was to freespool the line and let the chunk baits float back at the same rate as the chum. We freespooled our baits some 300 to 400 feet, then reeled them in and repeated the procedure after more chum was tossed over.

The chunking outfits were 5' 6" long Penn International V rods paired with Penn International 30VSW reels. The reels were spooled with 30-pound test Sufix Superior Hi-Vis yellow line.

We'd occasionally toss out a dip net full of live alewives to "live chum" the area. Once we had a tuna strike, the plan was to dispatch more live chum to put the fish into a feeding frenzy, and keep them near the boat.

It wasn't too long before a yellowfin tuna ate the live bait on my 20-pound class outfit. I grabbed the rod, while a crew member tossed out more live chum. The fish gave a great account of itself on that tackle, but eventually tired.

Ben Fairey slipped a gaff underneath the tuna and deposited our first yellowfin tuna into the ice chest. We went on to score a few more blackfins on the chunk baits and Sushi Spoon.

The "surprise" catch during that session was a wahoo that belted the Sushi Spoon! The tasty fish was also iced down. Grilled tuna and wahoo was on the dinner menu that evening — and was it ever great!

TUNA ON TOPWATERS

The next morning found us catching more blackfins along a couple rigs, then departing for a 135-mile run back to Orange Beach.

We kept a watchful eye out for breaking fish along the way, and our tackle ready to go.

About 10 miles into the journey, Ben Fairey spotted a school of tuna feeding at the surface. I grabbed a 20-pound test spinning outfit rigged with a 6 3/4-inch long, Yo-Zuri Surface Cruiser plug and made my way to the bow of the Necessity. Ben pulled back on the throttles and eased me into casting range.

Thanks to the weight of that plug (2 1/8-ounces), I was able to cast it a considerable distance; It landed right in the middle of the breaking tuna.

I immediately begin my retrieve, jerking the rod tip every three seconds to make the plug chug and dart about — mimicking an injured fish.

Sure enough, a fish intercepted the plug, and the fight was on. I caught a nice yellowfin tuna! I tossed the plug out a few more times and hooked another tuna, before the school disappeared.

We continued on and found yet another school of fish. This time they were small blackfins, which had difficultly consuming the large topwater plugs, although they tried dearly!

THE SHOW DRAWS TO A CLOSE

We finally pulled back into Ben's slip at the Orange Beach Marina around 1 p.m., after spending 44 hours at sea.

The adventure was a great experience and a lot of fun. It also showcased that when water conditions aren't the best and the fish widely scattered, perseverance pays. Between jigging, live-baiting, chunking and casting topwater plugs — all under the watchful eye of Captain Ben Fairey — we all had plenty of fresh tuna steaks to take home.

After I loaded my tackle and cooler into my vehicle, I took a quick shower aboard the Necessity, said good-bye to Ben and the crew, and began my 10-hour drive back to South Florida.

And you best believe that I set the cruise control at exactly at 70 mph, and double-checked it on my approach to Tallahassee!

For more information on George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing, visit www.georgepoveromo.com