Catching Delicious Tuna and Grouper in the Fall

When I arrived at SanRoc Cay Marina in Orange Beach, Alabama recently, I headed toward the charter office of Reel Surprise Charters. One of the boats in the fleet had just returned after an 18-hour charter. The cleaning table was piled-high with big chunks of tuna. When I asked the deckhand about the trip, he said, “We had a great trip with 10 anglers on-board. Each angler caught a yellowfin tuna that weighed from 50 to 150 pounds. After we caught our limit of yellowfins, we started fishing for blackfin tuna and caught a bunch of them. Each angler probably caught three to five blackfin tuna, weighing from 8 to 15 pounds. On the port side of the boat, we put out our high-speed trollers. When your boat’s running at a high speed, you can put out bait for wahoo and king mackerel. We caught several wahoo on the way in to shore. Our icebox was full of fish. We actually had to come in a little early from our fishing trip, because we had no place to store any more fish.”

From November until March, fishing at Alabama’s Gulf Coast is called tuna time. The numerous deep-water oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico hold tremendous amounts of baitfish, and those baitfish attract the tuna. Many of these rigs sit on the edge of the continental shelf. So, the tuna can stay in deep water and move up to feed in more shallow water when they get hungry. Once the tuna have loaded up on the baitfish around the rigs, they can return to deep water. The best time to catch tuna is at night or during the first 3 hours of daylight in the morning. That’s the reason that most tuna trips start late in the afternoon. The captain runs all night and usually arrives at the rigs before daylight to fish. This way, the anglers are at the prime spot at the prime time to catch the big yellowfin tuna. Blackfin tuna are usually always available in deep water off Alabama’s Gulf Coast in the cooler months as well.

Many anglers don’t realize that the Gulf of Mexico takes a long time to warm up. In the coldest part of the winter, oftentimes the waters of the Gulf of Mexico (especially the deep water), still will be several degrees warmer then the air temperature. In addition, structures like offshore oil rigs create ideal habitat for tuna. Oftentimes the tuna trip is a 24-hour trip, and many boats will provide a place where you can cook and sleep. To make life better, some boats have satellite television, so you don’t have to miss any of your favorite football games when you go offshore to fish. One of the advantages of a 24-hour trip is that you have time to stop and catch live bait and a few bottom fish before you arrive at the rigs.

After the tuna fishing ends in the mornings, you have time to grouper fish and deep-drop. Deep-dropping is a rather new fishing technique being used on the Upper Gulf Coast. Anglers use electric reels to drop bait down to 400- to 800-feet deep to catch a wide variety of deep-water grouper that are delicious to eat due to their white and flavorful meat. Generally fishermen will catch several grouper on a boat while deep-dropping. Too, on the way into port, you may stop off in shallow water to catch vermilion snapper, triggerfish and white snapper. These fish will help top off your trip, because they are all delicious-tasting fish. The good news is that because there are plenty of boats available at SanRoc Cay, and they can accommodate you and up to as many as 50 fishermen on a trip. So, when the weather’s cold, and snow’s falling in many sections of the country, plan a weekend trip to south Alabama for an adventure fishing trip. You can sleep and eat on the boat, enjoy catching fish in nice weather and bring home enough fish to stock your freezer for those cold winter nights.

For more information, contact Reel Surprise Charters at 251-981-7173, email, or visit For accommodation and restaurant recommendations, contact Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism at 800-745-SAND, or visit or

Click here to go on to part two, covering inexpensive pier fishing.

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