For many, summer along the Texas coast means nonstop fishing- school’s out, the sun’s up, seas are calm, and fish are biting.
But when it comes to deep sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, most savvy anglers know fishing in winter is the winning ticket- at least if you’re chasing tuna and wahoo.
This was the case when we connected with Chris and Tyler, a father / son duo from Utah that have travelled the world over, fishing at every stop along the way.
The mission for this trip was tuna- Tyler, an avid fisherman living in Houston, was looking to put his dad Chris on his first Yellowfin Tuna. Tyler shared that Chris had had a few heartbreakingly close calls on previous trips, but had never brought a Yellowfin to hand.
After comparing a variety of our Galveston tuna fishing options, Tyler and Chris settled on fishing with Captain Lee on his spacious and comfortable 46’ sportfisher, complete with outriggers, expansive deck, and air conditioned quarters.
We - Chris, Tyler, Captain Lee, deckhands Joey and Dakota, and Attison and me (Jonathan) from Captain Experiences - fueled up and shipped out at 8am sharp, cruising through the Galveston Jetties at the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel right into some San Francisco-thick fog.
Visibility made things a bit high stakes, but Captain Lee navigated the mouth of the ship channel, loaded with cargo ships football fields long, with ease.
The fog stretched for miles and it was pretty cool seeing oil rigs looking like they had been chopped at the legs since the fog completely erased everything more than 10 feet above sea level.
With dolphins jumping in our wake, we took advantage of calm seas and made good time outrunning the fog to one of Lee’s favorite spots, a small buoy marker in downtown No Man’s Land:
After a few quick drops and nothin doin, we booked it to the Cerveza oil platform ~90 miles south of Galveston.
The bite was on and Tyler immediately hooked up to a solid Blackfin Tuna on the troll.
We marked fish up and down the screen and Attison landed another Blackfin before Chris went back to back!
Then it was time to roll the dice- we knew we could play make it take it with Blackfin Tuna all day and all night long, so Lee shot Tyler and Chris the million dollar question- load up on Blackfin at Cerveza, or ride out another 40 miles south to the Nansen oil rig hoping to find Yellowfin Tuna out there? A bird in the hand vs two in the bush.
Tyler and Chris, hell bent on landing a Yellowfin, agreed that it was boom or bust, so we reeled the lines up and booked it south.
Their conviction made it seem like an easy call, but the stakes were high. Heading deeper into the Gulf meant less time fishing and also meant breaking the golden rule: “You don’t leave fish to find fish”.
A few hours later, we first laid eyes on the rig. Seeing Nansen for the first time is like seeing land after 40 days at sea- the excitement hits like a cold splash of water as you take in this giant floating oil rig, tethered to the ocean floor, not cemented like shallow water rigs, since the ocean’s floor rests thousands of feet below.
Supporting this massive 4-story industrial city is a giant suspending base which mostly sits below the ocean’s surface. Structure of any sort is few and far between out in the open ocean, and structure attracts baitfish since it provides shelter from speedier prey species.
For that reason, baitfish school up around Nansen which in turn attracts larger predators like Yellowfin Tuna, Marlin, and much more.
Once we read the current (which was pulling strong), Capt Lee backed down to the base of Nansen, cozying us up tight so we could chip paint off the rig when casting our jigs (if that had been the goal).
We dropped our jigs to the bottom, working back up through a variety of depths in the water column. We ripped and zipped the jigs at different speeds to attract the bite, but no hits.
Jigs back aboard, we made the switch to chunking. Using circle hooks tied to a few feet of leader, we baited up with Blackfin Tuna squares the size of cheese blocks a waiter might pass out at a nice cocktail party.
With the hook completely embedded in the chunk, we cozied back up to the rig, opened the bail on our spinning reels, and loosened the drag on the offshore reels. We then fed line out into the water to keep our hooked chunks naturally flowing in the current with the other chunks we tossed out freely for the chum slick.
After a drift or two and a few bites that got away, Chris got tight on a monster. The fish ripppped off run after run, diving deeper and deeper into the night-black water. The fish fought like a giant, and we popped off guesses left and right - 8’ shark, Amberjack - while all hoping it’d be Chris’ Yellowfin we came all this way for.
With Tyler helping to gain some line, Chris wrestled the fish to within a gaff’s length from the boat.
We took care of business from there, and we all welcomed Chris’ first Yellowfin aboard! Once on the deck, bite marks from the fork to the base of the tail were telltale signs that this fish had been “sharked” on the way in, making it an even tougher fight since the off-kilter tail added more resistance as the fish fought back.
This was a father-son fish if there ever was such a thing- from other less fruitful Yellowfin trips, to making the call to risk it from Cerveza out to Nansen, to roping in the fish together, to Tyler’s gaff shot to finish the drill, this trip was incredible to witness, and the moment Tyler and Chris shared in landing Chris’ first Yellowfin is something I’ll personally never forget.
But if you’re thinking this puts a bow on things, you’re wrong. While we did anchor up at 3am to call it a night, we had a full day of fishing ahead of ourselves trolling back home.
What’s great about Captain Lee’s offshore tuna trips is that you’re not just heading out, fishing the rigs, and heading in. Instead of booking it out there, Captain Lee and his crew set up their 7 line-wide spread to troll all the way out and all the way back.
This trolling strategy paid off in Tyler fighting and landing a beautiful Mahi Mahi. Mahi (or “Dolphin”) are usually a warm water species, so this was definitely a unique catch for January.
Then just a few minutes after resetting lines, we got smoked again. Chris grabbed the bull by the horns, and after a few hearty runs, we spotted a torpedo-shaped giant with zebra patterns throughout- telltale signs of a Wahoo.
Wahoo (or “Ono” in Hawaiian, which means “delicious”) are widely considered one of the best-eating offshore species there is. Their meat is firm yet delicate, refreshing and natural.
It’s very rare to catch Mahi and Wahoo in such similar water temperatures, but here we are to tell the tale!
The Mahi Mahi and Wahoo we picked up trolling were icing on the cake, but this trip was special in that Chris caught his first Yellowfin Tuna 130 miles offshore at Nansen.
Congratulations Chris! We had a blast offshore with you and Tyler, and we look forward to helping with more father / son trips to come!