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Fishing Louisiana's Oil Rigs At Night


Article written by:
Outdoor Writer Jerry LaBella: Saltwater Fishing Articles




Off the coast of Louisiana lie some of the world's most productive and unusual reefs. Not the coral or shell types that most people think about when "reefs" are mentioned, but the steel-legged kind that oil production companies plant throughout the waters of the If of Mexico. No doubt the early engineers of these structures gave little thought at the time of their development as to the positive impact such installations would have on marine life e and the fishing community.

"Whether an operating oil and gas production platform or a retired platform intentionally placed for conservation and fisheries enhancement, a typical four-pile platform jacket (the underwater support structure of an offshore platform) provides two to three acres of living and feeding habitat for thousands of underwater species," according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Mineral Management Service (MMS).

It is no wonder that many anglers are finding that these steel offshore oil production platforms draw fish like magnets. Besides harboring numerous juvenile and adult resident species, these steel-legged reefs serve as hunting grounds for swift, open-ocean pelagic fish like mackerel, tuna and jacks.

Marine researchers have reported fish densities 20 to 50 times higher at oil and gas platforms than in nearby open water, and each platform seasonally serves as critical habitat for 10,000 to 20,000 fishes, many of which are of recreational and commercial importance.

One man that knows well the fish-attracting power of offshore platforms is Captain Scott Avanzino of Paradise Charters out of Venice, La. He's honed the technique of catching tuna at night down to a science.

While oil-production platforms attract fish 24 hours a day, the odds of catching them increase by night due to the lighting on many of the rigs. For example, bright vapor lights often beam down to the water's surface on these structures, over­shooting bridge walks, loading docks and other areas requiring illumination. "The lights of the rigs simply attract bait," Avanzino said, "and the structure which doubles as a full-time fish attracting device, coupled with the lights, serves as a nighttime beacon marking a presumed safe haven for bait fish for miles."

Avanzino particularly likes fishing deep­water platforms that are generally found throughout the blue water zone of the Gulf of Mexico. He's found that tuna have adapted to feeding under the lights not just to satisfy their constant urge to eat but because it is easy pickings.

The oil-production platforms provide an excellent setting for tuna to ambush bait fish. Here they use the cover of darkness to lie in wait for unsuspecting bait to come into their forage areas. For the yellowfin tuna, this forage area lies on the outer reaches of the up current side of the platform near the surface (0 to 50 feet) where the rig light fades into natural darkness (100 to 400 yards). On the other hand, blackfin tuna prefer depths closest to the rig (50 to 100 yards) where the last reaches of penetrable surface light fade into complete darkness (100 to 200 feet).

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