No Pressure Gulf Grouper

Crystal LaFosse fishes a lot. She’s traveled to destination fisheries around the world. Everywhere she’s been has its own allure, but she said when it comes to catching fish, nowhere compares to Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.

What would you expect to hear from a Louisiana girl?

Cajun Tackle in Lake Charles, La. is the family business, which Crystal operates with her brother and her parents. She is the founder and director of the Salty Catch Fishing Rodeo in Lake Charles and director of the Tuna & Swordfish Challenge at Hurricane Hole in Grand Isle, La. Even with so much fishing in her work life, she relishes the opportunity to launch out of Lake Charles with family, friends and her 6-year-old son Cardyn. Despite the excellent inshore opportunities nearby in the maze of waterways and Calcasieu Lake, Crystal’s favorite destination is well over 100 miles out in the Gulf in grouper water.

West Louisiana doesn’t enjoy the same proximity to deep water as destinations to the east. With runs inside 50 miles out of Venice or Grand Isle, anglers flock to the deep-water rigs and rock bottom where the edge of the Continental Shelf provides dramatic depth changes. Out of Lake Charles, it’s a 110- to 130-mile run to reach the 200-foot depths and prime grouper territory. However, those willing to make longer runs will find bottom that hasn’t already been picked clean by other anglers.

“Most people don’t come here to target grouper because the run offshore is so far,” Crystal said, “but that also makes it good because the area is not over-fished.”

Yellowedge, gag, and strawberry grouper are some of Crystal’s personal favorites, but she said it’s always fun when the rod tip bends over and you really don’t know what you’re bringing up. Regardless of the species, grouper are some of the best eating fish in the sea, and loading the box with delicious fish is half the fun.

“There’s nothing better than cranking in a huge Warsaw grouper. That’s just the best!” she said. The challenge of strapping on a harness and battling a big Warsaw is enough to test anyone’s strength and endurance. Reeling up a 200-plus-pounder is on Crystal’s to-do list.

“Typically the big grouper hang on the up-current side of the rigs in 200 to 250 feet of water,” Crystal said. “Bottom fishing, you’re looking for rock or reef formations, drop offs and drastic water depth changes. Usually anything over 200 feet is good grouper territory.”

For Crystal, “anything over 200 feet” is sometimes 500 feet or deeper, when you never know what’s going to come up on the end of the line. Her rigs account for the dark waters at these depths with lights that mimic the bioluminescence of squid and attract grouper.

“There are several ways to deep drop, and grouper rigs can be made with one to five hooks,” she said. “Typically when you’re targeting a big warsaw, it’s with an 18/0 or 20/0 circle hook rig with glowing lights, a 3- to 5-pound weight and live bait around the oil rigs. I make my

 own three-hook rigs using 8/0 or 10/0 circle hooks, glow in the dark squid, lights, and topped with dead squid bait… You can use the 3-5 hook rigs around structure or just bottom fishing on rock piles.”

“The glow squid are from Offshore Angler, Fathom Offshore, and many other brands. The LED deep-drop lights range in colors of blue, red, green or disco, and there are many different brands from Offshore Angler or Lindgren-Pitman, which we have a selection of at Cajun Tackle,” she continued. “These lights and glow squid attract the grouper in the deep dark water.  The squid are put on just above the hook, so when you add your bait it’s glowing right above it.  The light is added about a foot above the rig and attached with a snap swivel or rubber band.”

As much as anything, heading offshore is an opportunity to explore. Crystal said she and her friends all have the same standard coordinates marked on their electronics, but everyone has their favorites, and she’s had a few trips when they ran up on new bottom that turned out to be great.

“We have spent time seeking out new numbers to mark, and that just keeps it interesting,” she said. “Keeping the depthfinder on while running from spot to spot, paying attention to any changes in depth and bottom, you can really find some good spots. The ocean is such a wonderful place, and there are so many new things to explore. I think that’s what keeps me coming back. Every trip is different and special in its own way.”

When she’s not fishing, Crystal LaFosse can be found working the shop at Cajun Tackle in Lake Charles, La. After a successful second-annual Salty Catch Fishing Rodeo in July, the Tuna & Swordfish Challenge is coming up Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Hurricane Hole Resort and Marina in Grand Isle. Follow Crystal’s adventures on Instagram @crystallafosse.

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