Seaweed – Friend or Foe?

Bobby Byrd & John Cochrane
Seaweed – Friend or Foe?
Seaweed mat along weedline.

"Weed on the right rigger." The mate brings the lure in, cleans it and puts it back up in the outrigger. "Weed on the left flat line." The mate diligently cleans that lure as well and puts it back out. "Weed on both riggers now." The mate again works quickly to clean the lures. This scenario goes on for about thirty minutes and the captain is starting to get some negative vibrations from the cockpit. "What are you doing up there?" asked one of the anglers. "There's weed everywhere! I'm not doing this on purpose - I can't get out of it!" answers the captain. Pretty soon there is seaweed on every lure behind the boat and the captain, mate and anglers are frustrated, hot, tired and confused on what to do next.

This situation happens every year while trolling in the Gulf of Mexico, however in the last few years it seems like the seaweed or sargassum has gotten much more abundant. It's probably some kind of natural cycle, but lately it has been a constant nuisance to big game fishermen. Don't get us wrong, a killer weedline on a rip with the current pumping and bait everywhere is a dream come true, but scattered weed all over the surface for miles is a pain in the transom.

Sargassum, what we call "seaweed" or "weed" or "grass" or a few other words we can't print, is a brown algae found throughout the Gulf of Mexico. It originates in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean in what is known as the Sargasso Sea. It is totally dependent on wind and current for its distribution. Even though it seems like there is more seaweed every year, we have talked to many people who remember years ago when the seaweed was just as bad or worse. Huge piles of it on the beach, rotting and smelling up the place.

Trolling all day in heavy seaweed conditions with everyone in the cockpit "bailing hay" is not fun. It's not even funny. It fact, its downright aggravating we know. However, we have also noticed that during the years with lots of seaweed, the fishing is good, usually real good. This year is one of those years. The bluewater fishing has been excellent. Big game anglers have caught a lot of blue marlin, swordfish, sailfish, wahoo and dolphin this summer. There may be a good reason for this.

Studies have found that sargassum provides a nursery habitat for many species and may help the survival of juveniles, thus influencing the success of that particular species. Not only does it provide shelter, in many cases it may be one of the few sources of organic matter available to pelagic fish. Many fish feed on the small fish, shrimp and crabs that use seaweed as their home. You can see this going on all the time when offshore, mainly baitfish bumping clumps of seaweed trying to dislodge something to eat. When seaweed starts to gather up along the boundary of two currents and form mats that we call a "weedline", things start to get more interesting for the fisherman. The action of the wind and current hopefully will cause one side of the line to be the "clean" side. This is right along the edge of the mats and if it's a really good weedline the current keeps the weed together and you can troll this weedless zone and keep your baits clean. The large mats formed along the line attract baitfish, which in turn attract the larger predators. Flying fish like weedlines. Dolphin eat flying fish and billfish love to eat dolphin.

When the current starts pushing hard and the wind is just right, one side of a weedline will start to "stand-up" or what we call "rip". This can really concentrate bait and gamefish along the line. One of the most famous "rips' in the Gulf is found off of the Louisiana Delta where the Mississippi River water meets the Gulf Loop Current. One side will be dirty brown water and the other side cobalt blue. This rip forms a huge weedline and along with the nutrients brought down by the river water, creates an opportunity to experience big game fishing at its finest form. Huge schools of baitfish, large explosions from marlin and tuna feeding, it doesn't get much better.

When confronted with scattered weed, with nothing to keep it formed up, there are a few things you can try to minimize the problem. Try switching to smaller baits, with a smaller profile this can help keep weed from attaching itself to them. Also, many times the weed will sort of line up in windrows and you can troll along these and find some clean water. You may want to change techniques and go from trolling to live bait fishing next to a rig, where you don't have to move around as much and it is easier to keep the weed off your lines. The last resort is to pick up and run to an area with little or no weed, if you can find one. One thing to remember this year, if you are in an area with no weed, think twice before you move to a different spot, it might be loaded with weed and you would be better off working the area you are in.

Seaweed friend or foe? Certainly a foe when it comes to keeping your baits clean, but in the overall scheme of things it provides habitat for small fish, increases the productivity of the area and when formed up in a line can provide a fantastic place to target big game species that have concentrated there.

So far, fishing this summer has been fantastic and we hope you have had a chance to experience some of it. The kids are now back in school, dove hunting is coming up and we get an extended teal season this month, but the fish don't know this. Big game fishing in the Gulf can be excellent during the next couple of months. It is the peak of hurricane season and cold fronts will start to push farther south, but keep an eye on the weather and get out there when it's right. Fewer boats, cooler temperatures and flat seas make this one of the best times of the year to fish.

Good Fishing,
Bobby and Capt. John