Editor’s Note: Many anglers don’t realize that Orange Beach is one of the closest ports to the Desoto Canyon, a deep-water drop-off of the bottom in the Gulf of Mexico. These are waters where you find sailfish, marlin, wahoo, tuna and dolphin (mahi mahi). When you read Captain Ben Fairey’s report below, you can understand why Alabama’s Gulf Coast is becoming a big game fishing paradise.
 
Memorial Day weekend was fantastic. The Mobile Big Game Fishing Tournament was held in Orange Beach, Alabama, with 102 boats fishing. More than 300 billfish (blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish) were caught and tagged, a fantastic number of big game fish to be tagged and released off Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The winning boat in this tournament caught five blue marlin. I had a 2-1/2-day trip, and we caught big blacOrange Beach fishingkfin tuna, wahoo and dolphin before we went deep-dropping. The deep-dropping was a jaw-dropping experience, because the fishing was so good. We caught golden tilefish, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, bearded brotula and many-other amazing fish. One of the advantages that the Mobile Big Game Fishing Tournament had during the Memorial Day weekend was that the water was calm. Since our area had been in a little bit of a drought, the water was extremely-clear, which really helped the anglers see and catch the marlin.

But, the big news is that snapper season started June 1. We’re seeing numbers of big, beautiful red snapper being caught and brought to the docks at Orange Beach. The big snapper are not only stacked-up on the private reefs, but there are plenty of big red snapper on public reefs also. We’re going to have a great red snapper season this year, and I expect to see one or two red snapper caught that’ll weigh over 30 pounds this season. The average snapper will weigh from 7 to 10 pounds. Going through the rebuilding processOrange Beach charters of the red snapper fishery has been painful for fishermen, but we can find no fault in the results. Red snapper fishing today is better than it’s ever been in my 41-year career as a charter-boat captain at Orange Beach.

With the present management plan that’s being imposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, we’re getting different months to catch some really-nice fish. On August 1, you’ll be able to harvest amberjack and gag grouper. We’ve been catching a lot of nice triggerfish and nice vermilion snapper. We’ve set two new state records this year with king mackerel, and I had a beautiful catch of scamp grouper this year. We’ve got a lot of fish available for harvest all year long here at Orange Beach and offer a variety of fishing trips, from the 4-hour mackerel trip to a 3-day trip. A new fishery that we’ve recently opened up is fishing for deep-water grouper. We use electric reels, because we’re fishing in water from 450 feet to 700 feet. We’re catching the cold-water, deep-water grouper that many anglers never have fished for previously. These grouper are delicious to eat. This type of fishing is fun for anglers, and they get to catch and see fish they’ve never seen. Fishing is great in Orange Beach right now, and I can honestly say it’s better than it’s ever been.

To fish with Captain Ben Fairey on the “Necessity” out of Orange Beach Marina, call him at 251-747-5782, or go to his new website at www.necessitycharters.com. Orange Beach fishing

For more information on fishing guides and charter boats, lodging accommodations, restaurants and entertainment on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, call Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism at 800-745-SAND (7263), or visit www.orangebeach.com. The Orange Beach Fishing Association will be glad to find you and your family a captain and a boat that fits your needs.

Fish Planking

Many, many years ago, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest discovered the pleasures of planking - cooking fish on wood over a smoldering fire. It’s easy, fast and tastes phenomenal. Try this with any of the saltwater fish you catch at Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

* Start with pre-cut wood planks from cooking stores. Or, go to a lumber store, and ask for untreated, furniture-grade boards that are kiln-dried. Cedar, cherry, hickory, pecan, maple, apple and alder work best. You’ll need 1-inch-thick wood cut to fit your grill.

* Soak planks in water for 3 to 4 hours to create an aromatic smolder and slow the burning process of the wood. Heat a gas grill to 375-400 degrees. (If using charcoal, let coals burn until covered with white ash). Place one wet plank on grill rack, cover, and let char for about 10-15 minutes.

* Toss slices of onion, zucchini and sweet bell pepper in olive oil, kosher salt, coarsely-ground black pepper and a pinch or two of dried thyme. Flip charred plank, and place vegetables on it. Place second wet plank on rack. Grill vegetables, covered, until tender and lightly charred, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, drizzle fish fillets with olive oil. Shower with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon coarsely-ground celery seed and the juice of a fresh lemon.

* Flip the second plank after about 15 minutes, and place the fish skin-side down on it. Close grill cover.

* Grill until fish is cooked through and reaches 135 degrees at the thickest part, or when it flakes easily with a fork. A 6- to 8-ounce 1/2-inch-thick fish fillet takes about 6-8 minutes. Slide a wide metal spatula between the skin and the flesh. The skin will stick to the plank, allowing the fillet to lift easily. Discard planks after use.

Planking Success Tips: For more flavor, add 1 cup of citrus juice or apple juice to the soaking water. Keep a water bottle handy to tame sudden flare-ups. Resist the urge to flip the fish; just let it be.