Editor’s Note: Captain Art Jones of Orange Beach, Alabama, has operated the charter boat, “Dana-J,” docked at Outcast Marina in Orange Beach, since 1986. While many captains reach the dock early to get quickly to the offshore fishing grounds, the “Dana-J” is one of the last boats out and one of the first boats to return, always carrying a good box full of fish. Many years ago, while other captains built reefs 10- to 20-miles offshore, Jones built reefs just outside the 3-mile limit. “In the past, we used landmarks to find our reefs, but with the arrival of global positioning systems (GPS), most captains could travel further and still have the ability to pinpoint their reefs,” Jones says. “But I continued to fish close and caught as many big-sized fish close to port as the other boats that ran far offshore. With the continuous rise of fuel prices, I haven’t needed to increase my fishermen’s charges, because I don’t run as far out as other boats. However, we still catch the same amount of quality fish as other boats.”

Question: What’s offshore fishing close-in like in July?
Jones: We’ll catch a number of king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, red snapper and triggerfish. The grouper bite will be a little slow, but the white-snapper bite should be good at this time of year.

Question: How far do you generally fish from the pass?
Jones: I usually don’t travel more than 10-miles offshore because I’ve built close-in reefs. Sometimes we catch big snapper within 5 miles of the beach. When the water temperature reaches 80 degrees or more, the snapper move-in close and load-up on the inshore reefs. Those artificial reefs hold a wide variety of baitfish, and the baitfish move closer to shore as the water warms-up. Too, we don’t have as much competition on near-shore reefs as the captains who fish offshore. I enjoy fishing by myself – without other boats near-by.

Question: How deep are your reefs, Art?
Jones: My most-shallow reef I’ve built is in 35 feet of water. I fish out to 200 feet of water, but most of my fishing takes place in 50 to 80 feet of water.

Question: What kind of reefs do you build?
Jones: Most of my reefs are chicken coops. We put two to three large chicken coops together to create a reef. I also buy and deploy concrete pyramids about 10-feet square and 10-feet high, weighing approximately 5,000 to 6,000 pounds, with triangular-shaped holes in them. These reefs are able to survive a hurricane, and they’ll hold numbers of fish.

Question: What do you catch around these near-shore reefs?
Jones: Occasionally I’ll catch grouper, amberjacks and numbers of triggerfish and red snapper. Since the red-snapper limit is two-per-person, I start fishing as soon as I leave the pass. We put out lines and troll for Spanish and king mackerel on the way out to the artificial reefs. The Spanish mackerel we catch weigh from 2- to 3-pounds each, and the king mackerel weigh from 8 to 10 pounds on average. We’ve also been limiting out on vermillion snapper (beeliners) during each 8- to 10-hour trip. We can get the aggregate limit of triggerfish, vermillion snapper and red snapper, and when you throw in a couple of amberjacks and several king mackerel, that’s a big box full of fish.

Question: What’s the limit on king mackerel and Spanish mackerel?
Jones: On Spanish mackerel, it’s 10 per person, two per person on king mackerel, which must be 24-inches long from the fork to the tail, and two per person for red snapper.

Question: What’s the secret to catching red snapper?
Jones: Wait on the second bite. Many times snapper will come up high in the water, allowing me to study the way red snapper take the bait. The first time it hits the bait, the snapper is trying to either kill the bait or taste it but not eat it. The second time the snapper hits the bait, it’s attempting to eat it. So, I tell my fishermen not to set the hook on the first bite, but instead to wait until the second bite, count to three and then set the hook. Over the years, I’ve learned that the fishermen who wait on the second bite land more snapper than those who set the hook on their first bite. There are plenty of inshore fish to catch at this time of year. Too, July is a great month for bottom fishing.

To contact Captain Art Jones, call him at (850) 944-3124 or (251) 967-3262, or email him at ajones504@bellsouth.net.