Oil Rig Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico Explained
May 4, 2021 | 8 minute read Comments
28
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Oil rig fishing in the Gulf of Mexico should be on every angler’s bucket list. Nothing beats it for action, and you never know what you might head back to the dock with. From giant Amberjack and Grouper to Tuna, Wahoo, and even Marlin, the Gulf’s finest all hang out around these underwater towers.

An offshore oil drilling platform

What makes oil rigs so productive for anglers? What can you catch, and how? And most importantly, where should you go to fish them? Today, we’ll cover all these questions and more. You can also learn what’s being done to turn these platforms into true fish havens.

Why go oil rig fishing in the Gulf of Mexico?

In the past, bluewater fishing was as much a question of luck as skill. The basic tactic was to head out into the Gulf and troll until the clicker sounded. Of course, captains followed currents, temperature breaks, and visual cues like birds and debris, but finding fish was far from certain. Most of the time, it wasn’t even that likely. Oil rigs changed that.

An oil platform in the sea, with a fishing rod in the bottom right of the shot

These towering structures attract marine life from miles around. They build up corals and plants, and provide shelter for bait fish. This, in turn, brings bigger, predatory species. Pretty soon, you have a complete ecosystem, from minnow to Marlin. You can catch a dozen different fish just by working different depths.

Of course, oil rigs aren’t alone in attracting fish. Artificial structure has been doing so for centuries. The difference now is that you have large, fixed platforms that are marked on the map and easy to spot. What’s more, they rise through the entire water column. There are also a lot of them – anywhere from 1,862 to nearly 4,000, depending on who you ask. Finding fish has never been so easy.

From Rigs to Reefs

Before we jump into the angling itself, a little history. It’s still about fishing, we promise.

A school of Vermilion Snapper swimming around the base of an offshore oil jacket

The Gulf’s first oil platform was built way back in 1938, but it wasn’t until the ‘70s that offshore rigs as we know them appeared. By 1984, oil rig fishing was so popular that Congress passed laws allowing states to turn these fish magnets into permanent reefs. This became known as “The Rigs to Reefs Program” and it created some of the Gulf’s top fishing spots.

Usually, when a drilling lease expires, the rig is hauled back to land and scrapped. Converting it into a reef instead is a lot cheaper and preserves the fish habitat at the same time. As part of the reefing deal, some of the money that companies save then goes to the state’s artificial reef program. Everybody wins!

So, how do you turn an oil rig into a reef? You can either break it in half, tip it over, or drag it to a more suitable spot (“partial removal,” “topple-in-place” or “tow-and-place” in the industry lingo). The method used depends on how large the rig is, as well as the depth of water it sits in. 

An infographic showing how oil and gas rigs are turned into reefs, as part of the Rigs to Reefs Program. Text reads "How oil rigs become artificial reefs" "Partial Removal" "Topple in Place" "Tow and Place"

Of course, not every rig is suitable for reefing. It has to be in the right place and made in the right way. It also needs to be structurally sound. Even so, the Rigs to Reefs Program has converted over 500 defunct structures into bustling fish cities. And that’s on top of the thousands of operational platforms throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

What can you catch around Gulf oil rigs?

Alright, we’ve talked enough about the rigs themselves. Let’s get into the fun part: the fish. The thing that makes oil rig fishing special is that you can target bottom and pelagic species in the same spot. This really expands your list of target species. Here are a few of the fish you might come across on your trip.

Yellowfin Tuna

A man holding a large Yellowfin Tuna caught while fishing out of Venice, Louisiana

Yellowfin Tuna are the signature catch on rig fishing trips. They grow big, fight hard, taste great, and look seriously cool. What’s more, you can find them all year round. However, you’ll need to go 50 miles or more to get them, depending on where you start.

Amberjack

Two anglers holding a large Amberjack on a sportfishing boat

They may be known as “Reef Donkeys,” but the bite around the oil rigs is even better. Amberjack around this offshore structure grow almost too big and give no ground during the fight. Get one aboard, and you’ll have feasts for weeks – if you can lift your arms to eat.

Red Snapper

A man holding a Red Snapper on a boat. An oil rig is visible in the distance behind him

Hands down the best food fish in the Gulf! Red Snapper are a seasonal specialty in most of the Gulf due to the short federal season. Time your trip, and you can fill your coolers with premium fillets. Texas also has a couple of rigged reefs in state waters, where you can catch them year-round.

Blue Marlin

An angler holding a Blue Marlin alongside his boat before releasing it

Marlin are a much rarer sight than the rest. They’re more of a lucky draw than a target species. However, if you’re set on catching one, remote offshore rigs are about the most promising places to try. Late summer is the best time of year to look for Blue Marlin in the Gulf.

And More!

Depending on how far offshore you go, you could catch Cobia, Kingfish, deep-water Groupers, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and huge pelagic Sharks. There are so many different fish out there, it’s impossible to list them all here. That’s part of the fun – you never know what might take your bait.

How to Fish Around Oil Rigs

We won’t go into the nitty-gritty of tackle choice and trolling spreads. It all changes with the conditions on the day, and five people will always have six different opinions on the matter. Instead, here’s a run-down of how to approach and work a rig, as well as some tips for targeting the main species out there.

Choosing a Rig

An aerial view of a remote offshore oil rig

This is tougher than it might seem at first. With so many platforms in the Gulf, it’s no longer a case of “head to the nearest tower and see what’s there.” Instead, you want to find a rig in clear, blue water. Satellite and chlorophyll data are your friends here. You also want the right temperature. Ideally, aim for water that’s in the low 70s to low 80s, depending on the time of year.

Of course, the water is only half the equation. You also need the right depth and type of platform. If you’re after reef fish, look for rigged reefs in around 300 feet of water. Partially removed rigs are the dream, because you get double the structure and a lot more height in the water. If you’re after big game pelagics, you want the deepest platform with the clearest water.

Fishing a Rig

Anglers fishing around an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico

The first step when you arrive at a rig is to figure out what the currents are doing. Bait fish tend to hang out just up current of whatever structure they’re hiding around and this is no exception. Start close to the platform and work your way out to around 100 yards or so. Once you find the bait, you’ll find the bigger fish pretty quick. 

The best style of fishing varies from species to species. Chunking is effective for Tuna and Sharks, while trolling is better for Marlin and Wahoo. If you’re after bottom fish, start just above the top of the structure and gradually jig your way down to the bottom. You’ll catch different fish at every depth without spooking the ones beneath them.

Where to Go Oil Rig Fishing in the Gulf

There are thousands of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. However, some spots have much better access to them than others. These are the places that you should start your trip from to get the most out of your time at sea.

Louisiana

Two happy anglers posing on a boat with a large Yellowfin Tuna they just caught

Louisiana has the lion’s share of the Gulf’s oil platforms. As such, it’s a natural choice for a rig fishing trip. The most iconic place to launch is the fishing village of Venice, LA, 50 miles southeast of New Orleans in the Mississippi Delta. Hardcore anglers can moor even farther downstream at Port Eads, a marina at the very tip of the delta.

Starting your fishing trip so far into the Gulf has obvious advantages. You can get to the deepest and most remote waters even on a day trip. You don’t have to start this far out, though. Oil platforms cover the federal waters off Louisiana. The state also led the way with the Rigs to Reefs Program, using over 300 platforms to create 71 artificial reefs throughout their waters.

Texas

A couple holding a large Grouper on a boat, with an oil rig visible in the background

Not to be outdone, Texas also has hundreds of platforms deployed throughout the northern Gulf. Galveston is a classic staging point for fishing them, as are Corpus Christi and Port Aransas farther down the coast. South Texas towns like South Padre Island have fewer rigs, but they’re closer to the very deepest sites like Perdido, which sits in 8,000 feet of water.

Unsurprisingly, Texas has also been one of the spearheads of the Rigs to Reefs Program. So far, the State has converted over 50 old rigs. They start at the state waterline (nine nautical miles out) and go all the way to the edge of the continental shelf, 100 miles offshore. Texas Parks & Wildlife even made a handy interactive map to help you find them.

Alabama and Mississippi

A young man holding a big Cobia caught while oil rig fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. An oil platform is visible in the sea behind him

Alabama and Mississippi are a little different to Western Gulf states. There just aren’t as many oil platforms in this part of the Gulf. The states also have much fewer rigged reefs. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t fish here. Gulf Shores and Biloxi are awesome starting points for an offshore adventure, as are a dozen nearby towns. However, the real action is inshore.

Both states have a ton of inshore and nearshore platforms. In Mississippi, most sites sit in under 100 feet of water. Alabama takes things even further, with great rig fishing inside Mobile Bay. If you want to go rig fishing for Tuna and Marlin, you’re better off in Louisiana. However, if you want huge Cobia and Mackerel, this is the place for you.

What about Florida?

A map of the locations of all oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico
Image source: Data Basin

We never thought we’d say this, but Florida actually has the worst fishing in the Gulf – at least when it comes to rigs. The Sunshine State has never had much of an oil industry, and it has been consistently opposed to exploration in both state and nearby federal waters. To be honest, we don’t mind. There are plenty of fish to catch there already.

Oil Rigs in the Gulf of Mexico: Accidental Fish Factories

You wouldn’t think of the oil industry as something that goes hand in hand with fishing. In most cases, you’d be right. The Gulf of Mexico has seen first hand how badly the two can mix. However, in some cases, oil rigs can be great for fish. They provide cover and structure, creating a haven for entire ecosystems – especially once they’re converted into reefs.

A large ball of fish swimming around the riser of an oil rig

What this means for you is that you can head out to these underwater skyscrapers and find a wide range of huge, hard-fighting fish. And you can do it every day of the year. Sure, the best oil rig fishing in the Gulf might be 50 or even 100 miles offshore. But with Tuna, Marlin, and a range of deep-water bottom fish all fighting for your bait, it’s well worth it.

Have you ever been oil rig fishing in the Gulf of Mexico? Where did you start, and what did you catch? Drop us your stories and tips in the comments below. Otherwise, jump on a local charter and start hauling in monsters!

Comments (28)
  • Randall

    Aug 11, 2021

    First time viewing this site. We fish the GOM out of perdido pass in orange beach. Really is some world class fishing out there. We bottom fish structure but really enjoy the “rig trips”. Petronious being the closest deep water (fixed bottom) on out to ram powell, horn mountain and appomattox among others. We’ve been fishing these rigs out of our boat for years and it’s an experience of a life time. Yellowfin tuna, marlin, mahi and wahoo being some of the fish we target. If you haven’t done it, give it a try but go with an experienced captain. You won’t regret it!

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Karin

      Aug 12, 2021

      Hi Randall,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m happy to hear that you are having such a great time fishing the rigs! And it sounds like you’ve caught some exciting fish too! I definitely agree that going with an experienced captain is the best way to go.

      Tight lines!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Nick

    Jul 8, 2021

    I’m getting ready to retire, me and my wife love to offshore fish . We going to purchase a home and new boat . Could you recommend what area to fish out of? Corpus Christi ,Galveston,Louisiana, we want to fish the oil rigs for tuna and Marlin .Thanks nick

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Rhys

      Jul 8, 2021

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for reading and congratulations on your pending retirement! Wherever you are on the Gulf coast, you’re in for some incredible angling action. Venice, LA, offers probably the shortest run to the deep sea fishing grounds and oil rigs. If you’re looking for a place in Texas, Corpus Christi is slightly preferable to Galveston, due to its shorter offshore runs and longer, more pristine beaches. Despite this, you’ll be in for a treat wherever you choose!

      Tight lines,

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Ramona L Barnhart

    Jun 3, 2021

    Is there an oil rig called Gulf of Mexico? I have a friend that is on this rig.

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Iva

      Jun 3, 2021

      Hi Ramona,

      Thanks for writing in! There are about 175 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and many, many more platforms.

      If there is a rig called Gulf of Mexico, it’s likely one of the smaller ones. I wasn’t able to find any information on it in the limited databases available online, though. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Rita Hanson

    Jun 2, 2021

    You have to stay in your boat, right?
    They don’t let you climb up on these oil rigs do they? I’m surprised really that the rig owners would allow people ans boats to come so close. (I found this website by mistake, but very much enjoyed learning).

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Iva

      Jun 2, 2021

      Hi Rita,

      Thanks for reading. I’m so glad to hear you found the article informative! Oil rigs really are a fascinating topic.

      To answer your question, as far as I’m aware, no, you aren’t allowed to climb them and you have to stay on the boat. Oil rigs are privately owned and operated, and are therefore inaccessible to regular folks.

      I hope that helps!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Mikeena

    May 18, 2021

    We went out with a company from Port Aranda’s in October 2020. It was AWESOME. I’d say we were out 100 miles and the old rig sites fascinated me. My husband caught 2 sharks, 2 king and some reds. We took part of it straight back to Port A to a restaurant that will cook your catch and it was yummy. Just had the last of the shark and king last month with some friends here in Oklahoma. It was a great day. We can’t wait to go again!

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Rhys

      May 19, 2021

      Hi Mikeena,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m delighted you had such a successful outing back in October and it’s really impressive that the fish lasted you so long! I’m not sure I’d have been able to resist gobbling them up before then. Keep the stories coming!

      Tight lines,

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Steven S Smith

    Jan 23, 2021

    Anyone have locations of any rigs near gulf outside of Biloxi…or knowvwhere I can find them online. Thanks

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Jan 25, 2021

      Hi Steven,

      There are actually plenty of maps out there, including in-depth interactive ones like this.

      Tight lines!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • steve davis

    Sep 21, 2020

    slightly misleading, platforms in the deeper water do not go all the way to the bottom, they have either tendons of mooring lines that go to the bottom, most of the structure ends at around 500 feet, fixed types of platforms do not go past a depth of around 2000 feet. Some additional equipment is located on bottom but at a depth of 4000 to 9000 feet marine life is pretty sparse

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Sep 22, 2020

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for getting in touch. You’re completely right, and it’s an important clarification to make.

      The deeper rigs don’t have solid structure all the way to the bottom. Even if they did, there wouldn’t be that much fish to catch down there. Instead, most of the action around deep-water rigs focused on pelagic species, which use the rig as cover in the open ocean.

      The reason that deeper rigs are productive is partly that they’re so remote. The rig is likely to be the only piece of floating structure many miles in any direction, so it becomes a hub for fish activity. On top of this, longer travel times mean lower fishing pressure, so the likelihood of a bite is higher.

      I hope that clears things up.

      Tight lines!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Alan E Gotta

    Sep 18, 2020

    Went out August 23rd from Port Aransas on a charter. Didn’t catch a lot of fish that day but did bring back an AJ, Cobia, Cuda, and a King. Also caught and released a Red Snapper and a couple of small sharks. It was a good time.

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Sep 21, 2020

      Hi Alan,

      Thanks for getting in touch. As the saying goes, “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching.”

      I’m glad you still had a great time and brought back some good fish for dinner. How far out did you go?

      Tight lines!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Peter Dyck

      Mar 31, 2021

      I live in Mission, and would be interested to know what charter service you used. Thank you in advance.

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Apr 1, 2021

      Hi Peter,

      We work with lots of great charters in Port Aransas. Were you looking to book a trip? Let us know if we can help!

      Tight lines!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Richard

    Sep 4, 2020

    Good stuff. I live on North Padre Island (Corpus Christi) and have been fishing the Laguna Madre for years. Just bought a good offshore boat and am looking to expand my horizons. I’v only had it a couple of weeks and haven’t gone beyond the closest rigs yet, and even those I haven’t fished well as I am just getting the heavier gear, but am enjoying the waters and looking forward to trying some of these rigs. Will have to post back what I find out there. Planning on taking a friend who likes to dive so he can spear fish some of these. I’ve seen videos of it on youtube. Looks crazy.

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Sep 7, 2020

      Hi Richard,

      Congrats on the new boat. Definitely let us know how you get on!

      I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this but be careful if you’re spearfishing offshore. Sharks aside, the currents can pull pretty hard in some parts offshore.

      Good luck on the monster hunt!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Ali

    Aug 2, 2020

    Moving to Texas from Florida. I love this web site. lots of great information.
    Where can I get a some oil Rig GPS coordinates around Galveston?
    Thanks,
    Al

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Sean

      Aug 3, 2020

      Hi Ali,

      Thanks for reading.

      Please check this interactive map provided by the TPWD.

      It contains information on some of the best fishing hotspots you can reach from Galveston, GPS coordinates included.

      Tight lines!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Lionel

    Jul 17, 2020

    I would like to go fish an oil rig out of Pensacola
    Any ideas or gps numbers

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Jul 20, 2020

      Hi Lionel,

      As I mentioned in the article, there aren’t any oil rigs in Florida’s state or federal waters. Because of this, your best bet will be to head over into Alabama.

      You can find lots of info on Alabama’s artificial reefs, including its Rigs to Reefs program, here.

      I hope that helps!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      steve davis

      Sep 21, 2020

      The navy has a system of navigation towers on the, i think its the east side of florida, a little far from pensacola, mobile bay is full of exxon platforms, depth up to about 120′.

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Sep 22, 2020

      Very true, while Florida doesn’t have any rigs, it does have several old Air Force radio towers off the Keys and Southwest Florida. You can find some good info on them here.

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

  • Domingo Del Bosque jr

    Apr 25, 2020

    I’m starting to like this already

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Albert

      Apr 27, 2020

      Hi Domingo,

      Thanks for getting in touch. It really is something special!

      Let us know what you catch when you manage to get out to the rigs.

      Tight lines!

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *