Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
In case you missed it, Gus, the Gulf Shores Ground Mullet saw his shadow on February 2, so that means six more weeks of winter fishing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but indications are we may well have to endure another arctic blast around mid-month before we see much indication of spring.
If the cold snap is short lived, then the water temperature should remain fairly stable in the lower 60s. But if the cold weather hangs around (as the long-term forecasts currently indicate), then cooler water could again hamper catching. Plus this period may also be a bit wetter than normal. Ugh!
Anglers have still been picking up some scattered whiting from shore in Perdido Key, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, with perhaps a little better luck along the Fort Morgan peninsula at times. Fresh cut shrimp with Fishbites or Fishgum on double drop pompano rigs has been the ticket. Also a few pompano have been mixed in with the whiting recently, along with occasional large black drum and a few redfish.
Fishermen should be pleased to learn the dredging operation in Perdido Pass has been completed and the heavy equipment has been removed. Also, plans are in the works to do some temporary repairs to the lights in the parking lot along the seawall. Hopefully all this will bode well for those who like to fish the pass, especially during the warmer weather we will eventually see.
Meanwhile, the small-scale dredging of Little Lagoon Pass has commenced to restore good water flow from the Gulf into Little Lagoon. Fortunately they only work during daylight hours on weekdays, so the disturbance should be minimal to fishing.
A NEAP tide period will dominate this fortnight (February 14-17). But generally as tide times progress into late winter mode we can expect incoming tides during the afternoons most days. This should aid anglers fishing for sheepshead in Perdido Pass, and wade fishing for speckled or white trout in the Lagoon. Once warmer weather returns, we can expect overall from-shore fishing to slowly improve.
As has been the case in recent winters, fiddler crabs have been difficult for bait shops to procure at times with all the attention being paid to sheepshead. The good news is they also eat live shrimp (small) which have been more available generally. Sheepshead have good eyesight, and can get ‘picky’ at times when the water is really clear. Down-sizing your terminal tackle can help if the ‘convicts’ get wise, and increase your odds at busting some of these delicious bait-stealers. But beach ghost shrimp are about the best overall bait this time of year, and just about any species of fish eats them. They are not usually sold in the bait shops, but can be gathered by folks with a ghost shrimp pump. The best places to look are on shallow sandbars near points along the shoreline at low tide, on the mornings following a cold front. Looks like we may be seeing some of that.
The long-anticipated reopening of the Gulf State Park Pier occurred Saturday January 31 with little fanfare, and lighter than expected crowds. Billed as 725 feet, that length may have been measured from the gate or pier house window out to the temporary barricade about 105 feet south of the middle platform.
Most of this distance is over water deep enough to fish in, about 600 feet along each side. So that gives anglers at least 1200 feet of total ‘fishable’ rail space to spread out for social-distancing.
Spirits were high opening day, and everyone present seemed to agree the pier looked great, along with the weather. And the ‘catching’ was about as good as it gets this time of year. A couple of hundred larger than average ‘whiting’ (Gulf kingfish) were landed that day. Along with about a hundred sheepshead, a handful of pompano, a few slot redfish, bluefish and a few large black drum.
The new fish carcass grinder at the cleaning station really got a workout that day. The whiting were averaging around 14” (a pound or so). But a few larger ones were caught over 18 inches long, and weighing almost 2 pounds. Small pieces of fresh dead shrimp fished on the bottom seemed to be the bait of choice for whiting. Though small live shrimp and especially ghost shrimp have worked really well since opening day, as the whiting have become a bit more wary of bait presentations.
The water was quite clear and calm opening morning, and the sheepshead bite around the middle platform southward to the barrier was quite strong. I even saw a few limits landed, with the average sheepshead in the 3-to-4-pound range. But there were a good number over 5 pounds landed as well. Both fiddler crabs and (small) live shrimp suspended around the pilings or just off the bottom produced fish, some caught on pieces of shrimp or ghost shrimp intended for whiting in the shallows.
Due to Covid guidelines, the park is only allowing a maximum of 200 people on the pier at a time. That’s is broken down to 125 anglers and 75 walk-ons. Though, so far at least, nowhere near that many people have been on the pier at any one time. In fact, many subsequent days have been windy and rough, even raining at times. Still, some anglers have been persevering even through these adverse conditions to land a few nice sized sheepshead and over-sized drum on the rough days too. The best bet is to watch the weather forecast and try to anticipate when the Gulf will be fairly calm and clear between fronts. After all, it is just mid-February.