Fishing has entered the winter doldrums along the Baldwin beaches as water temperatures are languishing near 60, and back bay temps even cooler. But that’s right about what we usually experience this time of year. Nature needs a rest, and cold water in wintertime slows things way down, especially on the fishing side. Not that there aren’t possibilities of catching fish with abundant sheepshead, scattered whiting, occasional drum and even a few pompano still around. But when cooler water and adverse weather conspire against angling success, catching a mess of fish can be a real challenge to most everyone. Even experienced anglers have been ‘sucking goose eggs’ lately. And things don’t look to get much better during the coming fortnight when February begins with a three day NEAP tide.
Catching fish during a slow tidal flow period isn’t impossible, but it sure can be challenging. Perdido Pass has been a historical bright spot for catching fish in mid winter. But the ongoing dredging operation on top of much of the prime seawall space still being fenced off is a double whammy. It’s still worth a try though, unless you have access to a boat or inshore dock that is still intact.
Sheepshead are the mainstay of the from-shore fishery in south Baldwin County throughout the winter. They congregate and feed around hard structure like jetties and piers. Being omnivorous they eat both the algae that grows on these structures and the small invertebrates that live and shelter there. Small crabs, shrimp, mussels, barnacles, etc. are all on the menu for sheepshead and can be used to catch them. But bait dealers are at the mercy of winter’s cold hand too. And they may have difficulty procuring live bait from time to time. It pays dividends for anglers to check ahead if they want live bait, or even buy it a day or two in advance of fishing to stay ahead of demand during peak periods like weekends and stretches of ‘good’ weather.
Good weather for mid winter in lower Alabama consists of mild temperatures, light winds and mostly clear skies. Still, it is always good idea to ‘layer up’ clothing in anticipation it may get chilly quickly if the sun gets covered with clouds or the breeze pick up. And the water is a bit cold to even wade into. So a decent set of chest waders is a great asset to anglers intent on getting wet to take advantage of whatever locations fish may be in. Whether it be slurping ghost shrimp, or wading into the Gulf for longer casts, or even true wade fishing for speckled trout in the back bays or lagoons, you’ll want that thermal protection. Surf fishers can continue to find scattered whiting along the deeper beach troughs, along with occasional pompano and black or red drum. Light tackle (line) and fresh bait will get you more bites when it is calm. And beach ghost shrimp are about the best overall bait this time of year.
So just what can fisherfolks expect to catch when Gulf State Park Pier (see sidebar) opens on Feb. 1? I honestly don’t want to expect too much. After all, it is mid winter and our fishing options are limited to trying for scattered whiting near the beach, and a few sheepshead around the middle platform. As is often the case, live or fresh dead shrimp will often be your best bet. Lighter line is an advantage too, whenever the water is calm and clear. Even for sheepshead! I often fish 4# or 6# monofilament line to make a stealthier presentation to sheepshead or pompano and especially speckled trout. We do what we have to ;-).
Pictured: Our intrepid columnist with a 34.7’’ black drum caught and released in Orange Beach Saturday and a sheepshead he caught with light tackle.