Pier and Shore Fishing Forecast
by David “Pierpounder” Thornton
Typical of late May, a near summer like weather pattern has settled in since most fronts from the north loose their intensity long before they reach our area. Air temperatures (morning lows and afternoon highs) have increased, as has the humidity. This, along with the moderating effect from Gulf water temperatures in the upper 70s, and the shallower bay waters already 80 degrees or more has made it feel more like summer lately. Even the cloud formations around the area have become more convective due to the strong solar rays heating the land and water differentially as the daylight hours get longer. Periodic rain bands move through the area with increased chances of rain every few days as the heat and humidity build.
Daily tides express a very summery pattern as well, with high tides peaking in the morning, then falling through the afternoon and evening with increasing intensity. Except when NEAP tides occur around May 29th, which coincidentally is Memorial Day. We can expect little tidal movement then. But look for the strongest diurnal tide change about May 21st, with up to two feet of difference between high and low water levels.
Fishing, or rather “catching” may be quite contrasting from week to week, day-to-day, or even during a day depending on what you target, water movements, and how the weather pans out. We are approaching the end of the spring pompano “run”, though there should still be some rather large aggregations moving along the surfzone for a few more weeks. The trick for set rig fishing anglers is to find where and when these fish are passing, and have their baits in position. Often just 50 yards up or down the beach can make a huge difference whether fish are feeding, or just passing by. Be sure to pack plenty of fresh bait and patience.
Days with more wave and current movement translates to more fish moving along the coast. Conversely, when the wind and waves are near calm, and the tide is not moving much, there might not be much action. Or it comes only sporadically. Try a lighter setup, and don’t be afraid to wade out to cast to deeper water if you have to.
Also, try different presentations and locations based on the conditions as they evolve each day. Casting banana jig rigs (“Goofy jig”) for pompano on light tackle is a blast, and a great way to locate schools of these hard hitting, fast running, delicious jacks. The run-and-gun method of traveling light and casting into likely looking areas is an almost sure fire method to catch an Alabama limit (3 pompano per day). If you’re really good, and lucky while fishing this way along Perdido Key, you might even catch a Florida limit of 6 pompano per day!
Catching becomes easier whenever feeding patterns can be recognized and capitalized upon. But the number of species active in the surf is increasing even faster than the water temperature. More jacks, like ladyfish (“skipjack”) and blue runner (“hardtails”) are migrating into the area even as the pompano filter offshore to spawn. Bluefish and Spanish mackerel are more active in the surfzone too, as they chase their food source of small minnows and squid toward shore. So bring plenty of jigs or whatever lures and rigs you are using, plus some heavy clear monofilament or fluorocarbon for leaders in case the toothy fish are active at your location. Mackerel may even “clip” a bottom rig as it is being reeled in. Anything that moves gets their attention, and they often check to see if it is food by biting it. Catfish, mostly hardheads, have been the bane for surf anglers recently.
But those seem to have thinned out since the water has cleared. Still, there are plenty of rays in the surf. Stingrays on bottom, and Cow nose and Mobula rays traveling in groups which might swim into your line and get foul hooked. Small sharks like Blacknose and Atlantic sharpnose are quite active too, along with other shark species. Be sure you know the regulations and identification of at least the prohibited shark species if you intend to retain any.
This is prime time to target Speckled trout along the Gulf beaches from Perdido Pass to Fort Morgan. They are schooled into spawning aggregations in the surfzone. So once you locate a school, it is close to certain there will be more. If you are on a bite of trout, after a period of time they may stop biting for any number of reasons. Those may be environmental, such as a change in water clarity or current. Even a subtle change in water height, as in a progression or change of tide can have a profound effect of these fish feeding near shore. Even the wind veering direction or speed, or a slight change in the amount or angle of sunlight, or cloudcover can turn feeding activity on or off. This is especially true of topwater fishing.
Simply too much catching depletes the school, and they can become wary of your presence. They either cease feeding or move away from that location. Switching lures or colors may help if they are still in the same spot. Especially when the local food stimulus (baitfish) have moved on. Moving down the beach in either direction to the next “hole” is an option that most often gets you onto more feeding fish. Sometimes fishing pressure from multiple anglers, passing boats, or the presence of predatory sharks or dolphins can have the same effect. The best option is to relocate away from “the noise” to look for another unmolested school of fish. Occasionally, taking a break or returning to a spot after giving it ample time to settle down so the fish resume feeding activity results in a few more fish being caught.
Similar feeding patterns by fish can be observed from the seawall or jetty at Perdido Pass, and from the Gulf State Park Pier where Spanish mackerel and Speckled trout are often the target species. Though of late, Spadefish have been showing up in very good numbers. These black and silver striped “sea bream” are a common catch for pier fishers this time of year. Not only are they fun and relatively easy to catch (especially for kids), but they are good eating too! Like freshwater “brim” Spadefish have a relatively small mouth.
Tackle similar to what you would use in freshwater works fine for most pier fishing. A 6 or 7 foot medium action rod with a fast taper, in the 6 to 17 pound class is ideal to detect the light bite. Tie a #8 or #6 All-Purpose single hook on your 8 to 10 pound monofilament and add a splitshot or two about a foot above the hook. Bury the hook in a fingernail sized piece of shrimp and hang on after you feel the telltale tap-tap-tap of a spadefish eating the bait.
They fight well for their size by turning sideways against the pressure an angler applies. Most are about 8 to 10 inches fork length, and weigh about a half to ¾ pound. Though occasionally, they may exceed twice that length and weigh over 5 pounds. Now that’s a LOT of fun!