Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 1-24-23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 1-24-23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

Between rough surf, cold weather and water, the Gulf State Park Pier closure, Little Lagoon Pass being shoaled up, ongoing construction at Perdido Pass Seawall Park, and the expansive beach dredging, anglers have been hard pressed to have much good luck fishing or especially catching lately. But yes Virginia, there still are some nice fish to be caught even from shore in Alabama in mid winter! Hopefully we have seen the worst of this winter, and some things look to slowly improve as January winds down. Then we will just have to see what trends lie ahead for February. El Nino years often bring us some crazy weather though, so remain vigilant.
In the wake of the recent arctic weather outbreak temperatures have moderated a bit, and the forecast for this fortnight trends more toward seasonal temperatures. Yippee! That means more tolerable morning lows averaging in the 40s or 50s with pleasant afternoon highs into the 60s to near 70 perhaps. But the catch is, with warmer weather comes an increasing chance of rain every few days. Winter cold fronts battle it out with warmer, moist air out over the deep Gulf of Mexico. That is where the surface water temperature remains 70 or higher. Meanwhile shallower water within 10 miles of shore is in the lower 60s, and the inland bays and creeks water temp has plummeted into the 40s. Quite a contrast.
That’s about as cold as the water usually gets here in lower Alabama during a typically active winter. But this is also close to the limit of endurance for many fish species native to our area. Anglers need to remember that fish are cold-blooded, meaning they react in kind with the environment around them. So when the water temperature plummets more than 5 degrees behind these strong cold fronts, that creates a thermal shock to them. It can take days for some species to adjust to the extreme change in conditions, and they may not feed during that period. Their metabolism has evolved so they don’t need to eat but once a week or so in extreme weather such as this. Their typical prey items may not be as active or available during these low activity periods either. So native bait like fiddler crabs and shrimp becomes scarcer and harder to find.
Once the environment begins to warm back up even a few degrees, we should see more activity.
Surf zones temperatures vary several degrees depending on how far the location is from these sources of colder water are. Generally expect the water in the surf to be in the upper 50s now.
Catches may begin to improve slowly as the air temp is predicted to be closer to average through the end of the month. But we are still locked into winter, so just about anything can happen for the next couple of months. Especially if we get too much rain which could introduce salinity issues.
Many of the recently reported catches included trophy fish like bull redfish or large black drum. Both are solitary feeders this time of year which prowl the surfzone and nearshore waters, picking up any morsel of food they come across. That is why persistent pompano or whiting fishers on the beach seem to encounter them more often this time of year as their only bite of the day. Though not great table fare, these large drum are a fine pull and good candidates to catch, photograph and release in cooler waters.
But sheepshead are traditionally the most consistent species to target inshore this time of year, while pompano remain the surf-side favorite target, even though they have been scarce.
Look for sheepshead around piers, docks and especially rock jetties including the seawall at Perdido Pass. Construction under and north of the bridge continues intermittently as weather allows. Reopening that part of the park is pending soon, so once you see them painting the parking stripes it should occur shortly after. Sheepshead, along with occasional redfish, bluefish, and even pompano are a distinct possibility for able anglers from the jetties of Perdido Pass where live shrimp is a go-to bait.
Some years sheepshead remain in the Intracoastal Waterway through much of the winter, so they and large black drum may be caught along the rock lined banks of the canal. Live shrimp is the historical bait for sheepshead there, though fiddler crabs are often the bait of choice for anglers in the know. Of course using either is dependent upon availability. The large “loner” black drum may be targeted with pieces of fresh blue crab, cut into halves or quarters. Patience and persistence are keys to successful wintertime fishing.
Beach ghost shrimp seem to plentiful in Gulf Shores this year, surprisingly even in areas that have been filled from the beach restoration. Ghost shrimp are without a doubt the best bait in winter for anglers intrepid enough to brave chilly conditions to slurp enough to fish with (two to three dozen) with a ghost shrimp pump available at most local bait and tackle stores. Usually the results of fish caught makes gathering bait well worth the effort. This is made much more tolerable by donning insulated chest waders. These come in handy while fishing the beach too, giving the angler more range by wading out to cast farther into deeper water if need be. The use of waders also helps standing on the cold, windswept beach more tolerable, even when the sun isn’t shining. Layering clothing is your best bet to adjust to conditions changing from day to day, or even during the course of a single day.
Work on the Beach Restoration Project continues eastward through Orange Beach toward Perdido Pass this month before jumping eastward of The Shell Public Parking Access, and concluding near the Alabama-Florida State Line sometime in February. You can keep up with the latest progress of this project online at olsen-associates.com. Fishermen have already noticed changes in the bottom contours around and to the west of filled in areas along the beach due to the natural natural geologic process known as littoral drift. Farther west, successful surf fishing from Fort Morgan beaches has been quite spotty this winter, with some anglers complaining of beach erosion almost to the dune line, making egress along the shoreline more difficult in some spots.