Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 1/25/23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

We are now far enough into the year to experience a typical back-and-forth battle between winter and early (false) spring. This manifests itself each week as the weather pattern evolves between frontal passages. It allows anglers a wide variety of temperatures, cloud cover and wave heights to experience from day to day. Often early February has the coldest water temperatures of the entire year, which are generally in the low 60s. But that will continue to fluctuate five to 10 degrees depending upon the ambient air temperature
Once again, our fortnight begins and ends with NEAP tide periods. The surrounding days with less tidal variation and movement should lend to easier conditions for fishermen in and around Perdido Pass. The week in between (end of January into early February) exhibits higher tidal variations and stronger tidal currents in the pass. Look for the daily tidal progression to move back about 30 to 45 minutes each day during this week. The general trend is to see lowest water in the morning hours, with an incoming tide through the afternoon or early evening. Often this brings in slightly warmer, saltier and even clearer water from the Gulf through the pass into the bays. That might help stimulate a bite if it is not happening earlier in the day.
This time of year sheepshead begin gathering into pre-spawn shoals. These are loose groups of fish, comprised of mostly sheepshead, but may include members of other species such as black drum, redfish or pompano. The feeding habits and prey items (like ghost shrimp or other invertebrates) of these species overlap as they roam over the bottom looking for food swept along in the current. They may also gather to rest from the currents, or as protection from marauding dolphins and sharks. Finding the location of these shoals greatly increases the chances of success for anglers.
It seems these fish often remain or return to the same location at the same point in the diurnal tide cycle as long as other conditions are similar. Being “on station”, that is waiting for the tide to turn, or the ambient lighting to change will allow fishermen to take full advantage of the feeding period. These periods are most important in the wintertime because cooler waters limit how often fish feed due to their cold-blooded nature. Tide phase, time of day plus a natural food source are critical factors to stimulate feeding activity. Try fishing around hard structures where swirling currents create feeding stations. Often sheepshead, redfish, bluefish, and even occasionally pompano or speckled trout will lie in wait on the down current side of a large rock or piling.
There they expend less energy because the current is deflected around the object, as are potential prey items. Specific sites can produce bite after bite when conditions are right and the angler makes a proper presentation that stirs the fish to feed. With a little time, networking, and attention to detail, anglers can discover dozens of such holes all up and down the west jetty and seawall at Perdido Pass. So, an angler may conceivably reposition from one spot to another as the strength and direction of the tide changes, and catch fish at many of these pre scouted locations.
As in anything fishing related, the more time and thought you put into it, the more (fish) you get out of it.
Fishermen on the Gulf State Park Pier saw catches improve somewhat through early January. Many days at least some whiting (Gulf kingfish) were landed, along with croaker, some pompano and occasional black drum. Persistence is the key to putting together enough keeper fish for anglers to get a meal or two. And moving around on the pier, adjusting to where any schools of these more common fish might be hanging out or coming through is critical. Again, a little scouting will pay benefits of more fillets if you can watch or talk with the regular pier fisher men and women to uncover what spots along the pier have been producing the most fish. The pattern this winter seems to be more fish are caught as the Gulf gets churned up when onshore winds increase prior to a cold front. Then the numbers of fish feeding around the pier seems to quickly decrease after the frontal passage as the water gets calmer, clearer and colder. Fresh dead shrimp fished on a bottom rig of some sort garner most of these fish. But ghost shrimp or live shrimp fished on a medium to light tackle presentation are always the best way to go this time of year.
Surf anglers have still been contending with hit or miss days, with way more in the miss column. But there have been scattered pompano and fair numbers of decent sized whiting landed from the beaches. Especially on days when 2 to 3 foot waves light up the surf zone. The breaking waves help anglers read the surf to better determine exactly where the feeding locations might be.
More precise casting generally makes their time on the beach more productive. Some days the surf is simply too rough for fishing from the beach. While other days the Gulf is too calm (waves too small) so fishing more a matter of blind casting. That’s when more miss the spot than hit it.