Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 10-4-23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 10-4-23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

Summer like weather has persisted over the lower Baldwin coastal areas with above average temperatures and much below average rainfall. Only grudgingly has fall made its presence felt with some slightly “cooler” and drier mornings. But dry air warms up quickly in the early October afternoons when temperatures often soar into the low to mid 80s. That is about where Gulf water temperature have lingered, though the inland waters are beginning to cool slightly. Water temps in the Gulf are usually around 80 this time of year, making current conditions are more like early September.
Anglers have been noting some subtle changes in fishing patterns as the day light hours get progressively shorter. Young-of-the-Year jack crevelle (yellow-tails) swarm the surfzone in anticipation of their upcoming migration to southwest Florida for the winter. And ladyfish spend more time outside the longshore sandbar feeding on shoals of young Scaled and False herring (LYs). They are joined by increasing numbers of Spanish mackerel, much to the delight of anglers on the Gulf State Park Pier, along with pods of Bottlenose dolphins and swarms of Blacktip sharks. Where fish are, the predators soon follow!
In the shallows around the pier, anglers have been making sporadic catches of flounder, bluefish, redfish, and speckled trout. The catch rates seem to depend a LOT on the abundance or absence of small “LYs” (baitfish), and the predatory dolphins and sharks. This has been in conjunction with finding favorable conditions with the nuances of tide, weather and water clarity. The positive side of the heat and still air of late (besides the lack of tropical activity) has been persistently clear water. At least we can see if there are fish around the pier, or if it is just vacant water. There have also been some keeper flounder landed on the pier along with mangrove snapper, and the occasional speckled trout, pompano or whiting.
Depending upon weather and water conditions, the Gulf State Park may host the 2023 Dive For Debris at the pier on Sunday morning, October 8 from 8am until 12 noon. The pier remains open during the event, but fishing is suspended for the morning while divers are in the water. These events clear hundreds of pounds of accumulated debris from the pier piling and surrounding waters. Other than that, pier patrons can enjoy their venue through October, before it closes indefinitely for the long-awaited repair work from damage inflicted by Hurricane Sally in September of 2020.
Meanwhile, anglers in Orange Beach at Alabama Point have been taking advantage of the recently renovated and reopened Phase 1 portion of Seawall Park. That is about 300 feet along the seawall where most of the parking is. Unfortunately the lighting will not be hooked up until later in the project, so signs were placed to discourage night fishing there. Currently work is being done under the Perdido Pass Bridge where most of the damage from Hurricane Sally took place. Phase 3 will consist of adding new guardrail, walkway and lighting to the seawall north of the bridge.
Early October tides are generally not conducive to catching spanish mackerel from the seawall, as the incoming tide that mackerel prefer, usually occurs prior to sunup. Strong outgoing tides during the daylight hours generally offer more favorable fishing for bluefish, mangrove snapper, redfish, and perhaps flounder. Exceptions to this trend may occur on the mornings leading up to and including the NEAP tide of October 12th , when the tide may still be coming in after the sunup. That is when the odds would be better to find mackerel feeding in the pass on abundant small LYs. After the NEAP period, the tidal fortnight resets with high water again falling prior to daylight.
Lures like spoons are still popular to use as ravenous pinfish hordes make short work most any live or dead bait, especially shrimp. They even eat the eyes and bellies out of baitfish such as bull minnows or finger mullet. Fishermen can do better with live bait by keeping their rig off the bottom, even free-lining bait in the current when it is not running too strong.
Intrepid anglers fishing out on the jetties usually find more bluefish this time of year than anything else. These are often larger than average specimens for our area, occasionally exceeding three pounds. Bluefish are fattening up to spawn in the fall in addition to preparing for cooler water when food is less available. This is also the best time to encounter legal-sized mangrove snapper, 12 inches or longer which are more competitive now. Bull minnows are the preferred bait for mangroves, but bycatch of flounder or redfish is not unusual at all. A landing net with a handle at least seven feet, or longer is recommended to more safely and securely land fish from the jetty or seawall.
Beach fishermen have a nice variety of target species since the water is still warm enough for wadefishing. Getting out to the beach sandbar is often necessary to reach feeding mackerel and bluefish, especially as the tide is falling throughout the day. This may not be a safe option when the waves are over a foot or two without using longer and heavier tackle. Allowing tackle (reels) to be repeatedly drenched in seawater is going to greatly lessen their performance and life expectancy. So, choosing between using set rigs and casting lures is both a matter of personal decision and possibility.
Pompano numbers and sizes have been increasing in the surfzone recently as competition from other jack species decreases. Juvenile jack crevelle are usually the first to vacate the surfzone in preparation of their migration to southwest Florida. A lot of the juvenile pompano migrate away too, though many are still present, feeding near the beach on small sandfleas (mole crabs) and other tiny invertebrates.
Whiting numbers and sizes are on the increase as well when rising tides during the hours of darkness encourage them to feed and seek shelter from waves, currents and predators in the “holes” (troughs) between the beach and nearby sandbars. They often remain in the these spots in the morning until the water level decreases to the point they no longer feel safe. This includes humans wading in the trough which spooks the wary whiting from the shallow water. Thus early morning and late afternoon are usually the best times to fish these shallow water holes. Though those do offer great possibilities for light and ultralight fishermen to catch a bunch of fish.
Targeting flounder in these near shore troughs is another possibility gaining popularity as flounder numbers have rebounded in the past few years. As inland waters cool off, female flounder move toward the Gulf and stage in these beach troughs before moving offshore during the winter to spawn. They lay in wait for passing baitfish, often along the drop off slope of these beach “holes”. Consequently, savvy anglers focus their efforts on those slopes by dragging bull minnows or finger mullet through that zone. But flounder also respond well to bottom bumping lures like a grub on a weighted jighead. Years ago anglers used a ¾ ounce jig with a strip of cut mullet or other shiny baitfish. But nowadays there is a plethora of soft plastic lures in varieties of colors to tempt flounder. Often the best are those with scent like Gulp shrimp and Fishbites Fight club. These also come in different colors that tempt the fisherman as well as the fish 😉