Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 11-1-23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 11-1-23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

A fairly typical fall-like weather pattern persisted across our area through the previous fortnight with only subtle changes forecast through early November. But we are in transition, as abnormally warm and dry weather stubbornly hangs around, interrupted by occasional fronts which are becoming increasingly cooler and wetter. One possible favorable side effect of the drought for anglers has been that inshore waters being a bit saltier, clearer, and warmer than average (middle 70s). That means some transitory species such as spanish mackerel may linger within reach of shore bound fishermen a little while longer this year.
The movements of mullet, menhaden, and other forage fish from the estuaries into the Gulf for the winter are one of the keys influencing feeding frenzies of schools of “bull” redfish, jack crevelle, and other top predators this time of year. These morning blitzes are commonly seen from the beaches near Mobile Point near Fort Morgan when the timing of a strong outgoing tide moves large numbers of baitfish out of the bay at night. As day breaks, schools of hungry predator fish press shoreward driving the baitfish toward the surface where they are easy pickings for diving pelicans. These collections of diving birds often signal the location where big fish may be feeding nearby. Casting large spoons, plugs, or jigs in that vicinity often elicits a strike by game fish which may occasionally even be seen on the surface chasing baitfish.
Early each morning, dozens of hopeful anglers armed with heavy tackle converge on the point to take advantage of this action should it materialize. Otherwise, they use their long 10 to 13 foot rods to heave out chunks of mullet, other cut fresh fish, or pieces of fresh crab off the edge of the shelf on set rigs to await unseen fish. It may be a school or bull reds, or a black drum, or even a jack crevelle, stingray, or shark that finds their offering, or it may be a futile pass of time and fellowship. That’s why it is still called fishing and not catching. Though a single redfish over the 26 inch maximum may be retained by anglers each day, most savvy anglers recognize these long-lived adult fish are too important to the health of the species to harvest just for a few meals. Like other larger specimens of the drum family, bull reds yield relatively little edible meat, which is of lesser quality than smaller members of the species. Consequently, this has grown into a significantly dependable catch and release fishery, especially for the shorebound anglers. It has rebounded perhaps to exceed that of 40+ years ago before the blackened redfish craze decimated the species.
Similar, though usually smaller and shorter lived bull red blitzes occur outside of Perdido Pass, Little Lagoon Pass, and off the end of the Gulf State Park Pier. Hopefully, by this time next year, pier anglers will again be able to take advantage of this fine fishery. The long awaited project to repair the damage inflicted to the seaward end of the pier should soon be underway. But it is such a complex project, there is just no telling at this point how long it will be before the pier reopens.
Compounding the issue of finding fishable space for shorebound anglers will be the beach restoration project beginning this month. It is set to commence at or just west of Little Lagoon Pass, then proceed westward to the end of West Beach Boulevard through November. Anglers and beach goers may be denied access to beaches in the vicinity of active dredging and grading. And parking at Little Lagoon Pass may be restricted due to it being used as a staging area for the dredging operation.
Meanwhile at Perdido Pass anglers have been taking advantage of the recently reopened parking area as work has progressed to the north side of the bridge. Eventually a new guardrail and boardwalk will be added there, along with lighting and a revamped parking lot. Fishing from the jetties continues to be good for bluefish, mangrove snapper, and redfish. Flounder may be around around too, but the season for flounder in Alabama and Florida is closed until December 1st. But this is still the best time of year to find “keeper sized” mangrove snapper (12 inches total length in Alabama) from the seawall or jetties. Just be sure to have the mandatory Reef Fish Endorsement license ($10), and use non-stainless circle hooks mandatory for such reef fish. Live bull minnows, finger mullet, or baby LYs are widely considered the best baits for mangroves now, as live shrimp are quickly destroyed by pinfish and pigfish. Once the water temperature decreases from the middle to low 70s pinfish should gradually become less of a nuisance.
Along the beaches, away from active dredging areas, surf anglers may find occasional bull reds, black drum, or pompano, with a permit in the mix from time to time. These neotropical cousins to pompano have become increasingly more numerous as well as larger over the past several years in our area. Though still considered “uncommon”, they seem to turn up as an inconsistent bycatch for pompano fishers. Here’s a hint, permit especially relish ghost shrimp. Morning low tides favor slurping ghost shrimp for bait along the Gulf beaches whenever the surf is fairly calm, and it helps if the water is clear too.
Presentation of these soft baits can be a challenge though, often coming off the hook when cast on a conventional double hook pompano rig. Wrapping ghost with a few strands of Magic Thread will help keep them on the hook. It helps with penaeid shrimp too, or any other soft bait when you are casting with heavy weighted pompano rigs as is often the case in rough water. The general rule of one ounce of weight per foot of wave height often serves the angler well. Otherwise, in calmer waves a stealthier presentation is often more fruitful for the angler. Try a Carolina rig or Fishfinder rig on light tackle, weight less than an ounce, and 10 to 15 pound test leader material with a #6 or #4 kahle hook to fool these wary fish. They make great rigs for “whiting” (Gulf and Northern kingfish) too. Often these rigs can be fished from the beach out the beach sandbar with much success, loads of fun and fine eating!