Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
Similar to last month’s abrupt weather change in the wake of Hurricane Ian, the system named Nicole passed far enough to our east to only usher in a sharp cool snap. This should allow the Gulf water temperature to drop a couple more degrees into the low 70s. Meanwhile, water in the shallower back bays will cool off a bit faster as long as we keep getting these cold fronts that reinforce the cooler temperatures. Fish usually respond to this with a flurry of feeding activity, especially during the afternoon/evening rising tide. That’s when deepening water ‘filling in’ between the sandbars near shore may spark fish like pompano, “whiting” (Gulf and Northern kingfish), drum, redfish and bluefish to feed up until dark.
Sheepshead are another species which gets more active though usually around midday. In fact most sheepshead are caught between 9 am and 3 pm as they browse on rocks and pilings. Sheepshead are omnivorous with their winter diet consisting mostly of algae growing on hard surfaces. But they still consume a fair amount of invertebrate species they happen across.
Sheepshead will eat barnacles, oysters, mussels, snails, etcetera, but most are caught on live shrimp or fiddler crabs. They also like hermit crabs and rarely pass up a ghost shrimp fished on the bottom. Sheepshead are noted to be quite finicky at times when the water is calm and clear, so keeping the line diameter and terminal tackle to a minimum is often critical to getting a bite in those conditions.
They are scrappy fighters that repeatedly dive for the hard structures they tend to feed upon. So the angler has to find a tackle balance to get a bite, yet have enough strength to wear the fish down without being broken off on barnacles. The average sheepshead weighs two to four pounds, but they commonly exceed six pounds. So a net is often employed to land them, especially from the pier or jetty.
When conditions are favorable, sheepshead are a distinct possibility for anglers at the recently opened pier near Fort Morgan. They may also be caught near any rock rip-rap, jetties, seawalls or piers in or close to deeper water. It often takes some time and scouting to locate an area where sheepshead are feeding. And each day brings changes in the weather and water that may affect the way and time they bite. But sheepshead are well worth the effort and renowned as good table fare. Their white meat rivaling snapper in taste and texture.
Pompano and whiting remain the main targets for surf fishermen. But a decreasing number of large redfish are still available from points near the deeper passes like at Fort Morgan and Alabama Point. Now that the dredging operation is complete anglers have more sand on the west side of the west jetty. That makes the trek over the rocks shorter to get out to the end of the jetty. Redfish and bluefish will be the main quarry, but sheepshead are quite possible, and even some spanish mackerel are not out of the question.
Flounder are still available to anglers, but only as catch and release until December. But slot-sized redfish are occasional by-catch in the surf, as are large black drum. Bluefish are still available in the area mostly on spoons, but they will bite pompano rigs too. Look for them near Fort Morgan, the Gulf State Park Pier, the Four Seasons Pier, Little Lagoon Pass and Perdido Pass. They are often a bycatch for anglers using live shrimp for sheepshead in the Gulf too. So if you get cut-off, bluefish are the most likely culprit.
Timing your fishing trips becomes more critical as water temperature and other conditions change, especially because of our more volatile late fall weather. Some very good online resources are available to monitor the situation to determine what location may be best to fish at, or eliminate some that may be worse.
Most fishermen utilize the buoy data from 42012 (in the Gulf 12 miles south of Orange Beach). But there is also network of automated onshore reporting stations many are not aware of which are maintained by some folks at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. It is called “ARCOS” (Alabama’s Real-Time Coastal Observing System) and the station at Perdido Pass has recently been restored since it was taken out by Hurrcane Sally. Current data from that station (and others) can be found online at arcos.disl.org/stations/perdido-pass/. Fishermen can find such data as water temperature, salinity and turbidity to be quite useful when planning their fishing on a day-to-day basis.
Pictured: Ross and his dad Pug Bemis caught this nice flounder while at the new pier at Fort Morgan.