Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
As November comes an end we find ourselves deeper in the grip of fall like weather and fishing trends. More frequent and powerful cold fronts have brought more rain, though we remain in a severe drought. Such strong systems are typically followed by a few chilly nights and days. Still no telling exactly when we will see the first freeze of the year along the coast, how long that will stick around, or how it will affect the fishing in the weeks ahead. The Gulf water temperature is flirting with 70 degrees, while inshore bay waters are almost entirely in the 60s. That means most of the menhaden and a lot of the mullet have moved out of the bays and into the Gulf where they are being pursued by schools of hungry bull redfish. Consequently the action seen at the point near Fort Morgan is a bit less frequent now. Though bottom fishing action is still a viable option with more large red and black drum patrolling the surfzone. Here’s a tip: those pesky speckled swimming crabs that eat your bait in the surf make fine bait for the drumfish, and they taste great too.
Pompano fishing, or rather catching has been hit or miss recently as is usually the case during the fall run. Some days are more productive than others due to weather and or water conditions including surf height and tide phase. Not only is the tide moving a factor that influences the beach bite on a day to day basis, but the amount and timing of the tide differential has a huge influence on fish movements and feeding patterns all over the vicinity. That tide differential will be least in the days preceding and following the next NEAP tide of December 6th.
Most anglers targeting pompano use double drop pompano rigs on long rods (9 to 12 feet) with 5000 to 6000 size reels and 20 to 30 pound braided line. Often the bait is fresh dead shrimp with or without Fishbites or Fishgum as a supplement. Sometimes just the synthetic bait strip is used because soft organic bait won’t stay on the hook long and it perhaps cuts down on the casting distance. This is especially true when the surf is particularly rough, making heavier weights necessary. But when the Gulf is calm pompano tend to ignore such offerings. But they will fall for a more stealthy presentation on a single drop rig, Fishfinder rig or Carolina rig. In fact a ghost shrimp threaded onto a #4 kahle hook presented on the bottom is an ideal way to tempt wary pompano in calm, clear water. Just be sure to secure the ghost shrimp on the hook with a bit of Magic Thread, available at any local bait shop.
Wave size is another factor influencing beach fishing as breaking waves help create feeding zones for target species like pompano, whiting, and drum (red or black) on the back side of sandbars.
Recent storms have changed the bottom structure in many locations forcing anglers to scout around for better fishing spots. Another factor influencing beach fishing has been the ongoing beach dredging operation in Gulf Shores. Some beach anglers in west and east Gulf Shores will be displaced by the “beach re-nourishment project” through this fortnight. Areas in the vicinity of active pumping are cordoned off and the extent of pipe laid along the beach may impede egress to anglers pulling a cart. So it benefits those fishing affected areas to keep up on the latest progress of this project online at olsen-associates.com/gsob.
Fishing the Alabama Point seawall or jetty at Perdido Pass in Orange Beach is easier around NEAP tide days (Dec. 6th) because the current does not run near as strong as during the week before and or after. More structure loving sheepshead should be showing up around the pass as the water cools off, and that helps slow down the pinfish which terrorize fisherman’s baits. Small to medium sized live shrimp drifted in the current with just a splitshot or two works well for sheepshead, plus other fish, in a slow current. Sight fishing sheepshead feeding on rocks with fiddler crabs can be quite effective then too. Whenever the current is running stronger, you will need to add more weight and that increases the risk of getting hung up in the rocks. Noting the location between the edge of the rocks and clear sand can help keep you out of trouble with a slowly creeping bottom presentation. Use a small single hook like a #6 All Purpose or Kahle for fewer hangups. And use leader material with slightly less breaking strength than your main line, so if your hook does get hung on a rock you can break the leader and save your weight and swivel. All you have to do is tie on a new hook or piece of leader line to get back in the game for a fraction of the time and expense. Everybody fishing there with weights gets hung up sooner or later. But like one old timer said “If you are sheepshead fishing and not getting hung up at times, you are fishing in the wrong place.”
Sheepshead are one of our native fish species that tolerate well conditions of cooler water. In fact they thrive in the late fall and through the winter because they are one of the truly omnivorous fish in our area. Often seen grazing on rocks and barnacles, sheepshead supplement their diet with a large amount of vegetable material, mostly algae which grows on hard structures. The algae grows well in waters with at least fair visibility as that lets more sunlight in. Hidden amongst the algae are the small crustaceans sheepshead also feed upon. They routinely munch barnacles and young oysters, but seem to relish mussels. Mussels are much smaller than oysters and grow faster. They too provide a great food source that sustains the metabolism of sheepshead through the cooler months of the year. Some savvy anglers have learned to harvest mussels and barnacles, which unlike oysters are NOT REGULATED, and use them as chum or bait for sheepshead. They can be crushed up and placed in small mesh bags or piece of panty hose, then tied on a hook. Barnacles and mussels may be scraped from piling, seawalls and rocks exposed at low tide. Strong northerly winds help lower sealevel along the back bays and Intercoastal waterway and Passes exposing these crustaceans to the anglers. Low winter tides also expose more tidal flats along the Gulf beaches making “slurping” for ghost shrimp easier. These make great bait too, and just about any fish now active in our waters loves to eat them.
The work on Seawall Park under and north of the Perdido Pass Bridge should be wrapping up soon, much to the delight of anglers eagerly wanting to get back to fishing the structure there. The new boardwalk, railing and lighting north of the bridge should enhance the safety and “fishability” of that venue immensely. This will be timely, as there are already plenty of local anglers and snowbirds looking for an alternate fishing venue since the Gulf State Park Pier has closed for repair. Anglers used to fishing there are being told the tentative time frame to reopen the popular facility is mid-summer 2024. Let’s hope for the best and keep fishing!