Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 12-13-23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 12-13-23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

NEAP tide occurs on Dec. 20, the last day of fall, and climatological winter begins December 21. We can expect seasonal to perhaps below average temperatures to occur during this fortnight. So, there may even be a freeze or two, as is typical when fall comes to an end and we see occasional strong storm systems push through the area. That means a day or two of relatively warm air temperatures (60s to low 70s for highs) with increasing humidity as the wind switches to the south. A day or two of rain with variable weather conditions follows, then we get a cool down period with morning lows in the 40s or below. Air temperatures are moderated because of the influence of relatively mild water just a few miles offshore.
Water temperatures just 12 miles out in the Gulf have generally been in the upper 60s, but we can expect those to slide downward into the middle to low 60s through the rest of this month. However shallow inshore waters may dip well below 60 during “cold spells” behind these fronts. This brings a mixed blessing for shorebound anglers as it help run off most of the pinfish that have plagued fishermen for months, but it drastically thins out the number of fish in the surfzone too. Action at spots like the Point near Fort Morgan pales from what it was even a month ago. Most of the bull redfish have moved farther out into the Gulf following their main food source: menhaden and mullet.
Plus cooler water means the metabolism of the remaining fish will be slower so they eat less often. Fewer fish in the surf zone usually means longer waits between bites for set fishermen. Though there may still be enough action with pompano, whiting, and occasional redfish or black drum to keep things interesting for surf fishers.
Fortunately interference from the “beach nourishment” dredging has been minimal for Gulf Shores fishermen so far. The project is right about on schedule, benefiting from cooperative weather and few large wave height events to disrupt their 24/7 work pace. Most of their recent work has been along West Beach Boulevard, west of Little Lagoon Pass where there is no public access anyway. But that trend will change the week before Christmas when the dredging operation shifts to the Gulf State Park east of the pier toward the Pavilion.
I expect the bottom profiles along that productive stretch around Branyon Beach will look much different soon. You can keep up with the latest progress of this project online at olsen-associates.com.
While most beach fishermen use double drop pompano rigs with shrimp and/or Fishbites or Fishgum, locally caught ghost shrimp are without a doubt the best cold water bait for surf fishing especially when the water is fairly calm. A single drop rig, Carolina rig, or Fishfinder rig with a ghost shrimp on a #4 kahle hook often proves to be a superior presentation whenever the surf is calm and clear. Though even frozen shrimp may get bit occasionally, everything in the surfzone feeds primarily on ghost shrimp through the winter. Fish seem to love the scent of ghost shrimp even when wary or lethargic.
Ghost Shrimp can best be slurped (collected) with a Ghost Shrimp Pump, available at local bait & tackle shops. The ideal place to try is in calm, shallow water wherever their tell-tale inch high mounds are found. In cooler water ghost shrimp may tunnel two to three feet into the bottom sediment. Morning low tides, just as the tide starts coming back in, especially during the days following a strong cold front present the best conditions for gathering a few dozen ghosties for a day of fishing. Be sure to have some knee-high boots or better yet chest waders because that water is chilly and the air is often cooler!
Miracle Thread is another great item to have on hand to help secure the soft ghost shrimp onto your hook. Impale the shrimp on your hook and wrap the elastic thread around it several times to help it stay on the hook through the cast and until a fish finds it and eats it.
More fishermen are trying their luck along the beaches this year since the Gulf State Park Pier closed in mid November. Work at the pier site began November 29th when the first large pieces of debris were raised from the collapsed +200 foot section onto a work barge. Workers reported most of the debris is now buried in the sandy bottom, so that overburden will have to be uncovered by water jets. This meticulous recovery effort will continue for some time as weather conditions allow. It is not safe for the workers or barge to remain in the Gulf whenever waves are rough. So they must retreat to protected waters until the Gulf calms down again, hopefully after just a few days. Once recovered, these old piling, pile caps, and spans (totaling over 44 pieces) will be used to create new reefs in the vicinity of the pier, adding to what is already one of the largest artificial reef systems in the world.
Work is wrapping up with Phase 2 and Phase 3 at Perdido Pass Park where new railing and boardwalks have been installed all the way around the curve north of the Perdido Pass Bridge to the fence at the ALEA property line. Much work has been done but parts of the parking lot, lighting and other infrastructure still need additional attention before the park can be safely opened, perhaps by the end of this month.
Meanwhile, fishing along the Phase 1 portion of the seawall continues, and that should get better as the water gets cooler, helping thin out the bothersome pinfish. Sheepshead are now the best target species along the wall using fiddler crabs or live shrimp when the current is not too strong. Lighter tackle is often used here, but a long handled dip net will help assure your catch gets landed. Occasional “bull” redfish and even flounder are possible catches as well during this period. Sheepshead and bluefish are the main draw out on the rock jetty for able anglers so inclined.
Fiddler crabs are quite effective for sheepshead seen grazing along the rock riprap during calm water periods both in the channel and on the Gulf side. While bluefish often eat a live shrimp, they will also strike a variety of lures (jigs, spoons, and plugs). Just about everything eats live shrimp around the jetty and seawall this time of year!