Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
It appears our weather roller coaster ride may soon again drop from recent record high temperatures to below average. That would soon be reflected by lowering Gulf water temperatures, which average from the upper to middle 60s by the end of this month.
In the shallower back bays and surfzone, the water should cool off even faster once cooler air settles in. Such a trend may shut down some fishing opportunities for a few days, if the variation in those nearshore waters is too unsettling for the fish. Any temperature change of more than 5 degrees is often enough to keep fish from biting for several days, until things settle down and their metabolism adjusts to the new temperature range.
Water near shore will be coolest in the morning hours as relatively colder water from the bays drains out the passes with outgoing tides. Conversely, we can expect a water temperature rise of a few degrees through the afternoon with incoming tides. This will likely be felt most between the 19th and 26th of the month when the tidal range is highest (up to 2.5 feet). That is an extreme tide change in our lil corner of the world, and it could have a profound effect of the fishing prospects all along the coast. Of course the specific weather we experience during that period will be a contributing factor too. Strong high pressure (with clearing skies and strong northerly winds will exaggerate morning low tides. But if we get a moderate to strong southerly wind flow around then, the tide level would be higher than predicted into the evening hours near the time of astronomical high tide. A NEAP tide through the 15th and 16th may dampen the temperature modification of the water for a few days. But that will change as we get increasing tidal flow through the week following.
Anglers have been finding scattered schools of sheepshead throughout the area. Though most have been running a little below average size, perhaps even under sized as is typical in fall. Keep in mind sheepshead are a regulated species in both Alabama and Florida, with slight differences in both size and creel limits. It pays to know before you go!
Most of the sheepshead have been staging around hard structures in the back bays and canals where at least some tidal current is present. Some have been showing up around the Gulf State Park lately where they were caught on both live shrimp and fiddler crabs. Pinfish have still been a problem for anglers targeting sheepshead at the pier as well as Perdido Pass. But that could change as we approach the Christmas season once the water cools off again.
Pompano have been quite spotty in the surfzone lately. Perhaps because the Gulf has been so calm and clear recently, with the sky so foggy.
Plus the sandbar structure has not been particularly favorable to target pompano either. As you venture eastward, in most locations the longshore sandbar is beyond casting range from shore. At least recent weather and water temperatures have allowed anglers to wade out to cast to deeper holes and drop offs, but with varying results. The sandbars along the Fort Morgan peninsula seem to have been more conducive at times for holding pompano. Though the afternoon rising tide may add a little more depth to the water in the trough. This would encourage more pompano to utilize that beach structure.
We received news the upcoming shoreline dredging project has likely been delayed until next fall. So at least for this winter it will not interfere with surf fishing.
Whiting and ground mullet have been providing the bulk of action for many shorebound anglers. Though their numbers and sizes seem smaller than we have seen the past few years. Again, it may just be a cycle due to odd weather. Or, it could be a sign of localized depletion from over-fishing these non-regulated species. Time may well tell.
In the meantime, anglers can do their part by being more discreet and releasing whiting under 11 or 12 inches. That way they should be able to reproduce at least once. These kingfish grow only about an inch per year after they reach sexual maturity. So it takes a number of years to obtain those trophy catches, close to two pounds, which we all love so much. And PLEASE refrain/discourage feeding fish discards to herons and pelicans. It exacerbates the situation and greatly increases the likelihood of that bird being involved in a fishing gear entanglement.
Redfish and black drum are still viable options for anglers fishing the passes or Intercoastal Waterway. Cut crab seems to be the best bait, though more slot-sized fish can be caught on live shrimp. Live bait availability has been OK at times, but seasonal weather and holiday interruptions in the live bait supply are not unusual. Plan ahead, or be prepared to catch your own bait as we quickly approach the time of year when ghost shrimp becomes a bait of choice for many fish species.
Pictured: Young Cayden Holder caught his first sheepshead from the Gulf State Park Pier.