Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 2/20/24

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 2/20/24
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

The weather this winter continues to be a battle of seasons, with mild springlike periods of two to three days interrupted by strong storm systems, followed by a cooling trend all in the course of a week. Nothing too severe lately, thank goodness, so the water temperature has settled to about seasonal norms around 60 degrees. Though we are certainly not immune to another freeze, indications are looking like we have seen the worst of this winter.
As one would expect, the fishing has languished in the cooler waters lately, with a few notable exceptions. Large loner black drum continue to awaken dozing surf fishers who are targeting pompano which continue to be quite rare. Fresh dead shrimp are the most popular baits, but using live shrimp or ghost shrimp would likely improve your odds of success by 5 to 10 times! Look for improvement on the beach front with more pompano, whiting, and maybe an occasional flounder once gulf water temperatures rebound into the middle 60s over the next few weeks.
With cooler waters inshore, sheepshead should continue to meander in the general direction of the Gulf passes in anticipation of their annual spawn. Sheepshead seem to get a LOT of attention from inshore boat and kayak fishermen, who find them easier to target than speckled trout and slot redfish. Though one exceptional local inshore fisherman, Drew Giles recently landed “the fish of a lifetime” in a nearby river when a huge striped bass (30 inches long, weighing 34 pounds) intercepted his lure intended for speckled trout, and towed his boat around for a while on light bait-casting tackle.
Beachbound anglers can look for sheepshead along the rock jetty along the west side of Perdido Pass with fiddler crabs and live shrimp. On cloudy or rough days, try fishing along the sandy bottom near the rocks with ghost shrimp for sheepshead as they begin gathering into their pre-spawn aggregations. Occasional bycatch while sheepshead fishing from the end of the rocks may include redfish, puppy drum, and even an early season pompano or speckled trout. Bluefish are a distinct possibility too, especially on live bait.
The fences for Phase II and III came down at Seawall Park Thursday February 15, to unceremoniously open the area under and north of the Perdido Pass Bridge. Within a few hours, and through much of that night, anglers fished hard and landed several over-slot redfish, mostly on live shrimp. That has been pretty much a pattern for fishing during the nights since, with anglers taking advantage of access to the lighted areas landing mostly slot-sized redfish. As the season progresses, there is no telling what will turn up along that seawall in warmer waters. It is so great to have full 24/7 access to wonderful venue once again. The City of Orange Beach should be commended for getting this area reopened to the public.
As is usually the case, speed and direction of the tidal current seems to be the controlling factor that triggers the fish biting along the seawall, with amount of light, water clarity, wind speed, and wind direction further complicating the equation for interested fishermen. For sure, now the area is accessible it has been getting PLENTY of attention from anglers to solve the riddle of catching fish there. Many things are about the same as before, but there are a few subtle differences that may influence the time and precise location fish are feeding. Then fishermen need to consider their bait and presentation to close the deal and catch some fish. Many of these fishermen are trying this spot for the first time as displaced pier fishermen or newcomers. So, please pack patience along with the rest of your gear and remember, we all had a learning curve when it came to catching fish at a new spot.
Look for increasing numbers of sheepshead along the seawall during daylight hours through the coming weeks. Times when the tidal current is on the wane are usually more productive as the sheepshead venture out from their hiding places in search of food then. Structure, depth, water clarity and current speed are the parameters that help a savvy angler determine their best bait and presentation for the conditions. Being more mobile and attentive to details and changes in that environment below your feet will go a long way in helping you catch more fish there.
Incoming tides generally bring slightly warmer and even clearer water into the pass until the point the current speed stirs up sediments which may shut down the bite for a while. That’s when an acute knowledge of what to expect as the tide flow progresses can help you relocate to a productive area along the wall where the current may be deflected or not run as strong. Keep track of the tide tables for each day, and note the details of how conditions change from one spot from another and try to take advantage of what the conditions give you. Some anglers move two, three times, or more before they find the right combination that produces bites for them. Of course, watching other anglers can help too, either from seeing what details makes them more successful, or less successful.
The NEAP tide period centering on February 26th and 27th is the most pivotal tidal event during this fortnight. Note the daily rising tide cycles are gradually moving into the afternoon hours as we get closer to spring time. Also, the time when the tide current slows or pauses adjusts about 45 minutes later each day. Anglers can use this as a planning tool when deciding the place and time they want to fish.
The beach dredging operation concluded during the previous fortnight, leaving surf anglers to adjust to new beach structure configurations along with a general lack of fish attracting structure. Hopefully, spring tides and less frequent storms will allow sand structures to develop that will hold pompano and other fish that should begin moving into the area through the coming weeks.
Little Lagoon Pass dredging is slowly making headway to increase the water flow in and out of Little Lagoon from the Gulf. Most of the pass is still to shallow to support fish egress or fishing in general except in the deeper dredged troughs at either end. Speckled trout usually begin staging along the dropoff edges during the incoming tides, especially in the late afternoon hours. Slow sinking MirrOlures or MirrOdines work well in these spots for trout at times. And topwater baits can be particularly successful in low light conditions.
Gulf State Park Pier repairs continue with the meticulous process of removing sunken debris below the bottom to allow room for replacement piling to be set into place. This arduous phase requires exact placement of piling sets (in threes) that will support piling caps and spans to form the backbone to bridge the shoreward pier to the free-standing octagon. Then the pace should pick up with building new ipe wood rails and floor panels all the way out to the end, plus fixing the waterlines, electrical, lighting and the elevator. They have a long way yet to go!
Access to the Mobile Street Boardwalk will be on hold while that structure is closed and replaced through the coming months using state oil spill funds set aside for such maintenance. Anglers will still be able to access the beach by way of the Emergency Vehicle sand trail west of the current boardwalk. The Project also includes improvements to the 30 vehicle parking lot to allow better drainage so rainwater will not stand for days as it now does. Current beach erosion has encroached to the dune line near the access point, so there may be a drop off there for now. But the replacement structure promises to be ADA compliant, meaning it will have a ramp and not stairs. And that will be easier for anglers to egress once the project is completed.

Milton Rittelmeyer-PierPiling A new day is dawning at the Gulf State Park Pier as Milton Rittelmeyer captured the meticulous progress of replacement piling going in to bridge the +200 foot gap left by Hurricane Sally in September 2020.