Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 2-8-23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

The prediction on February 2 by Gulf Shores Gus (our local weather prognosticating beach ghost shrimp) was for an end to winter when he emerged from his luxury sandbar burrow in front of the Hangout at low tide (7:30 am) under a dense layer of low clouds and did not see his shadow. Unfortunately no fish were on hand to eat him. So six more weeks of typical mid-winter doldrums were predicted as fishing prospects for from-shore anglers.
Though just as any day the sea fog clears away, we have seen some bright patches of fishing success recently. Freezing temperatures are behind us now, and through the foreseeable future. Plus water temperatures have risen a few degrees into the low 60s along the beaches and middle 60s out in the Gulf. This trend is expected to continue through this fortnight as temperature fluctuations occur around periodic Pacific fronts. These push in cool oceanic air to displace warmer/moister air off the Gulf of Mexico. That keep the coldest (arctic) air well north of the region, at least through mid February. So-called sea fog (advection fog) periodically forms any time the air temperature is warmer than the chilly coastal waters, especially around the shallow surf zone and bays. The air is cooled by the water it touches, and clouds form just above the surface.
One of the usual suspects of winter fishing are sheepshead which have been quite active inshore this winter. They are often referred to as “convict fish” due to their vivid color pattern of vertical black and white stripes. Also for their penchant of stealing bait off angler’s hooks with barely a nibble detected.
These piscatorial pickpockets are wary adversaries for anglers, often adept at biting a live shrimp off right behind the hook. But they are readily available, scrappy fighters and fine table fare which makes them a favorite target species for winter coastal anglers. Because sheepshead have a relatively small mouth, two to three inch long live shrimp or fiddler crabs are the preferred baits which are fished on medium to light classed terminal tackle. They have excellent eyesight too, and may be notoriously finicky about eating what anglers offer at times. This necessitates going to smaller hook sizes with lighter lines and more sensitive rod tips, just to get them to bite. Sheepshead fishing in Perdido Pass may be easier for anglers around the NEAP tide period February 9-10 than during the following week when the daily tidal variation will be at a maximum (nearly 2 ½ feet).
More bull redfish and large black drum are becoming available for fishermen along the beaches and Intercoastal Waterway Canal in this milder water and longer (slightly) length of daylight hours. Their big mouths can handle larger baits fished on the bottom, especially a fresh crab half or quarter. Generally a two to three foot long leader is used with enough weight (two to six ounces) for keeping the bait in place. Medium heavy spinning tackle (15 to 25 pound class) is ideally suited for these brutes which often weigh 15 to 30 pounds. They are breeding stock fish, and most are released for that reason alone. Plus larger specimens generally have coarser flesh, and large drum have a particularly bad reputation of being infested with a parasite called spaghetti worms. This kind of fishing is more about quality over quantity, and the wait between bites may be long. But anglers intent on trophy fishing instead of meat fishing are probably going to be pleased with the sport of it depending on how much time they put into it.
Along with sheepshead; pompano, whiting (Gulf kingfish), white trout, croaker, flounder and speckled trout numbers have been increasing across the area too. They have been more active in the surf as this mild early spring weather pattern continues. The usual spots like Perdido Pass seawall and jetty have been productive, along with Little Lagoon Pass, and even at the Gulf State Park Pier at times.
Fish are often hard to come by at the pier this time of year, especially in the morning hours. But a few good days are enough to keep anglers coming back to share good companionship, which may include coffee and doughnuts.
In January, DCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship mentioned that NOAA had provided their biological assessment to the US Army Corps of Engineers. This brings us one step closer in the arduous process of getting the pier repaired. That looks like it could start sometime after turtle nesting season ends November 30. Their plan is to order a lot of the materials beforehand and pre build pilings and spans on land to expedite the repair process next fall/winter. Meanwhile anglers on the pier will need to remain patient and content with the occasional good days Mother Nature provides them. Those are some the bright spot days mentioned earlier when more than a handful of keeper-sized whiting are caught, or a few pompano and flounder are landed.
While water temperatures remain consistently mild through the next few weeks, we can expect to see more sheepshead appear around hard structures in the Gulf, along with more pompano and whiting active in the surf. More flounder, bluefish, and speckled trout may be available around the passes and even in the surf as well, if winter is truly over.
GhostShrimp Gus the unofficial Gulf Shores weather prognosticating beach ghost shrimp predicted that winter is over on February 2.