Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
August is that time of year when we slip into the doldrums, also called the dog days of summer. That’s when we beg for a refreshing seabreeze, or at least a cloud to shield from the scorching hot sun.
During a typical day, the air temperatures can spike into the middle 90s, while the water temperature languishes in the mid to upper 80s.
Truly tropical-like conditions that can spawn fierce thundershower activity at almost any time, and occasionally even a hurricane.
We are approaching the most active part of the season, so let’s hope and pray we are spared the worst this year. Weather vigilance and preparation are essential parts of every life along this stretch of the Emerald Coast.
Hopefully, the calmer conditions forecast as we begin August will continue for a while, so we might get rid of this persistent plague of June grass. The green algae growing throughout the surfzone has hampered beach and pier fishing efforts for several months now. very unusual for our part of the coast. Recently, there have been areas of improving conditions, and some beaches are now even completely clear. But the situation changes from day to day, especially nearer to inlets and bays. So, if you find yourself in the midst of the green goo, perhaps relocating to another venue will provide better conditions.
Many of the fish species are stressed by the heat as well. The best times to fish are usually early (5 to 9 a.m.), and late (5 to 9 p.m.). 85 degrees is about the upper limit of tolerance for some of our native fish species. Summertime die-offs of Scaled and False herring (locally called “LYs) are not unusual under these tepid conditions, and are nothing to be alarmed about.
In fact, nature has evolved that most of these dying or dead fish provide nourishment for pelicans, seas turtles, bottle-nose dolphins, sharks, tarpon and rays. Nothing is ever really wasted in the wild. Even gamefish will take advantage of an easy meal when LYs struggle near the surface. The flashing and splashing of a baitfish in death throes quickly gets the attention of hungry mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish. They will readily strike these baitfish or similar looking lures. Anglers can key off on this bite by using bubble rigs with a 3 or 4 inch floating plug, or a small tube lure or crappie jig. Or by using small live LYs hooked through the fore belly. Tension applied to the line forces the baitfish to turn sideways, mimicking the death dance of a compromised LY, which is an easy meal for predators.
The baits can be caught from piers, docks or seawalls with small hook Sabiki rigs, a red ribbon rig, or a 3/8” mesh castnet. Two to three dozen 3 inch long LYs can be kept alive in a 5 gallon bucket with an aerator for a while as long as the water doesn’t get too hot. Warmer water water holds less oxygen, and that is what causes them to die.
Light or medium spinning tackle (in the 6 to 12 pound class) is a great match up for the typical one to three pound fish. But the sharp teeth of mackerel and bluefish necessitate the use of a heavy monofilament or light steel leader. Usually just a few inches of single strand wire is enough to protect the light line from getting cut off by these slashing predators. Live shrimp can also be used in lieu of baitfish, but they too are fragile in the heat. The hook can be a small #8 treble, or a long shanked #2 Aberdeen style. Tru-Turn hooks in this size are a great tool for hooking fast running, sharp toothed fish like the spanish mackerel from the pier or seawall. While catching limits isn’t all that common this time of year, the fish are running good size (up to 3 pounds) and getting enough fish for a fresh caught dinner is not unusual at all.
You might even want to enjoy a nice fresh catch and cook meal at a local restaurant. That’s what the Klecker family from Peoria did this past week after fishing from the shore in Orange Beach. Caden (14 yr) and Gavin (12 yr) had a great time with their dad catching enough spanish mackerel and whiting (Gulf kingfish) from the surf to make a nice meal. They were just using pieces of frozen cut shrimp and Easy-Flea Fishbites on light tackle to catch whiting close to shore, and artificial lures (spoons) on medium class tackle to catch mackerel and ladyfish farther out.
Another popular method for finding fish action on short fishing trips is to walk the shoreline at dawn or dusk while throwing plugs and spoons. This method allows the angler to cover a long stretch of beach in search of free roaming bluefish, spanish mackerel, ladyfish (skipjack), and blue runners (hardtails), and even speckled trout and redfish. These species can be caught from the Gulf State Park Pier and Perdido Pass area as well, but the anglers have to wait for the fish to come to them there. Patience and persistence are keys to success, as is anticipation of the conditions one will face at any point during your fishing time. Weather forecasting tools, near time buoy reports, and radar scans are critical tools in knowing what to expect in the hours or days ahead. And the angler who does so will much more likely be successful than the one who just runs off chasing old fishing reports. How many times have we heard that old saying “The fish aren’t biting today. You should have been here yesterday”?
The best way to prevent that frustration is to learn to interpret the conditions for yourself and adjust your target species, tactics and venue to take advantage of what is biting now! Watching week old videos and outdated internet reports and trying to repeat what they did is not going to replace having your feet in the sand and your eyes on the water looking for what swims in it.
The questions I hear most often from newcomers after “What is biting?” are “What kind of fish is this?”, “Is it edible?” and “Can I keep it?” Anglers unfamiliar with the area can best prepare themselves by visiting outdooralabama.com or myfwc.com to obtain their fishing license and get an idea of the fishing regulations, species profiles, and general information about how to catch what. Also, phone apps like “Fish Rules” are good sources of this regulation and identification info. Specific details to target particular species, where to go, and what tackle to use is best gained by visiting some of our fine local tackle shops. Also, a lot of local knowledge can be gained by walking out on the Gulf State Park Pier and observing the anglers catching fish there. Most are more than willing to share tips about how they are doing it, so as to help you prepare to do it for yourself. The pier even rents out and sells rudimentary tackle in case you did not bring any tackle. Be ready for the heat, and the HOT bite 😉
Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook