Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
Though winter fishing options are limited for shore-bound anglers, there have still been some notable catches reported along the Baldwin beaches. The water has cleared up nicely between cold fronts, which seem to be slipping into a frequency of about 4 to 5 days. Plus milder air temperatures have allowed more fishermen to venture onto the Gulf State Park Pier to try for sheepshead, and onto the beaches for whiting (Gulf kingfish) and pompano. Also some over-slot redfish (longer than 26 inches) and large black drum have been landed throughout the area.
Strong tidal fluctuations during the first week of the year hindered fishing efforts from the seawall at Perdido Pass, but some nice “bull” redfish have been caught there recently. The tides during this fortnight should not be quite as powerful, which may afford better conditions to deal with.
Successful anglers adjust to changing weather and water conditions, just like the fish they pursue. Finding ‘a good spot’ on any specific day might be a challenge, but even more so is determining when fish are feeding at that location. And as always in colder water, having the right bait and presentation is a huge plus to increase your success. This is the time of year when good bait will outproduce poor quality bait10 to 1. Not that fish cannot be caught on frozen shrimp, but FRESH dead (that is never frozen), or at least IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) will provide better results. And LIVE bait is very often worth the expense and/or time to procure because the fewer fish we have in the surfzone often tend to be ‘pickier’ about what they eat.
Live beach ghost shrimp is one of the premier baits this time of year because it is the primary food item for most of the fish making a living there. These are a soft shellfish that toothless fish like pompano and whiting can easily break apart and swallow, and they are relatively plentiful in the surf zone. These are best acquired by use of a ghost shrimp pump. A three foot long PVC tube with a suction mechanism to draw the sand and shrimp out of the bottom.
Other invertebrates (like mole crabs, called sandfleas) are still present, but not near as plentiful or active in this 65-degree water. The next best bait is often live shrimp. Either small ones in whole condition, or larger ones broken or cut into inch-long pieces which sluggish fish can eat without much effort. Smaller baits require smaller terminal tackle to work most effectively, especially in calm, clear water when these fish are most wary. A #4 or #6 kahle hook is is ideal sized for the sometimes finicky pompano and whiting, yet strong enough to land larger fish.
Wind and wave conditions dictate where the best feeding locations (in the surf) will be for these fish, and the tackle requirements anglers need to reach them. The old adage of 90% of the fish being in 10% of the water is never so true as in mid-winter. Fish simply respond to their environment, and savvy fishermen won’t underestimate that nor overthink it. The needs of these fish are simple, to find their ‘grocery’, and not get eaten by a predator in the meantime. This time of year Bottlenose dolphins routinely scour the surfzone and shallow inshore areas looking for a meal. Mullet are their primary quarry, but dolphins are opportunistic predators that will take advantage of any medium sized fish species. Many of which anglers like to target.
Mid morning, or mid day low tides are the January normal. But blustery post frontal offshore winds may exaggerate the low level of water for a couple of days. Conversely, strong onshore winds prior to the cold fronts can drive sea level several feet higher, especially when that is coincident with the higher astronomical tide during nighttime hours. Still the fish native to the surf zone adjust to these changes, and anglers should too in order to be successful.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently announced the long-awaited rebuild of the Fort Morgan Pier should be completed soon, and reopened in the spring. Also, the State Park system released an update of the process to repair the Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier. Once the permitting has been approved, bids will be let and they are hopeful for a reopening in the fall.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
Anglers using Gulf State Park/Orange Beach public access venues from the pier to east of Perdido Bay bridge should be aware their 2020 parking passes have expired. New parking access stickers can be obtained at the park office for $100. But are free to Orange Beach residents and all veterans. Meanwhile anglers utilizing Gulf Shores venues like Little Lagoon Pass Park, will note the pay-to-park kiosks are covered. Fees will not be collected at those venues until Spring Break in March.
Pictured: Clay and Carter Coomer from Kentucky admire a multi-spotted redfish that Clay caught from the Gulf State Park Pier. His biggest saltwater fish to date.
Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook