Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook

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

Well, we did have a few nice days of drier, cooler air (60s) in the area around mid September. Though these false falls do not hang around long before summer creeps back with its higher humidity and mild overnight low temperatures in the 70s.
Unfortunately the tropical threat returns with that, as we are still months away from the end of hurricane season.
But at least we had a respite from the summer like weather for a little while, and perhaps a taste of better fall fishing to come. Bluefish feeding at daybreak along the beaches, along with hard fighting jack crevelle and blacktip sharks have been the mainstay for surf pluggers for some time now. Try 4 to 8 inch surface ‘chuggers’ like the Halco Roosta Popper.
A fair number of pompano for this time of year are being taken on the double drop pompano rigs. Most surf fishers are content with the bite on shrimp and Fishbites or Fishgum, but sandfleas and ghost shrimp have been pulling in their fair share too, along with slightly more whiting. Fewer visitors in the area means not as many swimmers in the water, and less competition from other fishers. So the odds of catching some nice fish seem to increase, IF you can find them.
Beach anglers were not complaining too much about the recent long stretch of calm Gulf waters, just the relentless bouts with seaweed. Then the long, late summer doldrums broke down with the arrival of that first fall like cold front. After a few days of northerly winds, and nearly intolerable biting “dog flies”, the winds swung to easterly with a little ‘bump’ on the Gulf along with a nice longshore current. That trend may well continue through much of this fortnight unless a tropical system interferes. Let’s hope and pray that does not materialize for our area this year!
Once these early season cold fronts pass through, the easterly wind shift often moves the water around some, stirring up the bite too. And any prolonged period of choppy water could disperse much of the sea grass that has been plaguing fishermen for the past couple of months. Unfortunately, it may well push the female crabs back into the deeper Gulf water too. Blue crabs reach maturity in about a year, and may live 3 to 4 years. It appears the blue crabs had a good spawn along the beaches this year. Soon, tiny crab megalops should appear and make human swimmers uncomfortably ‘itchy’.
This phase of blue crab development follows a few weeks after the eggs are laid in the sandy surfzone. The free-swimming zoea and megalopa grow quickly in our warm nutrient rich waters as they make their way toward the estuaries. Along their journey, they and other forms of zooplankton become food themselves for a variety of filter feeding fish like menhaden (called pogies) and Scaled herring (referred to as LYs). These fish in turn are fed upon by the intermediate predator fish like the jacks, bluefish, mackerel, and drum fish which anglers enjoy catching.
Red drum (redfish) consume a large number of finfish as fall approaches. But they also relish blue crabs, as do their close relatives the black drum. While their smaller cousins of the croaker and kingfish clan seem to prefer smaller crustaceans exclusively. The Gulf and Northern kingfish especially, which are often caught from the Gulf beaches, feed heavily on mole crabs (called sand fleas), and beach ghost shrimp among other invertebrates. Low tide during the daylight hours through most of the rest of this month makes it easier to ‘slurp’ ghost shrimp around sandbars along the Gulf beaches. The main break in this tide cycle is the NEAP tide period around September 26th, plus any time southerly winds push waves and tides higher against the shoreline.
Mangrove snapper is another great target species for from-shore anglers this time of year. These fast growing members of the snapper family can be caught from most piers, docks, seawalls and jetties now. Terminal tackle should be minimal (hook and weight), but mangroves are feisty fighters that live near barnacle encrusted objects. So the rod should be ‘beefy’ enough to keep from being broken off. Medium or even medium heavy class tackle (10 to 20 pound line) on 7 foot fast taper rods and 4000 series reels are ideal for this fishery. Live bait works best for mangroves, especially “bull minnows” or other small finfish under three inches long. They just love small live shrimp too, but so do the numerous pinfish and baby jacks that scour the shallow water looking for anything that looks edible. Check the local regulations on mangrove snapper as they differ between Alabama and Florida. Plus in Alabama an additional “Reef Fish Endorsement” ($10 license) is required to retain mangrove snapper.
Speaking of jacks, the surfzone is now loaded with miniature jack crevelle. Packs of these half to three quarter pound ‘tiny terrors’ patrol the near shore regions, ready to consume any prey items they come across. That includes both invertebrates as well as small finfish. Consequently they will strike a variety of small lures and are suckers for mini jigs and spoons. They can provide hours of fun on ultralight spin tackle or fly tackle.
Action on the Gulf State Park Pier has been ‘spotty’ of late at best. Decent mackerel bites (and anything else for that matter) have been interrupted by the presence of too many sharks intent on making a meal of hooked or released fish. Consequently, a lot of anglers have been targeting mangrove snapper and flounder which stay close to the pier, though quite a few of those are under-sized. Still, this beats having no pier at all. As was the case two years ago at this time when Hurricane Sally wrecked plans to reopen the newly renovated pier.
Some day in the future though, we hope to get that chance again…