Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook

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

Recent air and water temperatures are just about where we expect them to be in early November. Every few days another front ushers in a day or two of increasing rain chances and rising surf, followed by cooler, drier air from the north with clearing skies.
That’s when the water in the back bays and waterways may drop below 70. Meanwhile, the Gulf water temperature has been slipping into the low 70s with the cooler air and shorter length of days.
These contrasts set up the dynamics for good fall fishing along the coast. At the top of the list is the bull red bite at the end of the Fort Morgan peninsula. Though there are still some brutish jack crevelle and blacktip sharks in the surfzone along with occasional large black drum, it is the big redfish that take center stage this time of year.
They school up near the south end of Mobile Bay to intercept scores of mullet, menhaden and other smaller finfish that are leaving the bay to seek the relatively warmer waters of the deeper Gulf through the upcoming winter.
It’s a long hike to the Point from the parking lots at Fort Morgan, and often a cold one in the early morning. But nothing warms the muscles and flexes the stiff joints of shorebound anglers on a chilly fall day quite like the pull of a big redfish.
These specimens commonly exceed 40 inches in length and weigh over 20 pounds. Surf rods from 7 to 14 feet are utilized by these fishermen intent on ‘trophy fishing’ for reds. The reels are usually spinning type in the 5000 or larger series capable of holding at least 250 yards of 20 to 40 pound line. Often they need to heave a heavy bait (chunk of cut fish or crab) 50 to 75 yards from shore into the rough surf to find the fish.
Big waves and strong currents, which drive the intensity of the bite often require weights in excess of 6 to 8 ounces just to keep the bait in place on the bottom while waiting for a bite. Sometimes that may be hours apart, but some days the action may be almost non-stop for hours. Yep, that’s why they call it fishing.
Fortunately there are plenty of other options available to fishermen that may not require such herculean efforts. Though keep in mind flounder season is closed in Alabama and Florida through November.
Pompano are still on the list of possibilities though, as are whiting, bluefish and sheepshead. As coastal waters cool, sheepshead move out of their warm water haunts in the estuaries and gather up nearer the passes. They orient tightly to ‘hard structures’ like rock jetties, seawalls and pier pilings, often actively feeding on algae along with occasional invertebrates they find on these structures. Live shrimp in various presentations are often used, but they like fiddler crabs too. Fiddlers are a little less susceptible to being ‘nibbled’ by overly abundant and aggressive pinfish than shrimp are.
In certain conditions, sheepshead prefer fiddler crabs, though you never know what they might eat. Ghost shrimp and hermit crabs are commonly used as alternative baits for sheepshead. They may also be caught on sand fleas, pieces of crabs, oysters, barnacles, clams and mussels but very rarely on lures. In any case a good presentation is usually key to getting sheepshead to take a bait, especially in calm, clear water. The fun part is they can be caught on tackle as light as the angler wishes to try. Lighter line often garners more bites, as does smaller hooks and lighter weights unless there is a strong current or wind. Don’t be afraid to experiment with bait, tackle and other presentation forms to find the bite.
Recently, clear water has been an issue at times around Perdido Pass with the dredging operation. Plus access to the southern half of the west jetty has been closed off to shore-bound fisherman. The good news is this short term project should be wrapping up soon and access restored. Look for NEAP tides to be a factor around November 5, but stronger tides will prevail through the rest of this fortnight. If we have clear skies around the full moon November 8th night fishing will be pretty well illuminated.
As the water in the surf zone cools off, the bite for pompano fishermen should get ‘cleaner’. The small jacks and croakers should be just about gone now, so using ghost shrimp becomes an even better option. Seagrass in the surf is still an issue in spots, but anglers willing to move to other venues are often able to find cleaner water to fish in.
Pier fishers at the Gulf State Park and Fort Morgan are going to have fewer options this month with the flounder closure. But hopefully sheepshead will more than take up the slack. Plus there should be a good variety of ‘pan fish’ on bottom like croakers, white trout and ground mullet. Try fresh dead shrimp on bottom for those. Though much less prevalent, spanish mackerel may still be available at the Gulf State Park Pier and west jetty at Perdido Pass. White jigs, spoons or small diving plugs will work for them.
Pictured: Jordan Gooding had a great day on the point catching bull redfish, Photo by G2 Coastal.