Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 12-27-23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

Even as water temperatures continue to slip downward at the beginning of this winter, the Gulf is still a few degrees above the average of 63 degrees. Of course the bay water temperatures are 5 to 10 degrees cooler than that since we continue to experience cold fronts pass through the area about once a week. Sheepshead, speckled trout, and redfish catches from inshore boats have been strong lately, while from-shore anglers are having a tougher time of it.
With the Gulf State Park Pier closed and much of Perdido Pass Seawall Park still not open, many anglers have struggled to find venues that produce fish. In addition, most of the beaches in Gulf Shores have either been recently dredged, or are still being dredged. Plus intermittent rough surf conditions related to the storm systems has limited the number of days conducive to surf fishing.
Historically this is the slowest time of year for pier and shore anglers anyway, so these fishers will really have to step up their game to be successful with any regularity.
Good planning is the first key to success, and scouting is the best way to do that. If you aren’t here for an extended time, ask for directions at the local baitshops, or use internet resources like Facebook fishing theme pages to help find out what has been going on, or NOT going on at certain venues. Sometimes it behooves you to eliminate unproductive spots as much it does to find productive ones.
Of course weather and tide play huge rolls in any successful fishing plans and solutions to finding productive locations and times. Early morning outgoing tides are simply not very often conducive to catching cold-blooded fish like pompano and whiting which are already dealing with a slowed metabolism due to chilly water temperatures in the shallow surfzone. Often though, these same spots which are barren in the morning, come to life through the afternoon once the sun has warmed the bottom and the water gets a little deeper with the incoming tide. These conditions encourage fish to move into relatively shallower water which is now slightly warmer. It is not unusual at all this time of year, for the last hour of daylight to be the most productive of the day for surf fishing.
Good bait is another critical key to success often overlooked by winter anglers. While frozen shrimp may produce occasional bites, “fresh shrimp” is almost always going to entice more fish into biting your hook. Even if you have to buy live shrimp and kill them yourself to ensure your bait is the best quality you can find. But locating live shrimp or even true “fresh dead” shrimp isn’t always easy since intermittent cold and rain and wind interfere with the local bait suppliers more often in winter.
One trick I have learned is to refrigerate leftover live shrimp and fresh dead shrimp, overnight in a small Ziploc bag. If I am not going to fish for a few days (to a week), freezing the bait in a baggie with the shrimp just wrapped in a wet paper towel works well. For longer terms, up to 6 months, I prefer to freeze shrimp in seawater (never tap water), in a small plastic container. The salty water freezes a little colder and does not dilute the flavors the shrimp put out.
Everything in the surfzone feeds primarily on ghost shrimp through the winter. Fish seem to love the scent of ghost shrimp even when wary or lethargic. Ghost Shrimp can best be slurped (collected) with a Ghost Shrimp Pump, available at local bait & tackle shops, or you can build your own for about $30 worth of parts from a hardware store. The ideal place to try is in calm, shallow water wherever their tell-tale inch high mounds are found. In water cooler than 60 degrees ghost shrimp may tunnel down two to three feet into the bottom sediment.
Morning low tides, and just as the tide starts coming back in, especially during the days following a strong cold front, present the best conditions for gathering a few dozen ghosties for a day of fishing. Be sure to have some knee-high boots or better yet chest waders because that water is really chilly and the air is often cooler! Miracle Thread is another great item to have on hand to help secure the soft ghost shrimp onto your hook. Impale the shrimp on your hook and wrap the elastic thread around it several times to help it stay on the hook through the cast and until a fish finds it and eats it. Leftover ghost shrimp can be treated just like regular penaeid shrimp for storage in a refrigerator or freezer.
Most beach fishermen use double drop pompano rigs with shrimp and/or Fishbites or Fishgum. But locally caught ghost shrimp are without a doubt the best cold water bait for surf fishing especially when the water is fairly calm. Then a single drop rig, Carolina rig, or Fishfinder rig with a ghost shrimp on a #4 kahle hook often proves to be a superior presentation.
The beach nourishment dredging project is running a little behind schedule due to loosing several days because of rough surf. The most recent work along West Beach Boulevard, west of Little Lagoon Pass to the end of the road is just about complete. Now the dredging operation shifts to the Gulf State Park east of the pier toward the Pavilion then into Romar Beach heading east. I expect the bottom profiles along that stretch of beach will look much different soon. You can keep up with the latest progress of this project online at olsen-associates.com.
More fishermen are trying their luck along the beaches this year since the Gulf State Park Pier closed in mid November. Work at the pier site began November 29 when the first large pieces of debris were raised onto a work barge from the collapsed +200 foot section. Workers reported most of the debris is now buried in the sandy bottom, so that overburden will have to be uncovered by water jets. This slows the already meticulous recovery effort which will continue for some time as weather conditions allow. It is not safe for the workers or barge to remain in the Gulf whenever waves are rough. So they must retreat to protected waters until the Gulf calms down again, hopefully after just a few days. Once recovered, these old piling, pile caps, and spans (totaling over 44 pieces) will be used to create new reefs in the vicinity of the pier. This will be one of the largest artificial reef systems in the world.
Sheepshead are the best target species along the seawall using fiddler crabs or live shrimp when the current is not running too strong. That will be be around January 2nd when the NEAP tide occurs. Lighter tackle can be used here, so a long handled dip net will help assure your catch gets landed. Occasional “bull” redfish and even flounder are possible catches as well during this fortnight.
Sheepshead and bluefish are the main draw out on the rock jetty for able anglers so inclined. Fiddler crabs are quite effective for sheepshead seen grazing along the rock riprap during calm water periods both in the channel and on the Gulf side. While bluefish often eat a live shrimp, they will also strike a variety of lures (jigs, spoons, and plugs). Just about everything eats live shrimp around the jetty and seawall this time of year!
Work is wrapping up at Perdido Pass Park where new railing and boardwalks have been installed all the way around the curve north of the Perdido Pass Bridge to the fence at the ALEA property line.