Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 4/19/23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 4/19/23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

It appears a typical springlike weather and fishing pattern will prevail through the upcoming fortnight. That means we will have a little of everything with windy and even stormy periods maybe twice each week as cold fronts grudgingly make their way toward the Gulf of Mexico. The water is mild in the surfzone and back bay areas, around the average in the upper 60s.
By the end of April, water temperatures should warm into the lower 70s. This warming trend makes southward progress increasingly difficult for the fronts.
Consequently, the air temp is usually quite pleasant, with highs in the 70s to low 80s. But morning lows will still occasionally dip into the 50s. So keep the long-sleeves or windbreaker nearby for those chilly days.
For the most part, the upcoming tide pattern exhibits highest water in the mid to late afternoon. We will experience a NEAP tide period as May begins, but otherwise most days will have good tide flow. Rising morning tides usually equate to good fishing along the beaches for pompano. And this is prime time for more of these tastiest members of the jack family to migrate along the coast in anticipation of their upcoming spawn. Look for pompano to feed along the edges of troughs from just off the beach to the longshore sandbar. Most anglers use the set rig method with a double drop pompano rig.
The rig is cast into relatively deep water from shore, and the rod is set in a rod holder (“sand spike”) with the line tight as they wait on a bite. It could be most anything that eats your offering, but this time of year presents beach anglers with their best odds of the year it will be a pompano.
There can be a good bit of by-catch with this method, even this time of year depending on the conditions, terminal rig, and bait.
The best bait to use varies as conditions change, and depending on who you ask. Fortunately, pompano are curious critters that will eat a variety of invertebrates native to the surf zone. Mole crabs (called sandfleas) are one of the more familiar native baits. These can be caught in the swash (where waves run up the beach, and back) by anglers using a sandflea rake.
By the way, this activity is a great distraction for the kids to keep them busy between bites. All the local bait and tackle stores carry sandflea rakes for about $50. Most anglers however, have decent success using ordinary penaeid shrimp, often partnered with Fishbites or Fishgum.
Fresh shrimp is better than frozen, and live shrimp is tops for pompano which can get a bit finicky at times, especially when the water is calm and clear. These conditions are when stealthy terminal rigs on light tackle often outperform the standard double drop rigs with brightly colored floats or beads on heavier tackle. Though the best approach is to try both methods, varying the distance from shore to cover the spots where pompano are most likely to converge to feed.
These spots could be “run-outs” that concentrate rip currents along or away from the beach. Drop-offs along sandbar edges where rolling waves carry food items to waiting fish at the base of the slope. Or in calmer water, it might be out on the points where pompano are scouring the bottom in search of prey. In any of these situations it might behoove anglers to wade out some distance in order to cast their rig to the spot they believe will most likely hold fish. No sense in fishing vacant water. And now the water temperature is mild enough that a short dip is much more endurable.
Pier fishing has been hit-or-miss, with quite a bit more misses than hits. Still, persistent and versatile anglers have been landing mixed bags including spanish mackerel, sheepshead, flounder, speckled trout, whiting, and spadefish.
There was a decent run of speckled trout for a day or two prior to several days of bad weather that moved in and churned up the Gulf. That is a regular cycle for this time of year, until the weather settles into a calm period for a number of days allowing the water to clear.
The sheepshead spawn is obviously winding down as is typical for this time of year. There may still be some small groups scattered along the pier pilings or in the surf zone. But once spawning is completed, most of these fish usually high-tail it for the estuaries where they will spend the rest of the warm water months getting fat and happy on small shrimp and crabs while grazing on algae. Such is life for sheepshead.
Increasing numbers of pompano can be expected to show up at the pier through late April into early May. Live shrimp are a good bait to have on hand (when you can find them) as they attract the greatest variety of desirable species.
Besides pompano, pier fishers can expect live shrimp to produce speckled trout, redfish, flounder, and large whiting. Even spanish mackerel will eat them, and fishing one suspended about four feet under a small float is a fun way to pass the time. A piece of light wire or couple of feet of 40 pound clear monofilament will help ward being cut off by the slashing sharp teeth of mackerel and bluefish. Unfortunately, just about everything else eats live shrimp too, including herds of blue runner (hardtails) and ladyfish (skipjack), along with the seemingly ever present and ravenous hordes of pinfish.
At 50 cents apiece, feeding live shrimp to pinfish and other less than desirable species get old (and expensive) in a hurry.
Catching your own herring (called “LYs”) from around the pier is the most common alternative natural bait. A variety of fish are drawn to the pier to feast on these 3 to 6 inch baitfish during the warmer months.
Mackerel, bluefish, large jack crevelle, and “bull” redfish make a regular meal of the hapless baitfish. Sabiki rigs as well as the locally produced red ribbon rigs are the best way to get your baitfish. Another way around that is to use other less expensive baits or even artificials. Jigs and small plugs are great tools that are fun to use and can catch you a mess of fish in hurry, when they are around.