Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 5/3/23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 5/3/23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

Even as the new month rolls in, it seems we will remain in a very “sprig-like” weather and fishing pattern. It appears our normal average high temperatures near 80 and morning lows near 60 will continue, though occasional weakening fronts may interrupt that. This time of year, some fronts will stall over the area which might lead to several wet and windy days in a row. Meanwhile, the coastal waters continue to slowly warm through the middle 70s, Though relative warm or cool spells might interrupt that trend too. On average, the Gulf water temperature increases into the upper 70s by mid-May.
The next NEAP tide during this fortnight occurs around May 15th. Conversely, the tides through the previous week will have the most diurnal differential of about two feet. That is a lot of change for our area, and it has a lot of influence on fish activity and feeding cycles. High tide usually occurs around mid-day this time of year. So that might slow the bite in some locations as the tidal flow slackens mid day, until after the tide changes and flow increases through the afternoon. We are edging into a routine when the best times to catch fish are mostly early mornings and late afternoons while the tide is moving the most and lighting is low.
The canal or Intracoastal Waterway along State Highway 180 between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach continues to produce some trophy sized black drum. Anglers using blue crab as bait tend to have the most success. Most use heavy spinning tackle best suited to man handle the 15 to 30 pound drum to the rocky shore. There a quick hook removal and photo op can be accomplished before the long-lived leviathan is safely returned to the water. The vast majority of this fishery is catch and release because large drum are breeding stock that can live 40 years or more if allowed. Plus the meat of these larger specimens is coarse and often riddled with parasites. Still “edible”, but not very “palatable”. But they sure pull hard and are fun to catch. A great alternative and sustainable fishery when the Gulf is too rough to fish.
As is often the pattern with morning incoming tides, we have seen some fairly consistent catches of spanish mackerel from the west jetty and seawall at Perdido Pass. Most days produce at least a few mackerel, with occasional good days mixed in that often provide limits for savvy anglers. Throwing spoons, jigs and small plugs is the best way to cover a lot of water to catch these fast moving fish. But drifting live shrimp or “strip baits” when the current is not moving much can out produce other fishing methods with a lot less effort. Just be prepared to read the daily conditions, and change tactics to adjust if your methods are not catching you some fish. Bluefish along with an increasing number of blue runners (“hardtails”) are the most common bycatch, but even flounder have been caught occasionally with theses techniques.
Similar tactics catch a variety of fish from the Gulf State Park Pier too. Spanish mackerel, pompano and speckled trout have been landed there lately, as long as the sharks are not too aggressive. As the season wears on, more sharks (Blacktip and Spinner sharks mostly) congregate around the pier looking for wounded discards. As shark density increases, they quickly tend to get more aggressive and even chase hooked fish. They even roam even into the shallow water near the beach looking for any possible prey items to satisfy their insatiable appetites. Think about that while you are swimming near the pier!
May often brings a lot of Scaled and False herring (called “LYs”) into the surfzone as well. They move into shallow water in vast schools called “shoals” to spawn and feed. Baitfish tend to congregate around the pier to feed on plankton which are attracted to the lights, and to seek shelter from intermediate sized predatory fish like mackerels, bluefish, “bull” redfish and especially jack crevalle. Marauding schools of jacks or redfish might attack the bait schools in spectacular fashion as a feeding frenzy can suddenly erupt near the pier. This feeding activity might be short lived or last a while depending on how many predators are involved and how they and their prey react to each other.
Historically, the Gulf State Park Pier provided world class king mackerel fishing April through October from the “octi” at the pier’s deep end the first few years it opened. It attracted anglers from near and far who returned for annual vacations and sojourns primarily to enjoy that great fishery. Hopefully, that tradition will return once the pier has repaired. We are awaiting word from FEMA to approve or deny the latest $12.7 million proposal.
Early May is prime time for pompano fishing along the Baldwin County Gulf beaches before these tasty members of the jack family move offshore to spawn. Schools of pompano roam the surfzone in search of food like mole crabs (“sandfleas”), ghost shrimp, plus a variety of mollusks from Coquina clams to Periwinkle snails. They prefer these small invertebrates because they have a relatively small mouth with no sharp teeth to cut their prey. Instead pompano have hard “crushers” in the back of their mouth to grind up hard shelled prey items. Pieces of shrimp on a hook are intended to imitate such natural prey item. Enhancements like brightly colored beads or floats near the hook are intended to attract the attention of curious pompano, especially in dingy water. And artificial bait supplements like Fishbites or Fishgum are intended to add scent and attractive color to the angler’s bait. But the overall size of this bait “glob” should not exceed the size of the mouth of an average pompano. The ideal size bait would be about the diameter of a quarter, and no more than two inches long. That increases the likelihood a pompano, or “whiting” (popular species of kingfish) or other small panfish will ‘inhale’ your offering and get hooked. Tackle can be light when these fish are in close to the beach or the surf is relatively calm. But larger rods and reels are needed to throw larger weights farther from shore, or in conditions with rough surf and strong winds or currents.