Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
It appears we can expect fairly typical springlike weather to dominate our weather pattern through the fortnight. This could well mean rain showers every few days, with plenty of wind, which unfortunately dingies the water in the surf zone. If we get a respite more than a few days days between storm systems though, the wind may lay enough to let the waters clear so we get a decent run of spanish mackerel at the Alabama Point jetty and Gulf State Park Pier.
Though another ‘cold snap’ is not out of the question, air temperatures have been gradually getting warmer and the water temp near the beach should rise though the upper 60s as March comes to a close.
Don’t be fooled by the NEAP tide April 1. But the slower tidal currents around then may allow anglers a better crack at fish in the area if the weather cooperates. As always, anticipating weather and water conditions along with the tide phase and ‘reading’ the beach or pier structure will help anglers be more successful, especially if you can identify a trend for feeding fish.
The west jetty at Perdido Pass has been particularly productive for sheepshead whenever weather and tidal conditions are favorable to walk out on the rocks. Beware of wet rocks and encroaching boats though.
The Gulf State Park Pier has finally turned on with good numbers of sheepshead, plus a few redfish, whiting, pompano, gafftopsail catfish, and flounder being landed. This is the time of year the jetty and pier action takes off. Especially once the spanish mackerel show up (any minute now). So then you know spring has finally ‘sprung’. Gotcha plugs are quite popular for mackerel, but white jigs can be just as effective, less expensive, and a bit less dangerous. Just be sure to protect any lure from those razor sharp mackerel teeth with a foot or so of light wire or heavy clear monofilament leader (30# to 50#). Plus needle-nose pliers will expedite hook removal, and can prevent bites or accidentally getting hooked by flopping mackerel.
Pier patrons should maintain a watchful eye for anglers with heavier tackle peering into the east side waters for cobia (“ling”), or large jack crevelle which may suddenly appear. Stout tackle is needed for this sport because these big fish cannot be followed to the end of the pier, but rather ‘muscled in’. So good luck with that as they end up getting towed down the rail, and please keep gear off the east rail!
Hopefully the Fort Morgan pier will reopen very soon, and maybe some good news about the Gulf State Park Pier repair may be forthcoming. That has been held up in the (Federal) permitting process since the beginning of the year. ***Sigh***
The onset of spring is also when surf fishing usually begins to get more productive. More pompano are moving into the surf zone to form into larger schools (aggregations) in preparation for their spawn in April. Most anglers use medium heavy rods 9 to 12 feet in length in order to cast out far and wait for passing fish. Sometimes the fish may be running beyond the sandbar, so casts over 60 yards (or more) may be necessary. The rod needs to be able to safely handle at least a 3 ounce pyramid sinker to reach that far, and should have heavy line to do it. Consequently, many surf fishers employ 30# or heavier braided main line to get more casting distance. The most common terminal rig for this is the double drop “Pompano Rig”, often with brightly colored plastic beads or small floats just above the hook. Find these at any local bait & tackle shop. It can be baited with pieces of shrimp, and a small piece of Fishbites or Fishgum is added because that stays on the hook longer. These rigs are planted near the swash with surf spikes while awaiting a bite, and several rods cast at staggered distances are often placed and tended out from the beach.
Lighter tackle in the 6 to 12 pound class can be employed closer to the beach to also target pompano or whiting. And, it is not uncommon to occasionally hook a larger drum, redfish or ray with these rigs. That sure makes for an enduring tussle, as it usually takes about a minute per pound to subdue these oversized adversaries. But the much more numerous panfish like whiting and pompano can give a very nice account of themselves on tackle better matched to their size, since most weigh only about a pound.
Fishing options will increase along the coast with warmer water once food items for fish, like mole crabs called “sandfleas”, coquina clams, squid, and small baitfish such as striped anchovies become more active and widespread. The sheepshead spawn is going ‘full blast’ with the full moon behind us now, And increasing numbers of pompano should move into the surf zone during the upcoming weeks. Top that off with more Gulf kingfish (called “whiting”), redfish, drum, bluefish, flounder, spanish mackerel, and even speckled trout to please the beach and pier anglers. Pictured: Nate Herman traveled here with sons (Drake and Noah, ages 12 & 14) to give them a taste of jetty fishing for sheepshead. George (9) and Charlie (5) Mees celebrated with their dad Paul Mees from Missouri, after he landed this 28 inch long redfish along Fort Morgan peninsula.