Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 6-12-24

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

Our recent weather pattern has certainly assumed a rather summer like feel with high humidities and more than average rainfall. Any fronts that manage to press through the region this time of year lack any real coolness, instead present just two or three mornings of low humidities and clearer skies.
The Gulf water temperature has been quite close to the low 80s we normally expect to see in early June though, and fishing has been close to par as well. The general scarcity of shoreline and seawall spanish mackerel have been the glaring exception to what has otherwise been a pretty good spring.
Speckled trout in the surf west of Little Lagoon Pass have been consistent hitters each morning, as long as the wind doesn’t kick up the Gulf too much. Anglers have been reporting fairly consistent topwater bites in the early morning, followed by some subsurface activity. Bluefish have been very active in the surf lately hitting spoons, mostly early mornings and late afternoons, with some real jumbos being caught. Pompano have really hung in along the beaches this spring since the May full moon. Numbers of pompano have still been high enough to target them consistently with numerous reports of Alabama limits (3), sprinkled with plenty of short pompano (less than 12 inch total length). That is a good sign for the future for this vibrant and fast-growing fishery.
Speaking of a vibrant fishery, the surfzone is quickly filling up with hordes of hungry ladyfish (skipjack) and blue runner (hardtail). Those have been giving both pompano rig and lure anglers fits as they pursue speckled trout. It seems these jacks are always hungry and readily strike at just about anything that moves. Even reeling in a pompano rig with empty hooks will sometimes get a bite.
Though maligned by many gamefish anglers, this rapid pace action makes for great opportunities to get youngsters involved in the sport of surf fishing.
Whenever the Gulf is relatively calm, ladyfish may be caught (or at least hooked) rapid fire by repeatedly casting into their large schools milling around in the surf zone. The leaps of these “poor man’s tarpon” add a special spark for anglers (young or old) experiencing it for the first time. One trick I learned while beach guiding folks that had never caught ladyfish or blue runner before was to use a Bubble Rig with a single hook lure on a 8 to 9 foot medium heavy action spinning combo with a 4000 series reel and 20 pound braided line. Oh my gosh, this makes the process of catching these fish so much easier on the neophyte anglers, plus they get to see a lot of the surface action. The single hook rig is much easier to remove from the fish and less likely to foul hook the fish or the angler. A pair of needle nose pliers is best for hook removal even though ladyfish do not have any sharp teeth. They do have rather sharp gill plates though and a rough mouth edged with sandpaper like lips which may quickly abrade your line. So check for nicks and scrapes in your 30# or 40# clear monofilament leader line every now and then to monitor when to retie.

Though this is almost always strictly a catch and release operation, ladyfish actually do make great fresh cut bait for bluefish and sharks, and even a pretty decent meal when treated properly. I like to begin by bleeding any ladyfish bound for the table by slitting the gill rakers and placing the fish headfirst into a 5 -gallon bucket of seawater. After a few minutes the fish stops thrashing and can be transferred to the cooler into or under ice. Later the scales are easily removed with a water jet from a garden hose. Then the fillets are cut off the backbone and set to one side, skin side down. Do not rinse the fillets with water, but dab any residual blood away with a dry paper towel. Next use a serving spoon to scrape the meat from the skin in long motions along the fillet. All the Y bones and red meat remain attached to the skin while just the flesh curls up in the spoon to be placed in a bowl and refrigerated. The meat is lightly opaque with virtually no smell, and a very delicate consistency not flaky (so do not over stir). While the meat is chilling you can make up the binder mix for the fish cakes. This can be made with an egg, mayonnaise, a squirt of Dijon mustard, a dash or two of Worcestershir, and a tablespoon of lemon juice whisked into a large bowl. Also add your favorite herbs like dill, and seasoning like Tony’s (if you like Creole flavor), or Cavender’s Greek if you prefer a milder garlic flavor. Next add a cup of seasoned bread crumbs or crush up some Ritz crackers to form the base of your binder. Lastly fold in the fish meat to ingrain the seasoning. Ladyfish taste very mild and take on the flavors you introduce it to in the mix. Mold your fishcakes into 3 inch discs about 1 inch thick and place on wax paper. Results will be best if you refrigerate these for 30 minutes or so to set, and they may even be frozen between layers of wax-paper. I like to deep fry mine in a ½ inch of peanut oil at 350 to near 400 degrees. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes per side to give the cakes a nice golden brown slightly crispy outer shell. You can even top them with a Hollandaise or Bearnaise to reflect whatever flavors you like.
Besides the occasional influx of Sargassum Grass onto area beaches, the biggest news in the suds has been the return of the adult jack crevelle and bull redfish along the western Fort Morgan peninsula. Jacks have been the main game in the morning using surface poppers and swimbaits, and bull reds have been most active in the evening with cut mullet on the bottom with the falling tide. You definitely want some stout tackle to deal with these brutes, especially the big jacks. A lot of these fish exceed 20 pounds, so the angler would be best served to pursue them with 40 pound class tackle. Since most of these fish are intended for release, the best way to keep it healthy is to subdue it as quickly as possible, and returned to the Gulf.
Repair activity continues at a noticeable pace on the Gulf State Park Pier, with much of the work on the piling completed and new railing being placed along the replaced section of pier as well as the damaged section approaching it. Still a good amount of work remains to be done (like putting up new light poles) before the pier can reopen. But the last estimate was still around late summer.