Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook 6/15/22
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
Our late June fortnight features the astronomical beginning of summer (on the 21st), even though we have already been experiencing summer like heat and humidity for weeks now. We have even seen a tropical system (that became “Alex”) cross the southeastern Gulf of Mexico that sent us a ground swell for a few days. We can expect more of that at any time as the Gulf water temperature basks in the middle 80s.
Also, depending on winds and currents we will likely see Sargassum grass return from time to time, though it has thinned out considerably for the time being. That leaves our from shore fishing options right about where they typically are this time of year with a lot of species available.
Tarpon are the premier from shore fish species available from the abbreviated Gulf State Park Pier as we move toward the peak of their coastal migration in mid July. These are mature fish for the most part, moving in schools of 5 to 50 individuals from Florida toward the mouth of the Mississippi River where they will spawn.
The ‘smaller’ tarpon (50 to 80 pounds about four to six feet long) are often the males, but the females often exceed twice that size. Quite a sight to see such large fish in the water just 50 to 100 feet away.
Historically these were by-catch for anglers fishing from the end of the pier for king mackerel with live LYs (Scaled or False herring). But nowadays they are targeted using large paddle tail swimbaits (weighing 3 or 4 ounces) on heavy spinning tackle (20-50 pound class), on nine to 10 foot rods and reels 6000 size, or larger with 40 to 65 pound braided line. The lure is cast ahead of the path of the tarpon school, and worked up and down to entice a strike.
The spectacular air show from a tarpon is renowned, and their endurance is legendary. But very few are killed by anglers, as a $61 tag is required to retain any which must be at least 60 inches long. If the angler is skilled enough to bring a tarpon pier side, the fish is intentionally broken off to continue on its way. Incidental catches of jack crevelle and “bull” redfish are not uncommon using the tackle and tactics aforementioned.
However most pier and shore fishers are content to target much smaller fish, especially those intent on eating some of their catch. Spadefish are a plentiful and increasingly popular target species this time of year around hard structures like piers and jetties. The attractive deep bodied silver fish have distinctive black stripes, pull hard for their size, and taste great. They are common catches for anglers of all ages and experience levels in a variety of conditions. Most of these “sea bream” weigh about a 1/2 to ¾ pound, but are common to twice that size. They do have a tiny mouth though. So the best method to consistently catch them is by using a small number 6 to number 10 sized J-hook tied directly onto the 6 to 10 pound line, with one to three splitshots for a slow sinking presentation.
Just use a fingernail sized piece of shrimp, squid, pink or orange Fishbites to entice a bite. Then hang on, as they tug hard in circles when hooked. This is the method used by the pier’s popular Angler Academy which introduces folks to pier fishing techniques and species. A plethora of by-catch species can be caught like this including pinfish, blue runner, Atlantic bumper, “whiting”, pigfish, hardhead catfish, the ever-popular remora, and even ‘delicious’ pompano.
Spanish mackerel are the traditional warm water intermediate sized target species (weighing one to three pounds) for pier, jetty and even beach fishermen. They bite a variety of live baits, but most are caught on ½ ounce jigs, Bubble rigs, Gotcha plugs, one ounce silver spoons, or 4 inch jerk baits like Rapala X-Rap. A leader of heavy monofilament or light wire is necessary to keep from getting cut off by their razor shark teeth. Spanish are a blast to catch on light tackle (6 to 10 pound class). But too often nowadays medium heavy tackle (15-20 pound class) must be employed from the pier to pull mackerel away from prowling Blacktip sharks, an increasingly problematic predator. By-catch for mackerel anglers often includes ladyfish (“skipjack”), blue runner (“hardtail”) and bluefish. All are edible, and best when bled out, then filleted and pan sauteed.
Pompano are still available in the surf, though in waning numbers. And increasing numbers of by catch species like ladyfish, blue runner, hardhead catfish, and even “whiting” make it difficult to target pompano effectively. Try double drop “Pompano Rigs” with live “sandfleas” (mole crabs). Or inch long pieces of fresh shrimp and Fishbites or Fishgum ti imitate “sandfleas”. Sometimes pompano are just outside the longshore sandbar, especially on a falling tide in the afternoon. On a rising tide (morning) pompano may feed closer to the beach especially when the surf is quite calm.
Fortunately, speckled trout are still spawning (and biting) in the surf in good numbers. They respond well to topwater lures in the early morning, as well as sinking twitch baits like MirrOlures throughout the day.
They can even be caught on spoons or soft plastic minnow imitations on lead jigheads. Trout are even more often pursued with live baits like shrimp or small fin fish (croakers, pogies, mullet, and LYs).
Speckled trout are THE most popular inshore gamefish, followed closely by redfish which are quite often a by-catch. Other species encountered while pursuing trout often include ladyfish, blue runner, and bluefish. And may occasionally include “bull” redfish or large jack crevalle. These ‘brutes’ may be a bit too tough to land on medium class spinning tackle (8 to 15 pound class) ordinarily used to target specks. But “JCs” are increasingly targeted by sport-minded fishermen with medium heavy spinning tackle (20 to 40 pound class) using large ‘chugger’ plugs and topwater lures. The beaches around Fort Morgan near the mouth of Mobile Bay are great place to hike into some of that action!