Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
This is typically a most favored time of year for pier and shore anglers. With water temperatures rising through the upper 60s to about 70, we can expect to see more fish and more species active near the beaches. Of course sheepshead are still spawning, and they should be available from the Gulf State Park Pier and Alabama Point jetty at Perdido Pass, and even a few other spots if you know where to look. Some days it is harder to find live bait, than it is to find fish to eat it. That’s when life is good 😉
Live shrimp are a favorite bait, but sheepshead may eat fiddler crabs, ghost shrimp, hermit crabs, oysters and mussels, and sometimes even fresh dead shrimp.
Pompano are the premier seasonal spawning fish for surf anglers in this area, and this is prime time as the uber-popular one to three pound fish gather into pre-spawn aggregations in the surf zone. While the full moon approaches (April 16th), we can expect to find increasing numbers of pompano feeding from the shoreline out to just beyond the longshore sandbar. Most anglers use longer rods (10 to 12 feet), and 4000 to 6000 series spinning tackle with 15 to 20 pound line to cast three to six ounce weights 200 to 300 feet from the beach.
The colorful double drop pompano rigs are widely used and highly effective, especially when there is a bit of wind or surf to move the rig around. They work best baited with a piece of fresh dead shrimp tipped with Fishbites or Fishgum. Though at times, just the synthetic strip is enough to get pompano to bite. Always keep moving around and experimenting to find the fish.
With a rising tide most mornings, pompano often feed closer to shore, especially along any troughs running parallel to the shoreline. Look for darker color changes in clear water, or strips of water with no white water (“breakers”) when the surf is rolling. Pompano like to feed along the edge of areas where the wave turbulence stirs up invertebrate prey items like mole crabs (called sandfleas), coquina clams, ghost shrimp, etc. When the wave stops breaking, whatever was in it will fall to the bottom along the drop off, creating a food conveyor for the waiting gamefish.
Shorter rods, lighter tackle, and terminal rigs can be employed when the target fish are closer in like this. And ultralight panfish tackle (4# test) is a blast that really gives these small, yet strong members of the jack family a true account of themselves. There are other fish to be caught as well with these methods; Gulf, Northern and Southern kingfish (“whiting” and “ground mullet”), croakers, “white trout”, bluefish, rays and even large “bull” redfish, black drum or jack crevalle may bite the small offerings in the surf.
Of course, shorebound anglers have other fishing options as well, with Spanish mackerel moving into the area. Many early season mackerel are landed from the jetty and seawall at Perdido Pass, the Gulf State Park Pier, and even from the beaches. Mornings and afternoons are generally best for mackerel fishing, but they move around a lot, so may show up just about anywhere at any time. Many are caught with light to medium class spinning tackle while throwing small jigs, spoons or plugs. Just be sure to protect the lure from those sharp teeth with at least a foot of heavy monofilament or light wire leader. Needle nose pliers are very handy for removing the hooks and keeping your hands away from teeth.
On top of all these other options, we should start seeing speckled trout move into the surfzone in anticipation of their first spawn of the year too. Fishing plugs and other lures near passes and bay mouths is best as these trout drop out of the rivers and Mobile Bay, which is swollen with muddy fresh water. But at the Gulf State Park, live shrimp is just about a ‘must have’ to entice those wary specks.
Pictured: Chris Eaton has his hands full with this brace of Orange Beach pompano; George Carleton loves catching Spanish mackerel from the GSP Pier; James Ward doing his sheepshead smile imitation.