Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook  8-23-23

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook  8-23-23
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

After a brief hint of upcoming fall weather behind an early season frontal passage, we have returned to the reality that it is still mid-summer. Generally hot, humid, but dry weather persisted through most of the previous fortnight, but that may change if a predicted easterly flow develops through this period. Computer models are hinting at that prospect, along with increased chances of showers, and who knows what else. A more typical weather pattern for this time of year calls for a modest chance of thundershowers near the beaches around sunrise and perhaps again in the late afternoon.
It is very rare though to see cloudy, rainy conditions persist all day unless we are being plagued directly by a tropical system.
Hopefully we will just have more of the typical summer showers, and will be spared the extreme heat and perhaps the worst as we approach the historical peak of the hurricane season.
Despite the abnormally hot weather, water temperatures in the Gulf have been surprisingly mild. Average sea temperature has been in the middle 80s. Frequently spikes of warmer water occur when bay water flows out with the tide.
There is often a 10 degree daily difference in water temperature between the incoming and outgoing tide recorded at the ARCOS monitor inside Perdido Pass just north of the bridge. This has a profound effect on bait movements and fish feeding even several miles from the pass.
Probably the biggest news on the fishing front recently is the return of stinging sea nettles in masse. Possibly due to the 25% drier than average summer rainfall and higher than average salinity, the current bloom of “sea nettles” or stinging jellyfish (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) has been extraordinary in some locations. Some days they have really been really thick around the middle platform at the Gulf State Park Pier. So be careful if you get any of the tentacle jelly on your line. Those can cause itching and stinging as you cast, or even after if it gets on the railing and drys.
Swimmers have been complaining about being stung repeatedly when in the water at some locations, while other spots they might not see but a few. Children especially find the experience quite painful and it can quickly change their attitude about swimming or fishing in the Gulf or bay waters. Wade fishers should be diligent as well, and prepared in case of being stung.
The almost daily jack attack (big crevelle jacks) along the beaches near Fort Morgan is still a good bet for anglers to get their early morning exercise. These 15 to 25 pound brutes are really sporting when caught on medium heavy spinning tackle in the that line class. Since most of the fish are released after catch many anglers choose to “over tackle” the fish (slightly) in order to facilitate a healthy release. It is a great feeling to let a fish that size swim out of your hands and return to the sea in good condition. Most are caught on large popper plugs that create a good amount of noise to get the attention of these beach brawling marauders as they wreck havoc on baitfish schools near shore.
Many other anglers still choose to target pompano, though those are not in great abundance this time of year. Still, good tackle, tactics and bait presented with persistence can garner a meal or two, or perhaps even an Alabama limit (3 per day, over 12inch Total Length) for these determined anglers. Single drop, Fishfinder, and Carolina rig presentations usually work better than the traditional double drop “pompano rigs” when the water is calm and clear, as it has been most of this summer. Baiting with the freshest shrimp, live sandfleas or ghost shrimp will be most productive for these finicky pompano. Be sure to have plenty of bait on hand to cull through the numerous catfish, jacks, rays, and assorted small fish that dominate the surf zone this time of year.
Some speckled trout have been active in the surf lately, and a few have been real whoppers. Again, early and late in the day (even into darkness) should be the best times to target these prized seatrout. Topwater plugs often garner strikes in low light conditions, with subsurface walkers or slow sinking lures like the MirrOlure MirrOdine can be productive during the daylight hours. The MirrOdine is a good imitation of the abundant juvenile herring (LYs) along the Gulf beaches and menhaden in the Lagoons and back bays. Live bait is almost always the best bet at the Gulf State Park Pier, primarily large shrimp or LYs when available. It is a very rare occurrence to catch speckled trout from the pier with lures.
It is however, quite common to catch ladyfish, blue runner, juvenile jack crevelle, bluefish or spanish mackerel using lures from the pier. Bubble rigs are the most popular artificial, followed by jigs, spoons and plugs in about equal numbers. But this is the time of year when mid-sized gamefish (like spanish mackerel) key on small LYs about 2 ½ to 3 inches long. These can be caught offsite with a 3/8 inch castnet or onsite with a 3/8 mesh ribbon rig. A couple of dozen of the small baitfish can be kept alive for a while in a 5 gallon bucket with a battery powered aerator. The baitfish can either be hooked in the clear area just in front of the eyes, in the flesh of the back, or through the belly between the pectoral and pelvic fins. Many anglers use a small #8 or #6 treble hook, but a long shank single hook like a #1 or #2 Tru-Turn Aberdeen hook are very effective and a little less likely to be bitten off by ultra-sharp mackerel teeth. Speaking of which, it is a good idea to use a few inches of light Single-strand wire leader or about a foot of heavy monofilament to help prevent being cutoff. These baits can be fished from the pier, seawall or jetty either freelined or under a float so the gamefish can see them easier. Give the fish a couple of seconds to position the bait in its mouth before setting the hook or better yet, let the line come tight as the fish swims away and sets the hook on itself.
The small LYs make great bait for keeper sized mangrove snapper too, especially from the west jetty at Perdido Pass and in the channel of Little Lagoon Pass especially near the bridge. You may have to add a bit of weight depending on how much current you are dealing with at the time. Tidal currents will run strongest the last few days of August, and least around the NEAP tide period near September 2nd. The full moon August 30th may help illuminate the scene for night fishing around that time.
Also, anglers need to remember that ALL Alabama fishing (and hunting) licenses expire the last day of August. Even exempt anglers, like those over 65 years old should fill out the Saltwater Registry each year to assure the state gets its fair share of Federal tax monies. And even shorebound fishermen inclined to retain mangrove snapper or other reef fish are required to purchase a Reef Fish Endorsement ($10). More info can be found at outdooralabama.com.