Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
Summer is slipping away as we approach September’s doorstep, meaning many good things are happening ‘fishingwise’ along the Alabama coast. It doesn’t seem to get quite as hot during the day. And sunlit hours of the day are well over an hour less than just a couple of months ago. Sea life senses that by going into ‘feeding frenzies’ whenever the opportunity, and conditions allow in preparation of leaner times to come.
The present weather pattern of mostly early morning or late afternoon thundershowers is likely to continue well into this fortnight, along with calmer than average seas. But we are fast approaching the historical peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. ‘Bad’ things can happen rather quickly this time of year, so let’s pray we are spared the worst!
Recently fishing activity sparked after several cloudy days allowed water temperatures to drop several degrees into the middle 80s. At the same time rapidly growing baitfish like the two to three inch long “LYs” (Scaled and False herring) have swarmed into the surfzone. They are looking for food (plankton) and shelter from larger fish like jacks, bluefish and mackerel. These fish are feeding a bit more heavily now in anticipation of the upcoming change of seasons and plentiful food source. Shorebound anglers can cash in on the fray with either live bait, or artificial offerings that resemble the natural prey. Three inch silver spoons are especially effective on foraging gamefish, as are jigs and plugs of similar size. Bubble Rigs may be even more productive this time of year. The splashing action attracts fish to it, especially on calm mornings when the predators may not be as aggressively chasing food.
Coincidentally, the NEAP tide period around the end of August might make the bite generally a little more lethargic too. Otherwise we can expect early morning high tides with an outgoing tide the rest of the day.
This is often not the best situation to encourage gamefish to feed near the shore through out the day. So anything that tweaks the interest of target species (like mackerel, speckled trout and redfish) will give the angler an advantage. This rings quite true at Gulf State Park Pier, Perdido Pass seawall and jetties, and Little Lagoon Pass where concentrated fishing pressure can cause the fish to seem uninterested in striking lures with regularity.
The terms “swatting at” and “window shopping” are commonly used to describe the lackadaisical feeding attitude of fish at times like this. But small live LYs presented on light tackle are often the angler’s answer to solve this riddle and get some fish in the box.
This is especially true when the water is clear and the wind and waves are slight. Of course these fish may be more easily lost because of the lighter line. But when you are getting two or three (or more) times as many strikes (as opposed to just one occasionally) it makes a great deal of difference overall.
There are several tackle items that can aid the angler’s hook up rate with such a setup, while lowering the cut-off rate. Clear monofilament (or fluorocarbon) makes great leader material in 20#, 30#, 40# and 50#. Long shank single hooks (Aberdeen style) like # 1 or #2 Tru-Turn hooks. And using a short piece of light steel leader 27# or less will help a lot.
A trick anglers on the ‘old’ Gulf State Pier used to minimize cutoffs was to unravel a foot long piece of 90 pound Sevenstrand steel wire. The resulting 12# test wire works great to fool finicky mackerel that may otherwise be “leader-shy”. The short, light leader was not intended to last all day, but is ideal for a few fish, and sure lessens the number of lost fish. Just use a net for anything larger than about 1.5 pounds.
Besides the spanish mackerel pier anglers have been catching, there have been some speckled trout, slot-sized redfish and mangrove snapper landed, along with a few flounder (mostly too small) plus the usual host of bycatch species. Live shrimp are the preferred bait on the pier, but hordes of hungry pinfish and jacks make fishing for the target species miserable at times. Light tackle is not what you want when you tussle with mangrove snapper however. These are tough adversaries in close quarters to pilings or rocks covered in sharp barnacles. Better to use medium heavy tackle with small hooks like a small circle hook. This has a good hookup ratio with live bait while abiding to local regulations. Be sure to check the regs on mangroves whichever state you are fishing in.
Beach fishing has been decent of late as good numbers of August pompano have been showing up all along the coast. Pro guides like Jordan Gooding (G2 Coastal) have been regularly catching pompano, and even occasional Alabama limits (3 fish per angler over 12” TL). Live sandfleas (mole crabs) have been Jordan’s bait of choice, fished out deep (when the grass allows) on double dropper pompano rigs. Though the old standby ‘shrimp and Fishbites’ has been producing as well at times.
Meanwhile, ‘keeper-sized’ whiting have been relatively scarce in the surfzone, as they often are in late summer. But bounteous early morning surf casting action with feisty bluefish and ladyfish has been quite dependable for retired teacher Michael Brown (Dr. Mike’s School of Fishing). Spoons are the mainstay for this fishery, though the action is far too often short lived.
So be prepared to loose a little sleep and be on site at dawn in order to cash in on this top notch action. Interference by sea grass will continue to be only ‘spotty’ as long as the wind and seas remain relatively calm. The sea grass staying on bottom is also conducive for plugging the shoreline for jack crevalle, speckled trout and even pompano in many locations. Big topwater ‘chuggers’ can be used to entice big jacks into doing battle on heavy class spinning rigs. While 4 inch topwater lures (like Heddon spook) are often preferred for specks in the early morning. Watch out for big bluefish though!
Later into the day, or anytime there is a chop on the water’s surface try a suspending bait like MirrOdine which mimics the small LYs. Speckled trout really like this lure and soft plastic minnow imitations too. Scattered pompano can be caught while wading and casting pompano jigs or “Goofy jigs”. These are slowly dragged along the bottom with periodic ‘jumps’ imparted by a flick of the wrist. The pompano usually strikes as the lure falls back to the bottom. There can be a good bit of bycatch with these lures, but the method offers a lot of action for the angler on relatively light tackle.
Gone Catching: Cherrie Villanova is a longtime regular fisher woman on the Gulf State Pier. And she loves to target pompano. Photo by Ellis ‘Cajun’ Cattan; Michael Brown with a brace of fine Fort Morgan beach bluefish; It is easy to make friends on the pier when the fish are biting. Just ask compadres Lee Jones, Drake Burgett, Corbett Mcgaughey and Branyon Clarke who recently teamed up for a fine mixed bag catch; James and his dad had a fun and productive morning fishing with G2 Coastal. Photo by by Jordan Gooding; Michael Rasponte showing the fruits of recent family surf fishing efforts.