Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
For now the weather pattern of unrelenting heat and slack gulf water seems to have broken down a bit with things trending more toward seasonal. We can expect some easterly breezes to provide milder temperatures, and perhaps just enough rainfall to alleviate the current parched conditions. For instance, Shelby Lakes are almost a foot below average water level. That, in turn has not been particularly healthy for the water quality of eastern Little Lagoon. Such a change to wetter would bode well for fishing through this fortnight as we edge closer to the end of summer later this month. We have been fortunate so far year but are just now passing the historical peak of hurricane season.
The prospects of seeing numerous fish feeding along the beaches with more comfortable weather conditions would be a welcome relief to anglers weary of the summer doldrums. Even the sea nettles seem to have been dispersed by the change in weather and water conditions. Lately the biggest fly-in-the-ointment, literally has been the hordes of biting “dog flies” ravenously terrorizing beach goers as they often do this time of year whenever the wind is light or offshore. There are several commercially available products to help repel them. But everyone’s body chemistry is a bit different, so you may have to experiment to find which works best for you. Of course nothing beats a fly swatter as backup!
The pattern of fishing early and late in the day continues to be most productive, and will likely continue though September as high tides peak during the morning hours, with the lowest tides mostly being in the late afternoon. We will experience the least tidal movement around September 16th as we move through a NEAP tide phase. That might be a good time to try for mangrove snapper around Perdido Pass when tidal currents are not moving as swiftly. Bull minnows are prime baits for these finicky snapper. But they will readily bite most any live baitfish or small live shrimp. One trick is to keep the size of your terminal tackle to a minimum. But robust enough to pull the hard fighting snapper away from the barnacle encrusted haunts they prefer, like piling and submerged rocks. Be mindful of the size and creel limits on mangrove snapper wherever you fish, as they differ between Alabama and Florida.
A few savvy anglers start targeting flounder this time of year with the same live baits on bottom near structure, or with soft plastics on weighted jigheads along sand bar drop-offs on the Gulf beaches. Little Lagoon Pass is another preferred venue this time of year. It offers a nice variety of species like flounder, mangrove snapper, speckled trout, redfish, and large croaker inside the pass. Bluefish, ladyfish and redfish are more common outside the pass, and usually caught wadefishing with lures. Spoons are popular and effective, but small plugs like MirrOlure MirrOdine that mimic the small “LYs” (herring) and menhaden can be more effective for speckled trout and flounder. In fact, these gamefish will bite a variety of artificials, though live bait like small LYs and “finger” mullet are rarely turned down during prime feeding times when the amount of light is low. The main drawback to using live bait around the pass is the endless schools of voracious pinfish. But even they are edible if you fry them up like sea bream.
Gulf beaches westward toward the point at Fort Morgan should continue to offer early rising anglers opportunities at bluefish, ladyfish, plus the hard fighting jack crevelle. These mainly catch and release fisheries have exploded in popularity over the past few summers. Rightfully so, considering the quality tussles provided by these underutilized gamefish. Yes they are also edible, but most anglers prefer the mackerel, pompano, flounder, mangrove snapper, seatrout, and “whiting” for the table.
This month anglers should encounter more keeper sized whiting (Gulf and Northern kingfish) active in the surfzone. They are scrappy on light or ultralight tackle (4 to 6 pound class) when conditions allow the use of such tackle in the surf. Use just enough weight to reach likely spots because heavy weights will spook the fish school out of the hole and scatter them away from your bait while attracting more pinfish and other less desirable quarry. Though not regulated in either Alabama or Florida waters, more anglers are respecting the diminishing resource by keeping only a few of these tasty but slow growing kingfish over 12 inches. Whiting along with small red and black drum scour the sea bottom in the surfzone looking for sandfleas, coquina clams, beach ghost shrimp or other invertebrate prey items. They will readily bite a small piece of shrimp on a small #6 kahle hook, but so will the numerous pinfish and a variety of small jacks including undersized pompano and juvenile jack crevelle.
Legal-sized pompano (mostly scattered) are still available in the surf, especially when using proper tackle and tactics. The double drop pompano rigs with brightly colored styrofoam mini-floats or plastic beads tend to be most effective when there is a bit of surf or at least wind with roiled water. Often adding Fishbites or Fishgum along with natural bait will give the rig more visibility, durability and a longer soak time. In calmer clear water, lighter, stealthier rigs are often more effective for pompano. Single drop rigs, Carolina or Fishfinder rigs present the bait more naturally on or near the bottom, especially natural baits like fresh shrimp, live sandfleas, and beach ghost shrimp. All of this catch and bycatch can provide copious action for anglers, especially young ones simply eager for action. After all, the tug is the drug that gets them hooked on fishing!
Late summer/early fall weather and fishing patterns usually draw more anglers and fish to the Gulf State Park Pier, making for a more consistent bite. Many anglers concentrate on spanish mackerel with the ever-popular Bubble Rigs even though those often have a fairly high incidental catch rate of ladyfish, blue runners and bluefish. But anglers can concentrate their efforts toward larger spanish mackerel by casting 3 to 5 inch jerk baits (Zoom Fluke) or diving plugs like Rapala X-Rap # 8 or #10. Or they can fish live small LYs (3 inches) found around the pier this time of year.
Another problem with all that popping action and struggling hooked fish is it attracts a LOT of Blacktip, Spinner and other 4 to 6 foot sharks. The problem is exacerbated by the release of numerous badly wounded, discarded fish (bycatch) which serves to excite the limitless appetite of the sharks. Unfortunately, many days are more about keeping hooked fish away from the sharks and minimizing losses (of expensive lures), along with overly stressed tackle getting “tore up” due to being outclassed by the much heavier sharks which eat the catch while it is still on the line. Still pier anglers adapt by going heavier to simply try and pull hooked fish away from the frenzy of sharks. But that kindof defeats the whole purpose of sport fishing, and greatly lessens the enjoyment factor for the anglers.
By the time you read this, your 2022-23 Alabama fishing (and hunting) licenses will have expired. Even exempt anglers, like those with lifetime licenses and those over 65 years old should be sure to check off the Saltwater Registry to assure the state get