Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook Jan 11, 2023
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton
After another intrusion of wintry cold we are back to more seasonal Gulf Coast temperatures with typical daily high air temps in the middle 60s, and morning lows in the 40s. Though no arctic outbreaks are predicted during the first week of this period, being in mid-winter, anything can happen. The warm trend we experienced to begin January pushed the coastal water temps to about five degrees above average. That means near 60 degree water in the bays, lower to mid 60s along the beaches, and mid to upper 60s a few miles offshore. We can expect this trend to persist as long as a mild weather pattern continues. It also means occasional bouts of fog, clouds, wind and rain whenever warmer air moves over these cooler coastal waters. These spells are bracketed by clearer skies with cooler, drier air.
Hopefully all this will translate into an a fairly active fishing period with more pompano and whiting available along the beaches, and more sheepshead at the jetty, seawall and Gulf State Park Pier.
Anglers at the pier recently noted catches of “whiting”, “ground mullet”, and pompano along with croakers, “white trout” and occasional black drum. Fresh shrimp and ghost shrimp seem to be the baits of choice.
Shorebound anglers able to translate the nuances of our variable January weather and subtleties of our winter tides should be able to cash in on the opportunities available. The current reporting period coincides with the next lunar fortnight, beginning and ending with NEAP tides.
The week in between (January 15th through 22nd) will experience the greatest daily tidal fluctuations of the month.
It is no secret the solid structures previously mentioned will attract the most fish, and fishermen, especially with the yearly migration of “snowbirds” which are gregarious by nature. Networking among fishermen keeps them in touch with what may be working (or not working). And this helps make them more successful in uncovering and taking advantage of any fish catching opportunities.
Surf fishing is usually a less crowded option, especially for those willing and able to venture even short distances from the public access venues to take advantage of available soft structures along the beach. The open beaches near Fort Morgan, Mobile Street, Gulf State Park, east of Perdido Pass, Perdido Key State Park, and Gulf National Seashore at Johnson’s Beach offer miles of undeveloped shoreline to explore and fish from. Walking is great exercise, and walking on sand is a bit more strenuous. But the views are even more relaxing especially when a few staked out fishing rods are involved. A beach cart with large wheels is a valuable asset to such ventures because it allows the angler to transport more gear with less effort. Check with any of the half dozen or so bait and tackle shops from Gulf Shores to Perdido Key to find the gear and advice you need to get more enjoyment from the sport of surf fishing.
Anglers have been having more luck with “whiting” since the year began. Most of these are Gulf kingfish and their numbers and average size seems to be improving each week. A few scattered pompano have been reported too, along with some slot-sized redfish and an increasing number of black drum in the surf zone. Shrimp and Fishbites or Fishgum on double drop Pompano Rigs are typically used for all of these species plus more. Though ghost shrimp on a Fishfinder Rig (“Carolina Rig”) are usually more effective when the water is calm and clear. Unwanted winter bycatch often includes stingrays, skates and catfish. Just another part of the beach fishing experience.
Look for deeper troughs near the beach or beach sandbar where a steep dropoff provides a feeding zone for fish. Afternoon incoming tides will provide slightly deeper water over these features, possibly making them even more attractive to the fish. The tide can make a notable difference in waves heights as well. Outgoing tides tend to decrease wave size by increasing the drag due to shallower water and stronger rip currents moving away from shore. While incoming tides often allow waves to retain more of their height and set up currents that push toward shore over the sandbars. This subtle effect can be aided or negated by the wind direction and speed which directly influences water at the surface.
Pier anglers now have another unique venue to explore with the newly opened pier in Orange Beach at the Waterfront Park. This venue is vastly improved from the previous version destroyed by Hurricane “Sally” in September 2020. It now has deeper water (along the west side), underwater lighting, and two dozen disc reefs. These features should better attract and hold baitfish and thus gamefish around the structure. Though it may take some time for this to occur as barnacles, mussels, oysters and such grow slowly, especially in cold winter water. But that gives anglers more time to explore its potential. Best bets now would likely be to fish live shrimp or small lures around the lights at night for redfish, trout and flounder. The same species may be possible during daylight as well, perhaps with the addition of sheepshead.