Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook July 25, 2023

Pier & Shore Fishing Outlook July 25, 2023
By David “The Pierpounder” Thornton

The appearance of a rare late July cold front in the forecast to begin this fortnight could (briefly) change this persistent hot and dry pattern we have been experiencing this month. But by the end of the month we will likely be entrenched under strong high pressure once again. We can expect this to continue well into August with daily highs in the upper 90s and lows at night only around 80. The upwelling that has kept Gulf water temperatures in the low 80s appears to be weakening.
That would mean we are approaching the yearly high mark when water temps, even in the Gulf may top 90 degrees. Water that warm cannot hold as much oxygen, and sealife could suffer if that situation develops. This would make fishing in shallow water generally less successful unless there is some cloudcover to shield the surfzone from the searing sun. A little breeze or waves would help too, as it aids to oxygenate the water. The fish that can tolerate the heat are mostly neotropical jacks like ladyfish, blue runner and small pompano. Also, fish with a slower metabolism like whiting and ground mullet, flounder, speckled trout and redfish may still be around in numbers that support targeting them. Early and late in the day will almost always be the best times to fish as we typically have a high tide in the middle of the day. Night fishing around the August 1st full moon will coincide with the strongest diurnal tide differential of nearly two feet. Not much in other parts of the world, but huge by our microtidal standards. This much fluctuation could lead to a better bite around the end of July or beginning of August until the next NEAP tide period occurs August 5th and 6th.
Our previous broken record weather pattern through the previous fortnight with light westerly winds and near calm seas set the pace for a generally slow bite along the beaches, Perdido Pass, and Gulf State Park Pier. The speckled trout and flounder bites have remained surprisingly strong through these conditions. Meanwhile, most of the pelagic species seemed to have pushed away from the beaches from Perdido Pass to Little Lagoon Pass by a persistent flush of fresh water from the heavy rain event in early July. Many days there was simply no spanish mackerel to be found from the seawall or pier and very few herring (LYs), or even sharks. These fish often shun fresh water, especially the tannin variety that Perdido Bay is noted for. Perhaps as the water quality (salinity, acidity, etc.) return more toward normal, the mackerel and other typical summer species like spadefish and mangrove snapper will move back closer to shore.
Meanwhile surf anglers targeting pompano have been struggling not only with the slow bite, but the heat and huge crowds too. Mornings with a rising tide until a few hours after sunrise are going to give them the best shot at pompano for a few hours. Try along the back side (shore side) of the beach sandbars where the trough is at least five feet deep. There should be some whiting in these spots too, and perhaps some slot-sized redfish, bluefish, ladyfish or even speckled trout. It is a good sign if mullet are present in the trough, and the gamefish like to stage below, or mixed in with the mullet schools. A topwater plug like a Heddon Spook or Rapala Skitterwalk are very good options to throw during the hour prior to sunrise. They often elicit smashing strikes from the gamefish, though you might want to use smaller versions on the slick mornings when there is almost no wind or waves.
Once you locate some fish and the topwater bite dies off, they may still be caught on suspending jerkbaits that resemble small LYs with a green or black back. A slower presentation than usual may be needed as the fish may be a bit lethargic when the water temperature gets into the upper 80s. Another way to stay on the action and add flounder to the mix is to use a bottom-bouncing jig or grub. Three inch baits typically get more hookups, especially from flounder which are often small male Gulf flounder.
Anglers intent on pompano should use the freshest baits possible with minimal terminal tackle as long as the water is calm and clear. Sandfleas and ghost shrimp are the ideal baits pompano and other surfzone fish are feeding on. But small live shrimp, which are fairly abundant now, threaded on a #6 kahle hook make great baits too. If you cannot locate a beach sandbar with sufficient water depth, try wading out on a beach point to cast to the region where the water changes to a darker color. This six to nine feet deep water is what the pompano often seem to prefer, and it may take getting wet in order to reach it. Light spinning tackle in the 6 to 10 pound class is very sensitive to the light bite of some of these fish, like whiting and ground mullet. Bare Carolina rigs or single drop rigs with a #6 kahle hook, no swivels, floats or beads will usually outproduce the conventional double drop Pompano rigs as long as the conditions remain calm. Light tackle is also a useful tool for wading and casting pompano jigs and Goofy jig rigs to hunt for pompano, which only rarely school up this time of year. If you think you need a little scent on the jig, add an inch long strip of Fishbites, a small sandflea or piece of fresh dead shrimp. Keep a wary eye out for stingrays and sea nettles (stinging jellyfish), and of course, thunderstorms.
This is also the time of year we may start seeing female blue crabs active in the surfzone. The females spend their mature years (after mating) entirely in the Gulf of Mexico. They move to shallow water to lay their eggs which appear as orange or brown masses held under the abdomen by their apron.
Once they lay the eggs they may be harvested, and scooping crabs is a popular past time on summer days when the water is calm and clear. Keep a cooler nearby to store your crabs, and keep plenty of drinking water on hand, because you will need it in this heat!