Time For Live Bait
Historically, the middle of June is when Alabama opens its shrimp season, which also heralds a change in fishing tactics for those who love to catch speckled trout and other inshore species.
By state law, shrimp season cannot open until the shrimp reach a minimum size of 68 per pound. What that also means is specks and other inshore species shift their diet habits to those tasty shrimp and other bait fish, making live bait an essential part of the successful angler’s arsenal.
Just as the opening of shrimp season can change depending on a variety of conditions, so can the bait preference of the inshore fish species.
“It’s not an absolute thing,” said Capt. Jay Gunn of J-Hook Inshore charters (251-752-8040). “The fish will still bite artificials here and there, but they shift to live bait. I think it coincides with the availability of brown shrimp and croakers. When they get to the right size and the trout can get a good meal, that’s when they switch. When the shrimp become legal size and the croakers get to be 3 to 4 inches long is when I see the switch most of the time.
“I start out with all artificial in April and May. Then one day, all of sudden they don’t bite it as good. Your fisherman’s intuition says, uh oh, we just hit our transition. It pretty much happens when the water temperature gets above 80 degrees. The shrimp move out of the shallow water and into the deeper water as they head for the Gulf. The fish go for one bigger meal instead of a bunch of little meals.”
Gunn, who will fish anywhere from Fort Morgan to the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores and Little Lagoon, prefers to position his boat where the live bait can be free-lined out the back of the boat.
Gunn said he checked his log books from last year and verified what he thought.
“Trout fishing has been excellent,” he said. “Last year was a pretty phenomenal year. I looked back in my books. On my charter trips, we caught 550 trout in month of June last year. This year, I hit 530 with three trips to go.”
As tragic as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was to the Gulf Coast, Gunn thinks there is one up side.
“If anything good came out of the oil spill is that very, very few fish were caught that year (2010),” he said. “That means that almost all of the trout spawned that summer with no interference and provided a huge year-class of fish. Those fish are four years old. That’s your 18- to 20-inch fish. Those fish are so dominant right now: it’s hard to catch anything else.
“That gave our trout fishery a huge boost you wouldn’t see in nature with a normal fishing season. That’s why I think our trout fishing has been so outstanding for the last two years.”