What's Biting: Finicky Fish
It's that time of year when inshore anglers realize the inshore species of fish like speckled trout, redfish, white trout and flounder are getting finicky about what they'll hit. It's been getting harder and harder to get sufficient strikes on artificial lures, both hard baits like MirrOdines and soft plastic grubs on lead heads.
The fact is, if you're planning to head to the Alabama Gulf Coast for a late summer beach blast will be live bait, mainly live shrimp, although Frith's Bait Shop on Canal Road in Gulf Shores has both live shrimp and live bull minnows. Go Fish Bait and Tackle has a location at Gulf State Park Pier, and they normally stock live shrimp and bull minnows, but call 968-7000 before you head to the pier to make sure live bait is available. Anything that swims will slurp down a live shrimp, but bull minnows are mostly used to catch flounder and redfish. Capt. Hook's Bait and Tackle at the south end of the Intracoastal Bridge in Gulf Shores will have live shrimp.
The places in Orange Beach that carry live shrimp are J&M Tackle on Canal Road and Top Gun Tackle on Perdido Beach Boulevard. I checked with Fort Morgan Marina the other day, and they haven't been able to get live bait in a few weeks, so check with the marina before heading down there or get your live shrimp in Gulf Shores.. For those who venture over toward Dauphin Island, Maurice's Ryan's bait shop has live croakers, while Mark Jones' bait shop will have live shrimp. Of course, with shrimp season open, you have the opportunity to catch your own bait, which is what a lot of local anglers do this time of year.
The variety of possible bait options increases a great deal if you drag a small shrimp net for a little while. You'll likely catch shrimp, menhaden (pogeys) and croakers. Pick the deeper spots to start your drag for bait because the water temperature is about 87 degrees right now. If you're trying to catch large speckled trout, what we call gator trout, there's no better bait than a 3- to 5-inch croaker free-lined behind the boat.
Another method to catch live bait is with a cast net. Seasoned netters will toss large nets, but beginners should start out with five-foot nets until they get the hang of it. Be on the lookout for pogeys on the surface. Ease the boat in that direction and try to make the net open like a silver dollar. Let the net sink and then snatch up quickly to close the bottom of the net to keep the bait from escaping. Pull it up and see what you've got. Of course, if you've got an aerated livewell in your boat, there's no problem keeping the bait alive. If you're pier fishing or fishing on the shoreline, you're going to need an aerated bait bucket. The aerator is powered by a battery, and today's bait buckets do a great job of keeping the bait in good shape. By the way, I did get a report that the bull croakers have moved onto the inshore fishing reefs and are plenty big enough to filet. If you get the chance, catch a mess and you'll see that this overlooked species is excellent for a family fish fry.