As New York Yankees great Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again” on the Alabama Gulf Coast. The early subtropical system that thankfully turned out to be a dud left a great deal of moisture in the area, which has caused plenty of rain and thundershowers.
Although that might limit your time on the beach, that rain has kept the water temperatures at moderate levels, which helps the surf fishing significantly.
Pompano, whiting and flounder have not migrated to the deeper water and hanging around in the usual spots along the sand bar, usually the first one closest to the breaking surf. Those breakers stir up the bottom and the fish ambush sand fleas, ghost shrimp and other invertebrates.
The local tackle shops in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores stock tools to scoop up sand fleas (mole crabs) and a device to slurp ghost shrimp out of the surf. The ghost shrimp extruders are made out of PVC pipes that pump the crustaceans out of their holes in the sand. At times, it only takes about 30 minutes of work with the extruder to get enough ghost shrimp to last for the fishing trip.
Most surf anglers use a double-hook rig with the lightest pyramid weight allowed, depending on the surf and current conditions. If you can get by with a one-ounce sinker, go with that as long as the sinker remains stationary. Go up in sinker size if it starts rolling around in the surf. A 1/0 hook size is usually best for pompano. If you’re after whiting, which rarely exceed two pounds, switch to lighter tackle.
Successful surf fishermen don’t just drag their equipment down to the beach and start fishing. They scout for the best looking water and conditions. Look for clearer water, where the fish can sometimes be spotted waiting for a meal. Also look for the darker water, which indicates more depth, and look for any irregular features in the sandbar. Those edges are where the predator fish like to ambush their prey.
Of course, now that we’re at the peak of the tourist season, it’s also recommended to try to avoid the crowds before trying to fish in the surf. Avoid the high-traffic areas and find a little solitude. The best fishing is during low-light conditions of early morning and right at dusk. Most sunbathers don’t get to the beach early and leave before dusk to get ready to go out for the one of the fine seafood meals so abundant along the Alabama Gulf Coast.
If laying back in your beach chair, relaxing and waiting for the fish to come to your bait is not for you, pick up a casting or spinning rod and head down the beach with a pompano jig (also found at the bait and tackle shops) and try to cast to the first sandbar and hop that jig back to the beach. The vibrant colors of the jig and hopping action can sometimes fool a pompano into a strike. Add a little strip of Fish Bites for added enticement. And don’t be surprised if you catch something other than pompano. Redfish and flounder also hang out along the beach at times.
Alabama’s length limit on flounder is 12 inches with a daily bag limit of 10 fish per person. The pompano length limit is also 12 inches, but the daily bag limit is three fish per person. There is no limit on whiting. The redfish limit is three per person with a slot limit of 16 to 26 inches with the exception that one fish larger than 26 inches is allowed. But don’t keep a large redfish. It’s not good table fare. Take a photo and return it unharmed to the water.
The long-range forecast for the next couple of weeks is for relatively moderate temps in the high 80s and low 90s, so don’t miss this chance to enjoy one of the Alabama Gulf Coast’s most accessible fishing opportunities.