Preparing for Fall Surf Fishing along Alabama’s Gulf Coast
With daytime temperatures in the mid-70s to low 80s, the water temperature will also begin to cool and trigger the whiting and pompano to start a feeding frenzy. The cooler temperatures also mean there will be a lot less of the undesirable species around to steal your bait.
The most prized fish the surf has to offer, Florida pompano can be caught on pompano jigs or natural bait, like peeled shrimp, sand fleas, and ghost shrimp.
Head to the local bait shops and grab some fresh-dead shrimp and frozen sand fleas if available. You can also grab a rake at the bait shop to rake the sand for live sand fleas. Additionally, the bait shops will have a suction-pump tool to catch your own ghost shrimp. Take the suction pump and slurp up sand at the edge of the surf and dump it out to look for the delicate ghost shrimp. Be sure to secure the ghost shrimp carefully to the hook because their exoskeleton is not nearly as tough as a regular brown shrimp. It’s a good idea to get a bag of Fish Bites at the bait shop and cut a square to add to the hook for added enhancement, and it also helps keep the natural bait on the hook.
Because their mouths are not very big, use a small hook, like a No. 6 Kahle or a small No. 8 circle hook, when you’re fishing for pompano or whiting. Try your best to hide the hook with whatever bait you’re using because pompano can get a little finicky.
Some anglers will cast out natural bait into the surf and bring along an extra rod for casting pompano jigs in the surf. Depending on water conditions, the clearer, the better; blind-casting pompano jigs can be very productive, and a limit of three fish (12-inch minimum) can be landed pretty quickly.
The most productive areas to fish are where the first sand bar is near the shoreline. Look for any irregularities in the surf, like deeper spots that will be darker in color. Then cast the bait in those spots, put your fishing rod in the rod holder and enjoy that wonderful, relaxing sound of the surf splashing onto the beach.
Whiting, also known as the Gulf Kingfish, is not a big fish but is great to eat. A two-pounder is a big fish when it comes to whiting. When you’re targeting whiting, you can use a single hook or two-hook rigs on a three-way swivel for the pyramid weight. If the current allows, use the smallest pyramid weight possible. If your rig starts getting washed down the beach, go with a larger weight. The great thing about whiting is there is no size or bag limit, which means if they’re really biting, you can catch enough for a big fish fry.
Redfish will also be prowling the front beach in the fall, and those brutes can really test your tackle. Alabama has a 16-26-inch slot limit on reds with an allowance for one fish over 26 inches. However, if you’re lucky enough to catch what we call a bull red, I suggest taking plenty of photos and letting the fish go to fight another day.
Cut mullet or any live baitfish is good for reds. Be sure to bring a rod with a 15-20-pound-line if a red breaks you off on the lighter tackle.
Flounder can also be caught during the fall, but most flounder anglers head to the beach during low-light conditions in the early morning. Use a minnow-imitation jig and fan-cast as you walk along the surf. Alabama doesn’t distinguish between the two flounder species, Southern and Gulf, that inhabit our coast. The daily creel limit is five fish with a minimum size of 14 inches total length, but any flounder caught during the entire month of November must be immediately released unharmed. The flounder season is closed for both recreational and commercial harvest in November to protect the fish during their migration to spawning grounds.
Alabama’s beautiful beaches provide great fishing action during the fall, so look at your calendar and head to the beach as soon as you can.