Pier Fish Inexpensively All Day and Catch Fish in the Winter
“Get to the pier early, before daylight, if you want to catch and photograph fish,” my fishing buddy, David Thornton, told me on the phone. “The bites will happen just after the sun comes up, and sometimes will last 2 to 3 hours. Anglers will continue to catch fish throughout the day, but the largest number of fish will be caught during those first 2 or 3 hours of daylight. So, plan to get out early,” Thornton, a regular at the Gulf State Park Pier, reports on the fishing there and keeps-up with the fishing at this second-longest pier in the Gulf of Mexico. For $8 and a saltwater fishing license, anglers can fish on the pier for 24 hours. I don’t know of anywhere along the Gulf Coast that offers better fishing for less money.
On a trip to Alabama’s Gulf Coast in late October, I followed Thornton’s advice and arrived at the pier a little before 6:00 am. I saw dark shadows of anglers with rods bent just as the sun pushed the covers of darkness back and rose in the east. As that early-morning glow illuminated the end of the pier about 1/4-mile out in the Gulf of Mexico from the shore, I saw more rods bending and heard more anglers hollering. At times, 10 or 12 anglers would be battling Spanish mackerel, weighing anywhere from 1-1/2-pounds up to 5 or 6 pounds. For 3 hours, the action was non-stop. More than 100 Spanish mackerel were caught that morning.
Some of these Spanish mackerel were caught on a lure called the Gotcha jig that’s about 2-1/2-inches long with the diameter of a straw that you’ll use to drink a big milk shake and sporting a red head and a chrome body. Because of the weight of the lure, many anglers can cast those jigs what seems to be a country mile. Then using a twitching action, they’ll work the lures back to the pier. Other anglers are catching and fishing live bait by using a treble hook, 2 feet of wire leader that attaches to a barrel swivel and line from 12- to 30-pound test. If they’re using the lighter line, they’re fishing spinning tackle that holds about 250 yards of 12- to 20-pound test. By fishing live alewives (LYs as they’re locally known), anglers increase their odds for catching a wider variety of fish. The bigger and the harder-to-catch king mackerel come next, with bluefish and redfish also attracted to live LYs.
Speaking of redfish, the big bull reds that will weigh from 20 to 30 pounds have started showing-up at the Gulf State Park Pier. As the weather gets cooler, the number of big bull reds at the pier will continue to increase. On a trip last fall, I saw more than 100 bull reds caught and released from the pier. Anglers are only permitted to keep one of these huge redfish. However, they can continue to catch and release big redfish all day long.
The question most often asked is, “How do you land a big fish?” The Pier Rats, which is the name given to anglers who fish the pier almost every day all year long, use large landing nets and gaffs to get their fish out of the water and onto the pier. The landing nets they use have a weight on the bottom and a large round piece of metal at the top, which is attached to a rope. The big net is let down on the rope on the edge of the pier. The angler who has caught the fish leads the fish into the net, while the other fishermen pull the rope up, cradling the fish in the net. This way, the fish can be brought up to the pier unharmed, and the hooks can be retrieved from its mouth. When anglers on the pier catch big redfish they plan to release, they leave the redfish in the nets and then pour the fish back in the water, so the fish can swim away unharmed and live to fight another day. The big Spanish mackerel is landed the same way, especially when anglers are using light line.
However, when a king mackerel, weighing 18 to over 40 pounds, is caught, a different procedure is used. To land big kings, the gaff is lowered on a rope. Once again, the angler who has caught the fish leads the king over the gaff, and the angler on the rope sets the hook and brings the king mackerel over the side of the rail on the pier. Right now during the last week of October, the big attraction at Gulf State Park Pier is the mackerel. They’re so abundant that on some days catching the limit isn’t a problem.
Something else I enjoy when fishing from the pier is the variety of people I meet and their willingness to teach others how to fish and let youngsters fish too. Monica Manley arrived at the pier just before daylight when John Giannini (the owner of J&M Tackle at the beach) had just hooked up a big Spanish mackerel. “Here, young lady, reel in this one,” Giannini told Manley as he handed the rod to her. Manley’s face lit up like a Christmas tree as she turned the crank on the spinning rod. A net was quickly brought to the rail, and the hook was taken out of the mackerel’s mouth. Giannini then offered the big Spanish to anyone on the pier who wanted to cook for dinner. Smiling, Giannini said, “Come on, Monica, let’s go catch another one.” Giannini is typical of the Pier Rats. Most of these anglers get more joy and pleasure from helping other people catch fish than they do catching the fish themselves. They’re also gracious and give away the fish they catch to other anglers who may not have caught any. If you plan a trip to the Gulf State Park Pier this winter, the Pier Rats will teach you how to catch the species of fish biting during the time you’re there.
For daily information and to see photos of the fish being caught at the pier each day, go to www.gulfshorespierfishing.com. For more information about the Gulf State Park Pier, call 251-948-7275.