Afraid of getting seasick, or just don’t want to pay for a charter trip, try pier fishing.
When Hurricane Ivan destroyed the Alabama Gulf State Park Pier in 2004, many thought it was the end to what was considered some of the best pier fishing along the Gulf of Mexico. As it turned out, it was a blessing in disguise. The new pier is much longer, wider and has more amenities for the fisherman. Another plus for the new pier is debris from the old pier was used to create artificial reefs around its end. These reefs are attracting a variety of fish species which end up in fishermen’s coolers.
Pier fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is a popular method of catching various salt-water species from south Florida to the Texas coast. Hundreds of public and private piers abound along the Gulf Coast. Public piers in Destin, Panama City, Gulf Shores and along the Mississippi coast are within a day’s drive from most anywhere in Alabama. Admission fees vary from a few dollars to less than ten dollars a day in most places. Anglers who are prone to seasickness, on a limited budget or just want to take the kids fishing will find pier fishing attractive. While there is specialized tackle for the pier fisherman, the visiting angler with basic bass fishing gear can do quite well.
Max Murphy is a self-proclaimed snowbird who loves to fish on the Gulf State Park Pier near Gulf Shores.
"I use a lot of shrimp for bait, both dead and live shrimp. Most species will hit a shrimp. When it comes to tackle, it depends on what species you are targeting. For king mackerel, cobia and the giant bull redfish, you will need a larger rod and reel, but for species like whiting, pompano, speckled trout, flounder and other species of similar size, bass-class tackle will work fine. I love to catch and eat whiting off this pier. I buy most of my bait, but I do catch alewives with a small rig and bait my larger rig with them. This pier (Gulf States Park Pier) is ideal for me. I like to sit back in my folding chair and relax. If I need to use the rest room, one is within a short walk from where I am fishing. Also, they have a nice concession stand where you can get drinks and sandwiches. It’s just my favorite place to fish along the Gulf Coast," Murphy said.
Buddy Wilkinson is a retired deputy sheriff from Shelby County who spends a lot of time fishing the Gulf State Park Pier.
"I mostly fish for speckled trout and Spanish mackerel," Wilkinson said.
He recommended fishing with live shrimp or a small alewife with no weight on a 10 lb. test line with a no. 10 or 12 hook.
"For specks, I like a light rig, maybe a little smaller than you would use for bass fishing. For Spanish mackerel, sometimes I free line or use a float, but never a weight. I use a light steel leader or 40 lb. mono leader when fishing for mackerel. They have sharp teeth and will cut a light line," Wilkerson explained.
Pompano is another favorite species often caught of the pier. Wilkinson uses the same rig for pompano as he does for whiting and flounder.
"I use a sliding lead weight above a small swivel. I use eight lb. test line with a no. 4 hook baited with shrimp. The ghost shrimp, found in holes along the beach, are becoming popular bait for pompano and redfish. Sand fleas are also good bait for pompano and redfish. When you catch the reds coming through, they will bite most any bait. A good rule of thumb is to use as light a line as you can get by with. I catch alewives with a little net I let down into the water. They are good for most any species. The best fishing is early-morning and late-evening. Sometimes they will come through later in the day. I have friends who put a lot of faith in lunar tables and the tide charts, but I don’t go by those. The trick to successful pier fishing is to go fishing a lot. You won’t catch them every time, but there will be some days you can load your cooler," Wilkinson said.
Chuck Kelly, pier employee, suggested just spending a few hours watching and talking to experienced pier fishermen.
"Recently fishermen caught 174 king mackerel off the Gulf State Park pier in one day. One woman caught her first ever king mackerel that went over 30 lbs. What is so nice about our pier is the variety of fish that can be caught. Sheephead are a popular species that are good table fair, too. On a good day you can limit out with 15 Spanish mackerels. The ‘Gotya’ lure is very good for mackerel fishing. Cobia is another favorite caught off the pier. We also see some big reds, up to 30 lb. plus. On a good day, it would be possible to catch up to 20 different species of fish. This is what is so unique about pier fishing, and you don’t have to break the bank to have fun pier fishing," Kelly said.
Like Murphy and Wilkinson, Kelly stressed you do not need complicated tackle to have a successful day on the pier.
"All you need is an egg sinker, a barrel swivel and a small hook. I’ve seen more people using a hook that is too big than too small. Bait it with a shrimp, alewife or cigar minnow, and you are ready to hook into something," Kelly added.
For a laid-back, saltwater fishing experience, try the Alabama Gulf State Park Pier. The pier doesn’t rock in rough water, if it rains there is shelter to get under and you will have change left out of a 20 dollar bill after a day of fishing. I can’t think of a better bargain for a fisherman on a budget.Ben Norman is an outdoor writer from Highland Home.