Many fishing guides and fishermen alike say this year’s catches on the Alabama Gulf Coast are the best they have ever seen.
Mike Foster, vice president of marketing for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, gets excited when he talks about the fishing and other water sports opportunities along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
Foster said, "From what I am hearing from guides and fisherman, this is going to be an excellent fishing season. I am hearing reports of exceptionally high numbers of red snapper and other fish, both offshore and inshore."
Foster said, after the BP oil spill, the public perception was that the fishing got devastated in the area, but this perception simply isn’t true.
"We had over 3,000 samples of fish analyzed and, to my knowledge, all samples were acceptable," Foster stated. "But our tourism business suffered. We were down approximately 50 percent in tourist business last year, but we are looking for a very good season this year.
"You know, we have a lot of Alabamians who have never been to the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach area or haven’t been in many years. They just don’t know what they are missing."
Thad Stewart, Zeke’s Landing [(251) 981-4044], echoed Foster’s beliefs about the fishing opportunities on the island.
"We are seeing some awesome catches this season. The red snapper are very healthy and we have one of the highest populations of snapper in many years. Around the reefs, amberjack fishing is good along with vermilion snapper, triggerfish and other species. Offshore fishing for billfish, tuna, yahoo, dauphin (mahi mahi) and yellow fin tuna are good. The blue marlin fishing is expected to be excellent from October to November," Stewart added.
Catches on inshore species have also been good.
"We are seeing consistently good catches of speckled trout, redfish, flounder, sheep head, pompano and black drum. I believe the fishing is better because, during the oil crisis, fishing pressure was off, resulting in a higher fish population this year. Also, many of the fish had another year to grow without ever seeing bait. We have about 40 charter boats in our fleet and we can usually arrange a trip compatible with one’s budget and time frame," Stewart observed.
Mike Weaver, captain of the Navigator, is an inshore guide who operates out of Zeke’s Marina in Orange Beach. He has acquired quite a reputation as a successful inshore guide who consistently puts his clients on fish. Weaver had a successful career in real estate, but always longed to pursue his dream of being an inshore guide. After the real estate business began to slow down, he decided to take the plunge and has never looked back.
"I began fishing when I was five years old and it has been a passion ever since. I just love putting people on fish. I especially enjoy taking youngsters out and introducing them to inshore fishing. I have a lot of patience with youngsters. They will often get their lines tangled and you may have to help them a bit more than adults, but they are the fishermen of tomorrow and I especially like working with a family with kids," Weaver said.
When asked how the BP oil spill affected the fishing, Weaver replied, "The fishing is at least as good as before the spill and, in my opinion, it is better than before the spill. There are higher numbers of inshore fish simply because they skipped a year of fishing pressure," Weaver explained. "We are catching speckled trout, white trout, red fish, flounder, sheephead and black drum. July and August are good for speckle trout, red fish and flounder. The kids also really enjoy catching ladyfish. I furnish all one needs for a day or half day of inshore fishing. Different conditions require different bait and rigging, that’s where the experience of a good guide pays off in larger catches."
For those fishing on their own in the bays, Weaver recommended spinning reels with 10-15 lb lines.
"I use 12 lb test line with three-quarter to one ounce egg weight. It is important to size your hook to your bait. I like a no. 4 wide-gap hook tied to a two-foot leader with a swivel attached. Live shrimp, bull minnows and menhaden are excellent live bait," Weaver added.
Weaver also offers near-shore Gulf fishing. Near shore is generally regarded to mean going three miles or less out into the Gulf.
"Excellent mackerel fishing is found just outside the pass. We catch Spanish mackerel and king mackerel just offshore. I troll with a planer and a spoon using a wire leader and slow troll with a live bait or a frozen cigar minnow with a treble hook. Hooking up with 20-30 lb king mackerel is quite an experience. Around October we get a lot of big bull redfish migrating from the east to the west. An angler can keep three redfish with one being over 26 inches. Catching bull reds in the 15 to 20 lb. range is common. I just look for the birds and work that area. A good locator plug is a Mann’s Stretch 25, a diving plug. We locate a lot of big reds using this bait. Jig heads with a plastic trailer and a feathered jig dropped to the bottom are good producers, too," Weaver said.
To book an inshore or near shore trip with Weaver, contact him at (850) 232-4251.
Kim Chapman, public relations manager with the Alabama Gulf Coast CVB, said, while the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach areas do offer some of the best fishing on the Gulf of Mexico, there are many other attractions for the non-fishermen.
"We have 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches for sunbathers and swimmers. We also have many restaurants specializing in seafood and other specialties. Other points of interest are the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, water parks, golf courses, amusement parks, putt-putt golf, eco tours, hiking, the Gulf State Park and the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Shoppers can choose to explore everything from beach side boutiques to the large mall in Foley," Chapman said.
From dragging giant redfish and snapper out of the water to cruising the boutiques, the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach area has something for all. Just remember to bring the ice chest-you’ll need it to carry the fillets back home.
Ben Norman is an outdoor writer from Highland Home.