Head Out In Early Morning or Late Afternoon for the Best Action
The month of July ushers in the truly tropical summer season for the north-central Gulf Coast, with water temperatures languishing in the sultry middle 80s while air temperatures often climb into the 90s even along the coast for brief periods.
Fortunately, this vast pool of warm, unstable air is fuel for summertime thunderstorms and cooling showers that keep the climate at least tolerable for shore-bound anglers. In fact, savvy anglers have learned to avoid the oppressive sun and stifling heat of midday and concentrate on the early morning and late afternoon hours when conditions are more comfortable. Plus, cloud cover and cool outflows from nearby thunderstorms may even hinder the scorching rays of the sun at times, thus extending the timeframe suitable for fishers to venture out for productive fishing.
“If you’re close enough to hear the thunder, best to take cover”
About the only thing more threatening than sunburn and heat exhaustion is the very real possibility of being struck by lightning. The old saying “if you’re close enough to hear the thunder, best to take cover” is a good adage to follow as a safety precaution while fishing on piers, jetties or the open beach, especially while holding a long graphite rod! Most thunderstorms occur along the immediate coast or just offshore in the morning around sunrise. Usually by mid-morning, they have weakened or completely dissipated only to reform inland a few hours later.
Occasionally late in the afternoon, new storms will form along the outflow boundaries from these “older” storms and move quickly southward toward the coast, often accompanied by gusty northerly winds and lots of lightning. Anglers should always be aware of the weather around them and monitor it for any changes in order to remain safe and identify any short-lived fishing opportunities these rapid changes may present so they may take advantage of the situation.
Whether fishing inshore, nearshore or offshore, anglers might catch speckled trout, redfish, flounder, pompano, whiting, black drum, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, blue runner, king mackerel, jack crevalle, tarpon, mahi, blackfin tuna, sailfish and other species this month.
Beat the Heat
One great way to beat the heat and avoid most thunderstorm activity is to fish at night from lighted docks, piers or bridges. The lights shining on or in the water attract small minnows and other forage. These species attract larger game fish like speckled and white trout, redfish, bluefish and even ladyfish. These can be caught on a variety of live baits (usually shrimp or minnows), or on artificial lures which mimic these baits. A 3-inch soft-bodied swimbait or grub can be especially effective.
On private docks and small wooden piers, it is very beneficial to step softly so as not to spook the fish that pick up vibrations from the dock into the water. On public piers, like Cedar Point or Fairhope on Mobile Bay or the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores, it will benefit the angler to arrive either early enough to reserve a spot over a light, or later after most other anglers have gone home. The same holds true for fishing bridges such as the one over Pensacola Bay in Florida that parallels the Highway 90/98 bridges. This unique venue allows you to pay and drive out over the water and simply park to get out and fish.
Another truly unique fishing spot is the Alabama Point parking lot on the west side of Perdido Pass in Orange Beach, Ala. The city has reworked the area immediately behind the seawall to provide a free, safe and well-lit parking area with lights shining onto the waters of the pass to aid the fishermen.
The public piers along the beaches from Gulf Shores, Ala. eastward to Panama City Beach, Fla. offer their own attractions as a full slate of fish species are available this month depending on location and water salinity. These piers offer shore-bound anglers world-class fishing opportunities for a fraction of the cost of renting a charter or owning a boat. Besides the large group of summer visitors, the piers host a contingent of regular or local anglers, many of whom are more than happy to assist less experienced anglers in rigging and landing their fish of a lifetime!
“One of the most popular big game pursuits are the tarpon schools that migrate east to west along the Emerald Coast in July.”
One of the most popular big game pursuits are the tarpon schools that migrate east to west along the Emerald Coast in July. This mass movement often provides pier anglers multiple opportunities to get a bait or lure in front of a tarpon that may easily exceed 100 pounds. Though most shake the hook after a few jumps, a few each year are pulled pierside and intentionally released by popping the line as a special permit is needed to land one (kill it) in Florida or Alabama. Most are subdued on 8- or 9-foot medium-heavy action spinning rods with 250 to 300 yards of 20-pound-test monofilament intended for king mackerel, but some are hooked on lighter gear by anglers throwing large plugs or swimbaits to intentionally target tarpon.
In the Surf
Anglers can still catch pompano in the surf using setlines on bottom baited with pieces of fresh shrimp, Fishbites, or better yet, live sand fleas (mole crabs). This method is usually practiced early and late in the day for a few hours at a time when there are fewer swimmers in the water before the sun gets too hot.
Another alternative is to simply walk a nearly deserted stretch of beach with just a lightweight rod and reel plus a bag of colorful pompano jigs including one tied directly on the light 6-pound-test monofilament line. Cast this out to a likely spot along the beach, such as a sandbar drop-off, deeper cut or outflowing rip current, where pompano are likely to gather for a meal and hopped back to the water edge. Besides the targeted pompano, anglers are likely to encounter whiting, bluefish, ladyfish, blue runner and maybe even a redfish or flounder.
Toward the west in Alabama, anglers can spend the morning or evening plugging away for speckled trout and redfish, especially along the beaches on the Fort Morgan Peninsula or on Dauphin Island. Bright silver 3/4-ounce spoons like a Mr. Champ or Sidewinder are excellent as are slow-sinking MirrOlures like the 52M series. At times 4-inch soft-plastic swim-tail minnows, like a Fin-S or Zoom Fluke fished on a 1/4-ounce jighead garner a LOT of action from speckled trout, redfish and flounder and incidental bluefish, ladyfish and blue runners.
With so many options of venue and species to pursue and methods to go after them, even while dodging thunderstorms and the blazing sun, July can provide a summer time of fun as you spend these great days outdoors.