Piers are attracting new visitors; both human and fish
October is often one of the most pleasant times of year to fish the north central Gulf coast. Usually, several cold fronts have already come through, providing relief to summertime heat and humidity along with long spells of pleasant weather. In fact, October averages to be our driest month notwithstanding the occasional year with some kind of tropical activity. But the hurricane season is rapidly winding down as the water temperatures begin to cool below 80 degrees and fall into the middle 70s by late month.
Some mornings may be chilly enough to need a windbreaker or light jacket, but under the mid-day sun, the dry air warms rapidly, providing very comfortable conditions for pier and shore fishing and perhaps even a wade fishing session.
This seasonally influenced drop in water temperatures stimulates many species of fish to begin binge feeding on the plentiful supply of young baitfish like scaled sardines, anchovies, and silver mullet. The pelagic species especially are ‘hard wired’ to gorge themselves in anticipation of their upcoming southward migration. There is nothing quite like witnessing one of these full-on feeding frenzies when the fish will literally strike at anything that even remotely looks edible. But more often the fish still need to be fooled by a well presented artificial lure or live bait, so it’s a good idea to try and be prepared for any conditions or species you may encounter. Medium sized silver spoons in the half to one-ounce range will catch a variety of fish in the surf or from the pier.
Mr. Champ, Kastmaster, Sidewinder and Krocodile spoons can be very effective for mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, redfish, speckled trout and even flounder. The glittering flutter of a falling spoon followed by a series of sharply erratic retrieves is often the most effective method for these species. The toothy ones will need a heavier monofilament or light wire leader to prevent cutoffs, especially when the action gets ‘wild’.
Fall Tides and Wind
“Appropriately ‘fall tides’ predominate the month of October with the lowest water level usually around midday.”
Appropriately “fall tides” predominate the month of October with the lowest water level usually around midday. This situation may be exaggerated on days with north winds and strong high barometric pressure or negated by onshore winds usually accompanying lower air pressure, clouds and occasionally even rain. So, each day sets up a unique set of circumstances that challenge the beach bound anglers to solve and become successful. Learning to use the tides and winds to your advantage is the greatest key to becoming a savvy shore fisherman (or woman). Networking with other anglers is another tool to success and by sharing knowledge and experiences all parties involved can grow more successful faster. In this era of specialized social media sites, web pages and forums it is even easier for pier and shore fishermen to distribute, contribute and share in this body of knowledge; making new acquaintances or even maintaining relationships from afar.
Since the Octobers of the early 1970s, the coastal piers have attracted a unique set of ‘off season’ vacation or sojourning anglers from other parts of the country who show up every year as much for the companionship as the phenomenal fall fishing. The community of fishermen on the Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier has for decades exhibited a shining example of this mantra, contributing to a mutual spirit of respect, cooperation and fellowship among its diverse anglers through several generations.
During October pier fishing is primarily focused on the run of large spanish mackerel (often referred to as “ax handle spanish”), over three pounds. These fish are in the process of ‘fattening up’ and aggregating into huge schools in preparation for their southward migration, and most leave Alabama waters by the end of the month. Some may linger though, especially along the Florida panhandle if the water remains warmer than average and the supply of forage fish holds. During these times, using the smaller 3-inch-long scaled sardines (“LYs”) fished live on light 6 to 12-pound class spinning tackle with just a light steel leader and number 4 or 6 treble hook practically guarantees non-stop mackerel action from the piers.
Larger LYs and even frozen cigar minnows will also catch some big spanish mackerel along with occasional king mackerel, bluefish, “bull” redfish, bonita and a host of other medium and jumbo-sized fish species that may be prowling around the pier looking for an easy meal. Almost as well for enticing a mackerel bite are a variety of silver spoons or medium sized shallow diving plugs such as Rapala X-Rap (in size 8 or 10), or the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow. Though the mackerel may ‘blitz’ the pier at any time during the day this month, early mornings near daybreak often exhibit the best bite of the day. Other lures may work well too, like the locally produced 5/8 ounce “Looney Jig” in white, or the ever popular (though slightly more dangerous) Gotcha plug in the 7/8-ounce sizes.
Fish the Beach
Surf casting anglers, usually targeting pompano with small pieces of dead shrimp will likely have a time culling through an influx of Gulf and Southern or even Northern kingfish locally called “whiting” and “ground mullet”. The falling morning tides often condense the whiting schools into the 4 to 8-foot-deep troughs 30 to 50 yards off the beach as they congregate there to feed on mole crabs (called “sand fleas”), beach ghost shrimp, coquina clams and other hapless invertebrates pulled out with the tide.
As the tide rises late in the afternoons, the whiting (and pompano) will venture closer to shore to feed on these same small prey items. These fish provide a bountiful harvest for surf/shore fishers and even though “whiting” and “ground mullet” are good eating and not regulated it is a good idea to practice sound conservation practices and keep only what you can quickly use. At these times of plenty, many anglers adopt a personal creel of 12” or 25-fish limit to assure there will be some for other anglers to catch in the future.
“Wade fishing the still relatively warm beach and back bay waters is an overlooked enjoyable angling experience in October.”
Wade fishing the still relatively warm beach and back bay waters is an overlooked enjoyable angling experience in October. Early and late in the day often provide near perfect conditions for top-water fishing for speckled trout. During other times of day, anglers can still target these same fish by switching over to a sinking/suspending twitch-bait like a MirrOlure MirrOdine or 52 Series. Baits like these closely imitate the YoY LYs and “finger” mullet the trout are actively feeding on. They may just as easily produce bites from slot sized redfish, bluefish, ladyfish and even flounder.
With so much variety of fishing styles and species available to pursue in (usually) ideal weather conditions, it’s little wonder October is the favorite month for many shore-bound anglers. For sure there are great days outdoors to be had, and shared by all!