It Can Be A Good, Lonely Outing
Mention “November” to most beach-bound anglers along the north central gulf coast and you’re likely to hear how the water is too cold to catch fish, or the hunting is too good to bother, or maybe it’s just easier to sit in front of the TV watching football. But some of the finest (and loneliest) pier and surf fishing can be had this month for shore savvy anglers. Like with a football team, good planning and execution are critical to success, so fishermen should make plans around the weather and react to whatever nature gives them. Air temperatures can vary quite a bit as a succession of stronger cold fronts invades the region, but likewise, it is still the end of hurricane season. This month can be dominated by chilly north winds, clear and dry skies, or even warm and moist tropical downpours. So being versatile is the key to consistently catching whatever fish may be available from week to week and even day to day. Follow this months pier and shore fishing report to get an insight into this months fishing tips.
“As live bait becomes scarcer around the piers in November, more anglers turn to frozen cigar minnows as bait for king mackerel and larger Spanish mackerel.”
As water temperatures in the surf drop down through the 70s, all the pelagic species are vacating southward to warmer climates leaving mostly the resident drum species to keep us anglers entertained. Some mackerel and even “Bonita” (Little Tunny) may linger longer if the temperatures remain warm, and it’s not unusual for even king mackerel to be caught from the beach piers until Thanksgiving, or possibly even later. As live bait becomes scarcer around the piers in November, more anglers turn to frozen cigar minnows as bait for king mackerel and larger Spanish mackerel. ‘Looney jigs’ and ‘Bubble Rigs‘ work well for the smaller Spanish mackerel and “Bonita”, especially when they can be seen chasing tiny minnows near the surface. Just about all the jack species have left this area by mid-month though, with the notable exception of pompano which remains in numbers dense enough to make them a target species in the surf zone even in winter. But it’s the drum species that are most numerous this month and beyond. Gulf and Northern kingfish (locally called “whiting” and “ground mullet”), red and black drum, and even speckled trout can be caught throughout November in a variety of locations and using different methods, especially on light spinning tackle. As well, bluefish and sheepshead and even occasional flounder become more common catches for anglers fishing from the shore, jetty or pier as the waters become cooler. And all these fish make pretty decent table fare, with the possible exception of the larger “bull” redfish and black drum which are much older with coarser, stronger tasting flesh which is more often infested with parasites anyway.
Most of these fish species can be caught using artificial baits or lures like Gulp Shrimp on a weighted jighead, but now is the time when gathering beach ghost shrimp is really worth the effort. The water is still warm enough for most anglers to endure for an hour or so without the aid of neoprene waders to ‘slurp’ up a few dozen of these prime baits. All that is needed is a 3-foot PVC ‘shrimp sucker pump’ which can be bought from local bait shops for about $35, or made with items bought at a hardware store. Just ‘Google’ “ghost shrimp pump” for a list of materials and instructions. They are most easily taken around the time of low tide (mid to late mornings in November) on days when the wind and surf are generally light. This allows the angler to see the telltale inch high round mounds at the top of the shrimp burrow just underwater around beach sandbar points and drop offs. Place the end of the pump over the hole and push the tube down a foot or more as the plunger is raised. This action ‘slurrifies’ the surrounding sand, drawing it (and hopefully the shrimp) into the tube via the suction. The excavation is then discharged off to the side and examined for signs of the 3 to 4-inch-long shrimp that look more like soft-shelled saltwater crayfish than what we typically think of as shrimp. The males have a claw that is much longer and skinny and the females often hold orange or reddish colored egg clusters under their tails. Larger specimens can be cut in half so the 1 1/2” to 2” pieces fit just over a #6 Kahle hook and are tempting bite-sized pieces for pompano and “whiting”, and even make tasty morsels for larger redfish and black drum which are common bycatch. That situation becomes especially entertaining when a big fish weighing ten to twenty pounds (or more) is hooked on a light 6 or 8-pound class spinning tackle intended for the much smaller pompano and whiting. But the ensuing tussle can be quite an ‘epic see-saw battle’ as the larger fish is gradually tired by the relentless light drag wearing it down at a rate of about a minute of fight per pound of fish. Eventually, they do give up and can easily be beached or led to a net on the pier even when using a very light line. It just takes a little skill and time with a decent drag setting and a touch of patience. The great thing about beach fishing is there are generally no obstructions for a fish to use to break off the line. And even though these big drum fish are exhausted they still make good candidates for a catch, photo and release as they are quite robust and the cooler water holds more oxygen which makes reviving them an easier task.
Of course, “whiting”, pompano, drum, and redfish can still be caught on live or dead shrimp, and even Fishbites (a synthetic slow dissolving bait strip). But the ghost shrimp will commonly outproduce these other baits by a factor of several times. However, they are very fragile and fall off the hook easily, so care must be taken in hooking and casting. I’ve had better luck using a small number 6 Kahle hook on my single or double rigs and simply slide the hook underneath through the tail of the shrimp and into the leg mass under the head. Some anglers use a small treble hook (#8 or #10), or even a 2” x 2” piece cut from nylon stockings to secure the soft bait onto the hook.
“I’ve had better luck using a small number 6 kahle hook on my single or double rigs, and simply slide the hook underneath through the tail of the shrimp and into the leg mass under the head.”
Most days with small to averagely sized surf, a one-ounce weight is more than sufficient to hold the bait in place. But once the surf is larger than three feet high, or the wind stronger than 15 miles per hour more weight will likely be needed along with heavier tackle to throw them to the fishes feeding zone. Two to three-ounce pyramid sinkers are not uncommon for use in three to four-foot waves and are easily cast by most 8 to 10-foot medium/heavy surf rods with 4000 to 6000 series reels and 12# – 20# class lines. Larger surf spin rigs (12′ to 15′) are rated MUCH higher in line and lure weight (20# to 50# and 4 to 8 ounces) and are intended solely for targeting larger game like “bull” redfish, large drum, rays, and sharks. The much smaller species of a drum (“whiting” or “ground mullet”) would do better as bait used on these bigger rigs rather than trying to actually target them with the heavier and less sensitive tackle.
Well, each to his own especially in November along the gulf coast where the mild weather and resident species of a drum-like fish offer us some great alternatives from just sitting on the couch in front of a TV, so we can enjoy some great days outdoors!