Where else can the whole family go to see neat things, meet good people, and catch a great seafood supper?
For those of us who were not lucky enough to be born and raised on the Gulf Coast (folks like me), our first experience with the wonderful world of saltwater fishing probably came while standing on the boards of a fishing pier during a vacation.
I cherish the memories of the first time I saw the clear turquoise water of the Gulf and the schools of bait swirling with the waves under the pier. When I saw the flash and crash of game fish feeding out in the Gulf, I knew what I had to do.
I ran back to my family’s motel room, gathered up my Zebco 33 with the 10 lb line and the crappie jig tied to the end. When I got back to the pier, I threw my jig as far as I could, and when something silvery and jumpy—a ladyfish—grabbed it and pulled line off my reel and fought me hard all the way back to the pier, that was it. I was hooked on saltwater fishing, and I still am these many, many years later.
So, fishing piers have a very warm place in my heart. And being from Alabama, I am lucky to have one of the finest fishing piers to be found anywhere very close at hand.
The Gulf State Park Fishing Pier at Orange Beach provides the whole family with a great opportunity to spend some fine time in the sun.
Gulf State Park Fishing Pier—Why It’s So Nice
Randy Stults, ranger and manager of the pier says, “The pier offers visitors clean restroom facilities both at the entrance area and also out toward the middle of the pier. This can be very important when family members of all ages visit the pier.”
Stults continues, “We have an air-conditioned tackle shop and concession stand. If someone gets too hot out on the pier, they have a place to cool off inside. Also, we just opened a barbecue sit-down café, so anglers and sightseers can have a really good meal without having to leave the pier.”
Of course, the entire pier facility is wheelchair accessible, and handicapped anglers have reserved fishing spaces along the pier rails as well as bait-cutting and fish-cleaning stations specially constructed.
When asked what steps are taken to ensure the pier is safe, clean, well-maintained, and suitable for the whole family, Stults says, “We have a full-time maintenance crew, and we have scheduled walkthroughs by pier personnel to make sure the pier is clean and that visitors are behaving themselves. In case of any bad behaviour, visitors can call the pier office and someone will be on hand very quickly. The bait and tackle shop is open all day every day, and security is on duty full-time, also.”
When bringing younger folks on the pier, parents can save some money and the kids can still have a lot of fun. For instance, anglers below the age of 15 are not required to have a license. Kids eight years old and younger get on the pier free with a paying adult. There are lots of educational signs and placards posted to inform younger folks—and not so young, too—about the water and the animals which live on, in, and above the Gulf waters around the pier.
Plenty of good close-in parking for pier visitors is available, and of course good access to the wonderful beaches and warm surf. Many visitors combine a beach trip with a pier trip, and they have a great day doing both.
Joel Clements, a visitor from Nashville, Tennessee, said during a recent fishing trip to the pier, “This is an A-plus pier. Everything you need is right here. The people are friendly, and it’s the only fishing pier around!”
What to See From The Pier?
Fish are the biggest draw for visitors to the pier. Folks not from the Gulf Coast will probably see lots of fish that they’ve never seen before. Yes, sharks are common around the pier. Anglers are not allowed to land hooked sharks on the pier, but it’s very common to see sharks (some very big ones, too) from the deck of the pier.
“Yes, sharks are common around the pier.”
Visitors to the pier can expect to see big king mackerel, big redfish, and big cobia during the spring runs, and even see the occasional tarpon hooked by a lucky pier angler.
Locals are very happy to identify the unfamiliar saltwater fish for visitors, and there are lots of fish identification placards and signs on the pier to help those not familiar with Gulf fish.
David Torr, an angler from Nashville says, “We came down here last year. I hooked a huge jack crevalle—35 pounds at least—on a light mackerel tree rig. I fought that fish for 20 minutes before it broke me off on the pilings below. There were lots of people offering to help me land the fish. I came back this year to catch him!”
Porpoises are very common around the pier—too common in the opinion of many serious anglers—but kids of all ages love to see the speed and grace of these marine mammals.
Sea turtles can be seen on most summer and fall days from the pier. They tend to come to the surface and float for a bit while catching their breath, and then they disappear below the surface to go about their business.
Birds are around the pier in great numbers. Visitors can expect to see lots of pelicans. Some may come up and try to panhandle food from walkers on the pier. Please don’t feed them, though. Ospreys can be seen diving for fish around the pier, and the gulls are everywhere.
Weather-watching might not seem to be a big draw for visitors to the coast and the pier, but the biggest crowd I saw on the pier last year came on a stormy, blowy day. The end of the pier was packed with visitors from the Midwest who wanted to see storms at sea from the safety and elevated position of the pier. Waterspouts would form and drop down from the dark clouds and dance across the Gulf. At one time, there were six waterspouts on the Gulf within easy view of the pier. I didn’t hear a single person complain about the weather and poor fishing that day.
Other people on and around the pier can be a big draw for some family members. Teenagers, in particular, like to visit the pier because it’s a good, safe place to meet kids of similar age. The pier has been the meeting place for lots of summer friendships, and parents can keep an eye on the proceedings, too.
How to Fish from the Pier?
A wonderful thing about fishing from the pier is that anglers can use almost any kind of equipment and still catch some good fish. Folks from freshwater places bring lightweight gear designed for small bass and crappie. And they can catch the smaller pier fish— pompano, whiting, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, hardtails—and have a blast doing it. In fact, many folks are captivated by the strength and power of saltwater fish that they catch from the pier. This leads to more saltwater fishing involvement.
The best way to get into the pier fishing scene is to obtain a medium-action, medium weight spinning rod and reel with 20 lb line. These can be rented from the bait and tackle shop at the pier. But a good rod-and-reel combination can be purchased at any coastal bait and tackle shop for less than $100.
Just tell the folks at the shop you’re looking for a pier fishing rig and they will point you in the right direction. These fishing rigs make nice vacation souvenirs for anglers to take home with them.
A novice pier angler should then buy a handful of pompano jigs in various colors; these are also sold at all bait and tackle shops. With this equipment, a novice pier angler is set for action. Cast out as far as possible, bring the jig back quickly with lots of jerks and drops, and see what happens.
Veteran anglers on the pier will be happy to share information with newcomers. Be polite and considerate, don’t crowd others, and quietly ask for advice. The more information a newcomer gathers about fishing from the pier, the better the fishing results.
Do’s and Don’ts
Any time a group of people comes together, there must be rules. A full rundown of pier regulations can be found at the pier’s website, but in general, a few common-sense guidelines make life easier for everyone on the pier.
First, parents, you can’t come and just dump your kids on the pier and come back later in the day. Youngsters must be accompanied by an adult. Pets are not allowed on the pier. This is good both for the human and animal visitors. There are all kinds of hooks, fins, and sharp edges that a pet could get involved with on the pier, and it’s just better to keep pets away.
Visitors to the pier, whether anglers or sightseers, should remember that the Gulf Coast sun is strong, and folks will sunburn badly in just a short period of time. Sunblock is needed. This is especially true for the very young family members. A good hat is useful, too.
Also, the octagon at the end of the pier is where the really serious anglers go to catch big fish. It’s fine for visitors to walk out to the end and look to see what’s going on, but there’s a warning line painted around the outside border of the octagon at the end.
“It comes down to this: There is lots of room on the Gulf State Park Pier for everyone—anglers, sightseers, and those who are a little of both.”
This is to keep sightseers and onlookers from getting in the way of anglers who have big fish hooked up. It’s not a good situation when an angler who has looked and worked a bait all morning to finally hook up with a big fish only to lose it because a sightseer gets in the way trying to see a porpoise in the water.
I’ve seen pier conflicts of this kind occur on other piers, not the Gulf State Park Pier, and it’s not a good situation for anyone.
Basically, it comes down to this: There is lots of room on the Gulf State Park Pier for everyone—anglers, sightseers, and those who are a little of both. Just be considerate, watch what’s going on, and have a great time.
For More Information:
The official website of the GSPFP
Gulf Shores Pier Fishing Forum