April’s fishing report provides a great opportunity for pier and shore anglers along the coast.
Historically speaking, April is one of the best months of the year to fish from the beach or pier along the coast. Spring is usually in full swing and the fish respond to almost daily rising water temperatures. On average the water temp gets near 70, or even above that by the end of the month.
Sheepshead are winding down their spawning activities, but become more common catches along the beaches as they make their way toward the bays. Then numbers of pompano surge in the surf zone as they gather in increasingly large schools in preparation for their upcoming spawn. Spanish mackerel schools are migrating parallel to the coast in huge numbers throughout the month. These are soon followed by even larger schools of blue runners and ladyfish (called “hardtails” and “skipjack”) which move into and soon dominate the surf zone by the end of April. Larger pelagic fish like jack crevalle, king mackerel, and the highly prized cobia are also on the move and become targets for pier anglers.
Meanwhile inshore, speckled trout gather in large groups. Becoming more active around the jetties and passes in Alabama and the back bay piers of northwest Florida like the Three Mile Bay Bridge. Plus the water is getting warm enough for wade fishing. Thus opening up even more territory for anglers pursuing trout and redfish from shore. Artificial lures that mimic small mullet or menhaden (like MirrOlure’s 51M and 52M series or Unfair Lure’s Rip-N-Slash or Mullet series) are great tools to locate schools and ensure lots of action. Of course, the old standby of free lining live shrimp or drifting them under a float is almost a sure bet to catch a mess of trout, or at least pick up other tasty fish like pompano, sheepshead, and flounder as by-catch.
Conflicting and Overlapping Opportunities
Just about the time the masses of ‘spring breakers’ are thinning out, it seems many more local anglers come out of hibernation to fish again. Crowds can get rather large on the popular panhandle piers, and increasingly competitive. Especially on weekends and when it comes to sight casting for pompano or cobia. Every gulf pier from Mexico Beach, Florida to Gulf Shores, Alabama has its contingent of highly dedicated cobia casters and pompano jig slingers. And every year is a bit different in response to the nuances of weather, water temperature, and clarity. But the results are almost always the same as some eye-popping cobia are landed and dragged down the pier to the envy of others.
“Crowds can get rather large on the popular panhandle piers, and increasingly competitive. Especially on weekends and when it comes to sight casting for pompano or cobia.”
King mackerel quickly overtake cobia in numbers available to be caught from the piers this month. This often leaves anglers ‘on the fence’ as to what species they want to focus on. Simultaneously, the numbers of local baitfish surge into the surf zone and congregate around the piers. This creates another impasse as some anglers want to drift fish with live bait, while others are ‘snobbling’ frozen cigar minnows and still others are throwing diving plugs, all to the same fish while cobia anglers keep their vigil. Couple this with folks throwing jigs or Gotcha plugs for Spanish mackerel or throwing out ‘set lines’ for pompano between those jigging for them and the whole scene can get quite hectic and even overwhelming for some people. But at least it is ‘organized chaos’ which has evolved from decades of fishing together.
After all, this is pier fishing, and in most cases, the spirit of harmony and mutual cooperation prevails. Savvy anglers will clear the rail to allow another angler quick passage. Others will momentarily cease fishing and grab a net or gaff to help this more fortunate angler land his or her catch. We all hope the ‘Golden Rule’ for pier fishing will come back and aid us when we hook up to a good fish!
Anglers in Search of Solace
It seems shore fishing would be the antithesis of pier fishing, and it often is. There are many miles of unfished beaches, and surf fishers often seek solitude as much as they do fish. But this is not always as easily obtained near popular public venues, densely populated cities or building complexes. Especially as the water warms and more vacationers want to get in it to wade or swim. Fortunately, there are still areas that remain virtually barren of people, even on weekends. Of course, they are ‘off the beaten path’ for the most part, like the National Seashore areas. But a determined surf angler who can take a surf cart even a few hundred yards down the beach can often find a quiet space to fish and even catch fish.
Learning to ‘read’ the beach is a key factor to successful surf fishing. Avoid featureless stretches of beach with mundane profiles and concentrate on the points, sandbars, and depression edges. A good hat and sunglasses are essential to see detail underwater, especially when the glare is bad or the water not very clear. Let the shades of watercolor show you the depth and the waves the definition of the sandbars. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different setups or distances from shore. I try to learn something new every day spent on the beach.
Networking for More Fish
Never be afraid to talk to other anglers to find out what tactic or bait is working (or not working) for them. Their experiences can help you eliminate fishing vacant or unproductive waters. Also, it gives you a wider view of what baits, locations, and even depths or distances fish are being caught. Productivity is as much about finding a pattern as it is locating where the fish are swimming. Sharing knowledge can make you both better!
It used to be angler knowledge could only be decimated by word of mouth, or in print. Nowadays social media can aid you in becoming more successful too. Many fishing websites have specific forums for surf or pier fishing (like Pensacola Fishing Forum). And most of the piers have Facebook pages where a fishing report, pictures, and a lot of useful information can be gleaned as well. Just don’t fall into the trap of “following the fishing report” and showing up in a location when the word is already out. Often times the fish move or the weather changes and they will be elsewhere, and so should you! Learn to anticipate where the fish you want to target will be, and try to be there at the right time to beat the crowd. 😉
With the increasing options of species and venues available to shore-bound anglers this month, there is almost no reason to not catch fish. So when you get the chance be sure to let your friends know where, when and how so they can also enjoy their great days outdoors.