Summer’s not over, so why not wet a hook at Alabama’s beaches?
Many folks want to take that last trip of the vacation season before school starts again. So, they head to the beaches of Alabama for some sun, swimming, fine dining, and other tourist stuff.
This is fine, but vacationers who don’t go fishing while they visit the coast have missed a big part of the whole trip. Too many folks think that in order to catch fish in the Gulf, they either have to own a boat or charter a big fishing boat, which can be a budget-busting activity.
Well, going offshore in a fishing boat is loads of fun, but it’s not the only way to catch some great fish here on the white-sand shores of Alabama. Anglers can catch fish and never leave land. So, load up the fishing gear and the kids and head to the coast. Great times await you.
Beach Fishing—It’s Where We Start
Alabama has over thirty miles of beaches with very good parking and beach access all along the coast. Anglers can fish every foot of the place where sand meets saltwater. From the Florida border to the beaches of west Dauphin Island, many kinds of fish are caught by anglers who are limited to the depth they care to wade.
Some of the best times of my life have been spent on a beach with my wife and kids. I fished while they swam and played in the surf and soaked up the sun. Everyone was happy.
Beach anglers in Alabama don’t have to do extra-special things regarding equipment to get ready for surf fishing. Just about any freshwater bass or catfish rig will work fine for beach fishing.
Of course, it’s nice to have a large-capacity reel when a big fish hits, and some big fish do swim in Alabama’s beach waters. Generally, fish averaging five pounds or less are the most commonly-caught size from the sand.
Chances are good that an angler’s freshwater gear will suffer from exposure to the salt water. It’s impossible to keep at least a little salt water from getting into a reel, so anglers will want to rinse their equipment carefully after each beach use. Even then, don’t be surprised if the next time the reel is used, it’s corroded with rust. Heck, you wanted a new reel anyway.
“Anglers should cast as far as possible into the Gulf, and then slowly work the shrimp back to the surf.”
When fishing from the beach, either live bait—shrimp is the classic bait down here—or artificial lures will work. It only takes a few one-ounce sinkers and some saltwater hooks (small ones are best) and we’re ready to go live bait beach fishing.
Anglers should cast as far as possible into the Gulf, and then slowly work the shrimp back to the surf. Usually, when saltwater fish hit the shrimp, there’s no doubt about it. Keep a good grip on the rod.
If multiple rods are used, anglers will need to pick up some six-foot lengths of PVC pipe to jam into the sand for holding the rod and reel up high off the sand. Don’t try to lay the rig on the sand, even for a second. Once sand gets into the reel, the reel is toast.
Some of the best-pulling and best-eating fish to be found anywhere are here. One of the most commonly-caught beach fish in Alabama coastal waters is the whiting—also known as ground mullet—but its official name is southern kingfish.
These mottled-brown fish usually weight less than two pounds, but they pull pretty hard, and a mess of them fried up make for great eating.
Pompano are also caught from the surf. These round-nosed, flat-sided fish are real prizes. They pull very hard, and they are just about the best eats to be found. Both whiting and pompano love to eat shrimp, so they are a common catch for surf anglers.
Artificial lures are very effective off the beaches, too. Just about all it takes for equipment are a few one-ounce white or light-colored jigs. Every bait and tackle shop on the coast sells these jigs. Anglers will want to cast the jigs as far as possible and retrieve them fast, too.
Lots of different fish will absolutely smash these high-speed jigs. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, hardtails (blue runners)—the list goes on for fish that will chase down and eat a jig from the beach. The one thing these fish all have in common is that they pull very hard.
Several kinds and sizes of lures are designed especially for saltwater fishing, and many visiting anglers invest in a few of these specialty lures. That’s fine, but generally the simple old leadhead jig works about as well as anything.
Pass Fishing—Moving Water is Good
Three places where bays empty into the Gulf along the Alabama coast attract many anglers. All of these passes are fantastic places to find game fish, and some really big fish are hooked and sometimes caught here, too.
From east to west, Alabama Coast anglers have Perdido Pass, Little Lagoon Pass, and then the mighty Mobile Bay Pass.
Perdido Pass is a great place for anglers to fish, especially those who don’t like to get their feet wet. Anglers can pull off the main road—Alabama Highway 182—on Beach Road and park their car within 30 feet of the water. It’s a short walk to the guardrails and some fine fishing.
Depending on the tide, the water at Perdido Pass may be almost flat and quiet, or it can be ripping along like river rapids. Usually, moving water is best for catching fish.
Anglers can use the exact same gear and bait for fishing the Perdido Pass as they do for beach fishing. The biggest difference is that Perdido Pass is lined with rocks, and these rocks collect more fishing gear than a bait shop can hold. It’s a certainty that anglers will get hung up and lose hooks and other gear at Perdido Pass. On the plus side, anglers will enjoy some great fishing at Perdido Pass. My favorite spot is the middle jetty.
From either side of the pass, anglers can expect to catch redfish and flounder. And around the big cement pilings of the Perdido Pass Bridge is a great place to catch gray snapper (known to locals as mangrove snapper).
The next pass heading west along Alabama’s Coast is a much smaller pass that moves water from Little Lagoon to the Gulf. This pass also crosses Alabama highway 182. There is a good pull-off and parking area for swimmers and anglers at Little Lagoon Pass. This pass is almost narrow enough to wade across, but anglers should exercise caution since some very strong currents rip through the Little Lagoon Pass at times.
Also, wade-fishing from the beach where the pass empties into the Gulf can be very good. Just watch the currents and surf conditions.
Little Lagoon Pass is a great place to catch Spanish mackerel and even king mackerel that come in close to the beach chasing prey. Little Lagoon Pass anglers should let the current bounce their bait along the bottom and keep a tight line so bites are easier to detect.
Finally, we come to Mobile Bay Pass at Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines. There’s a fort on either side of the Pass. Mobile Bay Pass is several miles wide, and the current and surf can be very rough, so anglers need to be careful.
However, Mobile Bay Pass is a great place to hook some really big redfish. How about thirty pounds or bigger? These giant reds cruise the drop-off along the pass, and they will sometimes chase bait right into the surf.
Anglers will need to have more than their freshwater crappie rig to catch these big pullers. The big Mobile Bay Pass reds need at least 25-pound test line, plus rods and reels to match. These are big, strong fish.
Pier Fishing on the Coast
A final possibility for land-based anglers on the coast of Alabama is to drive to the world-class fishing pier at Gulf Shores State Park. This new pier is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As the Gulf Coast’s longest pier, it runs 1,540 feet out into the Gulf and offers 2,448 feet of fishing space along its rails. Anglers can fish for species that live in the surf at the beach’s edge, or large pelagic fish that visit the deeper water at the end of the pier. The end cap is an octagon shape and is 65 feet across.
The pier is a great place to learn a lot about fish and fishing in saltwater. Even non- angling members of the family will like walking out on the pier and looking at the birds, porpoises, sea turtles and other marine life to be seen clearly from the high deck of the pier.
Some very talented and experienced anglers fish the Gulf Shores State Park Pier, and they are generally willing to share information with newcomers.
Again, both live bait and artificials will work when fished from the pier. Live shrimp are great for pompano, redfish, flounder and whiting. Just about anything that swims will eat shrimp.
Anglers who throw the one-ounce jigs used off the beach and in the passes will have good luck off the pier, too. It may be necessary to invest in some light wire leader because Spanish mackerel have razor-sharp teeth, and they are numerous around the Gulf Shores State Park Pier. Spanish are also very good to eat.
A good bet for anglers who want to meet up with larger, more challenging fish is to use a two-hook “stinger” rig with either a live baitfish caught below the pier or a frozen cigar minnow. Some of the biggest king mackerel of the entire year—we’re talking about 30 pound and larger kings—are caught from the pier in August.
“Some pretty cool creatures such as sharks, sea turtles, stingrays and other big ocean dwellers visit the pier at night.”
This two-hook wire rig live bait is cast out as far as possible and then slowly jigged back in. Spanish mackerel, redfish, king mackerel and even sharks will be more than happy to take this sort of offering.
Fishing from the pier gives anglers the best shot at hooking up with a really big and powerful fish, so this is the place an angler might want to think about getting and using a larger, heavier spinning rig rather than the lightweight freshwater rig many visitors use at home.
Reels need to hold at least 200 yards of line, because when a big king takes the bait, every bit of that and more will be needed.
Pier fishing is great both day and night. Some pretty cool creatures such as sharks, sea turtles, stingrays and other big ocean dwellers visit the pier at night.
Come on Down—the Water and the Fishing Are Fine
Even though summer is drawing to a close, the kids will soon be back in school, and we’ll all be either cheering for the crimson and white or the blue and orange, there is still plenty of time to make a quick trip to the coast. Some great fish are waiting to be caught. And to be honest, several things can be learned from a fishing trip in saltwater.
A very good thing for both kids and anglers is to invest in a guide that describes and explains the different kinds of fish to be found on the Alabama Coast. Kids learn new names and see new critters, and the anglers learn the names of those fish they just caught; so it’s educational for everyone.
Different fish, different things to see, different ways of fishing—all of these make a fishing trip to Alabama’s beaches a great family vacation.
Be warned, though. For many anglers, once they try saltwater fishing, they are ready to buy some new gear and return to the beaches of Alabama. It’s the sort of place that draws anglers back again and again.