September Pier & Shore Report: Heading into Fall | Great Days Outdoors

So Many Good Choices for Fishing at This Time of Year

By late in September, we may herald the end of summer along the central Gulf Coast with dryer, if not cooler air, but it also ushers in the peak of hurricane season. Historically almost half of all tropical storms and hurricanes have occurred in September. Not prophesying anything, but we do average a hurricane about every 10 years or so and that is about due.

Of course, a storm, or even a passing tropical disturbance can have a profound influence on fishing, especially shore fishing, along the Emerald Coast. Despite that, those who have lived here long enough have learned to just take it in stride and take whatever nature sends our way.

If the gulf is too rough to fish, the back bays are still full of all the inshore species to pursue from the inland piers and bridges like speckled trout, redfish, flounder, white trout, drum, sheepshead and ladyfish. The gulf waters often calm and clear within a week or so after even a major storm event, providing action with the common warm-water pelagic species like king and Spanish mackerel, bonito, jack crevalle and other jack species in addition to bluefish and redfish and even pompano and mangrove snapper.

“September usually provides the largest variety of fish species available to be caught by shore-bound anglers throughout the whole year.”

In fact, September usually provides the largest variety of fish species available to be caught by shore-bound anglers throughout the whole year. All we need is a little cooperation from the weather. Septembers in many years are dry for most of the month, providing clear skies and calm, clear water for fishing from the pier, beach or jetty.


Pier anglers can still concentrate on available king and Spanish mackerel as well as the occasional tropical exotics such as mahi, sailfish and even blackfin tuna on the Florida Panhandle piers from Pensacola Beach, eastward to Panama City Beach. As long as the waters remain fairly calm and salty, even these species are a distinct possibility in September.

Ronnie Pitman with a September school dolphin (mahi) caught from the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores. Photo by David Thornton.


Bait Up!

The late summer to early fall stage is set along the coastline as young-of-the-year baitfish seek shelter from predatory fish around piers and docks or jetties in the passes. Securing an ample supply of live baitfish is often a major key to angling success this month. Many anglers in Alabama use 3/8-inch monofilament mesh LY Ribbon Rigs to catch the 3-inch long scaled sardines. Florida anglers would have to use a castnet, small gold hook or sabiki rig as the Ribbon Rigs are illegal there now because they are considered “entanglement devices” included in the 1995 Net Ban.

Once the baitfish have been obtained, a 5-gallon bucket with a battery-powered aerator can keep two dozen or more alive for most of the day, as long as the water doesn’t get too hot in the sun. It’s a good idea to cover the top of your bait bucket to shield the water from the sun, keep the baitfish from jumping out and keep herons from marauding your supply. Small 3- to 4-inch silver mullet are another fine bait for this time of year. They can be kept alive by the same method, but will have to be caught with a castnet.

The baitfish can be hooked just about anywhere in the body, but placing the hook in the head allows them to be cast farther and retrieved in a current. In calm conditions, they may be hooked toward the tail so they swim away from the angler.


“For sheer fun and numbers, baby jack crevalle can’t be beat for entertainment value and will strike a wide variety of small baits and lures.”

The list of game fish that will bite these baits is almost endless in September. Spanish mackerel and speckled trout are the most common targets, but practically all fish big enough will try to eat them, including baby jack crevalle, which dominate in the surf zone at times. Still, pompano and whiting may please surf casters using bait looking and for some ‘grocery fish.’ However, for sheer fun and numbers, baby jack crevalle can’t be beat for entertainment value and will strike a wide variety of small baits and lures including small jigs.

Keep in mind that mackerel and bluefish have sharp teeth, so at least a length of heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leader or a trace of light wire is needed to prevent cut-offs. In addition, a long shanked single hook like a number 2 or 1 Tru-Turn Bass hook may be used to protect from getting cut off by these slashers. Keep in mind that Florida has restrictions on the use of treble hooks when used with live or natural bait for some species including speckled, redfish and flounder.

Another common catch using small live minnows in September is the mangrove snapper, often overlooked as a target species because of the abundance of ‘short’ fish. These are often just under the minimum length requirements, 12 inches total length in Alabama and 10 inches in Florida. However, the rewards of catching a limit (five per angler per day in Florida and 10 per day in Alabama) can lead to some fine eating. Mangroves are extremely wary fish. After one or two of their schoolmates have been caught, they become more difficult targets. Still a lot of fun and good eating to be had though!

Match the Hatch With Artificials

Artificial lure enthusiasts can get in the game as well all month long by using 3/4-ounce silver spoons like Mr. Champs, Krocodiles or Sidewinders, or hard bait imitations like MirrOlure MirrOdines, or even Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps. Again, just about any species available can be caught on these lures at times, but they are especially effective for targeting Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, bluefish and ladyfish from pier, shore or jetty.

Wade fishing for speckled trout around the passes and sandbar drop-offs along the Alabama coast with lures is a great way to stay cool and catch fish. Early mornings and evenings are best, but any time with low light conditions can lead to an extremely fun topwater session. There’s nothing quite like a speckled trout engulfing a topwater lure.

If variety in fishing is what you’re looking for, then you should find all you can handle along the Emerald Coast in September. There just aren’t enough days to do everything.

So check the weather forecast, slather on the sunscreen, pull down your hat and tie on a hook to check out the great fishing options as you enjoy your great days outdoors!

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