Similar to last month’s abrupt weather change in the wake of Hurricane Ian, the system named Nicole passed far enough to our east to mark just one cool snap. This should allow the gulf water temperature to drop a couple more degrees to the low 70s.
Meanwhile, the water in the shallower back bays will cool a bit faster as we continue to get these cold fronts that reinforce the cooler temperatures.
Fish usually respond to this with heavy feeding activity, especially during the rising tide in the afternoon/evening. This is when the deepening water that “fills” between the sandbars near the shore can cause fish such as pompano, “white” (the king of the gulf and of the north), drum, redfish and bluefish to feed until dark.
Sheepshead is another species that becomes more active though usually around midday. In fact, most sheep are caught between 9 and 3 pm while navigating rocks and piles. Sheepshead are omnivores with their winter diet consisting mainly of algae that grow on hard surfaces. But they still consume a fair amount of invertebrate species that pass by.
Sheepshead will eat barnacles, oysters, mussels, snails, etc., but most are caught with live shrimp or fiddler crabs. They also like hermit crabs and rarely pass up a ghost shrimp caught on the bottom. Sheepshead are noted to be quite picky at times when the water is calm and clear, so keeping line diameter and tackle to a minimum is often critical to getting a bite in these conditions.
They are brash fighters that dive repeatedly for the hard structures they tend to feed on. So the angler has to find a balance of gear to get a bite, but have enough strength to wear down the fish without breaking them with the barnacles. The average sheepshead weighs between two and four pounds but usually exceeds six pounds. Therefore, a net is often used to land them, especially from the dock or wharf.
When conditions are favorable, sheepshead are a distinct possibility for anglers at the recently opened pier near Fort Morgan. They can also be caught near any rocks, docks, docks or docks in or near deeper water. It often takes time and scouting to locate an area where sheep are feeding.
And each day brings changes in weather and water that can affect the way and when the bite happens. But sheepshead are worth the effort and are known as good table food. Its white flesh rivals snapper in taste and texture.
Pompano and whiting remain top targets for surf anglers. But there are still dwindling numbers of big redfish from points near the deeper passes, such as Fort Morgan and Alabama Point. Now that the dredging operation is complete, fishermen have more sand on the west side of the west pier.
This makes for a shorter walk over the rocks to get out to the end of the jetty. Redfish and bluefish will be the main quarry, but sheepshead are very possible, and even some Spanish mackerel is not out of the question.
Smallmouth bass are still available to anglers, but only as catch-and-release until December. But slot-sized redfish are an occasional bycatch in the surf, as are big black drum. Bluefish are still available in the area mostly on spoons, but they will also bite pompano rigs. Look for them near Fort Morgan, Gulf State Park Pier, Four Seasons Pier, Little Lagoon Pass and Perdido Pass. They are also often a bycatch for fishermen who use live sheepshead shrimp in the Gulf. So if you do get cut, bluefish is the most likely culprit.
The timing of your fishing trips becomes more important as water temperatures and other conditions change, especially with our more volatile late fall weather. There are some very good online resources available to monitor the situation to determine which location may be the best for fishing or weed out some that may be worse.
Most anglers use the 42012 buoy datum (in the gulf 12 miles south of Orange Beach).
But there’s also a network of automated land reporting stations that many don’t know are maintained by some folks at the Dauphin Island Marine Laboratory. It’s called “ARCOS” (Alabama Real Time Coastal Observing System) and the Perdido Pass station has recently been restored since being wiped out by Hurricane Sally. Current data for this station (and others) can be found online at arcos.disl.org/stations/perdido-pass/.
Anglers can find data such as water temperature, salinity and turbidity very useful when planning their daily fishing.