By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Alabama saltwater anglers have been on a record pace with 11 fish entering the record books from October 2021 through October 2022, and two of those records stayed in the books for just months .
Scott Bannon, director of the Marine Resources Division (MRD) of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), said the only year that compares to the recent record fish run is 2006, when they set 13 records.
“When I looked at the number of records, what was interesting was that two of them were broken twice,” Bannon said of the sheephead and permit categories. “This is unique in our history. I think a number of things are contributing to it. If you look at the number of license sales and boat sales, there are more people taking advantage of the fishing opportunities we have in Alabama. That means more people on the water, more trips on the water, so there are more opportunities to break those state records.
“On top of that, you’re really seeing people start to do more of these deep drops and more trips out to sea with better electronics. The boats are more efficient. There are levels of confidence and safety with more people than goes offshore so we’re seeing these fish that we haven’t seen historically I think that’s great news for Alabama I think it shows the benefits of having such a great saltwater fishery so many species of the coast and of deep sea species”.
A species familiar to Alabama anglers that broke the record twice was the sheepshead. Wesley Olsen landed a big sheepshead that weighed 14 pounds, 4 ounces, but it didn’t stay on the top long. Kendale Jeans rolled into a sheep’s head monster that hit the scales at 16 pounds, 6.6 ounces.
The other twice-beaten record comes from a fish you don’t see that often, let’s face it, a cousin of the Florida pompano in the jack family. Pompano and permit are very similar, although the pompano does not grow as large, reaching around seven pounds. Permits weighing 20 pounds are quite common in South Florida.
Annalize Wilson set the Alabama record in October 2021 with a permit that weighed 6 pounds, 0.54 ounces. In August 2022, Patrick Willis got a permit that weighed 8 pounds, 2.4 ounces.
“Historically, we haven’t seen that many permits, but I think now people are starting to sign up for them and the pompano more often,” Bannon said. “I think this is a product of social media, where people are sharing their fishing tips, how to hook these types of fish and where to catch them.
“That’s a good thing and a bad thing. There’s a greater effort on these species, but I think that could be because of the cost of fuel. More people are taking trips on the coast or closer to the beach.”
The prime time to take sheep in Alabama is fast approaching. Sheepshead spawn in nearshore waters during early spring before dispersing. Before spawning, the fish hang around the shoreline structure and feed on barnacles and other crustaceans. Sheepshead are often found around piers and rock and concrete piles, as well as oil rigs, bridges and oyster reefs. Sheepshead have some serious front teeth for cutting barnacles off structure and cracking crustacean shells.
“They are two big sheep,” Bannon said. “It’s amazing to see two big sheep like that, but that 16-pounder is an extraordinary fish. I don’t know, maybe we’ll start seeing more of these extraordinary fish with more people learning how to fish these species. People are learning how to fish more specific and not so generic”.