[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen folks ask my favorite months to fish “October” is my second answer, followed by the disclaimer “as long as we are spared a tropical storm or hurricane.” The reason being this month is a ‘transition’ period into pleasant fall weather, but it is still well within the active hurricane season. A tropical system can affect the fishing along the beaches for a week or more and even a weak storm hundreds of miles away can send swells our way that disturb the bottom and the fishing. Our ‘ordinary’ October weather is usually dry and mild with clear, cool breezy mornings and mostly clear warm afternoons and evenings especially in the second half of the month. In other words “perfect fishing weather!” The obvious exceptions are the aforementioned tropical systems and the occasional fronts that push through the area.
For the most part, the water temperatures drop like stair steps through October as the days get noticeably shorter and a progression of periodic cold fronts usher in cool dry air masses which gradually moderate until the next ‘cooler’ front passes by. This seems to trigger the fish into more aggressive feeding activity to ‘fatten up’ either for the harsh winter ahead or for their southward migration depending on the species. For decades shore bound anglers have taken advantage of this activity at the Fort Gaines jetties, Cedar Point Pier, Fort Morgan pier and beaches, Little Lagoon Pass, Gulf State Park Pier, Perdido Pass, and the (now landlocked) Dauphin Island Pier as a parade of species like ladyfish, spanish mackerel, and small jack crevelle gather in large schools to ‘fatten up’ before they move east and eventually south. The hungry predators shoal up huge schools of young-of-the-year anchovies (called red minnows due to the way a school discolors the water) and scaled sardines (locally referred to as LYs). These along with other ‘finger’ mullet and other small fish are herded in the shallower waters often within easy casting distance for eager beach anglers. This is the time when silver spoons with names such as Krocodile, Kastmaster, or Mr. Champ, and Sidewinder shine the brightest. Not just because of the brilliant sunlight bouncing off their metallic finish, but because they so closely mimic the small shiny sided baitfish the predators are gorging on. Plus they cast very well (even into the wind) on medium and light tackle and are versatile lures capable of working fish on the surface with a fast retrieve, suspended fish by pausing the retrieve and letting it ‘flutter fall’ toward the bottom, or a slow retrieve near or on the bottom that often catches even flounder and small redfish. But with so many toothy fish around it’s often a good idea to protect your lures with a short piece of heavy clear monofilament or fluorocarbon line in the 20#-50# range.
Larger fish share in the feeding frenzy at times too and king mackerel, jack crevelle, and bull redfish are often caught from the Point at Fort Morgan or the Gulf State Park Pier with multiple hookups resulting in members of each species (along with the ever present sharks).
A live baitfish cast or drifted from the beach or pier often has a much shortened life expectancy in situations like this and savvy anglers have learned to use even fresh dead baits or frozen cigar minnows to elicit strikes from these greedily feeding fish. A variety of lures work well too. The ‘Bubble Rig’ will often result in a quick limit of spanish mackerel along with ladyfish and other jacks and even bluefish. Also a simple 1⁄2 ounce white jig (such as the locally produced “Looney Jig”) will work even better if the fish are running deeper. At times you may want to add a few inches of light single strand wire between the hook or lure and the heavy clear monofilament leader to help prevent cutoffs by savage attacks of the toothy fish.
Late in the month inshore action really heats up as the water cools down with the speckled trout, slot sized redfish, flounder, bluefish, puppy drum, croaker and whiting making their presence known along the beaches. Usually the pinfish, baby jacks, pigfish and other small ‘bait stealers’ make using dead or live shrimp an exercise in futility along the beach especially near structures (like a pier or jetty). But when the water cools significantly these ‘undesirables’ become less active and less prevalent in the shallower waters of the surf zone resulting higher hookup ratios for the anglers and more fish in the cooler. Whiting and ground mullet especially become easier for shore anglers to target along most of the gulf front sandy beaches. Usually just a piece of fresh shrimp presented on the bottom with medium or light tackle will garner a bite from these plentiful, small but tasty members of the drum family. Most whiting will weigh a pound or less (under 14” long) so anglers can ‘tackle down’ to maximize their enjoyment and often increase their catch numbers. And adding a small piece of orange Fish Bites to the hook with the dead shrimp often enhances the number of fish caught.
So as you can see, fishing opportunities abound for the shore bound anglers throughout the month of October as long as the weather cooperates. Many days the most difficult thing about catching the species available is deciding which fish to concentrate on and having enough free time to pursue them. Good luck, and hope to see you out there on the pier, jetty or beach!
David Thornton Fishing tips, pictures and almost daily reports from the Gulf State Park Pier as well as other sites can be found on the internet @ http://www.gulfshorespierfishing.com