February is undoubtedly THE most challenging month for shore bound anglers to catch fish consistently. Not only is the water temperature at its coldest thus limiting the species available, but the weather can be at its worst which limits which days an angler can affectively fish the beaches. Try to time your fishing days to the more moderate weather periods between fronts or have some alternate venues (like the banks of the intercoastal waterway) which are not as adversely affected by strong winds and waves. Probably the most sought after fish by pier and jetty anglers is the sheepshead which can be caught on light or even ultralight tackle using live shrimp, ghost shrimp or fiddler crabs. Even the supply of live bait cannot be counted on and it is a good idea to call ahead to the bait shops to see what is available or become adept at gathering your own as in the case of ghost shrimp, hermit and fiddler crabs. Generally sheepshead will respond to most any of the aforementioned baits presented ‘naturally’ around pilings or rocks in fairly deep water near the mouth of the bay or gulf where they are gathering into larger schools prior to spawning. Try to avoid places or times when
the current is running strong as this makes the finesse presentation more difficult and they tend to ‘hunker down’ behind structure. At these times they can be out in the open on the bottom along drop- offs. A live shrimp or especially ghost shrimp fished on the bottom with a Carolina rig behind a 1⁄2 to 1 ounce egg sinker and #4 or #6 single hook will often produce sheepshead along with black and red drum under these conditions. The deeper areas around the jetties at Perdido Pass and Ft Gaines (on Dauphin Island) are popular spots to fish in this manner.
Whiting are another wintertime mainstay fish along the beaches. On days with calm or light surf whiting can often be caught on light tackle using a small piece of fresh shrimp or 1⁄2 a ghost shrimp on the bottom within 100’ of the beach. A light Carolina rig presentation will work fine on days with little surf and an offshore wind, but wave action or a cross wind usually requires the use of a pyramid or other bottom holding type of weight to keep the bait in the zone where the fish are. Look for cuts in the beach bar where the ‘holes’ along the beach drain out especially on the incoming tide which occurs late in the day most afternoons.
Bull redfish and black drum can also be counted on near the mouth of Mobile and Perdido Bays. The point at Fort Morgan can produce some fine catches in most any circumstances of water and weather. Fresh cut mullet and cracked blue crabs are very affective baits for these big drums which may often exceed 30 pounds. A 9’- 12’ heavy action surf style spinning combo with 20#-30# line is standard tackle and the terminal rigs often consist of 2 to 8 ounce pyramid weights. But be forewarned that wind can get mighty COLD out there after a few hours so bundle up in layered clothing.
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