MOBILE BAY FALL FISHING EXPLOSION
By: Mike Thompson
Learn how to get the most of your fall fishing trip in Mobile Bay!
MOBILE BAY FALL FISHING EXPLOSION
Have you ever faced a pleasure dilemma? Well, that's what a lot of coastal Alabama sportsmen and women face each October. Finally, after all the oppressive heat of summer, there is a chance to spend time enjoying being outside. Dove season has started, SEC football is on television and the upper end of Mobile Bay is slam full of fish!
I found myself facing a pleasure dilemma a few years back. First, I knew that the fish were thick and biting in the head of Mobile Bay. Second, I was invited to watch a football game and eat a mess of ribs at a friend's home. Finally, I was asked along on a dove hunt in Baldwin County. Now that's a pleasure dilemma!
I figured I could possibly do two of the events just mentioned, but not all three. After a little soul searching I decided to fish in the morning and make the ball game and cookout in the afternoon. I next got on the phone and rounded up a fishing partner for the following morning. A good friend of mine and occasional fishing partner, Kevin Kirby, was available and plans were made.
The next morning Kevin and I launched the boat and headed for the waters of upper Mobile Bay. The bay is the fall home to large amounts of saltwater fish that have migrated north to take advantage of the huge bait supply (shrimp) available. Our first stop was an old standby for fall fishermen. The Rockpile is an old pile of ballast rocks that were placed there by old sailing ships. The boats would unload the rocks to make room for cargo picked up in Mobile's Harbor. However they got there, the spot always seems to have bait around it in the fall and in turn fish.
With the tide falling we just let the boat drift with the current and started casting our grubs. We picked up a couple of keeper speckled trout and several throwbacks. Soon the Saturday crowd started appearing on the scene. Before long it got too crowded for our liking and we left.
Our next stop was the Brookley Flats. This area is adjacent to the Mobile Ship Channel near the mouth of Mobile River. As we drifted along casting, we saw numerous shrimp boats working the channel pulling for shrimp. The proximity of the flats to the channel made it ideal for fall fishing. We managed to pick up another couple of specks and two small redfish, just barely the sixteen inch minimum. We both remarked at how we should have picked up a few dozen live shrimp at the launch, especially after we caught the two reds. Haste and frugality (not to mention arrogance) made artificials our only option.
We decided to move again towards the middle of the bay in search of birds. Acting on a tip from another veteran bay angler, Mutt Burke, we headed east, looking for "the pole with a Clorox bottle tied to it." As we rode along, Kevin turned to me and excitedly pointed at a flock of gulls swooping wildly above the surface of the water. As we got closer we could both see the big white shrimp skipping erratically on top of the water in an attempt to escape hungry fish below.
Kevin was the first in the water with his root beer cocohoe suspended two feet below a popping cork. I couldn't even get my rod out ( darn tangled lines! ) before he had a trout on. Soon a nice three pound speck was on board and in the cooler. I was next to connect. Unlike Kevin, I was using a root beer sparkle beetle without a cork. My way of thinking was that I would catch the bigger fish on the bottom. In my mind the hard thump and ensuing pull of the fish justified my bait and rigging choices. To my surprise I had hooked a very nice white trout.
As we continued to fish, Kevin kept pulling in nice specks while I wrestled with the whites. Wanting to catch some of the quality specks like Kevin was, I decided to put on a cork. Then I changed my mind and started casting out, giving my bait enough time to drop a couple of feet, then reeling. Wham! My first cast was met with a ferocious strike. A thick four pound speck had inhaled my sparkle beetle and was intent on keeping it. Only when in the net did the trout give up.
The bite slowed down a little later and Kevin and I were both glad for the rest. We moved a few hundred yards after we saw another group of gulls chasing shrimp. Once close enough to cast, the results were the same. Action, action, action!
With close to a limit of trout and numerous whites in the box, I started glancing at my watch. It was a little before noon and I knew that the game was starting soon. I told Kevin that we had better wrap it up so that I could make it home, put up the boat and still make the game and cookout.
We put up our rods and organized the boat for the ride in. Just when I was about to throttle up on the engine, Kevin, with a silly grin on his face, pointed to a slender pole about 150 yards away. The pole was like many others in the bay except for the Clorox bottle tied to it. With a box of fish and a barbecue to get to, we decided to give it a try on our next visit to upper Mobile Bay. We both agreed that the next trip couldn't come too soon!
BAITS AND TECHNIQUES
During the fall in Mobile Bay the multitudes of fish are all there for one thing. Shrimp! The Mobile Delta, which pours into the head of Mobile Bay, is a rich estuary that white shrimp use as a hatchery area. As these shrimp grow and leave the Delta headed south towards the Gulf of Mexico, there are plenty of fish waiting for them in the head of the bay. Since shrimp are so abundant they are the obvious bait choice.
There are numerous bait camps along U.S. Highway 90 ( also known as the Causeway) that will keep a good supply of live shrimp during the fall, so bait availability should be no problem.
Some anglers just have to use artificial baits as a matter of pride and principle. Some of these same anglers have resorted to fudging just a bit by using the popular D.O.A. shrimp. Bobby McElroy, of Mobile, has become particularly fond of these lures for fall fishing.
"Over the last couple of years I have probably relied on the D.O.A shrimp more than any other artificial in my box. It is the closest thing to a live shrimp that I have ever seen," said McElroy. "I was skeptical at first, because I had seen so many artificial shrimp over the years that just didn't perform. Like every new lure I buy, I tried out the D.O.A. in my swimming pool to check out the action. It was the most realistic movement I had ever seen!"
"In the fall of the year, unless the water is crystal clear, this bait is a producer. I find that when the water is a little stained the chartreuse color works well. Sometimes I start out with a clear model with the chartreuse tail and if that doesn't draw strikes I'll switch to the all chartreuse version. I always fish these baits under a cork during the fall season," said McElroy.
McElroy is out on the water as much as possible during October to take advantage of the sheer numbers of specks in Mobile Bay. His technique for finding and catching fish is very simple.
"When I'm looking for fish in the bay, I look for birds or bait. If I find either I stop and fish that area. I find that if I combine sound, ( popping cork ) smell and a bright colored lure, I will have a better than average chance to catch fish. If I can't find birds or bait, I'll go back to the last area that I was successful at and work it thoroughly. Often the fish will be there without the obvious bird or bait signs," said McElroy.
Artificial shrimp aren't the only artificial that takes fish. Minnow imitations, whether they be plastics or hard plugs, catch plenty of fish as well. With a large concentration of menhaden in Mobile Bay in fall, chrome plugs such as Rat-L-Traps or MirrOlures work well when casted over the bay's grass beds. Plastics with similar chrome or silver patterns are effective around structure and equally productive on drop offs or channel edges. Popular plastics are : cocohoes, Fin-S lures or sparkle beetles.
PLACES TO TARGET
MIDDLE BAY LIGHT is a non functional lighthouse located just east of the Mobile Ship Channel, near the center of Mobile Bay. This lighthouse has been preserved, much to the delight of fishermen, as an historic landmark. The lighthouse has multiple iron legs that are great structure to harbor baitfish. Less than 100 yards from the channel, the lighthouse is almost directly on the fish highway(channel) that leads to the head of the bay. In October the lighthouse will be home to speckled trout, flounder, white trout and redfish.
GAILLARD ISLAND is a man-made island designed to hold spoil from the dredging of the Mobile Ship Channel. Around the perimeter of the island there are huge limestone boulders placed to keep the erosion to a minimum. Fishing for speckled trout and flounder is exceptional around the rocks in fall. By using a depth finder, anglers can locate some of the "holes" around the rocks. These holes were made by dredging, which was necessary to float in the barges of limestone boulders. Once located, these deeper spots will be teeming with trout, reds and nice flounder.
THE DAPHNE PILINGS are located on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. For years the wealthy have enjoyed their beautiful homes in the small town of Daphne. These beautiful bay side homes all had nice long piers. That is till one of many hurricanes destroyed them. Many of the pier remnants are left. These barnacle encrusted pilings are a fish magnet in fall. Sheepshead, redfish, black drum and specks can all be caught around the larger clusters of pilings near the Mayday Pier. There is also an artificial reef located at the end of one of the old piers.
NORTH PASS is located just below the Interstate 10 Bridge, branching off the Blakely River. This pass is a winding waterway that is marked by large pilings leading south into Mobile Bay. With depths ranging from 7-18 feet, North Pass is a hotspot every fall. Anglers using live shrimp under a cork can load the boxes with nice school specks, while those fishing the bottom with live shrimp can pull on redfish. As weather cools in late October, large schools of vicious white trout invade the pass. If rainfall is low during October, the pass will hold lots of fish until Thanksgiving.
The BROOKLEY FLATS are located just south of the mouth of the Mobile River on the west side of the channel. These flats are the result of dredging, with the spoil dumped along the ship channel. The flats run from 2-10 feet in depth. Starting just south of Arlington Channel, anglers can catch plenty of reds around the remnanats of the old Arlington Pier. Further south, speckled trout roam the edges of the ship channel andinto the shallow flats which are spotted with ribbon grass.
THE ROCKPILE is just as the name implies. This large pile of ballast rocks is a favorite with anglers each fall. The Rockpile is located southeast of Pinto Pass about a couple of miles. It has no visible marker to signify its location.
The Rockpile is stretched out in an east to west formation. Fishing the downcurrent side of the rocks ( on either tidal movement )will usually produce specks in fall. For those with a tackle box full of hooks, swivels and sinkers, the rockpile also holds good concentrations of reds and flounder. You must fish tight to the rocks for best success.
GOAT ISLAND FLATS is another area that is productive for fall fishing. The tiny island in the upper end of Mobile Bay was given its name due to the many goats that were kept there by a hermit many years ago. As waters of the Tensaw River sweep by the island, the sandbars and flats behind the island have built up over the years. The lush coontail moss and ribbon grass growing on the flats make ideal cover for shrimp and small minnows. Redfish and specks cruise along these grass beds in search of an easy meal. Floating these flats with popping cork rigs right after a high tide can result in some of the prettiest stringers of the year.
PINTO PASS (more accurately known as Choctaw Pass) is located just northeast of the mouth of Mobile River. It is also located where the Tensaw River makes its contribution to Mobile Bay. Pinto Pass has it all when it comes to a fishing location. First, as mentioned, it is a junction of two rivers (Mobile and Tensaw). Next, it has a depth range from 3-20 feet. It also has structure in the form of submerged pilings. And if that's not enough, it's the location of an artificial reef just recently completed.
Pinto Pass is fall home to multiple species. Redfish, black drum, specks, white trout, croaker, sheepshead, flounder and ground mullet can all be caught at this unique location. Anglers not familiar with the pass may struggle to catch fish despite the diversity of species. It's best to carry along some binoculars and watch what the others are doing, then mimic that method. When the bite is on at the pass the word gets out quick! As many as 30 boats can be seen anchored there on a weekend.
The fishing opportunities in Mobile Bay are not limited to any one season. However, the conditions that prevail in the fall make it the most enjoyable time of the year to experience this top notch fishery. Do yourself favor and get out on the bay this fall. You'll be glad you did!
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