Editor’s Note: David Thornton of Mobile, Alabama, fishes Alabama’s Gulf State Park Pier every week. The new pier is one of the most-reliable places to find and catch fish at any time of the year on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

The month of December was a little slow for pier fishing; not because the fish weren’t there, but because the weather made fishing tough. In December, we had some really-heavy surf and a lot of rain and strong winds almost reminiscent of tropical storm conditions like we had in early November. However, any time we get 3 or 4 consecutive days with a north wind, the seas will lie down, the water will clear up, and the fishing will improve. DOrange Beach fishinguring January, plenty of ground mullet, like we had in December, will be available as well as white trout, sheepshead and a few bull reds caught. We haven’t caught more bull reds lately, because the electricians have been working on the end of the pier to get the lights back up. Most often the big bull reds are caught off the end of the pier.

The bull reds will start moving offshore this month, but we should have some bluefish that can be caught at the end of the pier. There will be a few flounder caught, and when the anglers realize the flounder are concentrated there, large numbers of big flounder may be caught. Like the other fish species this month, we’ll have periods when we’ll have a good number of flounder in the area, and everybody will be catching them. Then, the flounder may be gone for several days before they return. Also a few sheepshead were hanging around the pier in December, and we expect a big push of them to come in during January.

Because the State of Alabama has created several artificial reefs almost within casting distance of the pier, we’re hoping those reefs will attract and bring more sheepshead to the pier this year. In December, the sheepshead were really finicky and only would take live shrimp. Your best sheepshead activity in January probably will be around the full moon when the spawn starts. The best spawning months are generally February and March, but I have seen spawns occur as early as late January around the pier.

When the sheepshead congregate for the spawn, they’re much easier to catch, especially if the water’s clear, and you can sight-cast to them. Small, live shrimp is your best bet for bait. If you’ll be fishing around the pilings of the pier, fiddler crabs also can be a productive bait. However, when sheepshead feed on the pier pilings, you almost have to rub the baits on the ends of their noses to get them to bite. We tend to catch more sheepshead when they’re schooling away from the pier – perhaps because there’s more competition for the bait when they’re holding in large schools out away from the pier.

Redfish, Ground MullOrange Beach fishinget, Whiting and Flounder:
The work on the end of the pier should be finished by the first of January, and we may be able to get a push of big reds once we can get out to the end of the pier and fish in that deep water. The best days to fish the pier this month will be when the area has a north wind, clear days and clear water. Your ground mullet will be the most-dependable fish you’ll catch on the pier this month, and you can catch them on cut bait or dead shrimp. Whiting will be your next best bet. The flounder is a boom-or-bust type of fish. If they move into the pier, bull minnows and live shrimp will be your baits of choice, and there will be a few caught on jigs. If sheepshead move in around the full moon, there could be some great sheepshead fishing this month.

Species Confusion:
We have two types of fish that many anglers confuse. Although some anglers believe they’re the same fish, they’re not. The whiting is caught near the surf line (closer to the beach). But the ground mullet usually will be holding in deeper water from the second sandbar out to the second platform (where the restrooms are located on the pier). Ground mullet also are caught between the restroom and the end of the pier.

John Giannini’s Suggestions:
John Giannini, the owner of J&M Tackle in Orange Beach, Alabama, and an avid pier fisherman, explains that, “If you’re coming to fish the pier this month, bring your bass- fishing tackle, unless you’ll be fishing for the big bull redfish, in which case you’ll need more-heavy tackle. We have redfish and ground mullet pretty much year-round at tOrange Beach fishinghe pier. These fish are mostly resident fish, and they’re fun and easy to catch. Both baitcasting and spinning tackle will produce fish off the pier.

“You’ll need a 6- to a 7-foot rod with 8- to 15-pound-test-line. The typical rig for pier fishing is a Carolina rig with a 1/2- to a 3/4-ounce slip lead up the line with a small piece of shot lead crimped onto the line about 18-inches up from the tag end of the line. Then, tie on a No. 4 hook. If the sheepshead are at the pier, live shrimp will be your best bait. Peeled, frozen shrimp will pay your best whiting or ground mullet dividends.”

For daily information on what’s biting, and what you’ll need to fish with at the pier, call J&M Tackle at 251-981-5460, or go to www.jmtackle.com. You’ll also learn up-to-date pier information at www.emeraldcoastpierfishing.com by clicking on “Alabama” where daily reports are posted by the Pier Rats, avid pier anglers who fish the pier every day.

In January, plan to cook any sheepshead you catch. They’re delicious when prepared like Poor Man’s Lobster.
Orange Beach fishing
Poor Man’s Lobster

1-1/2-pounds fish fillets
Salt and pepper
Lemon slices
Parsley sprigs

Arrange fish in shallow pan. Pour half of melted butter over the fillets. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika to taste. Bake at 375 degrees until the fish flakes with a fork – about 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with parsley, and serve with lemon slices and remaining butter for dipping.