Like the swallows’ annual return to the most-famous mission in California, the village of San Juan Capistrano, on March 19th each year, the Flounder Ladies of Shelbyville, Tennessee, return to the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores, Alabama, for fall flounder seOrange Beach Fishingason. Since the 1970s, Patricia English and her husband have driven from their Tennessee home to fish at the pier. But a few years ago, Patricia and her daughter, Kimberly, decided to take a mother-daughter fishing trip to the pier, and that’s when the legend of the Flounder Ladies began.

Not very-many people were on the pier that day when Patricia and Kimberly first started fishing. But by the time they’d finished, a crowd stood in amazement as these two ladies worked feverishly hooking, fighting, netting and landing one big flounder after another. In less than 1 hour, they’d caught 10 flounder that weighed from 4- to 8-pounds each. This size flounder often are called saddle blankets or garbage-can lids. One spectator looked in the ladies’ cooler and announced, “Ladies, there are so-many flounder in your cooler that they’re folded in half.” Word spread like wildfire down the 1,540-foot pier. And, as Patricia and Kimberly gathered their gear and walked toward the end of the pier, the legend of the Flounder Ladies grew.

“One man stopped us and asked if we really had several 10-pound flounder like he’d heard,” Kimberly remembers. “Another man said he wanted to see those 100-pound flounder we caught. Of course, none of these rumors were true, but my mother and I became an urban legend that day.”

Each year in the fall, when the flounder starts their migration from the back bays out into the open Gulf of Mexico and school along the front beaches, the Flounder Ladies return to take part in this annual ritual. In 3 partial days of fishing the first weekend of October, 2010, the ladies had caught 22 flounder. When asked how she finds and catches the flounder, Patricia English explained that, “Much of our success has to do with luck. However, we test each of the pilings that hold-up the pier. By fishing around those pilings with bull minnows that we buy at Top Gun Tackle in Orange Beach, we can determine at which piling the most flounder is holding on that particOrange Beach Fishingular day. Then, we fish around that piling. The flounder seem to school-up on certain pilings on different days. Once you locate the right piling, you can stay there and catch plenty of flounder.”

To land the flounder, the ladies lowered-down a large, circular net with a wire rim, weighted at the bottom, on a long piece of rope. Once the flounder is hooked and brought to the surface, the net is lowered, the flounder is pulled over the top of the net, and the net is pulled-up by the rope.

Fat, flat flounder aren’t the only fish being caught on the Gulf State Park Pier this fall. The fall king mackerel run has started, and often five to 25 king mackerel will be caught off the end of the pier each day. Numbers of Spanish mackerel, weighing from 3- to 5-pounds each or more, also are being caught. Too, the fall run of bull redfish has just begun. One day in the first of October, a big school of bull reds came by the end of the pier, and 10 to 12 anglers had the fights of their lifetimes trying to land those big reds.

Orange Beach’s offshore action really has heated-up with the special fall weekend red snapper season. On the opening weekend, anglers brought-in limits of red snapper weighing from 8- to 20-pounds each, and 30- to 50-pound amberjack were on almost every boat that stayed out for 8 hours or more. With the 8th Annual Thunder on the Gulf (the power-boat races) Orange Beach fishingon October 12-17 and two big beach concerts (www.concertsforthecoast.com), this weekend is a prime time for planning a trip to Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

To learn more about the Gulf State Park Pier, call 251-967-FISH (3474). For more information on fishing guides and charter boats, lodging accommodations, restaurants and entertainment on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, call Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism at 800-745-SAND (7263), or visit www.orangebeach.com. You also can get a fishing report three times each week by visiting the “What’s Biting?” column at www.orangebeach.com/fishing/biting/.

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