Editor’s Note: Captain Gary Davis of Tidewater Fishing Service in Foley, Alabama, has fished and guided in the back bays, Mobile Bay, Perdido Bay and all the rivers that feed Alabama’s Gulf Coast for more than 35 years. He knows the seasonalOrange Beach Charters patterns of all the saltwater fishes, and, more importantly, he understands which species will show-up when, where and why. This week, Davis tells us what’s biting in April.

We always can catch fish on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, because they’re always biting somewhere. You just have to know where and when. Right now in mid-spring, Mobile Bay is receiving plenty of muddy water from north Alabama, which has had a lot of rain. However, the white trout are really showing-up on the manmade reefs in Mobile Bay. We’re catching giant sheepshead that will weigh 8 to 10 pounds on the rigs just outside the mouth of Mobile Bay. The bay, the rigs, the rocks and the wrecks are loaded with 3- to 5-pound sheepshead and large-sized ground mullet. The speckled trout and the redfish are starting to move-out of the rivers, and the most-consistent place to catch them right now is in the Intercoastal Canal.

The Intercoastal Canal is a unique fishery, because it traps clear water. When muddy water comes down the river systems and into the bays on both ends of the canal, the canal usually stays clear and salty. That’s where the speckled trout, the redfish and the black drum hold when we get large rains in north Alabama that bring fertile soils and muddy water to the bays. One of the advantages to having the Intercoastal Canal on Alabama’s Gulf Coast is that the water in the canal is least affected by any type of weather. When this area has had hurricanes, high winds, muddy water or any natural occurrence that ordinarily will cause fishing to not be as good, the canal provides protected waters where we always can catch good-sized fish, regardless of the weather conditions. As the bays begin to clear-up, the speckled trout and the redfish that have been in the rivers most of the winter will start moving down toward the bays, and the fishing will explode in Mobile Bay and Perdido Bay, around Perdido Pass, Little Lagoon and all the back-bay areas.

To catch sheepshead, I’ll fish with a Carolina rig, like bass fishermen use, with a weight up the line, a barrel swivel, about 1-1/2- to 2 feet of line tied-on to the bottom eye of the barrel swivel, a hook and bait. I use 12-pound-test line for the Orange Beach chartersmainline and for the leader line. I use a slip sinker, depending on the current. If the current’s heavy, I’ll use a larger slip sinker up the line than if we have a lighter current. I use a No. 6 Sea Striker hook and bait with small, live shrimp or fresh, dead shrimp. We’ll often take a hoe and knock some barnacles off the rocks or the rigs to get the sheepshead to start feeding. Fiddler crabs also have been productive bait. One of the advantages to scraping barnacles off the rigs and the rocks is that barnacles are a primary food of the sheepshead. So, as you scrape the barnacles off the rigs and the rocks, those pieces of barnacles will drift down away from the rigs and the rocks, causing the sheepshead to move-out in open water, where they’re easier to catch and not as likely to pull your line across the barnacles and the reef and cut it.

The white trout will bite Berkley Gulp! lures that we drift fish across the artificial reefs in Mobile Bay. I like the new-penny-colored 3-inch Berkley Gulp! lure on 8-pound-test line. I’ll put a 1/4-ounce jighead at the end of the line and hook the Berkley Gulp! onto the jig. If you want to catch ground mullet, use the same rig, but instead of the new penny-colored Gulp!, use the 3-inch Shrimp Gulp! Alive! on 8-pound-test line with a 1/4-ounce jighead. You also can bait with cut dead shrimp. If you’re fishing in the canal, drift, and fish along riprap (large rocks or boulders used to stop erosion) on the Intercoastal Canal for speckled trout and redfish. You’ll need a moving tide, whether it’s coming in or going out. I use 8-pound-test line with a small split-shot about 1- or 2-feet up the line. At the end of the line, I tie a No. 6 Sea Striker hook baited with live shrimp. I’ll cast the shrimp out and let it swim. Right now, the speckled trout are averaging 2- to 3-pounds each, and the redfish are 3- to 7-pounds each. Usually the redfish will be within the slot-limit size. If you’re fishing in the rivers that feed the back bays, look for the speckled trout and the redfish in the mouths of those rivers. The flounder start showing-up from the middle to the end of April. As soon as the bays clear-up, which should happen within the next week or so, the fishing will be unbelievable. Our average catch is 25 to 35 magnum sheepshead.

How Captain Davis Prepares Sheepshead
Right now, most of our clients want to catch sheepshead, because of their white meat and delicious-tasting fillets. I dip the sheepshead fillet in a well-beaten egg, coat it with Zatarain’s Fish-Fri Orange Beach chartersand then drop it in hot oil. Most people prefer to have their sheepshead fillets blackened. To blacken your sheepshead, season your fillet with Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, put a little olive oil on each side of the fillet, and then either grill-it or pan-fry it in a really-hot black iron skillet. The real secret to having tasty fish fillets, whether you’re cooking sheepshead or any other species of fish, is to not overcook it. Fish is a light, flaky meat. If you overcook it, the meat won’t be light and flaky. The conversion rate of sheepshead to fillets is higher than you think. Twenty big sheepsheads will fill two or three, 1-gallon bags with about 7 pounds of fillets in each bag. I catch most of my sheepshead out of Fort Morgan, Ala., and many of my customers take their sheepshead fillets to the Roundback Oyster Bar and Grill Restaurant, around the back of a Citgo Station, to have their catches cooked. You can have a delicious lunch less than 1 or 2 miles from where you’ve caught your fish. Besides having your fish cooked, the Roundback also provide hushpuppies, French fries and a soda at an extremely-reasonable price. Tacky Jack’s 2 at Fort Morgan Marina also will cook your catch. There’s nothing better than having a great morning of fishing and then eating those fresh fish for lunch. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

For more information on fishing Mobile Bay, you can contact Captain Gary Davis of Tidewater Fishing Service at 251-942-6298. You can learn more about other charter boats, attractions, accommodations and restaurants available in Gulf Shores by calling Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism at 800-745-SAND (7263), or by visiting www.orangebeach.com. To have your delicious catch prepared at area restaurants, go to www.alabamasnaturalcoast.net/dining-nightlife/restaurants, and check the box at the top of the page that says, “Will cook your catch.”

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