Gulf State Park PierOctober 25, 2019 - Gulf State Park - (OBA®) - Those who love to fish the Gulf State Park Pier should not hesitate to head down to Gulf Shores-Orange Beach right away. Judging from what I witnessed last week, the fishing is on fire, especially for Spanish mackerel.

Anglers were reeling in Spanish after Spanish on the Gulf’s premier fishing pier, which juts some 1,540 feet into Gulf of Mexico waters. Throw in redfish (red drum), king mackerel and huge ladyfish, dubbed the poor man’s tarpon, and you can see how much fun the pier anglers are having right now.

Fortunately, Tropical Storm Nestor sailed quickly past the Alabama coast, and fishing is back to its fall peak with the migration of kings and Spanish on their way back to wintering grounds in south Florida.

Another reason not to hesitate is that the Gulf State Park Pier will likely be closing sometime this winter for renovations. The closure is tentatively scheduled to start on January 15, 2020. The treated wood decking, which is showing the wear and tear of 10-plus years in the rugged saltwater environment, will be completely replaced with composite boards that are designed to hold up for decades of great fishing. During the projected closure of about 2½ months, the pier’s bathrooms, offices, lighting and bait shop will also be refurbished. Ashley Connell, acting pier manager, said the new composite decking will solve the current problem of the deteriorating wood planks and make it a more enjoyable experience for the pier anglers and sightseers. The pier is 20 feet wide and boasts 2,448 feet of fishing space.

An educational component is available all along the pier with signs that provide information on native fish, birds and other wildlife in the area.

“Gulf State Park Pier is such an asset to Coastal Alabama,” Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said. “Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the pier every year for fishing and sightseeing. I would bet 80 percent of the people who vacation in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach visit the pier at least once during their stay.”

Speaking of the fishing, Steve and Stephanie Langston said they and other regulars on the octagon at the end of the pier are starting to see that mackerel migration.

“The kings are just starting to show up,” Steve said last Thursday. “I hooked two, but one got sharked. I had two other hook-ups. They’re catching slot reds (16 to 26 inches) and bull reds (longer than 26 inches) all up and down the pier.”

Stephanie added, “They’re just slamming the Spanish right now.”

Steve said the cooler weather should be a boon for mackerel fishermen. He said the water temperature last week was 81 and falling.

“When the water temperature is between 67 and 80 degrees, that’s when the kings will be coming through,” he said. “The bait (mainly alewives) is all balled up around the pier now, so the fish will be here.”

Another regular, George “Haywire” Carlton, flopped another Spanish on the pier deck as I walked up. He also said bait is the key right now.

“Spanish are biting, and there are a lot of small alewives to hold them,” Carlton said. “Most of the Spanish are being caught on small alewives, just free-lining them or on bubble rigs. Now that the weather has cooled off a little, it should just get better.”

A bubble rig consists of a float that can be partially filled with water to increase casting distances with a 2- to 3-foot piece of wire or heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leader (Spanish have sharp teeth). A Gotcha lure with its colorful plastic tube with a treble hook on the end is the go-to rig, but some people make their own lures with a piece of McDonald’s straw.

John Giannini, a pier regular and also co-owner of J&M Tackle in Orange Beach, said he hopes the weather will cooperate during the pier renovation work.

“We can get a lot of nasty weather during the winter at times,” Giannini said. “Hopefully, there won’t be any delays.”

 Now that the cooler temperatures have finally arrived, Giannini said plenty of fishing opportunities will be available before the pier renovation work starts.

“It’s been such a warm year that fishing is pretty darn good right now,” he said. “The fish (mackerel) are starting to get active as they move east.”

Giannini suggests taking advantage of the mackerel bite as long as possible because a little break will follow before the shallow-water species start biting. After the mackerel migration has ended, Giannini said most people will be fishing closer to the shore for other species.

“There will be a little lull before we start getting into the whiting, pompano and sheepshead fishing,” he said. “During the colder months, sheepshead is the targeted species. From the end of November through Christmas, people will be out on the octagon catching sheepshead.”

Giannini is glad to hear about the renovation project.

“That pier has taken a lot of wear and tear since it was opened in 2009,” he said. “With all the people who walk the pier, whether fishing or just looking, and the service vehicles, the decking is showing the effects of that and the weather.

“The composite boards should help tremendously. I’m out on the pier quite a bit, and the wood is in pretty rough shape in places. Some of the boards have been replaced, but it will really be great to have all new decking.”

The pier’s decking is built in panels that are designed to be dislodged during any type of tropical weather. Instead of a steady pounding from the huge waves produced by the storms, the panels are blown out, saving the basic infrastructure of the pier.

Giannini hopes the pier renovations will be completed on time because the spring fishing on the pier is excellent.

“When we get those days in March when you want to be outside, that’s when the spring pier fishing starts to get good,” he said. “With the renovations, we’ll miss a little bit of fishing next spring, but maintenance has to be done. The pier has a lot of traffic and something has to be done before it needs a major overhaul.

“That pier is a giant draw from all over the nation. Some people come down here on vacation just for that pier. It’s just a great atmosphere. I have heard from many customers that we have, by far, the nicest, most helpful group of regular pier fishermen. It’s just a great group of regulars that fish that pier.”

Fishing licenses are required on the pier and sightseeing permits are sold at the pier office. Visit www.alapark.com/parks/gulf-state-park/fishing-and-education-pier for more details.