By David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Postcard-worthy weather greeted youth and volunteer mentors last weekend for the Gulf State Park Free Kid’s Surf Fishing Clinic.
David Thornton, renowned surf and pier fishermen, and Cindy Langston, special events manager at Gulf State Park, wanted to see if the coastal community would react to another children’s event after a successful day teaching young people how to surf the surf at the last spring.
The answer was a resounding âyesâ with a huge turnout for Saturday’s event on the sugar sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
âCindy and I talked about making this event a biennial event,â Thornton said. âThe turnout was fantastic with people wanting to try this, most of them for the first time. What really tickled me pink was the support of the surf fishing community. Many of these anglers just want to share their experience and see the next generation hook up.
âIt’s so much fun. You see so many smiles it’s just a great thing to be a part of.
Thornton said Gulf State Park embraced the event, which garnered support from fishermen and local businesses and community participation.
Thornton said the clinic received donations of fresh dead shrimp from Christi Wallace of Hooked Up Bait and Tackle, Fish Bites from Brett Burford and Salty’s Pompano Rigs from Justin McCrory.
Over 50 young people registered for the event and over a dozen experienced surf fishermen volunteered to help with the event held at the Gulf State Park Pavilion.
Fishing rods reached the sky for more than a quarter of a mile east of the lodge as kids, parents and mentors enjoyed a morning of fishing and fine weather.
âWe reached out to everyone via social media, primarily Facebook, to get the word out,â Thornton said. âWe have everyone here on time. When the kids walked in and registered for the event, we asked the mentors to go out on the beach with a number of kids. We lay down on the beach. Then we walked back and forth along the beach to make sure everyone was covered, making sure all the kids were catching fish. “
The mentors taught the children the basics of fishing, from tying knots to baiting a hook.
âSome of these kids don’t have any casting experience, so we’re starting there,â Thornton said. âWe just take the level they bring and take it to the next level for saltwater surf fishing so we can broaden their experience and make them want to keep fishing and enjoying it like the rest of us. we. It’s one ‘pay it forward’ thing for us. “
One of the clinic’s mentors, Jordan Gooding of YouTube channel G2 Coastal, was in law enforcement for 10 years before deciding to make surf fishing his new calling.
âI decided to pursue a dream and love to fish with kids,â Gooding said. âThey are the future of on-the-road fishing. I want to encourage them to come out and enjoy it.
“We’re just trying to teach the kids how to tie up the rigs, what to look for along the beach in terms of structure, and how to throw in the areas where they’re most likely to catch a fish.”
Thornton said new anglers and seasoned anglers will soon find one of the most productive times to catch the waves on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
âI think we are on the cusp of a good fall fishing,â he said. âThe days are getting shorter and the fish are feeling it. We saw a lot of it during the clinic with a lot of ladybugs in the surf area. The dolphins (big nosed) were pushing them.
âWe’re kind of in a transition where pelagic species like ladybugs and other jacks are flapping around in the surf area. They will be moving by the end of the month when the water temperature drops below 80 degrees. They will be gone for the rest of the year.
This means that bait thieves and pest species will become less prevalent and fishing for species like whiting, also known as Gulf kingfish, will get hot. For those new to surf fishing, the whiting will be silver in color with a black tip on top of the tail fin. Although they don’t exceed two pounds, they make a great dinner dish.
A few southern trevally (ground mullet) will be mixed. Rockfish and pompano will also be more willing to bite. Keep in mind that rockfish (red drum) has a slot limit of 16-26 inches with an allowance for one oversized fish in the daily limit of three fish. The daily creel limit for the pompano is also three fish with a minimum length of 12 inches. Whiting and Ground Mullet have no daily creel or size limits.
âThis is when our local species, our residents, really shine,â Thornton said. âThat’s when the whiting bite really kicks in and will last until October. The redfish bite also picks up. We’re going to start seeing red slots, mainly because the amount of bycatch is going down. There aren’t as many jacks and small fish to worry about.
The species most sought after by surf fishermen is the Florida pompano. The pompano bite comes and goes throughout the year on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, but fall is one of the best times to target pompano.
âWe even managed to grab a few nice keepers during the clinic,â Thornton said of pompano. âThe bite cleans itself as the fall progresses and the pompano fishing improves.
âFrom Christmas to Spring Break, the pompano bite can be a bit slow. There isn’t a single fish you can hang your hat on during this time. It might be good one day; then when you come back the next one, the conditions have changed. Winter conditions are unpredictable and almost never the same two days in a row. Then after spring break, pompano fishing exploded. It’s as good as in the spring.
Remember that you will need a saltwater fishing license to fish for the surf. All licenses expired on August 31. Go to www.outdooralabama.com/
Additionally, for those who catch reef fish species including gray snapper (mangrove) and red snapper, gulf reef fish approval is required.