Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 40 - No. 4 FALL 2016 - Page 11

Gulf Coast Closeup by John N. Felsher PIER PRESSURE GULF PIER OFFERS ANGLERS BIG FISH B uying a boat to venture offshore can run into serious dollars, compounded by the cost of equipping, fueling, storing, maintaining and insuring such a vessel. However, anglers who can’t afford even a little boat can still catch big fish on the Alabama coast. “People catch just about every type of saltwater fish in Alabama waters off the Gulf State Park Pier,” remarked David Thornton, a regular visitor to that structure. “The pier gives anglers without access to boats a good opportunity to catch really big fish like king mackerel, jack crevalle, cobia and tarpon, but they can also catch many inshore species. Occasionally, someone even hooks a sailfish. Fishermen from all over the country, and even Canada, come to fish it.” The pier extends 1,540 feet, or more than a quarter mile, into the Gulf of Mexico between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, AL. Hurricane Ivan severely damaged an older pier in 2004, but the rebuilt structure opened in 2009 and now offers anglers about 2,448 feet to fish along its rails. “We used to be the longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico,” advised Louis Williams, a state park ranger. “Then, they built one at Navarre Beach, FL, that’s just five feet longer, but our pier is wider so it’s the largest. People coming down on vacation don’t need to bring much equipment from home. They can buy or rent whatever they need at the pier.” Pier visitors may peruse a full tackle shop that sells live and frozen bait. Anglers can rent rods and tackle. The pier also offers anglers fish cleaning stations, restroom facilities, benches and a concessions area. At the shore end of the pier, patrons may eat barbecue as sea breezes blow through an open-air restaurant. Anglers must possess a pier fishing permit and a state saltwater license to fish on the pier, available to buy at the pier store. Except for targeting sharks, all other Alabama fishing laws apply. Anglers often hook sharks while fishing on the pier, but must cut or break them off as soon as possible. “At times, the pier attracts a lot of sharks,” Thornton warned. “The park staff doesn’t want people fishing for sharks so close to the swimming beach. Sometimes, sharks are so thick that people can barely bring in a mackerel or other fish without sharks grabbing them. For people not used to deep-sea fishing, watching a 6-foot-long shark eat a fish off their line can be pretty exciting.” Many people fish off the Gulf end for the largest species. The pier spreads out into an octagonal shape, providing ample room for anglers targeting king mackerel, tarpon and other species. Debris from the structure destroyed in 2004 as well as about a dozen artificial reefs made from limestone, coral and parts of the old pier strategically placed around the new structure hold gamefish and many other marine species. “I grew up in south Alabama and have been fishing that pier since 1972,” Thornton recalled. “A friend and I would catch baitfish and put one on a steel leader under a float to let it drift around until a king mackerel grabbed it. The sun wasn’t even up on the first day that I fished the pier when I caught my first king mac