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Reds and Specks between Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan...
For the last few years my wife, Cathy, and I spend a week on the Fort Morgan peninsula west of Gulf Shores, Ala. As a kid from L.A. (lower Alabama), I spent a lot of time at Fort Morgan when my dad was on the commission charged with restoring the old fort. There were two fishing piers then but have since been destroyed, as were many of the buildings including the old hotel. Now there is a museum at the fort now that tells its history - more about that later.
I love going back there for the nostalgia (as a kid, I had the run of the place) and, more importantly, to catch fish I missed back then. I fished a lot there as youngster with an ever back lashing bait caster with black Dacron line pulling in croakers and pin fish - but I didn't know about redfish and specs in the late 1940s. I do now and I'm making up for lost time.
My favorite places to fish for specs and reds are Navy Cove, St. Andrews Bay and the bay side beach north from Fort Morgan to the point at the mouth of Mobile Bay. Another place I've fished, but not as often, is Little Lagoon. Little Lagoon is another splendid fishing hole, especially for specs, that extends from Gulf Shores west to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, and it's not little, about 12 miles long. They had to call it something and I guess they chose "little" because it's not as large as Big Lagoon near Pensacola.
Last year we were staying on the peninsula and Cathy was spending the day making gumbo. So I went surf fishing along the bay beach at Fort Morgan. I took two rods: one medium spinning outfit and one heavy. I cast small jigs with the lighter rod to catch ladyfish. I'd walk the beach casting until I located the ladies. Once I landed one, I switched the foot-long lady fish from the jig to a 5/0 circle Bleeding Bait hook under the dorsal fin on my heavy rod.
When using lady fish for bait I employ two methods: One is to let the baitfish free-line and go with the flow. I cast out the lady and walk along the beach as the current takes it toward the tip of the peninsula. This covers a lot of water and is a fairly long walk, but it pays off when it comes to catching reds.
The other method is to place a one-ounce pyramid sinker above a barrel swivel and a two-foot leader. I cast it out and drag up a piece of driftwood to sit on to wait for some excitement. I call this the lazy method. It was this lazy method that worked for me on this day.
I didn't know what I had hooked but I knew it wasn't a shark because the mono leader wasn't bitten in two. But then I've seen mono hold when it shouldn't, like the time Cathy caught a 12-pound northern pike on four-pound-test-mono sans a metal leader.
This fish put up a strong fight for about 20 minutes. Both of us were tired when I dragged the big red on to the sand. I wish I had had my camera!
I took it back to the truck to put it on ice - it was a 32-incher. When I walked back to my fishing spot two boats we anchored just off shore working the water where my red came from. I guess they weren't doing as well out in the bay and thought my fishing hole would be productive for them.
The next day was my birthday and Cathy paddled me around in her canoe, Wave Dancer. We launched off the Fort Morgan road into a small pocket of St. Andrews Bay that opens to Navy Cove in Mobile Bay. We've explored this area on previous trips and found plenty of specs and reds - even when the local anglers say they aren't there.
Casting or trolling jigs and spoons works very well in these shallow waters. Specs and reds are the predominant game fish species but we've caught pompano too. On this day Cathy paddled us up a creek where there was a lot of surface activity. Bingo! I picked up a 23-incher from the edge of the grass.
This was only fish we kept because it and the 32-incher were enough fish to last for several meals. But the heart stopper was when I hooked something I assumed was a bull red. It pulled Wave Dancer all over the bay. I lost it when it swan behind me, the back of the canoe, to the other side and tangled in my other rod. I felt I had worn it down to a subdued state, but not so.
We trolled home picking up a number of small specs. I've seen days when the area was loaded with specs and you couldn't find a red. I've learned that I can't go to the ocean with a notion of what I'll catch.
Now for the eating of the redfish. For my birthday dinner Cathy called a local restaurant to see if they would cook our catch. Mikee's, a family, restaurant, said they would. Chef Pete Chaple created a scrumptious feast of redfish fillets served fried, pan grilled with soy and spices, and blackened. All three preparations were wonderful. Also covering the table were hushpuppies, baked beans, turnip greens, new potatoes, fritters, and marinated cabbage with carrots, peppers, vinegar and brown sugar. Man, what a feast and terrific leftovers!
While on the subject of food and you're in Gulf Shoes, I recommend King Neptunes for Royal Red shrimp, the Original Oyster House for, what else, oysters, and Lulu's (north of the Intracoastal Waterway on the east of Highway 59) - Lulu is Jimmy Buffet's sister and she has a happening place on the Intracoastal with seafood and full bar.
If you love to watch birds in their natural habitat, then you'll certainly want to visit some of the numerous birding sites along the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. These trails, arranged as a series of loops, are close enough together that you can easily drive from one to another and cover as many as three loops in a day, however, each loop could easily take a half-day or more.
You can get a brochure from Alabama Gulf Coast CVB or from Alabama Coastal Birding Trail web site that provides details of the sites, directions to each site, and which species you can expect to see.
The trail begins at the bridge over Perdido Pass in Orange Beach and continues through Gulf Shores and Gulf State Park. At this well-known resort area you can see shorebirds, the snowy plover, and the rare groove-billed ani.
Fort Morgan Loop on the Fort Morgan Peninsula includes the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Morgan Historical Park at the most western end. Bob and Margaret Sergeant set up nets for catching, banding, and recording birds here in the spring and fall. We visited with them one spring when birds were landing for their first rest since their long trek across the Gulf of Mexico from South America. Hummingbirds created the most excitement among the birders.
Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects marshes, shorelines and adjacent uplands. A boardwalk leads to an observation platform for viewing the bay. You can pick up a bird card at the interpretive center. These are just a few of the many birding sites around Mobile Bay.
If you'd rather see dolphins then go to Bear Point Marina overlooking Perdido Bay between Perdido Key, Fla., and Gulf Shores, Ala. The tours pass along interesting facts about dolphins such as they are born tail first after a 12-month gestation and weight between 10 and 40 pounds.
On our dolphin tour, Cathy and I had just settled along the railings of the 50-foot former Navy transport boat when a pod was spotted. "Oohs" and "ahs" immediately filled the air when the captain picked up speed and the sleek beauties began leaping through our wake. And so it went for an entire magical afternoon.
Kids love the dolphin tours and they, as well as you, would also love the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Some of the zoo's more recognizable animals include Chuckie, an American Alligator, Lady the Lion, Salt and Pepper, a pair of sibling Siberian tigers, and Trey, a special needs Capuchin monkey. Approximately 290 animals reside at the zoo, including ring tail lemurs, lions, kinkajous, blue and gold macaws, a blue tongue skink, a yellow anaconda, and timber wolves (Cathy and I got to pet a wolf - Wow!). The zoo is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I've mentioned Fort Morgan and it's about time I gave you a little of its history. Named for Revolutionary War hero General Daniel Morgan, Fort Morgan is a National Historic Landmark constructed of brick and mortar between 1819 and 1834. It overlooks the Gulf of Mexico guarding the eastern side of the mouth of Mobile Bay, the fourth largest freshwater inflow in the United States.
Fort Morgan's long history is explained in detail at a museum on the property and includes one of Tennessee's most famous sons, Andrew Jackson. During the War of 1812, Jackson garrisoned his Tennessee cavalry at the abandoned Fort Bowyer, now Fort Morgan. They successfully defended Mobile Bay, sunk the British flagship, Hermes, and drove the British away, at least for a while. After the war of 1812, a stronger fortification, the current Fort Morgan, was built to defend the bay.
During the Civil War, East Tennessee native Union Admiral David Glasgow Farragut gave the famous order, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" during the battle in which his fleet ultimately defeated Confederate forces guarding Mobile Bay at Fort Morgan. Torpedoes then are what we now call mines.
A total of seven flags have flown over forts on this site. The fort was reactivated during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II before being turned over to the state of Alabama. It is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
And it's at Fort Morgan I recommend you start fishing for reds and specs. In the bay are a number of oil derricks that attract many game fish species, depending on the season. There is a new pier near the ferry that is very popular and a boat launching ramp. I suggest you plan on staying longer than three days to learn the area. There's something biting all the time. I've found it to be my place of Happy Hooking!
Contact the following for more info.
Alabama Coastal Birding Trail: 877-226-9089, alabamacoastalbirdingtrail.com
Alabama Gulf Coast CVB: 800-745 SAND, 251/968 7511, gulfshores.com. This web site will direct you lodging, dining, fishing charters, dolphin tours, etc.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo: 251-968-5731, www.alabamagulfcoastzoo.com.