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Double Down
On Dog River

by Mike Thompson

For the past several years I have marked a date on my calendar in bold red ink. April 1st is a day I have promised to myself to be a fishing day, with only death or illness getting in the way.
Why such a fuss over a day on the calendar? Well, because over the last seven years the fish at the mouth of Dog River have been as reliable as the sun coming up in the morning. Sitting on Dog River in a boat on April Fool's day won't result in a prank being pulled, but rather the line on your reel being pulled and stretched by the annual visitors.

Some of my fondest fishing memories have occurred on Dog River in April. From the fantastic days of fishing I experienced with a former fishing buddy who recently passed away, to the trips I've been on with another good friend who loves fishing as much as I do. Dog River in early spring is awesome!

The month of April makes most Gulf Coast inshore angler's a little itchy to get out on the water after a cool winter. Favorite species like speckled trout and flounder have been tough to locate if you don't know the winter haunts of the two species.

Locating speckled trout and flounder at the same location in April is not only a bonus, but a blessing for the savvy anglers who know a little about fishing the Dog River on the west side of Mobile Bay.

Inshore anglers, struggling through the transition months of February and March, look forward to the annual arrival of great fishing on Dog River starting at the beginning of April. Just like the tax time deadline of the month, speckled trout and flounder arrive at the same time each year; and you better be ready!

Dog River is much like many tributaries flowing into Mobile Bay. There is some deep water providing sanctuary for both gamefish and the baitfish they feed on. However, Dog River has a couple of twists that make it ideal early spring habitat for both speckled trout and flounder.

First, there is the Dog River Bridge. The huge bridge supports provide the first structure option for the attraction of bait. The second feature of Dog River is the deep-water access around the marinas necessary for large watercraft that use the area for repairs and moorage. And the third structure variation is the area known as the Dog River Flats.

Having three distinctly different structure variations allows the Dog River angler multiple options to target fish as spring weather fluctuates. The structure options also allow the Dog River angler to "double down" and fill a cooler with both tasty specks and flounder during a days fishing.

Start With Specks

The early spring action in Dog River starts with speckled trout. The initial reports of significant catches occur during the first week of April, depending on water salinity conditions. One of the first places fish show up is around the bridge. The outside of Dog River Bridge has a channel that is over twenty feet in depth. This channel that leads out into Mobile Bay serves as a speckled trout highway during early spring.

Anglers line up their boats on both sides of the channel trying to entice the traveling specks to hit a variety of artificial baits. With live bait options almost zero in early spring, the artificials work quite well on the trout.

Some of the most popular artificial bait choices are plastic grubs. Saltwater Assassins Sea Shad grubs are very effective fished on a 3/8ths ounce jig head. Popular colors are chartreuse, root beer and Space Guppy.

Another effective grub choice is the Sparkle Beetle. Smoke, clear with glitter and chartreuse glow are all good choices.

Fin-S grubs are another option in plastic baits. Fished on a quarter ounce jig head, the Fin-S works great in the Arkansas Shiner or Red Devil colors.

To entice fish to hit any of the above-mentioned lures, anglers anchor their boats on the channels edge and cast out into the deeper water. The best method is to cast well up current, allowing the bait to drift naturally along in the current. As the bait is falling you should give it a twitch by lifting your rod tip up to the twelve o-clock position, then slowly lowering the tip before another twitch.

After your bait is either on the bottom or down current you should reel in for another cast. Experimentation will be necessary to determine what depth the fish are holding in. Unless the fish are right on the bottom you should get most of your strikes while the lure is falling.

If you are fortunate enough to be out on a day when there is little competition from other anglers (unusual after the word gets out) you can find fish by trolling. By putting out two or more lines behind the boat you can drift different bait options to see just what the trout prefer. Once you determine just what color the fish prefer you can change all your baits to that same color and style.

You can use the natural current flow of the tide to drift or you can use the aid of a trolling motor. Whatever method you use it is important to match the speed of the current. Should you have a wind direction different than the current you will have to use a trolling motor to compensate for the difference.

As the spring weather warms up you can expect the speckled trout to move onto the Dog River Flats. This shallow area is adjacent to the river channel and quite close to the marinas. As weather warms up on typical day the trout will leave the depths and hit the flats.

While you can still catch trout by drifting or trolling, you may need to change tactics a little bit. Using a grub under a popping cork, Cajun Thunder rattle cork or Speculizer rig will bring more strikes from trout roaming the flats.

Usually the specks on the flats will be the smaller, more aggressive trout. However, if you are seeking a trophy trout, Dog River gives up its share of those, too.

By the time May rolls around there will be some live shrimp available. If you have the paintence to seek out only the big fish, shrimp are your answer.

By floating along a live shrimp in the current beneath the Dog River Bridge you may encounter some of the biggest trout of the year. Fish over seven pounds have been caught using this method. Free-line your bait with a small bb shot and let the current do the rest.

Another method to catching the bigger trout is to employ the use of a slip cork rig. This allows you to present your bait at a desired depth and still have the visual aid to detect strikes. While live shrimp are best for this set up, you can sometimes entice bites with a D.O.A. shrimp under the slip cork. Be sure to spray a little attractant on this artificial to give it plenty of smell.

Focus On Flounder

As the weather starts to warm the action on flounder heats up as well. Flounder start to stage at the mouth of the Dog River, near the bridge. Anglers who can locate some live minnows will out produce those who use plastic in the same area.

Mud minnows, referred to as "bull minnows" by the locals, will be the best bait for consistent flounder action. Fished methodically on the bottom, bull minnows are gobbled up by flounder using the area.

As the temperatures really warm up in May the flounder make a move for the flats. There they can be caught in good numbers when conditions are right. Incoming tides seem to produce best, but any current is good for flats flounder.

While most flounder fishing is done by anchoring down on a likely spot, fishing the flats is different. Letting the wind and current push your boat while you drift baits behind the boat can be extremely productive.

Once again, bull minnows are the preferred live bait for flounder on the flats. Hooked on a Carolina rig, the minnows are dragged behind the boat over the flats. Hungry flounder see the minnows swimming by and have to make a decision before the bait gets away. This results in the flounder actually hooking themselves, making it an easy day for anglers.

While bull minnows take the bulk of Dog River flounder, artificials can also be effective. Smoke colored Sparkle Beetles or D.O.A. shrimp on a Carolina rig can be used when minnows are scarce or you happen to run out of bait. Adding scent to the plastics always helps.

As for adding scent, savvy Dog River fishermen sometimes cut a small piece of flounder belly off of one of their earlier catches to add to the plastics. For some reason this stimulates a flounder bite on plastic when little else will.

Dog River is one of the more desired locations to live in the city of Mobile. Waterfront living has an appeal that attracts many.

There are many luxurious homes on the river. Many have piers that extend into the river Almost all are equipped with lighting that attracts baitfish and in turn game species. Night fishing becomes a very real option when saltwater fish enter the river.

There is good fishing to be had at night. However, there are several rules you need to follow to get maximum results. First is to approach any lighted pier quietly. Making a lot of noise is a surefire way to get the homeowners to turn out the lights and shut down your fishing.

The second rule is to stay away from any pier that has people fishing on it. Simply go to the next lighted pier and try it there.

As for baits at night in Dog River there are a couple of options. Should live shrimp be available, use them first. Live minnows are your next option. If you are forced to use artificials at night, try using clear colored grubs with glitter or D.O.A. shrimp. Fish both options with as light a line as possible to fool the spooky fish.

Best Chances to Double Down

While most hardcore inshore anglers will pick a specific species to target and focus their efforts there, the opportunity to catch a nice mess of both specks and flounder is a very real possibility on Dog River in spring.

Starting out early after an incoming tide you should concentrate on speckled trout in the deeper waters of the Dog River channel or the marina areas. As the tide picks up in speed, making it difficult to get your baits near the bottom, move to the flats where the tide flow spreads out and slows.

The chances of catching flounder or specks will increase on the flats as the weather heats up. Whatever your preference, it's hard to beat the Dog River in early spring. Give it a try this year and you'll see.

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