The growing town of Orange Beach is built upon its fishing heritage. Bordered to the north, east, and south by a system of bays, canals, and coves, Orange Beach provides the best jumping off point to a variety of angling opportunities through Perdido Pass, which lies just three miles to the west of the Florida line on Highway 182. Orange Beach is home to a thriving charter boat industry, and for this reason, the area is amenable to all fishermen whether they own a boat or not.
Bottom Fishing Tops in Orange Beach
According to Vernon Minton, Director of the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 30 to 40 percent of all the red snapper caught recreationally in the Gulf of Mexico come from waters off the Alabama coast. This has not always been the case, though. The sea floor off the coast is primarily mud, with a minimum of natural reefs, he explains. That all changed in 1953 when the Orange Beach Fishing Association placed 250 old car bodies in the Gulf in accordance with provisions from the Marine Resources Division. These man-made reefs produced good catches of red snapper within six months of their construction. Since that time, Alabama has continued its artificial reef building program, an effort that has led Orange Beach to tout itself as "The Red Snapper Capitol of the World."
"Red snapper would not exist off Alabama waters in any significant numbers," says Minton, "if it weren't for the existence of these artificial reefs. By creating habitat, red snapper are actually created where there would probably be none."
The artificial reefs off Alabama consist of "materials of opportunity," according to Minton. These materials include "ghost-fleeted" Liberty ships, concrete culverts, old bridge rubble, boxcars, and most recently, 100 obsolete World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War tanks provided by the Department of Defense's Anniston Arsenal in Anniston, Alabama. Charter boat operators are also allowed to build artificial reefs out of approved and permitted materials within designated reef building zones.
"The perfect artificial reef system," says Minton, "consists of large reefs, smaller reefs, and
micro-habitat such as small rocks or other material that attract encrusting organisms. Through the employment of a reef-building program, and also by limiting the harvest of red snapper, we have seen a dramatic improvement in the red snapper population off Alabama."
The artificial reefs also provide habitat for other popular species, such as grouper, vermilion and other snapper, triggerfish, amberjack, as well as baitfish, which, in turn, attract such migratory gamesters as cobia and king mackerel.
Due to the increased effort in habitat creation, Orange Beach's charter boat industry has found a boom in leading anglers from all over the United States to quality catches of all of these saltwater gamefish. One such captain is Gloyice Ard, who has operated his charter boat, the Boll Weevil, out of Orange Beach since 1980. He concurs that the artificial reef program has helped Alabama's fishing immensely. Ard specializes in enticing red snapper from the reefs by using light line--30-pound test--in shallow water.
"I catch more and larger red snapper by fishing smaller reefs, such as the car bodies I put out," says Ard. "And the big fish bite best when you use light line and light tackle, instead of the traditional boat rods. And when I tell my customers I'm going to my white Cadillac, they better hold on, because sometimes those snapper take you down into the car and roll up the window!"
Ard's son Tom, who is also a charter operator, looks to the tanks for action with vermilion snapper and amberjack.
"The tanks are great producers for both private boats and charter boats alike," says the younger Ard. "But, since the tanks are public spots, the red snapper on them are harder to catch. My customers like vermilions, though, as well as amberjack, so I fish them a lot for these species. For red snapper, I rely on the spots we build ourselves."
According to Debra Evans, Administrator of the Orange Beach Fishing Association, 87 boats in its membership now operate out of the ever-growing port. Most operate year-round, but because the area is also known for its white sandy beaches, the spring and summer tourist months see the most activity. Fall fishing out of Orange Beach, however, is often spectacular as the water cools, and for this reason the OBFA sponsors an annual month-long October Charter Fishing Rodeo. Anyone who fishes from a charter boat in the Association is eligible to win.
Trailering Your Boat to Orange Beach
For anglers who prefer to fish out of their own boat, the Orange Beach area offers a host of fishing opportunities. A center-console outfit in the twenty-foot range is ideal, because it allows fishermen to ply both the inshore and offshore waters of Alabama's coast.
One of the most productive fishing areas for the small-boat angler is the Perdido Pass bridge and jetty complex. Because the pass is the gateway from the protected waters of Perdido Bay to the Gulf, it is often bustling with traffic, especially on weekends. Still, the bridge that spans the pass provides structure for speckled trout, redfish, sheepshead, and bluefish. The jetties that provide the breakwater on either side of the pass are reefs in and of themselves, and everything from pompano to bull reds to cobia, as well as the aforementioned bridge species, call the jetties home at one time of the year or another.
The Perdido Bay and Old River areas, which lie to the north and east of the Pass respectively, attract inshore anglers who enjoy a very specific type of fishing. Privately owned boat houses and docks line these bodies of water, and most all of them have lights mounted to them by their owners. At night, the lights come on, attracting glass minnows, alewives, and other baitfish. The specks, reds, and flounder make feeding forays into the lit areas during periods of moving tide, and the fishermen are soon to follow. Hopping from one light to the next, dedicated anglers take some impressive fish during these night-time bonanzas. This type of fishing is especially conducive to fly-fishing, and a growing number of fishermen are employing the long rods to fish the lights at night.
Along the beaches, king and Spanish mackerel school in large numbers during the spring and early summer, providing excellent sport for trollers pulling duster/cigar minnow combinations and spoons behind planers. And for anglers who just like a good, old-fashioned tussle with a big fish, jack crevalle are usually willing to oblige these very same beach fishermen.
For those who want to fish offshore in trailerable boats, the red snapper and other bottom fish are available to them, also. Admittedly, the wrecks and artificial reefs for which the Loran and GPS coordinates are published are often difficult to fish. These public reefs are fished a lot, and the quality bottom fish can be finicky. Live bait, such as pinfish and alewives are in order, as are light line and a minimum of terminal tackle. King mackerel and cobia can be caught by driftlining with live baits or cigar minnows around the reefs, even when the bottom species are not cooperating. Coordinates for many of the artificial reefs can be obtained by calling or writing to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Orange Beach is accessible from Interstate 10 by taking Exit 44 to Highway 59 south. Highway 59 extends southward to Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach lies to the east. After crossing over the Intracoastal Canal, fishermen should head east on Highway 180, or continue south on 59 until it ends at the beach road, Highway 182. A left-hand turn at the beach road will take visiting anglers to Orange Beach, also.
Visitors to Orange Beach will find plenty of hotels, condominiums, and rental houses available for their stay, and the local seafood is unsurpassed. Most restaurants buy from licensed dealers right off the boats, and many offer pleasing views of the water. For information on these accommodations and other attractions, those planning a trip should contact the Alabama Convention and Visitor's Bureau at 1-800-745 (SAND) (7263) or (334) 968-7511.