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Alabama Gulf Coasts Offers Fun Family Fishing

By DAVID RAINER 

Capt. Yano Serra deftly maneuvered his 21-foot bay boat across the “skinny” water just west of Bayou La Batre. After checking a few landmarks, he steered the boat into one of the many spartina grass-lined channels that meander through the marsh.

“Yeah, this is the right one,” Serra said of the snake-like channel. “There’s a deep hole right up here where we’re going to start.”

Although Serra hunts ducks and deer, he’s not about to forego the fine fall and winter fishing that the Alabama Gulf Coast offers for a variety of inshore species, like redfish, speckled trout, white trout and flounder. During his week off from his job as captain of a 155-foot crew boat, Serra makes sure he gets his twin 9-year-old daughters, Marie and Maresa, out for some family fishing fun. On our recent trip, with temperatures in the 70s, Serra focused on bait to locate the fish.

“I start looking for the white shrimp in the bayous,” he said. “I find the deep holes, where the shrimp are falling off ledges. Wherever the shrimp are falling off the ledges, the redfish are going to be waiting on the down current side to ambush them.

“A lot of times I’ll see the white shrimp jumping. I’ll see the mullet and redfish running down the edge of the banks when the boat spooks the fish. You’ll see the shrimp jumping in front of the fish. Sometimes you’ll see them jumping in the wheel wash. Over the years I’ve been able to find the deep holes. I just idled around with the depth finder on and found them. Most of the time the deep holes will be in the 90-degree bends in the bayou.”

Serra said it takes several hard cold fronts to move the shrimp out of the bayous and into the Gulf of Mexico. Until the shrimp vacate the bayous, he uses a rig with a slip cork and a half-ounce to one-ounce weight when there is a good current. He sticks with 12-pound monofilament line most of the time.

“I want the weight in mud and the shrimp swimming around in circles,” he said. “When the redfish gets close, the shrimp will start jumping out of the water. I like a super big shrimp. That eliminates small fish from killing it or eating legs off of it. I hook them in the front horn, which lets them swim around a little better. If there’s no current, I’ll just put a shot weight on and hook him in the tail with small cork and just let him swim. The lighter the presentation, the better.”

If Serra has a choice, a day that is not very windy is preferred. That allows him to make a better presentation with the live shrimp.

“You can leave your bait in one spot a lot longer if it’s not windy,” he said. “I like to keep my shrimp right on the ledge. I don’t want to fish the deep hole. They are going to stick their noses right next to the bank and wait for the bait to fall off the ledge.”

Of course, there are plenty of other areas along the Alabama Gulf Coast other than the 20 miles of marsh between the Mississippi line and Heron Bay.

“When I talk about fishing bayous, I’m talking about all around Mobile Bay – the Mobile Delta, Dog River, Fowl River,” Serra said. “You’ve got West and East Fowl River, Dog River, Dauphin Island Bay, and Oyster Bay has a little bit of marsh. The Bayou La Batre bayou has some deep ledges that hold good fish, redfish and big speckled trout. You can fish all that backwater in the Mobile Delta. In Fowl River, I like fishing points. In Goose Bayou, I’ll fish the same way. There are a lot of oyster shells, deep holes and ledges in East Fowl River and Portersville Bay. I like to fish duck blinds because of the barnacles. Barnacles attract bait fish, which attract the redfish.

“If you’re going to fish the 20 miles of marsh west of Heron Bay, you really need a shallow-draft boat and need to know how to run it, especially on low tide. You’d better know the area, because the tide will let you in and will not let you out. I know some people who have spent the night waiting on the tide to come back in. That’s not a pretty sight.”

Serra said patience can be a virtue for cooler weather fishing, to a point.

“If it’s a spot I just came to and haven’t fished it before, I’ll give it 15-20 minutes before I move on,” he said. “If it’s spot I’ve caught fish before, sometimes I’ll give it two or three hours. It depends on what I’m catching. If I’m catching rat reds (redfish under the 16-inch minimum) or trout, I’ll stay in there. I’ll stay as long as something is biting, because when you start getting a lot of fish activity it just seems to call the redfish, gets them in a feeding frenzy. Sometimes when you catch a trout, he’ll regurgitate what he’s just eaten and it chums up the water.”

Serra said he catches redfish in the bayous all the way through the winter and it gets even better as the winter progresses.

“The colder it gets the fish will move into those deep holes,” he said. “Saltwater is heavier than freshwater and will settle in the holes. As winter progresses, the bait gets harder to find, so the fish are hungrier. I’ll go in with dead shrimp and Carolina-rig them and drag them through the holes. You’re not fighting your little fish. The little fish leave and go out in the Gulf. They’ll hit anything. You won’t be able to get live shrimp in the winter, but they’ll hit mullet minnows (a.k.a. finger mullet), bull minnows and small crabs. I fish as slow as you can move it. If you think you’re going slow enough, go even slower. I remember one time we were out there and the air temperature was 50 degrees and the water temperature in mid 50s. I was using dead shrimp on a Carolina rig. If you just let it sit, they wouldn’t hit it. If you moved it, they’d grab it. But you didn’t have to move it but about three inches. It’s like they’re sitting there looking at it. Once it moves, they grab it.

“We’ve gone duck hunting and when the ducks quit flying, we’ll break out the fishing rods and go redfishing. Usually the duck hunting is over about 9-10. That’s when the redfish start biting. The tide starts coming in. Your water and air temperature starts getting warmer and just puts them in a biting mode.”

Although Serra mainly targets redfish, there are many other inshore species that hang around in the areas preferred by the redfish.

“Flounder fishing gets good in the bayous in the winter,” he said. “They’ll be in there all winter long. In the spring, they start moving out into the bays and grass flats, but while it’s cold they’re going to be hanging around the same holes the redfish like. And you’ll get big white trout, big croakers, sheepshead and a lot of puppy drum. You never catch the big (black) drum. As a rule of thumb, wherever you find puppy drum in the winter, you’re going to catch some nice slot (16-26 inches) redfish. If you just keep catching the puppy drum, you’re going to end up with some nice redfish.”

By the time we finished with our trip, we had three slot redfish, two nice flounder, speckled trout, white trout, sheepshead, puppy drum and bull croakers in the ice chest.

Thanks to Yano and his girls, I got to bring the fish home. The redfish were filleted with the scales intact, while the flounder were scraped to remove the scales and sliced in a crosshatch pattern to promote even cooking. I liberally sprinkled Cavender’s Greek Seasoning on the fish and then rubbed in extra virgin olive oil. The fish were placed on a hot grill – the redfish scale side down and never turned, while the flounder was placed on a piece of aluminum foil that had been pierced numerous times with a fork. When the redfish can be easily flaked with a fork, it’s ready to come off the grill. Check the flounder spine at the thickest point and if the juices run clear, it’s ready to go. The hard part at the dinner table was determining which fish was best. 

As for the remainder of the fish, it was the fillet knife first and 325-degree frying oil later. That was Mm, Mm, Good, as well.

Visit www.specktacklelure.com for more information about fishing the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Photos, top to bottom:

Capt. Yano Serra shows his 9-year-old twin daughters Maresa (right) and Marie, how to remove the hook from the redfish's mouth.

Maresa Serra hangs onto the first rod as her sister, Marie, scoops up a keeper redfish.

Maresa Serra admires a nice white trout she caught during a recent trip with her twin sister, Marie, and dad, Capt. Yano Serra, to the marsh near Bayou La Batre.

Marie Serra landed this nice flounder during a trip to the marsh near Bayou La Batre with her dad, Capt. Yano Serra, and twin sister, Maresa.
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