Matthew Dickerson. Excerpted from “From Trout to Redfish: Fishing Alabama, North to South”, first published in the Addison Independent, October, 2019.
Two mornings after my first time fly fishing for Alabama trout (see my piece on Sipsey Fork), and several hours drive further south, I had as different a fishing experience as I could possibly imagine while still being in the same state. Though, as the story below hopefully makes clear, also a tremendously enjoyable experience, and one much more characteristic of Alabama fishing.
My wife Deborah and I boarded a boat at the marina in Fort Morgan, near Gulf Shores on the peninsula at the mouth of Mobile Bay. As Captain Perry motored us out into the Bay, we admired a whole squadrons of pelicans perches on old piers, backlit by a gorgeous horizon burning orange and crimson from the rising sun. It made up for similar colors we were missing that weekend on the Vermont hillsides.
A few minutes later, after passing a pair of dolphins leaping and playing in the shallow waters of the bay, we came around the point and out into the open water of the Gulf of Mexico. The boat rose and fell between the peaks and troughs of three foot swells as we motored out around the point a short distance along beautiful beaches of powdery white sand.
Then Perry started handing out rods. Deborah, though she rarely fishes, accepted the one offered her. Perry cut the engine and started baiting our hooks with live fish he’d caught that morning. He cast them out where he wanted, then handed them back. “You’ll know if one bites,” he said.
And we did. We were fishing for redfish. Our first two hookups were with ocean catfish, not much bigger than the bigger trout I’d seen up on Sipsey Fork. I snapped a quick photo of Deborah’s first catch and then we let it go. When we’d drifted a ways down the shore, Perry—who kept in close contact with another boat to see how they were doing—motored us back closer to the mouth of the bay. “Sometimes it can be slow for a while,” he said, “and then you suddenly get into the fish and you’ll get two hooked on at once.”
Perry was right. Deborah hooked up first: a monster of a redfish that she fought for several minutes before it snapped her line. It was barely off the line before one took my hook. It fought me for several minutes before I was able to bring it (mostly doing so from my seat, to avoid going overboard in the constant rocking from the swells). My fish ran just short of three feet long and fifteen pounds—the size and fight of a better-than-average steelhead or a really good striper taken off the New England coast.
I had set the fishing trip up through Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism who connected me with Steve from Intercoastal Safaris. Earlier that morning, after dragging ourselves away from the first few minutes of the beautiful sunrise, viewed out over the beaches from the balcony of our rental at The Beach Club, we’d driven ten minutes to the marina with the sunrise growing more spectacular with each minute to meet Perry and Steve. For us visitors to the area, the trip would have been worth it just for the scenery: the sunrise, miles of sandy beaches, numerous pelicans posting on their perches and later fishing the same waters as us, and especially the dolphins. But we were also there for fishing. And Deborah soon had a chance for redemption, hooking into another redfish at least as big as mine. This time she managed to bring it to net and into the boat.
We would later motor back into Mobile Bay and fish along the mouth of a marshy tidal river, which gave us another glimpse of the beauty of this place. Before the morning was done, we’d hooked into five redfish between us, with Steve, Deborah and I each successfully bringing one into the boat. We headed back to the marine where Perry filleted them for us as pelicans waited in the water below for the scraps.
And I thought, I could come back here again, too.