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White Trout Biting; Snapper Captains Happy

By DAVID RAINER

For those who live on or within close proximity to the Alabama Gulf Coast, the fall not only means college football and hunting, it also means some of the best fishing of the year. For the first time in a number of years, that fishing also included red snapper.

Although Ken Jansen of Fairhope will spend some time in the deer stand, his life is inextricably connected to Mobile Bay and the coastal waters. While some of his fishing efforts are in the Gulf of Mexico with his king mackerel-fishing buddy Freddie Watkins, most of Jansen’s water time is spent on the inshore species.

“I’ve been around Fairhope for over 60 years and have fished all my life,” Jansen said. “I’ve caught a lot of mullet, lot of trout, lot of flounder and a lot of crabs. I’ve enjoyed every minute.”

When Jansen’s dad (Claude) was alive they would take people out to Middle Bay Lighthouse for several hours of white trout fishing, a tradition Ken continues today.

“We used to do a lot of shrimping, too,” Ken said. “My mother used to grind up the shrimp and sent us out fishing with a sack full of shrimp burgers. Just about everything we did or ate was connected to the bay.”

Despite many more people out on the water, Jansen said the fishing hasn’t changed much over the years. With few exceptions, he said the white-trout fishing usually remains good until January or the water temperatures falls below the 60-degree mark.

“The people we used to take trout fishing would catch all they wanted, starting late in the summer and through the fall,” he said. “The fish continue to be as plentiful as they were 40 years ago. We still have a great fishery in Mobile Bay. Middle Bay Light is one of my favorite places. I go there every time the weather allows.

“I have confidence in Middle Bay Light. There are times of the year when it really produces. But there are times when you won’t find anything but catfish and sting rays. It’s just one of my favorite haunts. There have always been oyster shells around Middle Bay Light, and my daddy always said if you were snagging an oyster shell now and then that you were fishing in the right spot. The shell is a draw for redfish, speckled trout, white trout, flounder and mullet. It continues to attract fish year after year.”

When he’s targeting white trout (AKA sand trout), Jansen makes sure there is significant tide movement.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s incoming or outgoing,” he said. “But the white trout like some water movement. I mainly use cut bait, either croaker of I’ll cut up the first white trout of the day. Sometimes I’ll tip it with a little bit of shrimp. Sometimes we’ll just use a half a shrimp. The thing I’ve found with white trout is not to get the shrimp too big on the hook. It makes it harder to get a hook-up.

“We’ve caught them up to two and three-quarters pounds at the Lighthouse. That’s a nice white trout.”

The rub with white trout for many people is they don’t freeze well unless special care is taken. Jansen has developed a technique for storing white trout that solves the issue of mushy filets.

“I’ve found over the years that if I take my ice chest or fish box and put in a couple of bags of ices and a couple of gallons of water that it will make a slush,” he said. “When you throw a fish in the box, it will swim down under the ice floating on top and immediately chill out. You can take a white trout and throw it on ice, the side on the ice will be good, but the side on top will go bad. It will get soft and the taste will change. I swim mine down into a slush of water.

“When I’m cleaning them, I throw the filets back into slush water. When I get through, I’ll freeze them in water. After they’re frozen I’ll add a little water and freeze it to put a cap on top. They’ll keep up to a year like that, and they’ll taste just like you caught them the same day.”

As for the other species along the Alabama Gulf Coast, the bull redfish seem to hang out on Dixey Bar year-round these days, and the anglers on Gulf State Park Pier will also hook nice reds, as well as whiting. Speckled trout have moved to the rivers and deep holes.

For the just-concluded fall red snapper season, the fishing communities in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are thankful for the opportunity to get back into the Gulf after a season of sitting at the dock or working for BP during the oil cleanup.

There was some question as to whether the charter fleet could get the word out sufficiently to attract customers to the coast. While all charter boat captains didn’t stay as busy as they wanted, several were extremely happy with the outcome, including Capt. Johnny Greene, who runs the Intimidator charter boat.

“It was a great fall, in my opinion,” Greene said. “There were a lot of people in town that wouldn’t have been here if we hadn’t had the fall snapper season. I was able to book about 90 percent of the days we had available and the weather cost me a couple of days.

“Some of the people I called had missed out on trips this summer and I called them and told them to get ready to come down in the fall. They were ecstatic that the government was finally giving something back. Then I got some calls from people who were within driving distance to the beach. There was no doubt, the vast majority was interested in red snapper.”

And, as far as the angling went, the fish couldn’t have been more cooperative.

“The fishing was as good as I’ve personally ever seen it,” Greene said. “It was good for big snapper, big triggerfish and amberjack. All in all, I think the total experience was just awesome.”

Greene said the peripheral businesses also saw significant boosts during the fall snapper season. Two of the larger bait and tackle shops on the coast – J&M Tackle and Sam’s Stop and Shop – reported the best October sales in years.

“I think it benefitted the condo owners and restaurant owners and the gas stations,” said Greene, who also sits on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. “I think it was a positive economic boost for the community as a whole.

“And there were a ton of private boats that didn’t get to fish last summer. They were able to get out this fall, so they probably benefitted more anybody from a weekend-only season for eight weeks as opposed to a season of 39 consecutive days.”

Tom Steber at Zeke’s Charter Fleet in Orange Beach said while the coastal communities are not out of the woods, the fall snapper season sure changed the momentum.

“It definitely helped us,” Steber said. “We probably doubled our business from last year, which was definitely a plus. It’s just that you’re competing with football and hunting and all that stuff.”

While Steber understands that the oil spill created the opportunity to have a fall snapper season, he also knows that the coastal communities need something to draw anglers during the spring of the year.

“We desperately need something for the spring, even if we only had weekends in April and May,” he said. “You could get your hardcore charter fishermen. People have that urge, when spring hits, to get out on the water.

“But with this fall season, it was way better than it would have been without it – no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) Ken Jansen of Fairhope unhooks a nice white trout that took cut bait tipped with a piece of shrimp at Middle Bay Lighthouse in Mobile Bay. Jansen said the lighthouse has been a favorite fishing spot for as long as he can remember. David Brush of Fairhope fights a white trout with the lighthouse as a backdrop. The Alabama Historical Commission has designated $30,000 a year for maintenance of the lighthouse.

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