March 29, 2012
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Although my fishing buddies are no longer with us, each time I pass by or fish Little Lagoon in Gulf Shores I remember the day Mike Young and Mike Miceli took me on my first fishing trip in the lagoon back in mid 90s.

Young and Miceli were veterans of fishing the lagoon, which is known somewhat as a “feast or famine” fishing spot. Little Lagoon is a half-mile-wide body of brackish water in Gulf Shores separated by about a half-mile beach from the Gulf of Mexico. Little Lagoon Pass is a small outlet to the Gulf, the lagoon’s lifeline to water flow and water quality.

On that day almost 20 years ago, we were fishing in Young’s fish-n-ski boat, drifting through some of the pair’s favorite spots. We’d caught a few smaller speckled trout when I picked up my spinning rod and reel spooled with 10-pound test line and cast a live shrimp with a No. 8 treble hook. The bait had barely settled to the bottom when the shrimp was inhaled.

When I set the hook, which was totally unnecessary, the rod bowed in a tremendous arc that indicated this fish had some heft.

“Big fish,” I grunted to the pair of Mikes.

“Redfish,” they said almost in unison.

“You’re going to have to follow him around the boat,” Young said as they both reeled up to get out of the way.

There I was with a big fish, doing the small-line dance around the boat, going from fiberglass boat bottom to seat cushions and back as I tried to not put too much pressure on the big fish.

After several circuits around the boat, the fish finally came into view.

“It’s a big trout,” screamed the Mikes as Miceli grabbed the landing net. “Be careful; don’t lose him.”

After one more trip around the boat, the big trout glided into the net and the whooping and hollering began.

The trout weighed in at 6 pounds, 9 ounces and measured 27 ½ inches long. It’s still my biggest trout more than 15 years later.

Fast forward to the 2012 Little Lagoon, which maintains the reputation of being a place where large trout lurk in the deep holes, waiting to ambush anything that looks like a meal.

Jay Gunn of J Hook Inshore (251-752-8040) in Summerdale said somebody is usually going to catch a big speckled trout in the lagoon almost every day except for the dog days of summer.

“You catch a lot of 16- and 17-inch speckled trout, and then all of a sudden you’ll hook one 24 to 26 inches long, about 5 to 6 pounds,” Gunn said. “If you like to fish hard baits, like MirrOdines or Glad Shads or topwaters, it can be real good in the lagoon. You can expect to catch some quality fish if you want to catch big fish. You’re probably not going to get but four or five strikes a morning, but you can expect some real nice fish. But don’t expect to pattern them. The lagoon is a ‘hunt and peck’ place.

“You just fish until you find them. A lot of times they’ll be in a different place every day, but they usually won’t be very far from where they were the day before. The fish don’t school much because the bait doesn’t really gather up because there’s not much current. The wind seems to drive the current more in the lagoon than in other places.”

During the dog days of summer, Gunn heads to Mobile Bay or Perdido Bay where the tide generates a significant water exchange. He also said that once the water temperature reaches 65 degrees, the bait-stealing pinfish will make it an expensive proposition if you’re using live shrimp.

“The pinfish can be outrageous in there, so it’s better that you don’t fish with shrimp,” Gunn said. “If you use shrimp, you can expect to go through ever how many you buy. The pinfish even get so bad they’ll eat the tails off your grubs in the summertime. It’s better to use bull minnows or menhaden or alewives.”

During the cooler months, Gunn said the fish stay pretty much active all day long as long as there is a little tide movement. The problem with the lagoon is the pass is so small that it often gets clogged with sand, which impedes the tidal flow.

“It only has one entrance to the gulf, the little pass, so all the bait and larvae, whether fish, bait fish or shrimp, have to come in through the pass,” he said. “So the quality of fishing in the lagoon is dependent on the water flow you have through the pass. The more water flow you have, the better the water quality and the better the fishing.”

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has plans to help maintain the water flow in the Little Lagoon Pass. Work is expected to begin sometime this fall or winter.

Vince Calametti, ALDOT Region Engineer out of Mobile, said he plans to open bidding on a project that will include widening of the pass and a new bridge on Highway 182 (West Beach Boulevard).

“The pass was built in the early 70s, and those concrete sheet wall piles have been through every hurricane and many storms,” Calametti said. “They are weathered and the joints are separating. They’ve been through so much stress that some have even failed near the south end. We put in a four-year repair about six years ago. Now those are failing. If you look under the bridge, there is some spalling [concrete chipping]. It’s not structural, but it’s something you watch. It’s also functionally obsolete, meaning there are no shoulders. It’s also narrow by current design standards.”

Calametti said ALDOT is under court order to maintain the pass to a certain standard and spends $400,000 to $500,000 annually just in dredging costs because the lagoon is not big enough to support self-cleaning of the pass.

“We have a coastal engineer who is designing a pass that will not be self-cleaning but one goal is to reduce maintenance, so the channel will stay wider and deeper for longer periods of time,” he said. “Increased navigation will be a byproduct of this project. But this project is not for navigation. It is to replace the bridge and seawall to ensure water transfer and water quality in the lagoon.”

During the construction, a detour bridge will be erected to maintain two-lane traffic on 182 at all times. The detour also allows the new bridge construction to continue without delay. The height of the new bridge will be the same as the current structure, which will limit navigation to smaller boats.

“We’re going to a little extra expense to maintain traffic, but that will cut down on construction time,” Calametti said. “If the channel stays deeper and wider for longer, we hope to maintain water transfer and water quality. The coastal engineer is designing the most efficient channel we can have. The channel that is 40 feet wide now will more than likely be 80 feet wide in the new plan, but that’s still preliminary. This will give an increased chance for better water flow and water quality.”

For Gunn, Little Lagoon can provide a place to fish when the weather or fishing conditions are too bad to fish elsewhere.

“Whether it’s on fire or not, you’ve got a place you can fish and expect to catch a good number of fish,” Gunn said. “And usually it’s not one species of fish. You catch speckled trout, white trout, flounder, big croakers and redfish. By the end of the day, you’ve got a nice box of fish.”

PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) Jay Gunn of J Hook Inshore in Summerdale unhooks a nice speckled trout that outdoor writer Bobby Cleveland caught on a grub in Little Lagoon recently. Little Lagoon has one outlet to the Gulf of Mexico, and it is a constant battle to keep the pass open because of sand movement. The Alabama Department of Transportation is scheduled to start work later this year on a new bridge and improved pass that will be designed to slow down the sand sedimentation.