John's Journal...

Finding the Ghost Trout of Alabama’s Mobile Bay

Follow the Bait to Find the Trout

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Most visitors to Alabama’s Gulf Coast fill their ice chests with speckled trout, redfish and flounder during the spring, summer and fall. Five and 6-pound trout come frequently from the artificial reefs, numerous oyster reefs and oil rigs in Mobile Bay. But when Jack Frost comes calling, he seems to cause the trout in the bay to vanish like ghosts. Only the locals and some veteran fishermen know the secrets, which they pass down from generation to generation, to finding these trout that take a northern wintertime vacation to warmer waters and more-abundant food. What we’ve learned from these ghost-like trout in Mobile Bay may help you find where cold-weather trout stay in secluded hot spots all along the Upper Gulf Coast.

Today, I’m the third generation of trout fishermen in my family on Alabama’s Gulf CClick to enlargeoast. My father learned the secrets of the ghost trout from his father, and my grandfather had the secret passed down to him from his longtime fishing friends, the Collins’ family, who had lived on the Magnolia River, one of Mobile Bay’s estuaries, since the early Spanish explorers traveled that way. Although life, land and the activity on the waterways may change, the ghost trout of Alabama’s Gulf Coast have remained as dependable in the wintertime as Canada’s having snow.

“If you don’t fish the brackish-water rivers that feed into Mobile Bay in the wintertime and know where to fish in those rivers, you won’t catch many speckled trout,” Captain Gary Davis of Foley, Alabama, who’s guided and fished for 40 years on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, says. “Mobile Bay is a shallow bay full of menhaden, shrimp, croakers and all types of baitfish that speckled trout love to eat,” Davis explains. “Since the bay’s so abundant with baitfish, large numbers of speckled trout, redfish and flounder stay there all year round. But when cold weather arrives, baitfish have to leave to locate warm, deep water to survive, and they won’t find that in the bay.”

Ralph Havard, biologist aide for Alabama’s Department of Conservation’s Marine ResourClick to enlargeces Division (AMRD), explains, “There are actually two migrations of baitfish from Mobile Bay up the coastal river systems each year. When the weather and the water get hot in Mobile Bay, a good number of baitfish will leave the bays and move up the rivers in search of thermal refuges created by deep holes in the rivers where salt water collects. During times of drought, the salt water moves up the rivers, is then trapped in these deep holes and provides not only salt-water refuges, but also thermal refuges for baitfish, speckled trout and redfish. During the winter months, these same salt-water holes in the fresh-water estuaries are warmer than the surface temperature of the water. Most of the river systems that feed Mobile Bay have these deep-water refuges occurring naturally in them. For instance, baitfish move up the Blakely River, into an area known as the Kings Battery, during the summertime when there’s zero salinity on the surface and 10 parts per thousand salinity on the bottom, which is about 60- or 70-feet deep there. You’ll find areas like this throughout most of Alabama’s coastal rivers. All these deep-water refuges will hold speckled trout and redfish during the winter months.”

Other places that Havard mentions concentrate trout and redfish along Alabama’s Coast in the winter include: the Dog River in Mobile County; Hall’s Mill and Rabbit creeks; the Theodore Industrial Canal, which has a 50-foot-deep channel; and, the East and the West Fowl rivers. At the forks of the Fowl River, Click to enlargeclose to Bellingrath Gardens on the western shore of Mobile Bay, a deep hole there will provide a productive place to fish during the wintertime where anglers can catch limit-size trout. Because of the second migration of baitfish into these deep holes in the cold weather, Havard believes twice as many baitfish hold in these salt-water refuges in the winter months as during the summer months.
Anglers may think that as heavy winter rains drain into these rivers that the abundance of fresh water will force trout out of these deep-water holes in the river systems. But, according to Davis, “Since salt water is heavier than fresh water, the fish can survive in those deep-water holes, below the fresh water that’s coming in over their heads, even after an area has had a week of heavy rains.”

When planning a trip, check out Tidewater Fishing Service (Captain Gary Davis), Foley, AL 36535, (251) 943-6298 and, 1-800-745-7263.

Tomorrow: Understand the Trout Migration Schedule

Check back each day this week for more about "Finding the Ghost Trout of Alabama’s Mobile Bay"

Day 1: Follow the Bait to Find the Trout
Day 2: Understand the Trout Migration Schedule
Day 3: Fish Artificial
Day 4: Enjoy Hot Fishing in Cold Weather
Day 5: Where to Find the Trout


Entry 381, Day 1