November Mobile Reds, Trout and Flounder
with Captain Dan Kolenich
“November is one of the two best months of the year for catching reds, trout and flounder in Mobile,” Captain Dan Kolenich said. As the water cools and freshwater starts flushing out the bay, shrimp move toward the ocean and you can catch all three species. The shrimp are mature and as big as they get, so they are even more attractive food in November. Only in May, with the shrimp are moving in and the fish are following them, is as good.
Captain Dan moved to the Mobile area in 1979 and fell in love with the fishing, learning how to catch reds, trout and flounder in the bay as well as all the species available in the area. He started guiding 18 years ago, and has also fished some of the professional redfish tournament series like the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) Redfish Tour and the Oberto Redfish Cup. They do not fish Alabama waters so raveling to different areas like Florida and Louisiana in those tournaments helped him learn to find even more fish in Mobile.
Until a few years ago most of his guide trips were with clients that wanted to catch fish on spinning tackle, with one or two fly fishing trips per year. But now 60 to 70 percent of his trips are fly fishing trips and he is able to help fly fishermen catch trout and reds, with the occasional flounder, in the bay and rivers.
Although he sometimes uses live bait like pogies, bull minnows and shrimp, he prefers artificals. His favorites for spinning tackle are High Tide plastic shrimp and minnows on their B52 jigs and he sometimes makes them into spinnerbaits by adding a Hildebrant blade on a wire. Those baits are soft and flexible but hold up well, allowing you to catch many fish on one bait before you have to change.
He also casts a Mirror Lure 32 M lure as well as their Top Dog Jr. topwater plug. As the shrimp become scarce the fish feed more on baitfish that these plugs, as well as the soft minnow lures, imitate.
“When you start catching freshwater drum where you had been catching trout and reds a few days earlier, its time to move further out,” Captain Dan said. Starting somewhere around Thanksgiving and lasting until Christmas, the water cools and fresh water flushes saltwater out of the bay and fishing becomes difficult for desired species. But until that happens, fishing is excellent, and you can follow the bait and fish as they move further out.
Early this month start fishing about five miles upstream of the causeways and by the end of the month you should be fishing within a mile of the causeways. Start up the Tensaw and Raft Rivers around Gravine Island and work down those rivers as the fish move out. The Blakeley River is another good place to try. Later in the month concentrate on the Spanish and Apalachee Rivers.
The pilings on the causeways that cross the bay are also good, with some fish around them all month, but they get better later as fish in the rivers move down and join resident “piling” fish.
Early in the month you can catch trout around shallow wood cover up the rivers and reds over grass beds on high tide. An east wind will often push an additional foot of water into the bay, making the shallow bite better. For shallow water, plugs work well since you can keep them over the cover. Birds feeding back in bays and sloughs are a good sign the fish have pushed bait into those places and are active in them.
For trout, find logs and trash on the bottom in two to three feet of water and work the Top Dog Jr over them. Their C-Eye Suspending Twitch Bait will suspend 12 to 18 inches deep, allowing you to work it over the cover. Trout seek water in the 70 to 80-degree range, so look for those temperatures for the best fishing.
For reds, work those same baits over the grass beds in shallow water three to five feet deep. Sometimes you can see reds feeding in the shallow water or the mud stirred up by them. They are in these areas feeding on crabs and minnows. Cast far enough ahead of feeding fish that you don’t spook them and start working it when they get close to it.
As the tide moves out it pulls water, bait and fish out to deeper water near the channels. In the rivers the bottom slopes off in a shelf out to one to 10 feet deep then flattens out to about 12 to 14 deep before falling into the channels. Captain Dan says about one-third of the river will be this creek bottom at the 12 to 14 feet deep and that is the depth trout and reds hold and feed.
That is a lot of water to cover but Captain Dan says it is easy to find the fish since lines of boats will be drift fishing around them, and you can join them. Go up current to the head of the line, put out your lines and drift through the fish. When you stop getting bites reel in, crank up and go back to the head of the line to start another drift.
This is the accepted method of fishing in the crowd. Captain Dan warns that you should not anchor when you catch a fish, it lessens your chance of catching more fish and, worse, it messes up everyone else fishing the correct way, drifting through them. The only anchored boats are going to be fishermen that really don’t know how to catch the fish.
Until Thanksgiving a good day trout fishing will produce 30 to 40 keeper size fish. After Thanksgiving you may catch only four or five, but they will all be gator trout, over 20 inches long.
For both trout and reds a High Tide shrimp or minnow behind a jig head work well. Both will hit them when drifted near the bottom. Vary the weight of your jig head depending on your drift speed, starting with a three sixteenths head, to keep your bait near the bottom. A red head High Tide jig head is Captain Dan’s go-to color. You can use live bait, but Captain Dan prefers artificials for ease of fishing as well as reducing costs.
Reds like a bait right on the bottom and this is when Captain Dan likes to put a spinner over his jig. It gives you more depth control as well as attracting fish to the bait. Try to keep it within a foot of the bottom.
Flounder also feed in the rivers this time of year and will hit jigs, but they tend to hold on points where rivers and creeks come together. They sit on the bottom and feed, not really moving around much. You can catch them by drifting and casting to the points along your drift, but a good tactic for flounder is to anchor next to a point and cast up current on it.
Use a jig and let it sink and work it with the current just over the bottom. When a flounder hits there is no doubt, according to Captain Dan. When they take a jig it is a hard hit and they tend to hook themselves.
Bull minnows are also good for flounder and you can catch them “Carolina Rig” style, with the hook on a two-foot leader behind a sinker. Cast or drift this rig on points and drag the sinker along the bottom, adjusting the weight of it with the current so it stays on the bottom.
Don’t “set the hook” hard on a trout, just tighten up and raise your rod tip. A hard hook set can tear the hook out of their mouth. A red will hit hard and run and set the hook itself but you do not want to jerk your rod tip since their rubbery mouth can tear.
For all three species Captain Dan uses a seven-foot medium action Falcon rod with a Okuma spinning reel. The rod’s light tip helps keep from tearing the hook out of the soft mouth of trout but is strong enough to hook the rubbery mouth of a red, and it has enough backbone to fight them efficiently.
The reel has an extremely smooth drag, important when fighting a red on the ten-pound test line he uses. He does tie a 12 to 18-inch 17-pound fluorocarbon leader on his main line, which is either Power Pro braid or monofilament. The leader helps since there are a lot of things to abrade your line.
Although red’s mouths are tougher than trout’s, they are soft and the rod action and light line, as well as a smooth drag, are all very important to keep from losing hooked fish.
Captain Dan an Orvis endorsed fishing guide. He uses nine-foot, eight weigh rod and says you need a fast sinking “depth charge” line to get down to the fish. He drifts with a Clouser minnow fly and it needs to be fished at the 12 to 14-foot depth where the trout and reds are feeding. You can cast the same bait for flounder but it, too, must be near the bottom for them.
The pilings on the bridges are good places to cast a fly or jig for all three species. Contrary to what seems to be intuitive, Captain Dan has found fish hold on the up current side of the pilings rather than in the eddy on the downstream side. There may be some fish on the eddy side, but, much like dolphins riding the bow wave of a ship, fish hold in the upstream ‘dead zone” break better.
Hold your boat on the up current side of the piling and cast your Clouser minnow or jig up to the front of the piling rather than past it, and let your bait sink down in the dead zone there. Try letting the bait sink to different depths to see if the fish prefer a certain depth. Live shrimp or minnows can be fished on the pilings in the same way.
Captain Dan encourages catch and release on all fish but he does not mind if you keep just enough for a fresh meal. Releasing all or most of your catch helps insure the fishing will be good in the future. The size restrictions on reds and trout has really helped the fishing, too.
There is a ten fish, 12-inch minimum size limit on flounder. Trout also have a ten-fish creel limit and must be over 14 inches long. There is a three-fish limit on reds and you can keep fish between 16 and 26 inches long, but only one over the 26-inch length. Reds over 26 inches long are the brood stock and all should be released, and Captain Dan says they are really not very good to eat at that size, anyway.
More than the usual amount of rain in the fall can flush out the saltwater earlier and muddy up the rivers, make fishing more difficult. Strong winds can also create problems. It helps to have an experienced guide to adapt to daily changes in conditions.
When you find the kinds of places these fish feed, don’t get stuck fishing familiar places. Captain Dan says finding new, similar places is one of the thrills of fishing here, and there are a lot of them to explore.
All you need on a guided trip with Captain Dan is what you want to eat and drink to put in his ice chest, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, camera, and clothing like a long sleeve shirt and rain gear. He asks you to wear soft sole shoes. Although he provides all tackle he says you are welcome to bring your favorite rods, reels and tackle to use. You do not need a saltwater license when fishing with him but if you go into freshwater you do need a freshwater license.
Contact Captain Dan for a guided trip fly fishing or spinning tackle fishing, at 251-422-3474 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website at captaindankolenich.com has fishing reports as well as more information on his trips.