One good reason Alabama is a sweet home has to be the white "sugar" sand found all along Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores area.
That was the setting to which several writers from the Great Lakes area were invited, a trip to enjoy the fishing fun found along shore and out in open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
For anglers in the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area, stormy seas might delay an open-water run onto gulf waters, but the inner bay is home to an array of fish species that can bow light- and medium-spinning tackle in all directions.
That was the way things went on our first morning out. Tourism hosts Jo Duncan, Kyle Stewart and Kim Chapman introduced writers to area seafood table fare the evening before with a stop at Flippers Restaurant.
The menu included many currently biting fish, but the biggest draw was the crab claw. It seems restaurants in this area feature crab claws something on the order of "crawfish" along the Louisiana shoreline.
High winds and six- to eight-foot waves rolling onto the bright-white beach sand could not slow the show along calm Orange Beach inner waters. Capt. Tommy Price of Dockside Charters had us onto fish with the first cast.
Price, with a serious involvement in his kids' baseball leagues, manages about 300 fish-guide trips a year. He works his center-console guide boat onto weed edges, dock pilings and artificial reef areas with ease -- and a considerable amount of fish bites.
Wisconsin-based writer Kevin Michalowski took honors for the first fish caught, a two- to three-pound redfish brought in before most others had a line baited and set to send out around pier and dock pilings.
Knowing this was salt water and casting Shimano 400 series spinning gear (medium to light heavy spinning gear) could not take away from a sense that this was something like an early season crappie run or a catch-and-release bass outing.
Federal fishery folk have closed red snapper season in all states along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline until June 1. But Price had us on redfish in no time. Ray Ludkevicz had no difficulty hooking into redfish at each stop. Ludkevicz, who played with the rock group Three Dog Night decades ago, has been doing a fishing and outdoor radio show from the Chicago area since 1983. His shows, which can be pulled from archives at fishingandoutdoorradio.com, now include a few features on the variety of Orange Beach fishing options.
John Burgman, an assistant editor with Outdoor Life, has had to reside in Brooklyn, not close to many outdoors venues. But Burgman made quick work of many a salt-water trout at most places where we anchored as casting points.
The catch ranged from bait fish such as croakers and pinfish to redfish, Spanish mackerel, and both white and speckled sea trout. On this first day the plan was total catch-and-release fishing. We did. But we must have released enough sweet fish fillets to feed the entire dozen attendees throughout the Gulf Shores visit.
These in-shore outings can produce many larger fish, but not the larger "eaters" seen when trolling open waters or bottom fishing well off shore.
Chapman, a public relations manager and life-long area resident, noted that anglers can look forward to nice runs of amberjack, trigger fish and cobia in late April and May out of ports at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
That first morning saw nice numbers and good sizes of fish. For my efforts, the best fish fight -- both for overall length and time tending a well-arched fishing rod -- came just before the finish. A two-foot sting ray thought my humble shrimp might make a nice munchy. I'd foul hooked many of these bait stealers in South Africa, but this guy actually put a lip onto this tiny bit of bait -- always a fun fight and photo op no matter where they bite.
It took another two days before waves settled on the gulf and we could get out for a trolling shot at the cobia moving into shoreline shallows and the king mackerel that chase artificial baits trolled as fast as 9-11 knots.
This and a whole bunch of bottom-fishing successes will be logged in a column on an open-water run aboard the 50-foot charter vessel Rookie in Part II of this venture appearing next Sunday.
For details on fishing and other area vacation options, go to either gulfshores.com or orangebeach.com.