Archives: The Red Hot Creeks of Mobile Bay

Posted on December 20, 2019

Archives: TIDE Magazine Issue January/February 2011

The Red Hot Creeks of Mobile Bay

By Ed Mashburn


If you are lucky enough to take an airplane ride over Alabama’s Mobile Bay, you might notice two things very quickly. First, there is an awful lot of open water in the bay system. Second, there is a world of small creeks and bayous on all sides of the bay which feed into the open waters. It turns out that these creeks and bayous provide a couple of very important benefits to the residents in and near the bay during the cold winter months.


For the finny residents of Mobile Bay, these creeks provide some badly needed thermal protection in times of cold temperatures. For the warm-blooded residents who travel across the surface of Mobile Bay in boats, these feeder streams provide some excellent fishing opportunities- especially for redfish in cool winter weather.


Benefits of the Bayous

Yano Serra has guided on the waters of Mobile Bay for more than 20 years, and he always smiles when he speaks of January fishing for redfish in the creeks and bayous.


“The creeks and bayous are good places to go when it’s cold,” he says. “Anglers have protection from the cold wind and these waters are safety zones- there’s no open water to make spray, and a dry angler is a happy angler in January. Most importantly, these creeks and bayous are productive for reds because that’s where they are in winter!”


For anglers targeting the small feeder streams which run into Mobile Bay, Serra recommends fishing shallow water on sunny days because it warms up faster. Look for shell bottoms and any sort if structure like stumps that can radiate heat down into the water. Ledges in the deeper holes will hold crabs and reds will root through the mud after them leaving tll-tale streaks.


Live shrimp, which is standard fare most of the year for redfish, can be very hard to find in January. A good alternative is scented, soft artificial jig bodies on weed less large-gap swimbait hooks.  This rig will allow anglers to fish very, very slowly in thick structure without getting hung up.


“Fish it really slow,” Serra advises. “When I bump some structure, I let it sit and it is usually when I hop it off the structure that the reds will take it.”


Anglers should consult a reliable tide chart when planning a winter red-fishing trip on the Mobile Bay waters. Redfish bite better when the tide is moving at any time of the year, but this is especially true in the winter. Prime time to be on the water is during either incoming or outgoing tides.


When asked how a stranger to the Mobile Bay feeder system can locate redfish, Serra recommends using a trolling motor and carefully examining boat docks, oyster shells, and other structure. One sign for winter time redfish anglers key on is sharp bends in the creeks and rivers. Anglers will find that the outside of the bend will have the deepest holes. The slightest change in water depth can add a precious degree or two to the water temperature, and on the cold days the reds will be in the deepest water they can find.


Although most anglers seeking Mobile Bay’s winter-time creek redfish use conventional tackle, this is also a good venue for fly fishing. When the reds are stacked up in the deeper holes of creeks and bayous, they are much easier to locate and present with a fly. Sinking flies which resemble shrimp or crabs are very effective, and flies should have some sparkle to attract attention. Red, orange and gold are solid basic colors for redfish flies.


Serra laughs when asked if it ever gets too cold for Mobile Bay red-fishing. “Never!” he says. “I have been out duck hunting when the air temperature was in the teens, and I could see redfish finning on the bottom digging up crabs.”


Cold Weather Survival


Dr. Bob Shipp of the University of South Alabama Department of Marine Science says the creeks and bayous of Alabama have lots of redfish now- perhaps more than ever before. “The fish are thick places like Fowl River, Dog River, and in the Bayou La Batre systems,” he says. Although Mobile Bay itself is famous for very large bull redfish- usually found in the Dixey Bar area where the Bay meets the Gulf- very few large redfish over 15 pounds are caught in the smaller creeks and bayous. Anglers targeting the creeks can better select appropriate fishing gear with this fact in mind Super heavy rigs won’t be necessary.


“It’s all part of the natural cycle of redfish life. For the first three or four years of their lives, reds live in an estuaries and creeks,” Shipp explains. “When they mature, they move offshore where they can spend the rest of their lives. When they are in the creeks, they’re looking for food, and they can find it there. They can stand low salinity, and with our mild winters, we usually don’t need to be so concerned about cold temperatures affecting fish.


Mobile Bay Boaters Beware


The biggest obstacle for winter anglers to keep in mind when navigating the Mobile Bay system is that the water level can get extremely low. Winter tides can often look like someone opened a giant drain on the bottom of the bay and make the boat ramp that worked in the morning unusable by that afternoon. The underwater hazards- such as old wrecks, hurricane debris, abandoned crab traps, and old pier pilings- that you never even know were there in the summer can come close enough to introduce themselves to your hull and props in winter.


Strong north winds can literally blow much of the water in Mobile Bay out into the Gulf and it’s not uncommon in winter to see vast expanses of mud flats exposed. These conditions make prudent boat handling a necessity. Being “grounded” on an exposed mud bank is never a good thing, but it can be very tough in cold weather, not to mention dangerous. Never attempt to walk or wade from a grounding as Mobile Bay mud is sticky and very deep. Stay with the boat and wait for more water or call for help.