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Novemberís Prime For Mobile Fishing
Capt. Dan Kolenichís guide to reds, trout and flounder this month
By Ronnie Garrison
Originally published in the November 2017 issue of AON
Capt. Dan Kolenich can put clients on redfish, specked trout and flounder, and he can catch them with a variety of methods, but fly fishing has become Capt. Danís speciality. Dan, who provides AONís monthly inshore fishing reports, says November is one of the best months for excellent fishing in the Mobile Bay area.
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The inshore fishing in the vast expanses of Mobile Bay can be excellent, especially if an angler knows what types of areas to target and when to go.

“November is one of the two best months of the year for catching reds, trout and flounder in Mobile,” said Capt. Dan Kolenich.

As the water cools and freshwater starts flushing out the bay, shrimp move toward the ocean, and you can catch all three species of popular inshore fish. The shrimp are mature and as big as they get, so they are an even more attractive food in November. Only in May, when the shrimp are moving in and the fish are following them back, is the Mobile inshore fishing as good.

Capt. Dan moved to the Mobile area in 1979 and fell in love with the fishing. He enjoyed learning how to catch reds, trout and flounder in the bay, as well as all the other species of inshore and nearshore fish available in the area. 

Capt. Dan started guiding 18 years ago, and he has also fished some of the professional redfish tournament series, like the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) Redfish Tour and the Oberto Redfish Cup. Those redfish tours do not fish Alabama waters, so traveling to different areas like Florida and Louisiana for those tournaments has helped Dan learn to find even more fish in Mobile.

Until a few years ago, most of his guide trips were with clients who 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 Mobile Bay and in the area rivers.

Although he sometimes uses live bait like pogies, bull minnows and shrimp, Dan prefers fishing and catching fish on artificials. 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 MirrOlure 32M 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, it’s time to move farther out,” said Capt. Dan. 

Starting somewhere around Thanksgiving and lasting until Christmas, the water cools enough and freshwater flushes saltwater out of the bay. That’s when fishing becomes difficult for the desired species like trout and reds. But until that happens, the fishing is excellent, and you can follow the bait and the fish as they move farther out during the month of November.

Early this month, start your fishing efforts about 5 miles upstream of the causeways. Then 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 a good structure to concentrate some fishing effort. Some fish will be on the causeway pilings all month, but they get better later as more fish from the rivers move down and join resident fish that stay on the concrete pilings.

Early in the month, you can catch trout around shallow wood cover up the rivers, and you can catch reds over grassbeds during 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 that there’s an active bite going on.

For trout, find logs and trash on the bottom in 2 to 3 feet of water, and work the Top Dog Jr. over the structure. The C-Eye Suspending Twitch Bait will suspend 12 to 18 inches deep, allowing you to fish a subsurface bait while still keeping it over the cover. Trout seek water in the 70- to 80-degree range, so look for those temperatures for the best speckled trout fishing.

For reds, work those same baits over the grassbeds in shallow water that is 3 to 5 feet deep. Sometimes you can see reds feeding in the shallow water, or you will see the mud stirred up by feeding redfish. They are in these areas feeding on crabs and minnows. Cast far enough ahead of the feeding fish that you don’t spook them, and start working your bait when they get close to it.

As the tide moves out, it pulls water, baitfish and the trout and redfish out to deeper water near the channels. In the rivers, the bottom slopes off in a shelf that goes from about 1 to 10 feet deep, and it then flattens out to about 12 to 14 deep before falling into the channels. Capt. Dan says about one-third of the area will be this 12- to 14-foot bottom, and that is the depth trout and reds hold and feed.

That is a lot of water to cover, but Capt. 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 upcurrent to the head of the line of boats, 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. Capt. 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 who is fishing the correct way by drifting through them. The only anchored boats are going to be fishermen who really don’t know how to catch the fish and who don’t understand how to work with the other boats fishing the area.

Up until about Thanksgiving, a good day of trout fishing will produce 30 to 40 keeper size fish. After Thanksgiving, you may catch only four or five, but they will most likely all be gator trout, more than 20 inches long.

For both trout and reds, a High Tide shrimp or minnow behind a jig head work well. Both trout and redfish will hit this rig when drifted near the bottom. To keep your bait near the bottom, vary the weight of your jig head depending on your drift speed, starting with a 3/16-oz. head. A High Tide jig head with a red head is Capt. Dan’s go-to color. You can use live bait, but Dan prefers artificials for ease of fishing, as well as for reducing the costs of a day of fishing.

Redfish like a bait right on the bottom, and this is when Capt. Dan likes to put a spinner over his jig. The spinner gives you more depth control, as well as attracting fish to the lure.  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. The flounder will 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 upcurrent onto the point.

Cast a jig, and let it sink. Then work it with the current just over the bottom. When a flounder hits, there is no doubt, according to 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 flounder on bull minnows Carolina-rig style, with the hook on a 2-foot leader behind a sinker. Cast or drift this rig on points, letting the sinker drag along the bottom. Adjust the weight of your sinker based on the current. For flounder, you want the sinker dragging the bottom.

Don’t set the hook hard on a trout, just tighten up and raise your rod tip. A hard hookset can tear the hook out of their mouth. A red will hit hard and run, which will often set the hook itself, but you do not want to jerk your rod tip too hard because even the rubbery mouth of a redfish can tear.

For all three species, Capt. Dan uses a 7-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 mouths of trout, but is strong enough to hook the rubbery mouth of a red, and it has enough backbone to fight them efficiently. 

The Okuma reel has an extremely smooth drag, which is important when fighting a redfish on the 10-lb. test line that Dan uses. He does tie a 12- to 18-inch 17-lb. 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.

Capt. Dan is an Orvis endorsed fishing guide. He uses a 9-foot, eight-weigh fly 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 flounder to be caught.

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, Capt. 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.

Capt. 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 ensure that the fishing will be good in the future.

The size restrictions on reds and trout has really helped the fishing, too. There is a 10-fish, 12-inch minimum size limit on flounder. Trout also have a 10-fish creel limit and must be longer than 14 inches to keep. 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 longer than 26 inches are the brood stock, and all should be released. Capt. Dan says they are really not very good to eat at that size anyway.

More than the usual amount of rain in November can flush out the saltwater earlier and muddy up the rivers, making the 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 where these fish feed, don’t get stuck just fishing the familiar places. Capt. Dan says finding new, similar places is one of the thrills of fishing the Mobile Bay area, and there are endless possible locations to explore.

If you’re interested in a guided trip with Capt. Dan, here’s what you need to bring. If you want something to eat and drink, he’ll put it in his ice chest. Also bring a 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 Capt. Dan for a guided trip, whether you prefer fly fishing or fishing with spinning tackle. Dan can be reached at (251) 422-3474, or e-mail him at info@captaindankolenich.com. 

His website at captaindankolenich.com includes fishing reports, as well as more information about his guided trips.
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