A reader this week wrote to me about bank fishing opportunities. I tried as best I could to help him with ideas. It struck me that perhaps we should think about doing more to create opportunities for people who don’t have boats.
Some people might wonder why but it’s important to keep fishing as egalitarian as possible.
Hunting is becoming more and more a pursuit of the affluent and that’s a trend that is fraught with pitfalls. Just ask English fox hunters what happens when a sport belongs to the wealthy alone and ordinary people stand on the outside looking in.
Down on the coast, people do a lot of fishing without boats. In Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan, a stroll down the beach will reveal that about every third group of people has a line out in the water and people from the other two groups often show an interest in what they are doing.
The banks along Mobile Point and Alabama Point where Mobile Bay and Perdido Bay open into the Gulf of Mexico are usually lined with anglers looking for big redfish, Spanish mackerel and other edible gamefish.
The Gulf State Park Pier is lined with fishermen from daylight to dark and sometimes after dark. Tourists and locals rub elbows there and some people’s vacations revolve around fishing on the pier.
But the coast is a different animal with regard to both the people and the fish. Saltwater fish move in schools or migrate up and down the coast. The Gulf is fairly barren so any structure protruding into it congregates large schools of baitfish, which attract gamefish.
The people there are mostly on vacation. For the time they are there, they have a large block of time to fill and some say, “Fish? Why not.”
And let’s not pretend that saltwater fishing is entirely egalitarian. There is no greater gulf in the sporting world than between the man with the Walmart combo, 5-gallon plastic bucket and cup of frozen shrimp and the man cruising out the pass in a 50-foot sport fisher looking for marlin.
But the difference is that there really isn’t private saltwater. If you can get to it, you can fish it.
Some of the best freshwater fishing is done in private lakes manicured and groomed especially for large bass or in privately leased trout streams.
There is also a huge ravine separating a man who has no boat and one who does in freshwater.
The size of the boat is less important since even a 12-foot john boat and 10 hp motor will take you to the best public water available. The only difference is that a larger boat will usually take you there faster and more comfortably.
But the difference between opportunities for freshwater and saltwater bank fishermen is much greater. The shoreline on the coast is much more accessible and fishable. The fish, running up and down the beach lend themselves to greater opportunity. And it is easier for anglers to wade fish in saltwater than in freshwater and open up even more water to them.
There are places to go. Many locks and dams, such as Oliver Lock, provide public fishing platforms. And the aerated water below the dams does concentrate fish. But the area accessible is fairly limited.
Some state fishing lakes and public fishing lakes, such as Lake LU in Livingston, offer excellent bank access and affordable boat rentals. But it’s expensive to keep banks clear enough to provide anglers access.
Perhaps we should consider fishing piers on public rivers and waterways. Saltwater piers extend a far out into the Gulf as possible. But a freshwater pier could extend 20 yards or so from the bank and then run parallsel to the bank.
Brush piles and other man-made cover could be deposited along the length of the pier to hold fish. Boat docks hold fish on lakes around the state. It seems logical that a pier would as well. A structure 100-150 yards long with bank cover on one side and brush piles on the other should hold a good many bream, bass and crappie.
As a bonus, boats could be prohibited within 100 yards of the pier. Guys with boats have plenty of opportunities to fish elsewhere.
It wouldn’t be a cheap undertaking. People are willing to pay $9 a day to fish off the Gulf State Park Pier. People would likely be willing to pay a modest fee to fish from a freshwater pier on a state river or lake. And it must be built where it did not interfere with navigation.
Perhaps it’s a crazy thought. But I’d love to see someone give it a shot. Not everybody has a boat or can go to the coast.
Robert DeWitt is the Outdoors writer for The Tuscaloosa News. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.