1 week ago

With piers closed, Thornton takes to Alabama’s beautiful beaches

With a nickname like Pier Pounder, David Thornton of Mobile has seen his favorite pastime disappear with 2020’s double whammy of hurricanes. Hurricane Sally took the Gulf State Park Pier out of commission, and Hurricane Zeta destroyed Cedar Point Pier in Mobile County.

“I guess you can call me the Pier-less Pounder because the only pier open in the Mobile area is the Fairhope Pier, and it’s closed at night because they don’t have any lights,” Thornton said.

However, Thornton has a major backup plan, thanks to Alabama’s beautiful beaches and surf teeming with a variety of fish species.

Thornton said he’s been hooked on fishing in the surf since he was 12, and a trip to Gulf State Park Pier with his buddy, Tom Allenbach, sealed his loved for pier fishing.

“Tom was fishing a live alewife under a float,” Thornton said of the trip to Gulf State Park Pier. “He told me to hold his rod while he caught more bait. I asked him how I would know when I got a bite. He said, ‘You’ll know.’ About that time, I felt a tug and thought I was hung on somebody else’s line. Then the fish took off, stripping drag. It was about a 10 ½-pound king, and that was when I really got hooked on pier fishing.”

But for now, fishing from shore is where Thornton will be until a portion of Gulf State Park Pier is reopened sometime late this winter.

Before Thornton decides where to pursue fish in the surf, he gathers information about weather, water, wind and tide conditions.

“Know what the weather is going to be like with the marine forecast,” he said. “It’s not that I look for any certain conditions; it’s just that I want to know what to expect and adjust. I look at the tide tables. Then I’ll decide where I’m going and what I’m going to fish for based on the conditions. Ideal conditions would be 10-15 mph winds either onshore or sideshore with waves 1 to 3 feet. For shore fishing, it’s really better with a little chop on the water. I think it stimulates the fish to bite more readily. Also, you have current flow. If there is a current working over the sandbar, you want to pay special attention to the tide, especially if it’s close to a pass. If it’s too rough or too calm or with very little tidal movement, the fish don’t cooperate as well. If I’m going to fish a neap tide, I’m going to fish close to the pass.”

When Alabama’s tides come off a neap cycle, the tide swings will sometimes reach more than 2 feet from low tide to high tide. That’s when Thornton likes to be fishing the open beaches.

“That tide movement stimulates the bite,” he said. “When I go, I’m looking for a longshore sandbar. The longshore sandbar is usually 100 to 150 yards off the beach. But there are places where the longshore sandbar swings in closer to the shore. The best places are where the sandbar is within casting range. That creates a pinch point where the fish are going to be moving from one trough to the next. When the bar is closer, you can use lighter tackle and target a variety of fish. I’d much rather catch a big fish on light tackle and take a long time than catch a small fish on heavy tackle.”

Thornton casts to the inside edge of the sandbar to start the day and adjusts his casts according to the bite.

“The fish tend to feed along the edges,” he said. “They use the sandbars for protection from predatory fish. The area from the shore out to the first bar is where most of the fish live. That old adage is that 90 percent of the fish live in 10 percent of the water. It’s the same in the surf.”

Speaking of light tackle, Thornton truly goes as light as possible. Where some folks show up on the beaches with long rods with 20- to 30-pound line, Thornton fishes with line in a range from 4-pound-test to 15-pound-test. He uses his 10- to -12-foot rods with the 15-pound line for the long casts. He takes his 7-foot rods and light line for fishing closer to the shore. However, anything can bite any of his rigs.

“I’ve hooked 20-pound black drum within 10 feet of the shore, and I’ve caught whiting and pompano out by the sandbar,” he said. “The mistake I see most people make is they’ll cast out as far as they can, pop the rod in a rod holder, plop down in a chair and wait for a fish to bite. If they don’t catch anything, they say the fish weren’t biting that day. Odds are, they overcast the fish. With light tackle, I feel like I have just as much fun catching 14- to 16-inch whiting and an occasional pompano as somebody heaving this heavy tackle and waiting hours between bites.”

Thornton uses No. 4 Kahle hooks and a variety of sinkers from pyramid to no-roll egg-shaped. If he wants the bait to remain stationary, he sticks with the pyramids. If he doesn’t mind the bait moving a little, he’ll use the flattened egg sinkers or coin sinkers.

“If I’ve got a side wind that is creating current, I can also use that slow-moving bait to cover more ground,” he said. “That way, I’m not just throwing darts at the fish. If your bait is moving too fast, you may have to go to a pyramid.”

Thornton suggests forgoing the ready-made pompano rigs and sticking with lighter line.

“If you’re targeting one- to two-pound whiting and one- to three-pound pompano, even 20-pound line is overkill,” he said. “Light line allows the fish to give account of themselves. They’re really feisty for their size. When you match the tackle with the fish, you’re going to have a lot more fun, and I really think you get more bites. It seems like every time I step down in tackle size, the number of bites I get practically doubles. Whiting and pompano can be particularly line-shy at times.”

Thornton considers the Florida pompano as his target species, but he is happy as can be with what he calls the “byproduct” of pompano fishing, which is whiting, a silvery species with a black patch at the top of its tail. Known as Gulf kingfish elsewhere, whiting don’t get much larger than two pounds but are delicious table fare. Thornton said Southern kingfish, known locally as ground mullet, are common in the surf at Dauphin Island.

“Whiting, by far, is the most prevalent fish in the surf,” he said. “But you never really know what you’re going to catch.”

As far as bait, Thornton uses fresh dead shrimp with the heads and tails pinched off when he has run out of ghost shrimp, a crustacean that lives in the surf that is caught using a suction pump commonly called a slurp gun to extract the creatures from the sand. On our outing last week, the fish definitely showed a preference for ghost shrimp. Thornton also uses a product called Fish Bites, a product with different scents infused into the material.

Thornton said shore anglers will be able to catch whiting and a few pompano throughout the winter. When the water gets a little colder, sheepshead will show up around all the jetties. The pompano limit in Alabama is three fish with a minimum total length of 12 inches. The limits on sheepshead are 10 per person with a 12-inch fork length minimum. Whiting have no size or creel limit.

The best time all year to fish the surf is in the spring, according to Thornton, who keeps readers apprised of coastal fishing conditions with columns in Great Days Outdoors and the Mullet Wrapper.

“Late March through April and possibly early May is the time to fish the beach, especially for pompano,” he said. “With the lockdown this past spring, we didn’t get to fish for pompano until May. The Gulf State Park Pier was still open during that time, and the pompano catches were astounding.”

Thornton is definitely going to celebrate when the Gulf State Park Pier reopens a portion of the pier about 40 feet past the middle section with the restrooms.

“I’ll be ecstatic,” he said. “The cruelest irony of all was the pier had scheduled a grand reopening the day that Sally smashed it. I was supposed to give a little talk that day, and I was going to reminisce about walking out on the new pier after many people had been waiting five years for the pier to be rebuilt after Ivan. It took my breath away. I remember on the old pier, we would often say, ‘If it was just 100 yards longer.’ Then they built it 200 yards longer. The fishing was just outstanding. When I walked out on the pier before Sally I couldn’t help but think about all those people who helped me become a better fishermen, people like Harley Rogers and so many others. For most of the people who are regulars on the pier, they have the attitude of ‘pay it forward.’ When you see somebody struggling, you try to help them with their tackle or bait. Then you see their whole attitude change. You don’t see that everywhere. That’s one of the things that makes Gulf State Park Pier special.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

10 mins ago

Ivey calls for ‘return to in-person instruction as soon as possible’

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday released a statement encouraging Alabama education leaders — both on the state and local levels — to get students back to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

This comes as many school districts continue with various forms of instruction other than traditional in-person learning; this includes hybrid formats as well as virtual-only instruction.

Additionally, some school districts, such as Birmingham City Schools, have recently announced a cessation of any in-person instruction as COVID-19 numbers rise nationwide and across the Yellowhammer State.

“Due to COVID-19, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year for everyone, especially for our parents, teachers and students,” Ivey said to begin her statement. “I’m extremely grateful for the flexibility everyone has shown as they have adapted to virtual instruction.”

“However, virtual and remote instruction are stop-gap measures to prevent our students from regressing academically during the pandemic. These practices cannot — and should not — become a permanent part of instructional delivery system in 2021. As we are learning more about COVID-19, we are seeing more and more clear evidence pointing out that our students are safe in the classroom with strong health protocols in place,” the governor continued.

237

Notably, Dr. Anthony Fauci in recent days called on leaders to keep schools open.

“If you look at the data, the spread among children and from children is not really very big at all,” he advised.

Ivey on Tuesday added, “There are nearly 9,800 fewer students enrolled statewide in this academic year and a five percent reduction in students on the kindergarten level. This will not only result in a critical learning loss for our students today but will also likely lead to an equally negative impact on the readiness of our workforce in years to come. Additionally, it could have an equally important economic loss that affects the critical funding for our classrooms and teacher units.”

“As we begin the holiday season and contemplate a return to a normalcy in 2021, I strongly urge our education leadership on both the state and local levels to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible,” she concluded. “My Administration will work with Dr. Mackey, all of our local superintendents and the Legislature to ensure that our kids are back in the classroom in 2021. Our employers, our families, our communities, Alabama’s taxpayers, and most importantly, our students, deserve nothing less.”

RELATED: State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey: ‘I would not recommend’ statewide school shutdown, virtual learning

Ivey in recent weeks also advocated for keeping Alabama businesses open.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 mins ago

Alabama STEM Council names interim executive director ahead of first meeting

Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and director of AIDT, on Monday announced that Lee Meadows, PhD has been named interim executive director of the recently established Alabama STEM Council as the state moves to advance science, technology, engineering, and math education and continue the work of Alabama’s Roadmap to STEM Success.

According to a release, Meadows in this role will work with the leadership of the Alabama STEM Council to help identify and solve barriers to STEM education and discover innovative solutions to meet the future demand of STEM related occupations in the Yellowhammer State.

With over thirty years of experience in science and education, Meadows’ career path has reportedly taken him from teaching chemistry and physics in high school to training and developing future STEM teachers. Helping educators integrate science and technology into their teaching quickly became a passion for Meadows and developing future STEM teachers turned into his personal mission.

Meadows most recently served as a professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) School of Education and prior to that was the co-director of UABTeach, where he helped nurture and train a new teaching force of highly qualified instructors in STEM subjects.

319

Alabama is projected to need more than 850,000 STEM-related occupations by 2026, according to Alabama’s Roadmap to STEM Success.

“We are at a critical stage with STEM education in our state, and the Alabama STEM Council will be the leading authority to ensure we are poised for growth and success for many years to come,” stated Castile. “Having someone like Dr. Meadows who is passionate and dedicated to the growth and preparedness of future STEM leaders will set Alabama up for a successful future.”

Educator shortages and a disparity of STEM education available to all students regardless of location, economic status, gender or race provide obstacles to meeting the future demand for STEM-related careers.

In a statement, Meadows warned that “if we don’t grow our own STEM workforce we won’t have one.” He also noted that it is both his vision and passion to ensure all Alabama students see the value of STEM and have access to and availability of these educational resources.

This announcement comes ahead of the first meeting of the Alabama STEM Council on Wednesday. The meeting is open to the public via online access, which can be found here.

Meadows and the leadership of the Alabama Stem Council will reportedly begin with a priority of communicating to students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders the value of a STEM education and the doors it can open in the workforce.

Recognizing that there is not currently sufficient data in the state on what works and where the gaps in STEM education are, the Alabama Stem Council will also undertake a data tracking initiative to provide quantitative analysis to guide decisions and priorities. Identifying programs in Alabama that are already doing an exemplary job with STEM education that can be modeled and scaled up for the entire state will also be a top priority for the organization.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

41 mins ago

Zeigler: If ALDOT can build an $800M I-20/59-65 interchange in Birmingham with no toll, they can build an I-10 Mobile Bay bridge with no toll

As talk about construction for a new I-10 Mobile Bay bridge heats up, opponents of the infamous 2019 public-private partnership plan developed by the Alabama Department of Transportation are restating their opposition to any proposal that includes tolling.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who led an online campaign against the 2019 plan, is among those still insisting on no tolls.

During an appearance on FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” in Mobile, Zeigler urged policymakers to look for other funding mechanisms and said if ALDOT could find a way to complete the $800 million upgrades to I-20/59 in downtown Birmingham, it could do so with the I-10 Mobile Bay project, as well.

376

“Ever since we were able to block the toll plan, and I might say the very ridiculous toll plan, in August 2019, we knew there was a probability that somebody would come back with another plan for an I-10 bridge over Mobile Bay,” he said. “It’s just inevitable. Since then, actually, one loose group of leaders in Baldwin County came back with a proposal, but it didn’t get very far,  seven or eight months ago. Now we’ve been informed that there are people taking another look at it. Now, if they can put in a new bridge using the existing funds — the gas tax, the increase in the gas tax, the GOMESA money, the leftover BP funds, federal money, infrastructure grants — then let’s see the plan and let’s go forward without a toll.”

“You know, in Birmingham, they just built a new I-59, I-20, I-65 interchange costing about $800 million with no tolls,” Zeigler added. “They can build the I-10 bridge with no tolls, and we’re sticking to that.”

Zeigler acknowledged ALDOT director John Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey’s handling of the 2019 project had resulted in an erosion of the public’s trust but said he was still open to a proposal, assuming it was a toll-free plan.

“ALDOT and its director, John Cooper, and Governor Ivey lost a lot of credibility on the Gulf Coast with the ridiculous plan,” Zeigler said. “The more we learned about that 2019 toll plan, the worse it got. The more facts we learned, the more we had to block the thing, and we did. I have a loss of trust in ALDOT and John Cooper, and many, many other people do, too. But preliminary work for a new bridge with existing funds can be done without their involvement, and the leadership needs to come locally, not from Montgomery. This idea that Montgomery knows what’s best for the Gulf Coast — that is not a good idea.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

57 mins ago

Delta Dental donates $100,000 to Alabama food banks on Giving Tuesday

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation on Tuesday announced that it is giving a total of $100,000 to two food banks in Alabama.

The announcement comes on this year’s Giving Tuesday, a global campaign that encourages people and organizations to do good and pay it forward. The 2020 version of this annual day takes on increased significance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a release from the foundation noted.

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation partners with local communities to increase access to care, support dental education and fund research that advances the oral health field. The foundation is the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of California and its affiliated companies — including Delta Dental Insurance Company, which operates in the Yellowhammer State.

“As a result of the pandemic, food insecurity rates and reliance on food banks are skyrocketing like never before,” stated Kenzie Ferguson, vice president for foundation and corporate social responsibility for Delta Dental of California and its affiliates. “Fighting food insecurity is not only the right thing to do for our communities during these trying times, but it also aligns with our mission to promote oral health.”

102

The foundation’s release explained that dental caries, or the disease that causes tooth decay, has been linked to food insecurity – a disruption in food intake or eating patterns due to a lack of resources – in numerous studies.

Alabama food banks receiving grants are as follows:

Community Food Bank of Central Alabama in Birmingham – $75,000
Montgomery Area Food Bank – $25,000

Overall foundation support in 2020 totals nearly $15 million nationwide, including nearly $350,000 to nonprofits in Alabama.

RELATED: Alabama Power employees raise money to help people in need

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to launch second wave of production hiring

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, the joint-venture automotive plant between Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to resume the hiring of production positions at its Huntsville assembly facility on Monday.

The company will make its public announcement during a Facebook event on at 3:30pm Thursday.

“When you join the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing team you become a part of something bigger. Our production team member positions are career opportunities on a world-class team of highly-skilled, high-trained coworkers supported by leadership committed to the individual success of each employee on our team,” said Janette Hostettler, vice president of production at MTM.

“We looked forward to launching this next phase of hiring and encourage all interested in joining our team to tune into the Facebook Live event to learn more,” she said.

297

MTM’s assembly facility, now under construction, is expected to open next year. Ultimately, the plant will employ up to 4,000 workers.

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is assisting MTM with the hiring process. The Thursday Facebook event will take place on AIDT’s page.

In August, when MTM announced an additional $830 million investment in the Alabama facility, the company said its employment had reached 600. Initial hiring of the production team began in January 2020.

“The partnership between the State of Alabama and Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has been great not only for our state but also our citizens,” said Ed Castile, head of AIDT and deputy secretary of Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We’re proud to support their hiring and training needs as they move into the next phase of their process and give more Alabamians an opportunity to jump start their manufacturing careers,” Castile added.

The new jobs are direct hire, full-time positions on the MTM production team. Starting wage for production team members is $17 an hour, with a top wage of $23 an hour plus shift premium.

MTM production team members are provided benefits on their first day of employment including paid time off, vehicle discount program, and medical, dental and vision coverage. Employees are also eligible to participate in MTM’s 401(k) with 6% employer match after 60 days.

Interested candidates may submit their application beginning Monday at the company’s website.

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)