Hook to cook: fishing Alabama's Gulf Coast

Mangrove snapper caught off Alabama's Gulf Coast. State limits are 10 fish a person.
  • Mangrove snapper caught off Alabama's Gulf Coast. State limits are 10 fish a person.



There’s a place on the Gulf Coast where the ocean sparkles turquoise, white sand sifts through your toes, and the water teems with fish of all types: amberjack, snapper, grouper, triggerfish, mackerel, shark.

Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Unlike the gray, muddy waters of the Gulf in much of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the Alabama coastline boasts clear waters that sparkle in the sun. The white-sand beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are actually deposits of quartz grains that have washed down from the Appalachian Mountains for thousands of years.

White-sand Gulf Shores beach.

White-sand Gulf Shores beach.

This 32 mile-stretch of beautiful Alabama beaches is where you’ll find plenty of outdoor fun, including swimming, recreational fishing, and great seafood for the eating.

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is home to one of the largest fishing charter fleets on the Gulf, with more than 100 captains ready to share their reel experience. From inshore to offshore saltwater fishing, anglers are looking to hook blue marlin, yellow fin tuna, amberjack, cobia, red snapper and other favorites.

The hook

I decided to try my hand at a 6-hour offshore fishing trip on Another Getaway, where I intended to plumb the salty waters for a fresh-caught seafood dinner. With five friends along to share in the fun, I knew we were in good hands with Captain Don McPherson, owner and captain since 1995. Another Getaway is a 46’ Hatteras, also known as a “six pack” boat because it carries from 1-6 passengers at a time. The boats can range 30’ to 50’ in length, but they all operate in nearshore to offshore environments, have restrooms on board, and most have shaded areas and/or air-conditioned cabins from which to seek solace from the sun – ideal for our group.

The nice thing about hiring a licensed charter boat is that an individual fishing license is not required. Plus, all bait and tackle are furnished. On Another Getaway, they clean your fish for free on all 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-hour charters. (This is where they had me!) The number of hours you choose at sea largely dictates the distance you travel and the type of fish you encounter.

Sampling of a day's catch.

Sampling of a day's catch.

According to Capt. Don, “On the 4-hour charters we target Spanish mackerel and bull redfish. King mackerel sometimes appear in March. The 5-hour charter in March and April can be good for catching and releasing red snapper, in addition to trolling for mackerel. The 6-hour charter is great for catching triggerfish, vermillion snapper and white snapper. The 8-hour trip can produce all the above, plus amberjack sometimes. Our 10-hour charters usually produce scamp, amberjack, wahoo, vermillion snapper, white snapper and king mackerel.”

I enjoyed trolling, where they placed four fishing rods in the holders while motoring the boat slowly and waiting for fish to bite. This worked best for me; I had time to relax, read, even snooze while fishing. And when it was time to reel in a catch, I had deckhand Josh to coach me.

Unexpected encounter with a bull shark.

Unexpected encounter with a bull shark.

Vermillion snapper, pompano and king mackerel rounded out our catch. However, the real adrenaline kicked in about the time we were heading back. Swimming around the boat with a telltale fin was a big bull shark. These guys can average 100-200 pounds. I've also been told they're great eating.

However, since we had more than enough for our evening dinner, we pulled anchor and headed on back to beat out an approaching storm.

The end result: a hook to cook platter.

The end result: a hook to cook platter.

You hook it, we cook it

Once our fish catch was cleaned by the crew, we whisked it away to Shipp’s Harbour Grill located in the Sportsman Marina complex in Orange Beach. Here, Chef Matt Shipp, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and his team prepared our catch three ways to include salad and sides. Our $14.95 “Gourmet” choice yielded fried, blackened and sautéed with crab, shrimp, mushrooms and white wine butter sauce. (An alternative is to order the “Basic,” which comes two ways: fried and blackened.)

This is casual waterfront dining with a tropical twist and great service. We included starters to complement our fresh fish feast such as the West Indies Salad (a regional favorite) and Royal Red Shrimp – the most divine of the shrimp family, with a soft texture and sweet flavor. The “Hook to Cook” meal was an experience I look forward to repeating.

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