New pier opens to much fanfare

Published 8:22 pm Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now that the brand spankin’ new Gulf State Park Pier has opened with great fanfare, those with the opportunity to experience this modern marvel need to become familiar with the rules and regulations of the long-anticipated facility.

With a soft opening on Monday, anglers have flocked to the new pier in record numbers. As of Thursday morning after Gov. Bob Riley and Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley cut the ribbon for the grand opening, a total of 4,300 people had paid to experience the pier. While there were numerous sightseers among that crowd, anglers were in the majority and had a great deal of luck. Nice king mackerel in the 30-pound range, bull redfish to 30 pounds, flounder, bluefish, slot redfish, ground mullet and sheepshead were among the catch.

Mike Guinn will resume his role as pier manager after Hurricane Ivan devastated the previous pier in 2004. After the hiatus, Guinn knows the new pier will offer great improvements and appeal over the old pier, as well as significant challenges to ensure a smooth operation.

“The pier has always been very popular,” said Guinn, who had supervised the pier for eight years before Ivan. “I’m sure everybody is going to love the new pier. It’s longer, wider and can accommodate more people on the end, which is a very popular place.

“And we’re going to have restrooms halfway out, so they won’t have to come all the way to the pier house to go to the bathroom. That’s going to be more convenient for them. Once they get to the end it’ll be more convenient. It’s not real convenient to get to the end because of the distance. It’s going to good exercise. It’s a pretty good hike.”

However, because of those aforementioned challenges, Guinn said there would be additional regulations regarding the use of the pier.

Guinn, Park Superintendent Hugh Branyon and Assistant Superintendent Trey Myers sat down and updated the rules from the previous pier to ensure the new facility could be utilized by all those who use it.

“Basically what we came up with was what would accommodate the most folks,” Guinn said. “We wanted to go for the greater good, as far as the rules were concerned.”

The rules and regulations are:

1. Limit of 4 rods per fisherman (additional rods brought will be charged $3.50 each).

2. No trolley fishing permitted.

3. Bottom fishing up-wind/up-current.

4. Float fishing down-wind/down-current.

5. Saltwater fishing license is required. Alabama residents may purchase a $5 annual pier license. Non-residents must purchase licenses according to reciprocal agreements with their state of residency.

6. Good conduct/sportsmanship required.

7. One crab basket per person (cannot be left unattended and you cannot crab and fish at same time).

8. Catch must be placed in container within 10 minutes.

9. No tackle and/or bait allowed on tables and benches.

10. Cut bait at cleaning tables or bait cutting tables only.

11. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

12. No standing or sitting on rails.

13. No jumping/diving off of pier.

14. No alcohol allowed on pier.

15. No cooking on pier.

“The rules are basically the same as they were before,” Guinn said. “The only changes were the trolley fishing and the number of rods allowed.”

For those not familiar with trolley fishing, it is a system that takes a very heavy weight tied to a heavy line. That weight is cast as far out as possible to use as an anchor point. Then smaller baited lines are clipped onto the main line and slipped down the line to the desired fishing spot. When a fish hits, the secondary line is hauled up the main line to extract the fish, rebaited and redeployed.

“The trolley fishing inconvenienced a lot of people,” Guinn explained. “They never move once they’ve got their first rod out. When you’re bottom fishing with regular tackle you’re going to have to move. You’ve got to follow your line or follow the fish. When you’re trolley fishing, the first ones here basically get the prime spots and they never move. We’re doing the best we can to even the playing field for everybody, not just the trolley fishermen.”

Guinn said the rod limit was instituted to keep certain anglers from taking more than their fair share of the pier’s fishing area.

“The purpose of limiting the number of rods with an additional charge was we had people who were coming out here with 18 to 25 rods at one time and taking up a lot of space,” he said. “Granted we have a lot of space now (2,448 feet of fishing area), but we think we’re going to have more people coming to fish and we don’t want to inconvenience them because somebody decided he was going to bring his whole store of fishing rods. Again, everything is for the greater good.”

There is also a list of items and activities that are strictly prohibited on the pier. No pets, soliciting, shark fishing, reels larger than 4/0, cast nets, gill nets, wire crab traps, spears, spear guns, bed rolls, cots, sleeping bags, sleeping, skates, skate boards, bicycles, running, horseplay, fireworks, firearms, slingshots, beach umbrellas or lounge chairs are allowed.

“Shark fishing has never been allowed on the pier,” Guinn said. “They can go ahead and fight it but they cannot land it in any shape, form or fashion. They have to cut the line or hope the shark spits it. We had a few every now and then who tried to beach one, but we do our best to catch them and make them cut the line.”

The new pier has a variety of amenities, including a concession area with restrooms, picnic tables, snack bar and tackle shop. About the halfway mark, more restrooms have been built, as well as a saltwater intake structure for the Marine Resources Division to use at its Claude Peteet Mariculture Center on the Intracoastal Waterway. Areas of the fishing rail have been made wheelchair accessible. The end of the pier is an octagon shape that is about 65 feet across, whereas the old pier’s end cap was only 30 feet wide.

The fee structure for the new pier includes a variety of options for fishing. The daily fishing permit for adults and children 12 years and older is $8 per day, while children under 12 are admitted free with a paying adult. The weekly fishing permit is $40, while the monthly permit is $80, the semi-annual is $160 and the annual is $320. Children under 12 who are fishing with an adult who is sightseeing only will be required to buy a permit at a reduced price. An all-day sightseeing permit is $3, while a one-trip sightseeing permit is $2. No children under 12 will be allowed on the pier unless accompanied by an adult.

“I can’t tell you how many calls our department has fielded about when the pier is going to be open,” said Commissioner Lawley. “I am finally proud to say that the new Gulf State Park Pier is open for business and it provides a unique opportunity to experience the marvels of Alabama’s coastal environment and the abundant marine creatures that inhabit our beautiful beaches and nearshore waters.

“With the pier extending a record 1,540 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, the facility also provides unparalleled educational opportunities for students of all ages. The vast size of the pier allows us to accommodate large school groups at one time, and those students gain hands-on experience from a trip to the pier that they can’t get in the classroom.”

Gov. Riley said the pier just enhances what is already one of the world’s natural wonders.

“Do you realize what we have here is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the world,” Riley asked the crowd at the ribbon-cutting. “To stand here and look over this pristine beach and understand how this is going to have generational impact on families, on bring families out here.

“We have the largest, the most modern, probably the most structurally sound piers that’s ever been built – we have the best on the Gulf Coast.”