Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grass Carp

Grass Carp Alabama White Amur Photo

Relatively few fishermen have ever caught a grass carp in Alabama waters. There are several reasons for this. They are not found in all freshwater. They don't eat the same food as other freshwater fish, so they don't take the same bait. Even if they are hooked, they are extremely difficult to land with the same fishing gear that successfully bags panfish, bass, and most catfish.

The white amur (grass carp) is a member of the minnow family. It was imported to the United States from Asia in 1963. White amur are stocked in farm ponds to control aquatic vegetation. Many states have made it illegal to import these fish because of their ravenous appetites. Some environmentalists are convinced that the fish can actually eat so many weeds that they can become a threat to wildlife habitat.
Two Varieties of Grass Carp

There are two varieties of grass carp, diploid white amur and the treploid white amur. Conditions are not present in farm ponds and lakes for the diploid white amur to reproduce; however, these fish often travel to rivers and large streams where they can reproduce and become a problem. White amur will instinctively seek flowing water, so pond owners usually screen spillways and streams to prevent escape.

The triploid white amur is a genetically altered fish incapable of reproduction. Many states that have outlawed the diploid will allow the stocking of triploids, with proper permitting.

The white amur can live for up to 10 years and reach a weight of 40 lbs. They start feeding each spring when the water temperature reaches 68 degrees. These fish can consume up to 5 times their body weight every day, most of it vegetation.
Big Hook With a Heavy Line

White amur are not very hard to catch, provided they are spotted first. They swirl the water when feeding, often coming partly out of the water. Carp bait can be purchased at tackle shops and even some mass merchandisers. I buy it at my local Wal-Mart. Some fishermen catch white amur with vegetation on a treble hook. Others use kernels of corn.

Use a big hook and a heavy line because these fish are very powerful. I use a saltwater rig. Set the drag loose and leave the bail open. When the carp takes the bait, let him run for a few seconds and then set the hook. These are powerful fish, but they aren't great fighters considering their size. Once they are hooked, they generally don't make huge runs like a big bass would. Keep the line tight and reel in during the moments that the fish is not running.

Bowfishing  for grass carp is becoming more popular, but unless the fish are considered pests where you are fishing this is not a viable option. Carp can survive the trauma of being hooked, but arrows are going to be certain death. I personally wouldn't feel good about killing one of these monster fish. I always release them.
Edible, Even Tasty - But Who Eats Them?

It is usually a waste of time to fish for these fish with traditional game fish bait, but I have hooked a few with worms and a cane pole while fishing for bluegills. The few times that this has happened, I was in a 14 foot aluminum boat. I have held on for as long as 45 minutes, while being pulled from one side of the pond to the other. It is impossible to get a large one in the boat with a cane pole and a bream hook. Either the hook is going to straighten or the pole will break. I always end up with a straightened hook.

The white amur is edible, said to be even tasty, but everybody that I know releases them. In Asia, they are choice table fare.

Where to Catch Grass Carp

Unlike native freshwater fish, grass carp are not going to be found just anywhere, They are found in many small, privately owned ponds near Gulf Shores, but could show up in any body of freshwater. The best way to find grass carp is to gain access to as many privately owned lakes and ponds as you can. This is not as difficult as it sounds - sometimes all you have to do is ask. Not all pond owners are going to allow you to "mess with their pets," but others are going to let you catch and release.

In larger bodies of water near Gulf Shores, they are going to be more difficult to locate, but when you find them once, they probably will not be far away from that spot the next time you fish there.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lillian Alabama Boat Launch and Park

The $2.1 million Lillian Boat Launch and Park recently opened near the U.S. Highway 98 Bridge. The park will provide access to the northern end of Perdido Bay.

Baldwin County, Alabama, purchased the land for $1.4 million from AIG Baker, the shopping center developer. The construction was funded by a BP Oil Spill Grant. The park area covers 5.3 acres, room enough for many people to fish from the piers and dozens of cars in the parking lot. There are picnic areas and boardwalks for those who just want to enjoy the beauty of the area. The panoramic views of Perdido Bay and the Highway 98 Bridge will provide photo-ops for both those who can spend some time enjoying the area and those just passing through on the Pensacola to Foley route.

We visited in February, just after the opening of the Lillian Boat Launch and Park, and even though the weather was cold and windy there were people fishing from the piers and several boats had been launched. The park will be very busy when the weather turns warmer. The double boat launch will ease launch times.

The only problem that has presented itself is sand collecting at the boat launch, which could make it difficult to launch boats without periodic dredging.

In addition to recreation, the park will serve as a launching point for the local volunteer fire department and rescue squad. They previously had to leave Alabama and launch their boats into Perdido Bay from a Florida boat launch.

Frequent visitors and those who live in the area are aware of the fish and other creatures than be caught in Perdido Bay with a hook or a net, but others might be surprised at the variety. Mullet can be caught with a cast net and blue crabs can be caught by using several methods-- the most popular method, the crab basket.

Just a few of the more popular fish that can be caught here are speckled trout, white trout, flounder, and redfish. During warm weather kids can easily catch pinfish and croakers, and possibly some bigger fish, so this is a very good place to teach kids how to fish without running the risk of them becoming bored before they catch one.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Alabama Coastal Landscaping

There can be no dispute that the landscaping on the Alabama Gulf Coast is not only interesting but beautiful. Beach home owners who enjoy coastal landscaping are prone to experimenting, but when landscaping a business property like a condo or shopping center, professional landscapers usually stick to the few plants that are practically guaranteed to thrive near the beach with little maintenance beyond weeding and watering. As luck would have it, some of the most hardy, salt tolerate plants are also gorgeous.

The most common plants used here for coastal landscaping are relatively easy to identify and many can be purchased from nurseries for you to grow at your own home, providing the growing seasons are compatible. Once you have learned to identify these plants you will be able to recognize the vast majority of plants that you will see here.

Wax Myrtle

The berries of the wax myrtle were used centuries ago for making fragrant candles. Modern crafters sill use them for the same reason. Birds love the wax myrtle's waxy berries.

The wax myrtle is very flammable. The oils in the tree ignite quickly and burn even faster.

The wax myrtle is most often used to create a natural border on property lines. They can grow up to forty feet tall and twenty-five feet wide. They have spotted leaves that are about three inches in length. Native to Alabama, they will grow just about anywhere, including poor soil and areas prone to flooding. Pruned or not- they thrive near the beach.


The lantana plant has clusters of flowers that are not only pleasing to the eye but are very fragrant. They come in a variety of colors including white, yellow, orange, red and blue. Some people refer to them as sand verbenas.

The plant is drought resistant and grows well in warm climates. It is not indigenous to the Alabama Gulf Coast, but they are naturalized. In most of Florida, they are considered invasive.

Lantana establishes itself quickly. One plant will cover a wide area, so property owners get a lot of bang for the buck when they use this plant for coastal landscaping.


Oleanders  are beautiful and can either be in the form of a bush or tree. The blossoms come in many vibrant colors such as white, purple, pink, red and yellow. Every part of the oleander is highly toxic to humans and most animals, but that doesn't hinder landscapers and property owners from using it. It is too beautiful and easy to grow not to.

African Iris

The African iris grows prolifically along the Alabama coastline. The plants grow to a height of two to three feet and to a width of three to four feet. The flowers, large and showy, are white with yellow and purple-blue markings. The stalks are very stiff. Each bloom only lasts one day, but they are quickly replaced by another flower.

The rhizomes spread quickly in sandy areas and can create large mounds of beautiful and colorful flowers. These plants can be divided every two to three years, making them very cost efficient.

Pampas Grass

On the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, pampas grass thrives on neglect. It is very easy to grow and doesn't need any care beyond a little trimming. When planting pampas grass be sure you have found the perfect spot. Once it has established itself, nothing short of heavy equipment will move it.

This showy grass can grow up to ten feet tall. The flowers resemble large plumes and grow to about a foot in length. The plumes are usually white, but they can also be pink or a very pale blue. Although pampas grass is beautiful, it can be dangerous too. The greenish blue leaves are razor sharp and can readily slice you wide open, so don’t play with the pampas grass!

Blue Pacific Juniper

The blue Pacific juniper loves to grow in the sandy dunes near the coastline. This is a low growing plant that spreads incredibly quickly and makes a great ground cover. The foliage is green in color but sometimes has a bluish tint to it. A member of the evergreen family, it is salt, heat and drought tolerant.

It grows to a height of ten to twelve inches and spreads out as far as six feet. It looks great on raised beds or along walls where it can drape itself.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Oleander Shrub

Visitors to the Gulf Shores, Alabama, area are sometimes overwhelmed by the beauty of oleander shrubs when they are in full bloom from early summer to fall. Landscapers love them because they are easy to establish, and property owners love them because they are easy to maintain and color a wide area red, white, or pink.
The oleander shrub may have originated in the Mediterranean area. It could have been picked up by South Pacific explorers then taken to the West Indies. Southward voyaging ships' captains were often asked to collect exotic seeds and cuttings for planting in overseas gardens. One such seafarer took home an oleander which was named South Sea Rose.

Pink and White Oleanders
Some people thought it was an olive bearing bush, and this may have come from the Latin name for olive tree, which is Olea. It was also imagined that oleanders came from a corruption of the Latin for rhododendron, and it has been confused in the past with that plant.

Oleander in Greek mythology means charm and romance. Leander once wooed a lovely Greek maiden. He was killed in a shipwreck and his love is said to have wandered the shores, called out to him -- Oh, Leander -- and she found him with a beautiful oleander in his hand. She kept the flower and it continued to grow.

This is just one story. Many people in the Deep South have enjoyed creating creating fanciful origins for oleander varieties.

There are Christian legends surrounding oleanders. It is thought by some to be the Rose of Jericho.

One other legend has Jean Lafitte killing all but one of a schooner's passengers. The man, named Ole Anderson, clutched a flowering plant in his hand. Lafitte made him a gardener and renamed the Norwegian, Olea Ander.

Whatever the true history, the oleander shrub is an Alabama Gulf Coast favorite. The bright colors -- reds, whites, pinks glisten in the sun and soften the harsh summer landscape.

The oleander shrub arrived in the sub-tropical climate of Galveston, Texas, around 1841. A prominent merchant, Joseph Osterman, gave them to his wife and sister-in-law, after he brought them back from Jamaica. The sister-in-law grew them easily and then gave some to the neighbors. They spread from there. A common pink variety with double flowers was named after her-- Mrs. Isadore Dyer.

After awhile the plants were found throughout Galveston and became one of its symbols, much like the azalea in Mobile, Alabama. The plant is hardy and can withstand salt spray, subtropical weather and alkaline soil.

After a 1900 hurricane, a Galveston organization called the Women's Health Protective Association (WHPA) wanted to beautify the island. Most of the island's plants had been destroyed by tidal surge and most of what remained was destroyed by dredge material used to raise land grade to make the island safer. The women chose the oleander as the main plant for the landscaping. By 1912, they had planted about 2,500 oleanders and 10,000 trees throughout the city.

The entire city eventually became one big oleander garden. In 1908, the Galveston Tribune named the oleander the symbol of Galveston and in 1910 another paper, the Galveston Daily News said that Galveston had become known worldwide as "Oleander City." In 1916 Galveston was named in an article as one of the most beautiful Southern cities.
As beautiful and versatile as the oleander shrub is, it does have a downside-- all parts of the plant are poisonous. In fact, it might be the most poisonous plant in the world. Ingesting or breathing in smoke from a burning oleander could cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and low blood pressure.

Almost 2000 people in Sri Lanka are poisoned by oleander each year-- the majority of those people intentionally poison themselves while attempting suicide.

I have never known anyone to be poisoned by oleanders, yet I have known dozens of people who have used it in their landscape for decades. That means with a little common sense, oleander poisoning can be avoided. Most people on the coast will not give up a plant as beautiful as the oleander because there aren't many plants that grow as easily in harsh conditions.

I am fairly certain that very few tourists are aware that the plants that help brighten their days at the beach might be the most poisonous in the world!