Sand fleas have become much more plentiful; this is a good sign and should bring many more fish to the beach. Pompano are being caught on sand fleas, shrimp or fish bites and the best fishing has been to the east of Destin but this should be changing and more fish should be on the west beaches. Pompano are the popular targets but there is now a much larger variety of fish to be had. Spanish mackerel are plentiful on Sea Striker jig fish, Braid Blades, spoons and Gotcha plugs. Cobia can be caught bottom fishing with live or frozen eels, cigar minnows and whole squid. As normal don’t be surprised if you get whiting, reds or sheepshead.
Other Information: On tap for April are a bundle of events to tickle you. Cobia tournaments abound starting with the Hog’s Breath Cobia Shoot Out the first weekend of the month, the second weekend brings the Harbor Docks Crab Cruncher Classic, the third weekend id the Outcast Cobia Classic and the last weekend is the Harbor Docks Invitational. Also in April is the Half Hitch Tent Sale April 14-15-16th. Then there is the Free Cobia Fishing Seminar at Treasure Island Marina by Tim Broom at 9:00am. Don’t forget the opening of red snapper season this month. Snapper opens in state waters April 15th and in federal April 21st. For those of you that are unsure state waters are 9 miles and closer.
The first cobia from the Okaloosa Island Pier was caught on Easter Morning by Jay Riordian a (former Half Hitch Employee) now living in Tampa. He was here visiting friends when he made the prize catch earning a free season pass to the Okaloosa Island Pier. Cobia are the trophy catch this month but lots of other opportunities abound. Spanish are the most plentiful and reliable but pompano, sheepshead and reds are daily arrival. This first king should be caught some time near the middle of the month. If by chance you are the lucky one to get the first king it will get you a free season pass to the pier. The cigar minnows are becoming abundant and this is a good sign the kings are only days away. Jack Cravelle are also roaming the beaches and even though they are not great table fare the are exciting to catch as pound for pound there are not many others that can compete for the sheer fight the can hand out.
Using a Penn 555GS reel on a HHT BC84M rigged with 40lb line and equipped with a Braid Blade, Yozuri Deep Runner or Yozuri Tobi minnow is an excellent way to fill you cooler with Kings. The same rod and reel combo rigged with a Sea Striker straw rig with a #1 Clark spoon and a 4oz trolling lead will help you with a limit of Spanish mackerel.
Kings and Spanish are the principal focus here now that the bait fish have shown up. Spanish bite best on trolling style gotcha’s, straw rigs with a Clark spoon and 3-6oz trolling lead. Kings and larger Spanish can be caught on Yozui Tobi minnows, dusters rigged with a live or frozen cigar minnows, live cigar minnows and herring drifted over structure.
Offshore fishing promises to be a productive over the next month. Several reports have it that the Wahoo have started to show. We have heard of several black fin tuna near the edge all of which are good signs for the coming season. I would expect if you want to give it a go by the 15th things should be very productive. We don’t get good reports this time of year from offshore because of all the attention given to snapper and cobia. All this said it is somewhat difficult to say go here and catch this. Just remember that may is just around the corner.
The new D.O.A. chuggers are the new hot lure for this season and the trout and redfish are moving to the flats and becoming much easier to catch. There are plenty of sheepshead around the jetties, bridge pilings and bay reefs. There should be is excellent Spanish mackerel action in the harbor, the coast guard channel and around the Destin bridge trolling. If you like to fly fish this is an excellent chance to hone you skills on the Spanish as they take the fly well and are plentiful. If you are fly fishing try using a white deceiver or glass minnow pattern on a floating fly line on a 6 to 8 weight rod.
In the surf the pompano will begin to bite much better, sands fleas have become much more plentiful. The reds have been abundant in the surf as well as quite a few bluefish. The reds should continue all month but I really cannot say about the blues. The blues are not typically here this time of year but there have been so many that there is a good chance the may be around all month. If you have difficulty finding sand fleas in the surf we have fresh frozen and sometimes live fleas. For the hardest of time we have the fake rubber fleas. If you are using the fake fleas I would suggest adding smelly jelly to them, they manufacture says the smell like real fleas but I don’t think so. I would suggest putting the fleas in a zip lock bag then a little smelly jelly and then micro waving them for a few seconds. The micro waving opens the pores of the fleas allowing the smelly jelly to impregnate them with sent.
Fishing from the Okaloosa Island Pier will get much better over this month. Plenty of Spanish will invade here. Gotcha Lures, Yozuri Crystal Vibes and Sea Striker Slab Spoons catch very well. They should also get the first cobia from the pier late in the month when the water warms a little more. Plenty of bonito will be caught from the pier either on white jigs, bubble rigs or a Sea Striker Gator Spoon.
Out in the gulf the grouper will be on the hunt for food and as the live bait becomes more plentiful the ability to catch them will be much easier, until then the best bet will be frozen Boston mackerel. The triggers and mingos should be good on two hook rigs and cut bait. Red snapper will also be moving back in but remember you must release them until the 15 of April when snapper season reopens. The amberjack will be real good and can be caught jigging over deep water metal structure.
In the bay the trout situation will be improving as the weather warms. Early indications say the tour run will be good this spring. So far they have caught fantastic numbers but they have been on the smaller side. I would think the larger trout will be will be heading from the deep water holes to the flats later in the month. Reds should also be tailing the flats now that the bait is moving up into the grass.
The spring run of pompano will be in full swing this month. Those having the most success will be using live or dead sand fleas on fluorocarbon leaders or tossing custom pompano jigs in front of migrating schools. Towards the end of the month be sure to have that cobia rod ready with a two-ounce feather jig.March brings out the best for our pier fishermen. The spring Bonita run will accompany the first of the Spanish mackerel coming through. Using a #00 Clarkspoon two feet behind a one ounce sinker will trigger some great action. Of course March also brings the first of the migrating cobia. Although these first scouts are usually smaller than the ones in the mass pods they are also a little more aggressive. This is the best time to throw those two or three ounce feathered cobia jigs for some great sight fishing thrills.Spanish mackerel become the favored target off the jetties this month. Try a bubble and straw rig for some fun top-water action. Those who know will also have that live bait rod ready with a live herring for the occasional smoker king mackerel working the baits around the end of the rocks.This month sees the snapper and grouper starting to move to their deeper holes in 70 plus feet of water. Remember we still have to wait until the middle of next month to keep red snapper so chunk‘em back. Those targeting amberjack should be using live large baits or glow jigs on any of the bridge spans in 100 feet of water. Trolling mackerel trees with trailing Clarkspoons will catch the spring run of Spanish mackerel just off the second sand bar. Of course the real reason we are all there is to sight fish for the annual cobia run. Veteran anglers will have a live eel rigged to 25 pound spinning tackle via 60 pound fluorocarbon leader with a 6/0 owner aki twist hook. Remember to let the cobia eat the live bait before aggressively setting the hook.
There are a couple options here for the winter fisherman and some new toys that will be available at Half Hitch before the end of the month. Carolina Lures makers of Yummy Sand Fleas have introduced the new Floating Yummy Sand Fleas in several colors. The floating fleas should be a nice addition to the already popular regular fleas. Dipped in Smelly Jelly they make a excellent substitute for natural sand fleas. They have also introduced some new very realistic looking jig heads for the Yummy Fleas also. They will be good for surf, pier or jetty fishing. Pompano should be available on these lures, sand fleas and shrimp. The Reds are also rummaging the troughs scavenging for food and would be a first-class target.
Opportunities should be on the rise here and fishing pressure should be on the light side. Most days there are abundant amounts of Winter Bonito mixed with large Boston Mackerel! They take a variety of lures including white jigs, Seastriker Slab spoons, and Bubble Rigs. Sheepsheads are obtainable around the pilings using live fiddler crabs and live shrimp. They will continue to get a few pompano throughout the month. Make sure you have a Spanish Rod and a Cobia Rod with you also as there is a prospect to spot either especially later in the month. Flounder have been reported in excellent size and should only get better using live bull minnows.
For the most part all is quiet here until the last of the month when the Spanish mackerel start to arrive. Then you can spent some quality hours trolling the sand bars along the beach, the mouth of the pass and the harbor with Clark spoons on a Sea Striker Straw rig with a trolling lead around 4oz’s and catch plenty of Spanish for dinner or even some mid summer blue marlin baits.
Man the new goodies rolling out here from tackle manufactures are almost endless and they are going to make for a really exciting spring. All we have to do is get the trout and reds to corporate just a little. Calcutta is introducing several be lines for you reels. There will be a new softer mono for spinning reels, and harder less likely to backlash mono for bait cast reels and some new braid that will be good for either spinning of casting reels. Calcutta is also introducing a new line of soft baits called Flash Foils that are extremely realistic looking as well as a affordable group of Hook Up lures. Both will be excellent trout and redfish baits. As the water temps warm look for the action to really get good near the end of the month.
Whiting will be caught on fresh peeled shrimp. A few pompano may still be around hitting live or dead sand fleas. Bull minnows or small pinfish will still produce a few flounder and bull redfish. The cold weather will bring in the bluefish and bonito this month. A number 1 clarkspoon is a good choice. There will still some flounder and big bull reds hanging around. Try bull minnows fished on a ½ ounce jighead. Sheepshead will be roaming the jetties in large schools this month. Live fiddler crabs fished on ultra-light tackle are the preferred bait. A cigar minnow fished on light wire will produce a few hard fighting bluefish. The black drum will be staging out towards the middle of the pass. Any type of live or cut bait fished right on the bottom with a Carolina rig works best. Amberjack will be on just about all available structure in 60 feet of water and deeper. Live hardtails are great, but for some real fun try jigging with glow in the dark or diamond type jigs. Grouper are hitting live or cut baits on most spots 100 feet and deeper. Near inshore will offer the last of the flounder run. Fish bull minnows on the lee side of wrecks. The only option for trolling in January is trolling a number1 clarkspoon for the occasional winter bonito run. Using the same lure slow trolling around the rocks will produce a few bluefish as well. Unless you are planning to run to the oil rigs for yellowfin, January is a good month for big game fishermen to sharpen all their hooks and replenish their lure selection for the upcoming season. Try heading up the intercoastal waterway with a slow trolled 4 inch curl-tail grub to locate pods of speckled trout. Once a school has been found fish that area thoroughly with live baits to produce the larger fish. The feeder creeks running into the bay system are also a good bet this time of year for both trout and redfish.
Fishing in the surf can vary all winter depending on the weather; there are several options for fishing. Pompano, along with a few redfish, black Drum, sheepshead, whiting make for the bulk of fishing here. Do not look for the action to be fast and furious but enough to make the day enjoyable. The best days will be those just before a weather change, normally temps will be up just a bit ahead of a weather change, also helps to have a nice beach swell and some breakers to stir up the sand and make fish feed better in the crystal clear water you get in winter months. The best baits would be fresh peeled shrimp, sand fleas when available, and Fish Bites. Reports have it there are of some sharks from around the Topsail hill to Grayton beach area. If you are interested in trying your luck for them use, a frozen cigar minnow on the bottom.
Pier fishing is some what like surf fishing in the winter as you can never tell from day to day what might be happening, so there is good reason to try your luck here. Many mornings there are some winter bonito and northern mackerel, they are best caught on white jigs and bubble rigs. Look for flocks of birds to give away the fact the bonito and northern are on the way into the pier. Flounder on bull minnows, sheepshead and black drum on live shrimp and reds most days all oversized. The real prize here is Pompano. With the milder winters we have been having, there are always a few pompano hanging around. They are normally better around the jetties, Grayton Beach and Phillips Inlet but if you manage to catch the first one of the year from the Okaloosa Island Pier you receive a season pass to the pier. They offer a season pass for the first black fin tuna, king mackerel and cobia, but a pompano is a real possibility in January or February. The others there are no real shot until late march.
Using the new Mann’s Stretch Bunker, Rapala CD 18s and spoons you can expect to get in on the action with the abundance of over sized reds that hang out most of the winter. You can venture out of the pass most mornings and look either east or west and see large flocks of seagulls and pelicans working schools of reds and bonito feeding on small rain minnows. Most if not all the reds will be over sized but you get a legal one on occasion. Lots of bonito and a stray black fin tuna also are in the same mix of feeding fish.
There is not much action real close to home but a few black fin tunas and maybe a wahoo or two if you are lucky near the edge. The best thing here would be a Mann’s Stretch Bunker or drifting and then using chunk baits for the black fin tuna. You may want to venture to the rigs or fish the lumps for yellow fin tuna. Winter Yellow fin tuna action can be as good as or better than any other time of the year. We have heard repots of good action but it can be very spotty and you have to look for the right weather. The best days are usually the 2nd and 3rd day after a weather front. These days seem to be less windy and seas calmer allowing you to make the journey to the tuna grounds.
Destin Bridge and Coast Guard Station - Redfish have been exceptional over the last month; the only real problem has been finding one here small enough to keep. Bull minnows and live shrimp are the way to go for bait. Also with colder temps the sheepsheads have been much more plentiful. Live shrimp or fiddler crabs for bait rigged on a Carolina rig made of 15-20 fluorocarbon leaders, a #4 Owner fly liner hook and a 1-2 oz lead.
Mid-Bay Bridge / Bayous / and Flats- Trout have been excellent in the bayous that have freshwater creeks running into them. The back of Cinco, Joes, Indian and Tom bayous are good choices. Alaqua bayou, Mack’s, Hewett’s bayou and the Intercostals water way from Choctawhatchee to east bay in Panama city have been excellent for large quantities of trout. Redfish have been abundant neat Midbay bridge and most any deepwater boat docks.
Pompano can be very good all month on fresh peeled shrimp or sand fleas and if you do not whish to use natural bait. A yummy sand flea sprayed or dipped in shrimp or crab scent or Fishbites will also produce some action. Whiting are being caught on peeled shrimp. There are also some reds from keeper size to bull red size along with a few sheepshead, if you are targeting reds try some frozen cigar minnows. Fishing will be better on days when the surf is kicked up a little and not so calm or on really warm afternoons. And don’t forget there are also some days the flounder will bite good in the surf using live bull minnows, this is not an everyday thing, but something good to try on a slow day.Pompano can be very good all month on fresh peeled shrimp or sand fleas and if you do not whish to use natural bait. A yummy sand flea sprayed or dipped in shrimp or crab scent or Fishbites will also produce some action. Whiting are being caught on peeled shrimp. There are also some reds from keeper size to bull red size along with a few sheepshead, if you are targeting reds try some frozen cigar minnows. Fishing will be better on days when the surf is kicked up a little and not so calm or on really warm afternoons. And don’t forget there are also some days the flounder will bite good in the surf using live bull minnows, this is not an everyday thing, but something good to try on a slow day.
Flounder will be the focus on bull minnows, shrimp or jigs tipped with Fish Bites. A few whiting and pompano are being caught on shrimp, sand fleas or jigs. Reds and sheepshead will also be around. Please be gentle with the reds and use a pier net instead of a gaff, as many of the reds are just oversized or just undersized and you want to be able to release them unharmed. This is also when the runs of winter bonito should start, look for them when we get the first frost on the ground. The bonito like live minnows, white pompano jigs, green curl tail grubs and straw rigs.
Trolling has slowed considerably with cooler temps. A stray king mackerel may be around along with plenty of bonito and a few blues.
Some black fin tuna and maybe a few Wahoo on the edge using live or chunk baits for tuna and trolling islander rigged with ballyhoo for Wahoo. A good yellow fin tuna bite for those of you willing to put in the time and effort to run to the canyon and the rigs. Some of the rigs were damaged by Hurricane Ivan so be careful not to get overly close. Typical winter tuna trips usually produce 6-15 fish in the 50-175 lb range. Live hardtails, ballyhoo and chunk bait works best but some fish can be had with large diamond jigs or Braid slammer jigs. Yellowfin tuna bit best just before sunrise until around 8:00 or 9:00am then again just before sunset for a few hours.
Trout are much more abundant now with cooling temps, the best method is live shrimp but plenty can be caught on Yozuris, Mirrolures, D.O.A shrimp and grubs. Look to find the in good number at the 331 Bridge, around deep water docks, bridges, bayou mouths and river mouths. White trout are fun also mostly during the evening in bayous and the harbor but sometimes you can get nice catches of white trout at the Cinco and Shilimar Bayou Bridges early and mid mornings when the real cool weather arrives. Reds, sheepshead and black drum around bridge pilings, rock jetties and wrecks are great on live shrimp. This is also a good time to find the bay grouper biting on reefs and artificial reefs in the bay. Of course this is the perfect time to find the really big flounder whether you are fishing with live baits, jigs or gigging at night.
The winter run of whiting will be in full swing in the cooler waters of December. Try scaling down to 6 and 8 pound test outfits with light flourocarbon leaders. Those having the best luck will be using fresh dead shrimp. Simply take your shrimp and remove the shell and head and bait a small #4 Owner mutu light hook with the pieces of meat. Using sand spikes is a great way to fish multiple rods at one time. The cooling waters bring some of the best topwater action of the year to the Dan Russel and County piers this month. The winter run of bonita will be hitting bubble and straw rigs all month long. Those veteran bonita anglers have learned to replace the basic drinking straw with brightly colored neoprene sunglass strap pieces. This not only attracts the strikes better but is also much more durable on these hard fighting fish. December sees the first strong showing of mangrove snapper in the jetties. Small live shrimp are the baits of choice. Rig them with a small spilt shot style weight 10 to 12 inches above a small #2 live bait hook. Usually 10 to 12 pound test main line is plenty to haul these fish out of the rocks and still light enough to enjoy these great fighting fish. Taking along a dozen live fiddler crabs to intercept the first of the migrating sheepshead would also be a great idea. Although we can no longer legally harvest red snapper that is no reason for the tried and true bottom fishermen to hang up their rods and reels this month. The cooling waters will produce black grouper on those inshore spots that you haven’t seen any on in months. Try scaling down your tackle to 40 pound main gear with 50 pound flourocarbon attached to a Owner mutu light 5/0 circle hook. Small live baits will produce best with cut minnows doing good as well. One of the only options this time of year for big game fishing is the awesome yellowfin tuna bite going on at the oil rigs this time of year. Although it is a day long run for most, if you pack for a 2 to 3 day trip the fishing will make up for the long runs. Find a rig that has some bait around it and start trolling your Illander skirted ballyhoo at varying depths to find the schools of big yellowfins. Remember to bust out the 50 wides as this time of year the 100 pound class schools are very common. Big bull reds in the pass will be caught on live bull minnows as well as a few of the returning from their offshore breeding grounds. Trolling small clark spoons around the jetties will get you some great bluefish bites. Those targeting speckled trout will find them starting their winter runs up into the mouths of the creeks and bayous.
Surf fishing will be best towards the east, I like the Topsail Hill State Park, Grayton Beach State Park or maybe even all the way to Phillips Inlet. The beach to the east is in much better condition than to the west in the Navarre area. Pompano and whiting are biting well now that the temperature has started to drop a little. Sand fleas and fresh peeled shrimp are the preferred baits. Ladyfish, Bluefish and Spanish mackerel are good on straw rigs, spoons and jigs. Small sharks and Redfish are good at night on cigar minnows and cut bait. As for all these fish they tend to bite better on the tide movement and on days we get a weather front to kick up the surf a little.
Flounder and Spanish mackerel will continue to be the main focus until we get the second or third freeze. For Kings, a cigar minnow drifted off the end of the pier is the most productive method and live is always better than frozen. You will have to catch the live ones on sabiki rigs and you can buy the frozen ones. If you want kings, be quick about it as with dropping temps they won’t be around very much longer. Spanish like straw rigs, gotchas and spoons. Flounder will be good all month on live bull minnows. Pompano and Whiting near the surf on jigs, sand fleas and fresh peeled shrimp. Look for a few blackfin tuna late in the day and right at sun up.
Trolling will not be as good as summer months but Kings will again stay very good until the second or third freeze. You don’t even have to go very far some days, as just around the pass and the near shore reefs will hold some fish. Once we have a few cold snaps the kings will move offshore to the edges. Live bait is always a winner but the kings are frisky with the cooler water and Yozuri plugs, Mann’s stretch 25’s and 30’s, and spoons. Also loads of bonito if you want something just for fun.
Wahoo and blackfin tuna will be active around the rock cliffs, the nipple and towards the spur. Yellowfin tuna will be in the mouth of the canyon and the rigs to the southwest. If you are going to the rigs be careful, I have heard of lots of floating debris and some rigs are badly damaged and they will only let you get so close before asking you to move on. Marlin are heading out to deeper warmer water now but a few white marlin will stay until the first freeze. Whites will be around the nipple and the flats about 35 miles out, the better bet is a spread of teasers on one shot gun rig. Have several pitch baits ready for when the fish appear. Using pitch bait will help out with the hook up ratio on whites over just trolling lures rigged with ballyhoo.
There are still good opportunities to catch a grouper dinner in the bay as it will take several cold fronts to chase out all the grouper Hurricane Ivan pushed in. Trout, Reds and Flounder are here!! Cooling water temps turn them on and they will stay on the flats much longer throughout the day than during the hotter months. For trout on the flats top water plugs are made for Excitement and numbers. Reds like spoons bounced off the bottom especially gold spoons. Flounder especially around the pass and the bridge will be the main focus. Live bull minnows will produce the largest number and larger fish. Storm grubs and DOA shrimp will get good bites also.
November sees the fall pompano run starting in good numbers. Most dedicated silver side fishermen will catch live sand fleas using a sand flea rake and attach them to a custom pompano rig. The rig consists of a small barrel swivel on top connected to a small snap swivel on the bottom with two drop hooks coming off in between. Be sure to use 15 to 20 pound fluorocarbon with Owner mutu light circle hooks in a size 2 as these fish don’t have much for teeth but do have better than excellent vision and will shy away from anything heavier. The fall bull redfish run will start this month on the locals piers. Try using large bull minnows fished Carolina rigged right on the bottom. Remember that these fish must be between 18 to 27 inches to harvest and since most pier fish will be much larger be prepared to either live land these fish or cut your tackle as close the fish as possible to protect these great fish. Fishing a ½ or ¾ ounce jig head with a small bull minnow around the pilings will also produce a few flounder this month. Fishing the outgoing tide with large zara spook type topwater baits will see some fantastic redfish bites this month. With the outgoing tide the jetty crabs should start to show this month as well. Simply take a long handled landing net and catch a live crab then attach it to a 2 ounce Carolina rig with a 2/0 kale style hook. The grouper will also start to show up when the water cool. Try the same rig, but use small pinfish to catch the bigger legal size fish. The cooling waters of November will bring in great numbers of large triggerfish this month. If you want to fill up a box with these tasty fish try heading out to your favorite snapper holes in 60 to 100 feet of water and downsize your snapper tackle. Try fishing 15 to 20 pound main line attached to 30 pound leader with small 1/0 or 2/0 hooks with small pieces of squid for bait. On these same wrecks the bigger vermillion snapper will also start to show. Try using the same triggerfish rig use a 3 or 4 drop rig to catch more than one at a time. The trolling action will start to slow a little this month. Those targeting Spanish will be using small number 1 clarkspoons attached Carolina rigged with a 2 to 4 ounce sinker and trolling this rig right off the second sand bar in the gulf or the deeper holes in the bay. A few kings will still be caught, but to be more successful you will have to fish early in the mornings and concentrating on the wrecks in 75 to 120 feet of water. he fall run of blackfin tuna are here this month. Try pulling small tuna tango plugs or small Illander lures with small ballyhoo rigged behind. When you hook up with the first there are often many more around. Try chumming and chunking with small chunks of cut minnows to keep the fish on the feed and near the boat. Once the feeding frenzy has begun simply attach the next chunk of minnow on a 25 pound spinning outfit for some great fun and good eats. The trout start to head towards to mouths of the creeks and canals this month. Try using ¼ ounce D.O.A. shrimp fished very slowly to catch a few specks. The fall run of lounder is in it’s last stages this month but it is not to late to head out at dusk with your flounder light attached to the bow and gig in hand to find some flatsiders lurking in the shallows behind Shell Island and the areas around the state park. Spanish will also be caught using small clarkspoons trolled around the middle grounds and camelback areas.
Pompano will be back in full swing now but some of the favored areas may be inaccessible such as Ft. Pickens, the National Seashore between Navarre and Pensacola Beach and Navarre itself. That doesn’t mean there are not any good spots. Your choices are the big hole just east of the east jetty, Henderson Park, Topsail Hill Park, Grayton Beach Park and Blue Mountain Park. As well as Pompano expect good whiting bites, blues and ladyfish can be caught on straw rigs and Seastriker Jigfish. Some sharks at night can be caught on cut chunk baits.
Kings will be the main target but there are a multitude of other options here also. Spanish should be around most days, flounder will be very consistent on live minnows, shrimp and jigs tipped with fish bites. A few blackfin tuna should show up in the mornings and evenings of the full moon. Oh yeah and the Grouper, we have already seen many grouper near shore since “Hurricane Ivan the Terrible” and some of these grouper will stay inshore all winter making for some exciting fall and winter action around the pier.
Kind of the same thing here as with the bottom fishing, there should be an abundance of kings and blackfin tune that have headed east ahead of the storm. If you are looking for a rodeo winning king do your hardest fishing in the first two weeks of the month. In most normal years the winning king is caught before the first real signs of fall. Once the cool snaps come, the small schoolie kings get very active but the big smokers tend to head to deeper water. There are very few years when the winning king is not caught in week one or two of the rodeo. There will be plenty of schoolie dolphin so long as we don’t get an early freeze.
White marlin makes for great excitement because of the sheer numbers. You can find them in a triangle the starts at the nipple over to the flats and out to the spur and back. In the same area you are likely to good numbers of yellowfin tuna, blackfin tuna, Wahoo and some blue marlin. Remember, kind of like the kings; it is better to get an early start on offshore species for the rodeo, just in cast we get an early freeze.
Flounder will become major targets in the inlets to bayous, the mouth of the pass and the near shore reefs. You will find the flounder bite best on the tide change and the outgoing being the better tide. Reds will be in these same areas and bite on live pinfish, spoons and jigs tipped with fish bites. Trout will be moving to the flats, this is a time for some really exciting top water action. Most bayou mouths, grass flats and points along the shallows will hold good numbers of specks. The white trout will be good near bridges in the day and in the harbor and bayous at night.
September brings the first of the fall whiting run. Remember to scale your tackle down to 12 to 15 pound test main line connected to a standard 2 drop pompano rig baited with fresh peeled shrimp. Try using the new Owner mutu light circle hooks in a size 2. By using these you can use multiple rods with sand spikes and they will allow the fish to hook set themselves.The Spanish mackerel will be running hard all month at the piers in both the state park and the Panama City Beach city pier. The traditional bubble with straw rig will produce some awesome topwater strikes all month. Most experienced Spanish locals will take the straw off and use neon colored neoprene sunglass holders as they are a lot brighter and much more durable. Those chasing kings will find them off the tee using large 2 to 4 ounce silver casting spoons.This is one of the best months of the year to find those tasty little fighters called mangrove snapper. Those fishing with small live shrimp will have the best luck. Remember that these are not large mouthed fish, so scale your tackle down to 15 pound main line with a small #4 kale hook. A small size 3 split shot weight will be just enough to get that shrimp in the strike zone without hanging in the rocks too much.September brings the winds out of the northeast, which will slowly start to cool off the waters in the gulf. Because of the gag grouper will start to migrate around after their spawning period offshore. Which means some of those spots that you could not buy a bite at last month will start to attract some fish once again especially towards the middle to end of the month. Live baits with 8/0 mutu circle hooks will bring the copperbellies out of their holes. Snapper fishermen are also seeing some of their favorite inshore spots starting to hold a better sized fish the end of the month.The cooling gulf waters will bring in the smoker kings of fall on their migration back downs to south Florida and the keys. If you are searching for those 30 pound plus drag screamers, try anchoring 50 to 100 yards up-current of any bait holding wreck. Once anchored, start putting out your block chum mixed with Voodoo menhaden milk and toss live cigar minnows or herring back behind the boat. Remember to have your drags set loose as those initial runs will be drag screaming fun.The white marlin will be arriving in large numbers toward the end of the month. If you are new to big game fishing this is an excellent time to gain some valuable billfish experience. These fish are usually in the 100 pound class and are a little easier to handle than the big blues. Try trolling small Black Bart plugs or small Islander lures rigged with brined ballyhoo. Most big game boats will troll 5 to 7 lines, but trolling just 2 or 3 this time of the year will still produce some great marlin fishing. The areas around the squiggles would be a good place to start the hunt.The flounder will start to migrate out towards the pass this month. Bull minnows fished Carolina-rigged will produce some quality flat siders this month. With all of the freshwater runoff about over the bay is starting to finally clear up and the redfish guys are finding big fish tailing in 1 to 2 foot of water on the south side of west bay. Remember these fish are in very shallow water and will get real spooky so it may require you to get out of the boat and wade fish slowly.
Pompano will be making a comeback this month; there will be nice sized fish as well as lots of throwbacks. You need to keep in mind that the pompano did there summer spawn about 10 to 12 weeks ago and there are a lot of juvenile pompano and that the limits have changed to keeper size being 11 inches now form nose to fork of tail. Surely if you pompano fish you will catch some of the juveniles, just make sure you release these fish unharmed so they can grow larger and have a chance to reproduce themselves. There will still be good shark action in the evenings and some nice sized blue fish. Oh yeah and the small jack cravelle should be showing up in real good numbers if you want to have some fun on light tackle or a fly rod.We should see a increase in the numbers of kings from the pier this month mostly in the afternoons. Also when we go on the new moon and especially the full moon this month there will be good chances of a few blackfin tuna from the pier. Spanish will be the mainstay of action on the pier, they like bubble rigs with colored straws, Yozuri Crystal Vibes and Seastriker gotchas and Jigfish. Sometime this month I would also expect there to be some flounder action mostly in the later afternoon and on tide changes.Large to medium redfish attack the jetties on both tide changes. This is a excellent opportunity to get them on a fly rod with a sinking line and either a crab or spoon pattern fly. Carry plenty of flies as the reds are large and can easily break you off in the rocks and the Spanish mackerel and blues also take the same flies and will cut them off. I would use a 30lb shock leader but this wont stop the Spanish from cutting off you fly but does keep the reds on longer. Black snapper will be good on live shrimp fished close to the rocks. If you want to spin fish for the reds the Seastriker Jigfish, Yozuri Crystal Vibes and Rattle traps produce quality action.Snapper will move a lot this month looking for better supplies of food and cooler water temps. I find September to be a good time to find the red snapper and red grouper on the shallower reefs and wrecks to the east south east of Destin. Places like the Grayton reef and Seagrove rock near shore or the hard rock bottoms to the east. Amberjack will hang out on the larger metal man made reefs just off the edge. A good supple of live hardtails and live threadfin herring are a must of the quality bites. Grouper have moved to the deepwater looking for better food and water temperature. They are in mostly 180-350 foot depths. The current can be very strong this time of year and sometimes you will find that more than the usual 1oz for every 10ft of water depth of lead is required to hold the bottom while grouper fishing. Also with the fish being so deep a electric reel sure make life so much more enjoyable in the summer heat.Slow trolling for kings and Blackfin tuna in or near the southeast rocks, broken bottom and pier rubble can produce some wonderful summer action if you really want some of the action from these near shore blackfin tuna you are going to have to sacrifice some hooks and a few kings. As we all know for kings a wire leader is a must but for blackfin tune this doesn
Whiting should be abundant this month. Yea they are small but so delicious. A typical 2 hook pompano rig made out of 10-12 lb fluorocarbon, a #6 owner Mutu light or fly liner hook and a 1 oz lead is the rigging. For bait a piece of fresh peeled shrimp or tine chunks of squid. Once you have a cooler full of the tasty devils try this on for size. Filet them out getting rid of bones. Run the filets through a egg and milk wash, the powder them in Jiffy corn muffin mix and deep fry in peanut oil. Try to avoid turning them a lot as the coating is very light and sweet and falls of easily. When they float turn once and when both sides brown they are done. Add some fresh Cole slaw and new potatoes and a meal is madeTarpon will stay around for the first couple weeks and hopefully when they start to thin out a little the kings will start to bite better. Hard tails and ladyfish will be plentiful if you need action for the kids. Both hardtails and ladyfish are not notch for eating they both bite good and are excellent fighters for there size. From that I have seen kids are not picky about what they catch so long as the action is quick. If you want kings they seem to catch a occasional fish in the mornings but for the best chance you need to fish early afternoon to dark when the wind is blowing. Reds will give you all the excitement here, in the afternoons when the tide starts running out the bite good on Seastriker Jig Fish, rattle traps and spoons. Most of the reds are over sized so you will need to release them. Please be kind a replace treble hooks on the lures with singles so it is easier to release them live. There are so many of them even if you lose one or two this way you will have plenty of action and also help preserve the species. There are some black snapper to be caught on cut bait and sheepshead on live shrimp. like the pier there are plenty of hardtails and ladyfish for the kids using bubble rigs.This is a tough month for bottom fisherman, the weather is hot, live bait can be tough and fish have moved off shore looking for cooler feeding grounds and the current can be very bad. With that said there is still plenty of action if you are willing to work a little. Going to a much lighter fluorocarbon leader, lighter lead, smaller hook and lighter rod/reel you can still be productive. Fish see to like natural bottom better than wrecks when the temps are hotter. Live bait will help a lot but sometimes they can be hard to come by. If you are bait fishing and having trouble getting bites even though you see plenty of bait try out one of the new fluorocarbon bait rigs, there are more money but can save a trip.Kings will be plenty abundant for those who have a downrigger or planners. Catching them on the surface can be tricky if not down right impossible. You do want to run a couple flat lines anyway. What happens is when you get a bite on the downrigger and you fish comes to the surface other fish follow him up and then you flat lines get bit. So make sure you flat lines are you longest out so that when the other fish come to the surface that bait trolls but the hooked fish.August is normally a time I would say the offshore fishing should start to pick back up after a slow July but that would be totally wrong this year as July has been excellent. Normally the white marlin bite stats in august and continues into September and early October. I have no idea how good it may actually be but if the blue marlin fishing in June and July is any indication on how good the white marlin fishing is going to be it may well be one of the best fall runs ever. The blue marlin have been excellent all summer with several tournaments having tag and releases over 20 fish in each tournament. The best water is over towards the squiggles and Alaska but as we get deeper into August look for blue water near the nipple and flats with good catches of Wahoo and tuna plus the white and blue marlin.Reds are the main focus here, look for them especially the larger bulls on the outgoing tide in the pass near the Destin Bridge and jetties. Some tarpon near the shipwreck between the mid bay and 331 bridge. Trout will favor the area around Mack and Horseshoe Bayou.
The hot days of August will have the ladyfish in close. Those throwing small Gotcha plugs will have the best bites. Try using the standard pompano rig with fresh peeled shrimp for a few of the tasty silver sided fish. Black tip sharks will still be in the surf as well.This is one of the best months for pier fishermen. Bonita will be caught on bubble and straw rigs along with Spanish mackeral and a few blue runners. Those targeting Spanish will be throwing a #1 clark spoon two to three feet behind a one ounce sinker. The big draw at the pier this month will be the kings. The die-hards will be there one hour before sunrise catching live baits to rig to #2 treble hooks fished off of the tee.The Spanish bite at the jetties will be great this month using large Gotcha plugs rigged to a two foot leader of 30 to 40 pound test mono line via a 75 pound swivel. Simply cast the plug out as far as possible, allow to sink for 10 seconds and retrieve with a reel and jerk method. Big bull reds are hitting large Zara Spook type lures on outgoing tides in the late afternoons. Remember these fish have to be between 18 to 27 inches to be able to keep one. Most will be much larger.August usually sees most boats having to fish more to the west to take advantage of the great natural hard bottom starting around the area of the Commander tug. Since most of these spots have been fished rather hard most veteran anglers will be arming themselves with small live baits, very light tackle, and fluorocarbon leaders. Those targeting grouper will be heading out to the deeper water in the 150 to 200 foot range.Those trolling for kings will find that the bite will usually be much deeper this month than others. The more successful fishermen will be using downriggers with their baits fished around 40 feet in 60 to 80 feet of water. In such depths the darker color duster skirts seem to produce better. August also brings those wonderful weed patches that hold all of our mahi-mahi(dolphin). If you run across one of these weed clumps pull to the upwind side and kill the motors. Start chumming with small pieces of squid or cut minnows. Once the feeding frenzy has begun simply hide a small 1/0 hook into pieces of bait. Remember to keep one fished hooked by the boat and in the water at all times to keep the school near.Big blue marlin have been seen and hooked in large numbers so far this year. Most are finding them around the Desoto Canyon area and southwest of there. Reports are that most fish are rising on large chugger head plugs near the transom. Big bull dolphin are here in large numbers as well. Try trolling rigged ballyhoo around well-defined rips and weed lines. Summer flounder fishermen have been having good luck fishing ¼ ounce jigheads with root beer or white colored grub tail bodies. The back bayous and creeks will be holding good numbers. Trout fishermen are switching to finger mullet and live shrimp and fishing them on the deep edges of the grass flats. Good numbers of small black tip sharks will be seen around the camel back and Spanish shanty areas as well.