Fishing in our area isn’t a new phenomenon. It goes back over a thousand years. As far back as the seventh century A.D., the American Indians who called this strip of paradise home survived off the seafood in the area. Hundreds of years later, it is thought that Spanish explorers also relied on the abundance of fish in the area. More recently – and by recently, we’re talking approximately 1840s – a fisherman named Leonard Destin settled in this tropical oasis. The fact that the coastal beach town of Destin was actually named after a fisherman demonstrates the importance of fishing in the area!
Nearly 100 years later, Destin was officially dubbed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” The name has stuck ever since. Locals and visitors can find more information about Destin’s fishing heritage at the Destin History & Fishing Museum.
Now, Destin boasts the largest and most well-equipped fishing fleet in all of Florida and charter fishing vessels take you deep for the big fish. The annual Destin Fishing Rodeo is one the area’s most popular events, drawing dedicated anglers from all over for the largest competition of its kind in the world.
With the popularity of fishing and the Destin Fishing Rodeo, both experienced and novice fishermen are curious about the different types of fishing that dominate the Emerald Coast seascape. Some of the most popular types of fishing include deep sea fishing, inshore and bay fishing, surf fishing, pier fishing, river fishing and lake and pond fishing.
Deep-sea fishing (or offshore fishing) is just that – fishing in deep waters. This typically means at depths of 100 feet or more. In Destin, boats travel anywhere between 10 to 30 miles from the shore into the Gulf of Mexico for deep-sea fishing. Destin companies offer a variety of ways to deep-sea fish, including private, charter and party boats. Charters and party boats provide the necessary equipment, bait, tackle and fishing licenses. Generally, deep-sea fishing trips focus on bottom fishing (dropping a baited line to the seafloor) and trolling (pulling baited lines behind a moving boat).
For many, part of the fun of deep-sea fishing is never knowing what you’ll pull up at the end of your line! Types of fish you are likely to catch include snapper, grouper, amberjack, triggerfish, mackerel and cobia. On a charter boat, the captain will let you know if you can keep what you catch based on length, weight, season and other requirements. If you go out privately, rather than on a for-hire trip, make sure you are prepared. This means bringing the appropriate gear, obtaining your fishing license, researching the rules on what you’re allowed to keep, and knowing where to go. Keep all of this in mind, and you’re bound to have a great deep sea fishing experience.
INSHORE & BAY FISHING
Another popular pastime on the Gulf Coast is inshore and bay fishing. Unlike deep sea fishing, inshore and bay fishing is done closer to the shore, in calmer waters than those of the Gulf. This includes anything from bays to estuaries to anywhere else falling within nine miles of the shore. Inshore fishing boats are smaller and faster than offshore fishing boats, and the equipment required is typically lighter. It tends to be more consistent throughout the year, and there is more time to fish due to shorter travel times to get to preferred fishing locations. Another difference between inshore and deep-sea fishing is that you will usually be casting when inshore fishing. Again, fishing charter companies will provide the bait, equipment, and fishing license required for a bay fishing trip. Common fish you’re likely to see and catch while bay fishing include redfish, speckled trout, flounder, black drum, sheepshead and catfish. When hiring a boat for inshore and bay fishing, you’ll have to book a private charter, meaning you have the flexibility to spend anywhere from half a day to a full day on the water.
Moving even closer to the shore, surf fishing is when you stand on the shoreline or in the shallow surf to catch fish. Surf fishing can happen anywhere from sandy beaches to rock jetties. In Destin and along the Emerald Coast, the best time to go surf fishing is between March and November; although, warm winters can result in good surf fishing year-round. The best of day for surf fishing is when the tide is rising or falling. Even though you can surf fish from anywhere along the coast, certain locations will yield better results. Try looking for color changes and where the waves break. The darker colored water hides deeper holes, and you’re more likely to catch a fish in these areas. Additionally, irregular patches of the beach are also good feeding spots. When surf fishing in Destin, pompano and whiting are prize catches; however, other fish such as redfish, ladyfish, blue runners, bluefish, sheepshead and more are also available. One of the great things about surf fishing in Destin is that it’s fairly easy to go from your beachfront vacation rental right to fishing on the crystalline shores.
Pier fishing is common on Okaloosa Island and Panama City Beach. As the name suggests, pier fishing is casting a baited line from a fishing pier. Like surf fishing, pier fishing has its advantages, as you don’t have to worry about a boat and heavy equipment expenses. The difference between surf and pier fishing is that you can cast into deeper waters when pier fishing. Along the Emerald Coast, there are a number of piers where you can cast your line and catch some fish. These include Okaloosa Island Pier, Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, Navarre Pier, Russell-Fields Pier and MB Miller Pier. You can pier fish year-round, and the type of fish you catch will depend on the time of year that you go. Throughout the year, expect to catch anything from redfish, flounder, bonito, pompano, cobia, mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish and more.
Although much of the focus is fishing in the saltwater of the Gulf or the unique ecosystem of Choctawhatchee Bay, river fishing is also a popular sport. Taking a boat out on the Choctawhatchee River, East River, or other nearby rivers and creeks can be a quiet and relaxing experience. Head out on a small motorboat or kayak and bring your fishing gear for a relaxing day on the water. The Choctawhatchee River specifically is great for catching redfish and speckled trout. Focusing on the river mouth or near rock piles may increase your chances of catching a fish. As always, be sure to obtain the appropriate fishing license before river fishing.
LAKE & POND FISHING
Finally, some anglers enjoy lake and pond fishing. The rare coastal dune lakes of the Gulf Coast are not just pretty landscapes to look at and enjoy. Their fresh and saltwater ecosystems depend on varying factors, but it’s this uniqueness that provides a great fishing environment. Typically, the fish found in the coastal dune lakes are freshwater fish; however, you may catch some saltwater species as well. Among the most common types of fish caught are bream, bass, catfish, redfish, flounder, speckled trout and mullet. While many of the lakes are surrounded by private property, there are a number of public access points for anglers to use to get to the lakes. Enjoy the quiet seclusion that the dune lakes and surrounding coastal environment provides.
There you have it. These are the most popular types of fishing all along the Emerald Coast. With such amazing fishing opportunities, it’s easy to see why Destin is considered the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”
Article and photos courtesy Destin Fishing Rodeo and Ocean Reef